By Andrew A. Smith
Tribune Content Agency
“I’d have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for those darn kids!”
That phrase is so iconic, some people use it who aren’t aware it comes from the various iterations of the Scooby-Doo cartoons and movies, where the gang investigates some supernatural shenanigans that almost always turn out to be some guy in a mask.
But what if the monsters were real?
That’s the premise of a thrilling new comic book series called Scooby Apocalypse, whose first trade paperback is already available ($16.99, DC Comics). It’s written by veteran partners J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen, fan favorites for series that mix humor and drama like Justice League International, Formerly Known as the Justice League and, of course, I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League. Giffen and DeMatteis pit a new version of the Scooby Gang against a world full of lethal monsters, the result of a scientific experiment gone awry.
When interviewing the pair about their approach, their answers were far better than anything I could write. So here are the uninterrupted, ineffable utterings of DeMatteis and Giffen:
Q: What were your marching orders on Scooby Apocalypse?
J.M. DeMatteis: The premise – the Scooby gang in a post-apocalyptic world facing real monsters – was set from the start. That was [DC Comics Co-Publisher] Jim Lee’s original premise. Beyond that we were pretty much free to do what we wanted with the book. Keith G. and I have been working together for 30 years now, and we’d worked with the amazing [artist] Howard Porter before, so we are a well-oiled machine at this point and I think (I hope!) the folks at DC trust us to keep things interesting.
Keith Giffen: “Don't screw it up”? Actually, that's pretty close to it. We knew going in that this was going to be a different take on Scooby and crew so the marching orders were pretty loose ... but all boiled down to “don't screw it up.”
Jim had the basic premise – the monsters are real – and was involved in some of the fleshing out of the concept. Oh, and a disturbing aside: Jim Lee is a huge Scooby fan. HUGE. So he came knowing more than we did about Scooby and crew but still had the, I don’t know, confidence that we could make it happen? Yeah, confidence. That's the term. I have to give Jim a lot of credit here because he laid out the rules then settled back to see what we did. No micro-managing. Just the way I like it.
Q: The characterization of the five principals in Scooby Apocalypse varies from the movies, where Freddie Prinze Jr.’s Fred was narcissistic, for example, and Matthew Lillard’s Shaggy was a coward. The actors said their performances were outgrowths of the cartoon personae. What led you to these new-ish personalities and relationships? How do you perceive these characters that might surprise us?
DeMatteis: The way that Keith and I work is that he sets things up in his plot – which are drawn out like mini-comics, they’re brilliant little works of art – and then I develop things further via the script. So Keith will have basic attitudes, personality traits, etc., embedded in the story, and my job is to play with the characters, deepen and broaden them and, most important, allow the characters to start talking to each other and to me. In the end, it’s the characters themselves that define how they’ll be portrayed. They really do come alive on the page. So, whatever our original conceptions of the Scooby Gang, they began to determine who they were, how they felt about things, what their underlying psychology was. That’s one of the best things about writing: being surprised by the stories and the characters. If we’re surprised, we hope the readers will be, too.
Giffen: Confession time. I don't give a lot of thought to the characters’ personalities when starting a book. Oh, I know who they are and what's been done with them but have never felt bound to that. Character growth should be organic and that's hard to achieve with a rigid set of behaviors/motivations. My primary objective was to take the established characters and tweak them, is the best way to put it. Confound expectations while respecting what's been done before. Hope I accomplished that.
Q: Daphne is certainly a surprise – she’s a much stronger character than usual, an ambitious TV reporter who is the object of Fred’s romantic attention. Velma is a scientist with a lot of secrets. Shaggy is now a dog trainer, with Scooby a cyber-augmented trainee. All of this is surprising, and yet the way they’re written seems to fit smoothly within the broad outlines of our preconceptions.
Meanwhile, you’ve introduced Scrappy-Doo to Apocalypse, who might be one of the most hated cartoon characters ever. Can fans bank on a terrible fate for this irritating canine?
DeMatteis: We’ve been featuring Scrappy-Doo in some back-up features and he’s developing into one of the most fascinating, and tragic, characters in our cast. So, no, I don’t hate Scrappy at all and I don’t think people reading the book will, either. That’s the fun of having the freedom to reinvent these characters.
Giffen: I'm not averse to terrible fates so. ... And c'mon, Scrappy has a lot of untold potential. I'll admit here that taking a generally loathed character and making him work is a challenge I've never been able to turn down.
Q: How many hours of cartoons did you have to watch as research? Or did you actually do all your research as pre-adolescents without knowing it?
DeMatteis: It’s interesting because I had very little knowledge of the Scooby Universe. It just wasn’t on my radar. I was aware of it, of course, and everyone knows the basics: a gang of kids solving mysteries. But beyond that general pop culture consciousness, I was fairly clueless. Then I got involved with Cartoon Network’s Be Cool Scooby-Doo series and ended up writing five episodes. That was my Scooby School, my door into the characters and their world. While I was still writing for Be Cool, I got the call from Giffen about Scooby Apocalypse and, suddenly I was deep in Scoobyland and very happy to be there. I’ve come to really care about Fred, Daphne, Scooby, Velma and Shaggy.
Giffen: Didn't watch a single cartoon. I'd seen most of them already so it's not like I was walking in blind. But, again, this was supposed to be a new take on the concept so ...
I knew of Scooby and company but never gave it much thought until the assignment hit. It was more memory than research. Surprised me that I remembered so much. Guess that's one of the benefits of working on a pop culture icon.
Q: Is Scooby Apocalypse ongoing, or is there a definitive end planned?
DeMatteis: We’re an ongoing. So as long as people are buying the book, we’ll keep creating the stories.
Giffen: I can't speak for DC but I know I'll be working on the book until they pry my arthritic fingers from it.
Q: How has artist Howard Porter responded to these challenges?
DeMatteis: Howard is one of the best artists in the business. He has the ability to create a very detailed world around the characters, just as he did when we worked with him on Justice League 3000. He also brings great humanity to the characters, and that combination of a lived-in, real environment and believable characters is so important to bringing our stories alive.
Howard recently moved on to another project and Dale Eaglesham has taken over. He, too, is at the top of his game so our stories are in very good hands.
Giffen: Howard's name is the first one I invoke on every project DC gives me. Love his work, his approach and, most definitely, his dedication to the job. I'm a big fan – guess that shows. There's nothing I can throw at the guy that he can't handle. You have no idea how rare that is.
Think that'll be enough to make him feel guilty about leaving us for the Flash?
Oh, and we've got Dale Eaglesham and Jan Duursema on the art now so we're doing JUST fine. But if Howard ever wants to do an issue or two ...
Q: Meanwhile, the gang has a lot of monsters to deal with. They’re not just “those darn kids” any more!
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In the end, it’s the characters themselves that define how they’ll be portrayed.
That’s one of the best things about writing: being surprised by the stories and the characters.
J.M. DeMatteis' words remind me of similar words by other natural-born story-tellers.
Being such a good writer, I'm confidant he will avoid the current "idea" that Velma is a lesbian. Stereotyping people by how they dress is moronic.
Velma looks like Robin here.