By Tom Spurgeon
When comics’ biggest names want to reach the next level, they become Iconic.
Since 2004, Marvel’s Icon imprint has provided creators with the opportunity to branch out beyond their mainstream work with creator-owned projects that have garnered critical acclaim and in some cases grown beyond the medium, expanding into television and film. In this periodic feature on Marvel.com, Tom Spurgeon will go in-depth with the people involved in Icon, exploring their influences, methodology, plans for the future and more.
In 2006, along with the twin brother artistic team of Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, Matt Fraction created CASANOVA, a series chronicling the adventures of a top notch thief who finds himself drawn into the world of international espionage against his will. After publishing the first 14 issues of CASANOVA through Image Comics, Fraction and his collaborators moved their work to Icon in 2010.
Thus far, the first two arcs of CASANOVA have been re-presented with hand lettering by Dustin Harbin and new coloring as well as text back-up features and two original short stories in the now-completed four-issue LUXURIA series and the soon-wrapping GULA. With the third story just about set to take off, Fraction spoke about the journey to this point.
|CASANOVA: LUXURIA art|
Marvel.com: When do we start getting new Casanova comics? You've been releasing the first two volumes worth of reprints with regularity, but I've heard that perhaps by [San Diego Comic-Con International in July] we'll start seeing the first, brand-new issues.
Matt Fraction: I think it's going to be a little later now: late summer/early fall. I thought it was going to be July but just last week that changed, to my surprise.
Marvel.com: Is that a factor of just getting back into the swing of doing this book?
Matt Fraction: The twins [artists Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon] have other work. We did the first two volumes totally for free, and then people who had money saw them and hired them and wanted them to be brilliant on their dime. [Laughs] This is the best window we could all find.
It isn't an easy book to do, not on any level. The lettering is all done by hand. The coloring is somewhat unique. Also, when it comes back it's going to be 32 pages of content, 10 pages longer than a monthly comic. So it's taking a little bit longer to produce by nature of it being unwieldy and weird. It's extraordinarily labor-intensive.
Marvel.com: In a lot of ways the Icon books remind me of the independent comics of the 1980’s. In the fourth issue of LUXURIA, you talk to Howard Chaykin [in the back-up feature] about his legendary American Flagg!, which seems to me a similar sort of project to CASANOVA: they're both very visually dense, and they're also layered in terms of overlapping plotlines and multiple character motivations.
|CASANOVA: LUXURIA art|
Matt Fraction: I felt on some level that it was the first time Howard looked at me as someone in the same professional arena when we talked when I told him how long it took to produce an issue. He looked at me with this sort of wary sadness. He got it. I think Howard probably burned 15 years of his life off doing American Flagg! when other mud-minded and sloppy-handed hacks were doing half as much and probably making twice as much.
There's nothing about CASANOVA that goes easily or well, on any conceivable level. For whatever reason, it has this sort of light whiff of curse about it that just takes longer to produce. It is the hardest thing I write. It took me literally a year to produce the first script. That wasn't a year of working on it all day every day, but I started October of 2009 and finished October 2010 on the first issue of the third series. For whatever reason, it's the book where we go crazy.
Some of the bones I've made, I think, were made on that book. So when I went back to re-read it, to start writing it again, I was let down. I kept thinking it wasn't good enough, or I'd read something that made me want to up my game and start over again. And since the twins were a ways away from being able to start, I had that luxury. "I can throw this draft out and start all over." Each volume is different so it's kind of reinventing the wheel every time.
Marvel.com: It seems to me like seeing older work come out again in reprints could be a positive but might also be a writer's worst nightmare.
FRACTION: It's horrible. [Senior Editor] Steve Wacker at Marvel says the worst day in comics is Wednesday, because that's the day all the mistakes get made forever. It becomes permanent, you know? To have to go through and re-examine it all has been…it's been a lesson in how to be gentle with yourself.
|CASANOVA: LUXURIA art|
CASANOVA was the first monthly comic I had written. I had only written graphic novels and short stories. I was convinced I would never be given another chance. I wanted it to be the book I wanted to read. I wanted it to be the book that wasn't out there. I didn't want to write Batman. Cue the Eminem song from “8 Mile” or whatever, but if you get one chance to do it, what are you going to do? Are you going to rip off Batman again, or are you going to do something you want to do?
It's young work. The second one is a little more wizened, a little more experienced. In the meantime I'm writing hundreds if not thousands of pages of other comics. Just kind of getting better at it in general: how to stage a scene, how to craft a scene. And you can see the twins are getting better, too. It was the first monthly book that Gabriel had ever drawn. He'd do stuff like forget to leave space for word balloons, or get the script and put the guy who speaks first on the right of the panel instead of the left—just amateur stuff you learn by doing. When I look back at the CASANOVA reprints it's, "Oh, this is learning on the job." You have to be gentle with yourself.
Marvel.com: A lot has been made with the new color that you've been able to do with the reprints, color that will continue into the new books. Has that had any effect on you as a writer, seeing it with this color? I was astonished by how differently it read.
Matt Fraction: The twins and I have a short hand, and we understand each other very quickly in a weird kind of telepathic, symbiosis kind of a relation. The idea of bringing new people in was a little like, "Well, I hope it works." So part of the thing was testing and looking for people who could work with that vibe. Now I know what [colorist Cris Peter] is capable of and how gifted she is, and how she can intuit that same stuff.
|CASANOVA: LUXURIA art|
When the reprints came out, Kelly Sue [DeConnick, Fraction's wife] asked me if I knew it was going to look that good. I said, "Yeah, I just didn't know how to tell other people it was going to look this good." We knew what it would look like in our heads. We knew what it was going to look like. We knew that it was going to look good. But we weren't sure how to articulate that to other humans.
It's sort of like discovering you have a new tool in your toolbox to use. In the third volume, I now get to write for Cris as much as I get to write for Gabriel. Or [Dustin Harbin] doing the lettering. I kind of hate sound effects by and large. I try to write them very minimally. Even working with the great John Workman on THOR, I try to dial it back as much as I can. Now that Dusty's doing it, and I know that they'll be hand lettered and not look like an EPS file dropped over art, it's like, "Great. We can do things with sound effects now." More tools in the toolbox.
Marvel.com: What is it about Dustin's lettering that lends itself to sound effects?
Matt Fraction: Whether it's Gabriel that uses a pen or Fabio with a brush, there's nothing about the twins that isn't cartooning. They aren't of the Greg Land or Salvador Larroca or Bryan Hitch school of photorealism. They are cartoonists in the most pure sense. In digital lettering, every letter is the same. Every example of an “e” is the same “e” throughout the project. Every “r” is the same “r.” It produces an effect that drives me crazy. I can't control it elsewhere in my life, but since this my book I can control it. This is the book where we get to say no, it's our way or no way. So this is how we do it. I mean no disrespect to anyletterer out there working, and I accept that I am the fish swimming upstream in this case. I am the difficult one. I accept and understand that.
|CASANOVA: LUXURIA art|
Now that we've got a hand letterer, if I write a sound effect I know it's not going to look like this piece of computer fell on this beautiful, organic, alive art. It's as much a piece of cartooning as the cartooning is. It's funny now that the twins are seeing it, and now they're starting to do the lettering and the sound effect stuff. There's now competition between them. They want to out-Dusty Dusty. You know what I mean?
I hate when there's an illustrator font; an illustrator EPS file dropped over human art looks about as real as anything from the Star Wars prequels. It's green screen; it drives me crazy. It takes away from the cartooning. It just throws me out of the work immediately. So the chance of having now organic lettering, organic balloons, it works the way God intended. [Laughs]
To be continued on Thursday, as Tom and Matt discuss the cultural influences that make up CASANOVA, the character himself, the creators’ growth in the past five years and more.
Tom Spurgeon is a professional writer and editor who runs the award-winning blog The Comics Reporter