House Showing: Matt Sturges on House of Mystery

Matt Sturges on House of Mystery

House of Mystery: Room and Boredom

The House of Mystery has been a name in the DC library going all the way back to 1951. In a way it predicted the future Vertigo imprint with its supernatural themes, and it appeared in such series as The Sandman as well as more prominently in The Dreaming. In 2008, writers Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges brought the house full circle and back as its own series. In this modern series, the house is a crossroads of sorts – with travelers stuck in the house and telling stories to pay their way. There's mystery to be had in the stories of the guests, as well as why they became stuck here to begin with.

Austin-based Writer Matt Sturges has gone from Willingham wingman to willing solo writer not only of issues of House of Mystery but also Blue Beetle and Salvation Run. Although Willingham steps in on some issues of House of Mystery, Sturges has pretty much become the titles .. urhm… housekeeper. And with the title's first collection released and now nearing on its twelfth issue – we paid the writer a visit.

Newsarama: It's good to talk to you, Matt. I'm a bit of a format junkie, so let me ask this first. This revived House of Mystery series has a unique format – part anthology, but wrapped into an ongoing stories. As a writer, how does this play out as opposed to a more traditional method?

Matt Sturges: I imagined that it would be a balancing act, but it's turned out to be even more of a challenge than I originally anticipated. Part of it is that you have to have come up with a whole other idea each month, although that's the fun challenge. The more difficult challenge is matching a short story, both storywise and artwise, that "fits" the issue it's being placed in. This is no haphazard business, and it requires a lot of thought. The short story in issue six, for instance, "The Cave of the Gilded Virgins," isn't just a standalone story about a pirate queen and a search for treasure -- it's also a thematic introduction to the entire second arc, just as the short story for issue ten, "Fig's Adventure in Stuffytown" is a thematic coda for the arc.

There are also logistical considerations -- grabbing the artists we want to work with and finding holes in their schedules, getting them scripts, and collating everything together in order to make sure the issue comes out on time. That takes a lot of coordination, but fortunately for us, we have our editor Angela Rufino to manage all of this complicated stuff, and we've got the uber-talented and experienced Shelly Bond overlooking everything and making sure everything works out.

House of Mystery #11

The hardest part, though, is just trying to fit it all into twenty-two pages. Oh, how I long for those days when forty-eight pages was the norm. It's a labor of love, to be sure. But lots of love.

NRAMA: The series has really brought to focus the tradition of oral storytelling, with characters recounting their tales as stories inside stories. Is this something that you and Bill practiced in your writing group, or you solo?

MS: Oral storytelling is something that's fascinated me for a very long time, and the oral tradition and how it shaped preliterate cultures' worldviews is a very compelling niche of anthropology. If House of Mystery is "about" anything, it's about the degree to which we're able to communicate our own understanding of the human experience with others. Telling stories -- oral narratives in particular -- is one of the lynchpins of creating a shared worldview. The spoken web of narrative all around is is what shapes us into a culture. It's what keeps us in sync as individuals participating in a group. The question House of Mystery asks again and again is, how can we bridge the gap between ourselves and others? How can we truly communicate ourselves?

NRAMA: As great as comics is, I've never figured out a way to read it aloud the way prose can. Do you have any suggestions?

MS: I have a friend and fellow writer named Dave Justus who will sometimes do dramatic readings of comics. The trick is to describe the action in the panel in an eloquent fashion and then read the dialog immediately, to keep the picture fresh in the listener's mind. If the art is truly awful, and it's not really apparent what in the hell is going on based on the artwork, then this can become a sublime experience.

NRAMA: House of Mystery is nearing on it's first full year back in print, so what better time to take stock of it so far. What's the response been like for you?

MS: It's been very interesting. There seem to be three kinds of House of Mystery readers -- there are those that really enjoy the short stories and tolerate the framing story, and there are those that really enjoy both, and there are those that are really into the framing story and find the short stories a distraction. I'm very happy with how the series is progressing, both in terms of content and in terms of sales and that sort of thing. And Vertigo seems to be okay with it, since they keep letting me write it. Which, at the end of the day, is my primary concern.

House of Mystery #12

NRAMA: In a previous interview, you've said you've got the series plotted out for at least two years. Is that still the case?

MS: No, that's no longer the case. I've now got it plotted so far into the future that there's no end in sight. We'll be resolving some of the major mysteries of the first year's worth of stories in the third story arc -- who Fig is, what her connection to the House is, and why the folks there are being held hostage -- but that's just the beginning. Over the past few months I've done a lot of refining in terms of what's going to happen and I know how the last issue ends. But I'd be more than happy if I were writing that last issue on my deathbed eighty years from now.

NRAMA: There's a mental picture! Before we go, I wanted to check in on the company you keep - you've collaborated with Willingham on several works, from Jack of Fables to House of Mystery and your upcoming run on JSA. How would you describe the partnership in allegorical terms? Starsky & Hutch? Butch & Sundance? Chip & Dale?

MS: It varies from book to book. On House of Mystery, I'm Luke Skywalker and he's Obi Wan Kenobi; i.e., I do most of the work, and he sits around saying smart stuff and awing everyone and every now and again getting into a lightsaber duel of his own. In Jack of Fables, it's more like the writing room of the Alan Brady Show from Dick van Dyke, but I won't say which one of us is Rose Marie and which one is Morey Amsterdam.

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