So without further ado… I present An Interview With... J.M. DeMatteis. (Questions will be as Scoobypedia, answers will be as DeMatteis.)
Scoobypedia: To begin with, how did you get into the biz?
DeMatteis: Comics? The old-fashioned way: just banged my head against the door, submitting material, till they finally let me in. I started at DC in the days when new writers learned their craft on the so-called “mystery books”: anthologies like HOUSE OF MYSTERY and WEIRD WAR TALES. Crafting those short stories, which required tight plotting and characterization, was a great way to learn the craft. Animation? Sold my first script to THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS in the mid 80s (the ultra-talented J. Michael Straczynski was the story editor) but I didn’t begin to work in animation regularly till years later. That came about because I’d worked with Stan Berkowitz when he was producer of the live-action SUPERBOY series (I wrote five episodes and also did a stint working on staff). After SUPERBOY I introduced Stan to a producer who got him into animation—which, given how brilliant Stan is, led to a prestigious, Emmy winning career—and, a few years later, Stan invited me to write for JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED. They must have liked my work because I ended up doing seven episodes for them and I’ve been working regularly in animation ever since.
Scoobypedia: How did you get to write for Be Cool?
DeMatteis: I’d worked for one of the producers, Michael Jelenic, before (on Legion of Super Heroes, Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Teen Titans Go!) and he invited me to write for the show.
Scoobypedia: Naturally, my next question is how you got to write for Scooby Apocalypse? I was surprised that you only just got to write for the cartoon, then suddenly you were doing your own totally different version.
DeMatteis: Pretty simple: DC was launching their new Hanna-Barbera line and they asked us (“us” being me and my frequent collaborator Keith Giffen) if we’d like to write it. We said yes and we were off and running.
Scoobypedia: I’ve heard that you hadn’t watched any of the cartoons before, and that Be Cool was your first experience with the franchise. What’s it like having come on board something for so long, with no prior knowledge, and having to write all the established tropes on top of Jon Colton Barry and Zac Moncrief’s comedic spin?
DeMatteis: It’s not that I hadn’t watched any SCOOBY, I’d seen bits and pieces and, really, anyone with pop culture awareness knows the basics of the idea. But I certainly hadn’t seen much and didn’t know the details beyond those basics. BE COOL was a little different anyway, as I learned when I read through a number of the scripts they’d sent me. Jon Barry was my contact on the show and we hit it off immediately—had a great time working together. I guess you could say he was my professor at Scooby-Doo University. He showed me the ropes.
Scoobypedia: In contrast to the cartoon, I know you did your research for the comic, and there are some references that fans will see. What was it like having to go into that world? Is there anything that stood out for you, either in what you researched or what you had done in Be Cool, that would or wouldn’t work for the comic?
DeMatteis: I think working on five episodes of BE COOL got me comfortable in that world and familiar with the characters. Gave me a foundation. Once you understand what something is, you can then twist it and bend it in new ways, as we’ve done with SCOOBY APOCALYPSE. Having that BE COOL experience really helped. And I have to say it was very strange going from no experience in the Scooby Universe to suddenly working on both the TV and comic book versions.
Scoobypedia: With Scrappy, I think you looked at him with an unbiased opinion, with not having seen him before in the cartoons, where as someone who had watched and hated him, probably wouldn’t have written him with a backstory and personality, that the reader could have genuine empathy for his choices, opposed to a two-dimensional villain that fans are automatically going to hate and hate him being in. How did Scrappy come into play?
DeMatteis: Keith Giffen—the mad genius who plots the stories—wanted to use Scrappy. I had no idea he even existed or that he was so reviled! And you’re right: not having any knowledge of the character let me come at him with a fresh perspective in my scripts. I loved writing him, adding depth and emotional texture to the character, and I suspect he’ll be back at some point.
Scoobypedia: Have you since noticed the fans’ praise or objections on their prior experience with Scrappy?
DeMatteis: Most of what I’ve seen has been positive.
Scoobypedia: I noticed that some fans (myself included) thought Cliffy was a Flim-Flam reference, but actually wasn’t because you hadn’t heard of him. So, to debunk anything more, Comic Book Resources connected Scrappy’s large form to Scrappy Rex from the 1st live-action film, but was this what you were going for?
DeMatteis: No connection to either. We were just playing with the character, pretty much making it up as we went along.
Scoobypedia: There’s also the Daphne and Fred reporter/cameraman combo, which sounds like a reference to the Zombie Island movie, or was this something that just made sense to you?
DeMatteis: I believe that bit of backstory came from DC publisher Jim Lee, who was very involved in the original concept for SA and is a massive Scooby fan. That was pretty much handed to us.
Scoobypedia: How do you feel Cliffy and Daisy have grown over the issues, and where they stand with the gang? Obviously, it’s still the core gang, but now you get a couple of other characters who join in on the mission and banter. DeMatteis: It’s been great developing them both. Daisy started out as Rufus Dinkley's beaten-down trophy wife, but we’ve come to see just how strong, smart and resilient she is. Cliffy is a kid who’s been through hell and over time his bond with the Scooby gang has really deepened. He’s an important part of the series now. I hope they both stick around for the long haul.
Scoobypedia: In the first issue, it says Keith Giffen does “Plot & breakdowns,” and you do “Dialogue & more dialogue.” What’s the typical way of how you two decide on what each issue will be about?
DeMatteis: Although Keith and I often talk about the plots, bouncing ideas back and forth, the fun of our collaboration is that he has total freedom to do whatever he wants with the plots and I have total freedom to do whatever I want with the scripts. So Keith will go off and surprise me with things we never discussed—he’s got one of the wildest imaginations of anyone I’ve ever known—and then I’ll add character bits, plot points, new twists in the script stage. Keith will then build on what I’ve done in his next plot, throwing in more twists and surprises for me. It’s a crazy, spontaneous method that’s worked for us for more than thirty years!
Scoobypedia: In general, what’s the difference between writing for a cartoon and comic?
DeMatteis: Two different worlds. Writing for television is far more collaborative. The producers and story editors generally have the seasons/episodes mapped out and I’m hired to execute their vision, bringing my own personal voice and perspective into the mix, fleshing out and developing their ideas. But in the end, it’s their show. In comics, the work is much more singular and personal. It’s our show, so to speak, and we have the freedom to create something that is uniquely ours. Whether it’s Scooby or Spider-Man we have the opportunity to make it our own.
Scoobypedia: Since Secret Squirrel is included in Scooby Apocalypse, I feel the need to talk about that too. Was it a choice of several? Could we have seen Snooper and Blabber, instead?
DeMatteis: It could have been anything in the HB universe. But Keith really wanted to do Secret Squirrel and I have to say it’s been a blast. It’s so ridiculous and fun to write.
Scoobypedia: Is there an ending you can see with Secret Squirrel, or are you in for the long haul? If Scooby Apocalypse was cancelled, could it stand by itself, or is it designed as just a back-up?
DeMatteis: Just a back-up. Although I could see SS sustaining his own series if DC wanted to do that.
Scoobypedia: Going back to Be Cool. You co-wrote the song, "Toe to Toe", to accompany a fancy dance between Scooby & Daphne, for Worst in Show. How does the song fit into the script, and is what we hear in the episode the entire length?
DeMatteis: I wrote the scene where Scooby and Daphne entered the talent show and realized that a song was needed. Jon Barry knew I was a musician and always encouraged me to come up with songs for the show. I started pounding on the piano and “Toe to Toe" just popped out. When I sent Jon an MP3 of the song, he liked it and into the episode it went. That said, the song was changed by other hands along the way so it only partially reflects my original version.
Scoobypedia: In closing, is there anything new you’ve recently worked on that you’d like to plug?
DeMatteis: Animation? There’s a new John Constantine animated series—CONSTANTINE: CITY OF DEMONS—coming to the CW Seed streaming platform this month and I’ve written the entire series. It’s one of the best animated projects I’ve ever been involved in. I was given a lot of creative freedom and had a wonderful time working on it: a piece of work I’m very proud of. I’ve also been writing for Marvel’s new SPIDER-MAN animated series and that’s been great fun, as well. Comics? I’ve got two new creator-owned series—IMPOSSIBLE INC. and THE GIRL IN THE BAY—coming in the fall of ’18. And, of course, Giffen and I continue to co-write SCOOBY.
End of interview.
I’d like to give a big thanks to J.M. for taking the time to answer my questions and doing this for our site. For more of what J.M. is up to you can find him on Facebook and Twitter.
Goodbye for now!