Newsarama is running an interview with J.M. DeMatteis about the overarching themes of The Life and Times of Savior 28 on its main page right now—and it goes nicely with our monthly Savoring Savior feature that sits down with DeMatteis and artist Mike Cavallaro to give a creator’s-eye-view of each individual issue of this smart, challenging and fun miniseries from IDW.
Blog@Newsarama: I didn’t realize until the beginning of this issue that our whole story was being narrated not just for the benefit of his own peace of mind, but for some kind of public record. Is McNulty planning something?
J.M. DeMatteis: He’s got something on his mind…but do you really think I’m going to tell you what?
BLOG@: Are you familiar with Phil Ochs? He was a folksinger and political activist. There’s an element of his story here, where he was involved in one massive protest-concert-event, and never reached those heights again before his shocking death at a young age. Were you drawing inspiration from real figures like that when drafting Jimmy’s story?
JMD: I certainly know about Phil Ochs…although not in any great detail. (If there’s a 60′s legend whose life I know backwards and forwards, it’s my rock and roll hero, John Lennon…another conflicted peacenik who came to a tragic end.) I’m sure, on some level, I was drawing from many public figures for Jimmy’s story, but, in the end, Jimmy came alive on the page and became far more real, and far more important, than any ideas or people that inspired his creation. Which is the way it should work.
BLOG@: It’s interesting that the black-and-white world that Jimmy used to be a part of is so supported by George W. Bush–an evanglical Christian–and Jimmy’s epiphany comes from a quote from Buddha. Is this a religious conflict, or do you just think that, ahem, “some people” misinterpret Christianity?
JMD: I think that spirituality is a deeply personal thing. Each of us has a connection to the Divine that is uniquely our own. I think things can get problematic when religions rise up and, over time, a “one size fits all” mentality starts to form. The essence of the Great Teacher—Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, whoever—is often lost, replaced by rules and regs, “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.” That said, I can’t pass judgment on anyone’s spiritual beliefs (who can say what’s in another person’s heart or what their connection to God is?) or religion (warts and all, organized religion been nurturing and uplifting people for centuries)…and I certainly wasn’t commenting on George Bush’s religion. I was responding far more to his cowboy/stop the evil-doers/black and white view of the world. And I suspect that’s more a reflection of his psychology than his spirituality.
BLOG@: Where did he hide that needlepoint for the first few minutes of their conversation? Is that a trick he learned while hiding his costume under civvies all those years?
JMD: He put it down when he first entered the room, then picked it up again later. And if you don’t like that answer, I’ll make up another one!
Mike Cavallaro: Jimmy was holding the needlepoint when he walked in, I swear! It just got covered by a caption box!
BLOG@: Obviously you couldn’t have predicted it when you were writing the story, but how prescient did it feel that Dick Cheney is out there being the Bush Administration’s PR hitman now just like he is in your book?
JMD: It’s actually pretty weird. And Mike C’s Cheney was really perfect, wasn’t it?
BLOG@: Mike, How hard is it to draw all these public figures and recognizable faces? You’ve kinda got to get them just right without being too dependent on a photo reference, or SOMEONE is likely to kvetch–especially when you’re dealing with controversial depictions.
MC: I’ll be honest: The likenesses are really difficult for me. Half of the battle really is just finding the right photo reference; a shot that captures some identifiable character traits. Then it becomes a matter of keeping those traits intact as it gets filtered through this Silver-Agey style I’ve been playing with. Any back-and-forth regarding the art stays between J.M. and I. He’s a great judge of what’s working and what’s not. Anything I’ve been asked to redraw has always turned out better. It’s nice to have someone who knows comics as well as J.M. does pushing you a little bit.
BLOG@: And J.M.—how hard is it to deal with all these public figures in controversial depictions? I mean, you kinda have to get them perfect or your whole story beat stands to be skewered by people who don’t agree with you.
JMD: The key, I think, is just following the story. Not trying to make A Grand Political Statement or turn people into caricatures. And if you read #3 carefully, you’ll see that, for instance, Dick Cheney (well, our Dick Cheney) makes some very valid points about S-28′s behavior. I’m not portraying Cheney as some frothing loon making ridiculous statements. Savior 28 is playing a dangerous game and, throughout the story, he stumbles as often as he succeeds. Probably more often. Personally, I’m totally on Jimmy’s side, but, as a writer, I have to show the full spectrum for the story to work.
BLOG@: Mike, on a similar note–how do you deal with creating proxies for well-known or iconic heroes and villains in a series like this? You want to evoke a certain feel without being too derivative, which has got to be a balancing act. But how much of that is you versus J.M.?
MC: That’s actually a lot easier for me than getting a likeness of George Bush or Tony Blair. Sometimes all it takes to allude to another famous hero or villain is the character’s name, leaving me free to just have fun with it. Next, I don’t rely on reference of whatever character we’re alluding to. When I was designing Doc Shaman, for instance, I looked at photos of South American ceremonial tribal wear. I went to a real-world source, not to other comics. In this way, you can tip you hat towards something, while still adding something fresh to the whole thing.
BLOG@: What are you trying to say about…I dunno, society? Savior 28? Humanity?…that he eventually cracks and beats Jupiter into paste?
JMD: I really don’t want to over-analyze, I’d rather let the story speak for itself. But one thing I’m clearly saying is that living our highest ideals is difficult (not impossible—but difficult): It’s one thing to shout “Give Peace A Chance,” but quite another to live it. (I think the fantastic alternate cover that Shawn McManus did encapsulates this idea perfectly.) But I’m also saying that, in the end, it’s far more important to constantly aim for our highest ideals, to try to live from a higher place…even if we fail. Perhaps success isn’t the yardstick. Perhaps it’s all in the effort we make. And whatever you can say about Savior 28, his efforts, however confused they sometimes can be, are heartfelt and completely sincere.
BLOG@: “Batshit in front of the whole damn country…and they loved him for it.” This is one of the central themes of the book, isn’t it? That we as superhero readers have this mentality? Or as people? At the end of last season’s Desperate Housewives, people were mad that Dave went to jail instead of dying horribly. Springsteen was said to be disgusted that he got cheers in concert when one of his post-9/11 songs made references to revenge. What is it about us that makes this seem like a legitimate reaction?
JMD: Again, I don’t want to over-analyze, but one of the inspirations for that particular scene came from the Clint Eastwood movie, Unforgiven. The ending of the film, when Eastwood’s character—who has tried so hard to turn his back on violence—ends up reverting to type, whipping out the guns and blasting away, is meant to be tragic, heartbreaking (and it is); but, when I saw it in the theater, people in the audience cheered. They’d been so programmed by the “good guy/bad guy” mentality, they so expected the typical “isn’t vengeance wonderful?” ending, that they totally missed the point. It really shocked me.
What makes us that way? Some of it is just in our genes, I think. But a lot of it comes from conditioning. One of the points of this story is that, from the ancient myths to our current popular culture, we’ve all been brainwashed into seeing life a certain way. Into making some people “heroes” and others “villains.” (And not just in stories: this has been played out on battlefields throughout our history.) We’re locked in a primitive duality that keeps bringing us to the same destructive place…and it’s got to change if we’re going to survive.
BLOG@: With former villains trying to take him into their inner circle–are we to believe them, or is this an indication that maybe Jimmy had actually BEEN led astray before he was killed?
JMD: Everything will be explained (I hope) by the end of the series!