Matt Cunningham is a Hollywood screenwriter, SFX artist and director. He worked on special effects for Starship Troopers, wrote and directed "The Mangler Reborn" and even played "chainsaw victim" in "Decampitated." (More on IMDB.)
But now he's transitioning into writing books for young readers, including a moody monster book called "Eternal Springs." He interviewed me about a project, so I jumped at the chance to interview him, too, mostly about books...
When you were in high school or college and people started talking books, what would you tell them they just had to read?
As a guy you can imagine the looks I got from other boys in high school spreading the word of Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary and Katherine Paterson. Bridge to Terabithia is one of my all time favorite books. That one I tell everyone to read, if they haven't already. Of course C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and in the darker days, Lovecraft and King.
Today, what books would you tell guys that age they should read?
I am a book junkie (my wife can attest to this) and I could ramble on for days about what to read. So I will go with some of the most recent books that I love. Monster Blood Tattoo by D.M. Cornish. This one really grabbed me and has lots of great mystical aspects to it. Percy Jackson books, sooo good. Thanks Rick Riordan for those goodies. Spiderwick Chronicles, I love these books. I gobble them up. This really fun series of books called Secrets of Dripping Fang by Dan Greenburg. I just get a kick out of them. Lots of boogery fun. For comedy and good times check out I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I want to be Your Class President by Josh Lieb, I was laughing out loud at this one.
And what books should they avoid?
Twilight - seriously, spend your time reading Bram Stoker or Mary Shelly. This onslaught of vampire novels is nauseating. Every book on the shelf looks like a vampire novel. I like vamps, but give me something that hasn't been done in Buffy. Buffy rules by the way.
Were there any particular books that got you moving on the road to SFX and movie work?
I got this makeup book by the all time great, Dick Smith. I think it was called Do-it-yourself monster make-up handbook: how to have fun creating your own monster make-up (wow that is a bit redundant), anyway, that book set my hair on fire. I was putting latex on everything and making monster masks in the closet (which was my lab at the time). I actually sent a letter to Mr. Smith when I was young and i never thought I would hear from him. I just wanted him to know what an inspiration he was. Months later I got a hand written letter from him. I about passed out. He gave me such great words of inspiration. Still gives me goosebumps. And I still have that letter.
Since, we got to know each other through Star Wars... do you have a favorite Star Wars book? (Fiction or non-fiction.)
I wish I could keep up with all the SW books written out there, but there are so many! I started reading Star Wars: Dark Times collected comics for awhile, but then got a bit behind. I plan on finishing them someday. I do love my coffee table books that show all the art, like Ralph McQuarrie eye candy, and how everything was built and designed. It's a great source of inspiration.
Other than Star Wars, what are your top Sci-Fi/Fantasy books/series/graphic novels?
Tom, you are opening a serious can of worms here, ha ha! Without sounding to cliche, Lord of the Rings and Narnia series. I mean seriously, those guys were on point. I realize they may be boring to the young crowd today. But they are so well written and inspiring. Others that I really dig are Percy Jackson series, Monster Blood Tattoo series, and Spiderwick Chronicles. Hugo Cabret was an outstanding graphic novel. I have to give props to H.G. Wells and Jules Verne as well. I'll stop before I go on for days...
You seem to know a lot about Batman. What's your favorite Batman story ever? Is it available in a graphic novel or a collection format?
I do love The Batman! I have stacks of comics that are spilling over next to the bed. I don't think I can absorb them fast enough. It would be hard to say this is the all time best Batman story because I love so many of them. I will say that I really love what Tony Daniel is doing with Bats right now in the series. But some of my all time favorites are Hush, Long Halloween, Killing Joke, Year One, and No Man's Land. These are all avail in collected formats. The art is different in all of them and they are just so good. It makes you want to cry. I hope someday that I will get a chance to write for the Dark Knight. That would be a dream come true. Are you listening Mr. DiDio?!
One of the books you've got in the works is influenced by both Dickens and Lovecraft. Those are both intimidating authors. Can you suggest a good Dickens novel to start with? How about a Lovecraft?
Dickens, I would say Oliver Twist. Amazing writing. Great descriptions. I think what most people don't know about Lovecraft is that a huge bulk of his work was short stories. For short stories I would say Dagon. That is a big influence on the YA graphic novel that I am working on now. For novellas I would say At The Mountains of Madness. The guy was off the charts with visual description and that is a big plus for me.
Can you tell us about the book? How on earth do those two authors relate to the same project? When will we get to read it?
Yeah, I may have put myself under a microscope by saying the book was like a Dickens Lovecraft mash-up. So let me explain that a bit more. The book is called Eternal Springs. It is a YA graphic novel or what we like to call now, a Illustra-Novella. Meaning that it is part comic book and part novel. It has a very old feeling to it, very steampunk. It takes elemental influences from both master writers. I am not saying that my writing will live up to them. But they are a very big influence into what is going in the book. It is told through a young 15 yr old boy named Jasper Lo and how he assists a man in battling some very very strange creatures that run a town. I would love to spill more, but there are too many spoilers in the logline!
Based in Los Angeles, Matt Cunningham (pen name: D.M. Cunningham) is a writer who has written and directed for several of Hollywood’s top production companies from Disney to Lions Gate. He started out working in special makeup effects and had the opportunity to work with some of Hollywood's biggest fx artist. Working with Phil Tippett (of Star Wars fame) on Starship Troopers was one of his favorites. His longtime passion for writing finally took over and he jumped into television. Working on documentaries from Batman Unmasked, Batman Tech and Angels & Demons: Decoded. His children's stories have appeared in Stories for Children, and soon to be published in Bumples.
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