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.
Read part one of this interview here
|CASANOVA: GULA art|
Marvel.com: You mentioned world building earlier. The world building has a different tone in [the] second volume [of CASANOVA]. There are some very funny jokes in the first volume, LUXURIA, like the fact that sidewalk stairways lead to underground headquarters or that all television-advertised vocational schools are spy recruitment center. You don't see those kinds of flourishes in the second volume. GULA has more of a fantastic, fanciful backdrop.
Matt Fraction: Part of it is just that volume two is different. When three comes out you'll see that it's as different from two as two is from one. And four is even different again. I didn't want it to feel like one story arbitrarily broken up by pauses. Each volume is different.
I was very, very, very into Phil Spector at the time I was writing volume one. I was thinking, "How would you do a Wall of Sound comic?" How do you turn "River Deep, Mountain High" into a 16-page adventure spy serial? Everything works. In two, there was a lot of—there's no way not to sound pretentious asshole—French New Wave stuff. In “Band of Outsiders,” Anna Karina turning to the camera and saying, "Yeah, what could go wrong?" as the boys unveil their plans for the heist. That great moment. Why not put that in the comic? Old things from old romance comics, where the character would address the reader to bridge the narrative. You've got eight pages to tell a love story, we have to go from "We first met at the malt shop" to "Now we're getting married." How do you do that in two panels? Between them you have a talking head telling you what's happened. What would happen if you subvert that stuff and play around with it and break all the rules and see what happens? That was very much volume one.
|CASANOVA: GULA art|
Two was just a different story. The editorial inserts are gone in volume two. Tonally it didn't work for that anymore. Everything was darker. The first one was everything but the kitchen sink; the second one is more about one spoon. Part of the reason writing CASANOVA is so much work is that you don't get to re-enter the arena. When it came time to do [volume three] I didn't get to put on the [volume two] outfit again. You have to figure out what your grammar is and suddenly there's a tense of verb you can't use anymore.
Marvel.com: How important is it to you that these comics exist as a vehicle for the novels and movies and comics that inspired them? That a way of reading CASANOVA is partly reading its story, but also operating in a space in which to discuss or muse on those past works?
Matt Fraction: I think when I look at my own process, I am of that age where remix and reference is just part of my vocabulary and always has been. I was coming up at a time when pop began to refer to itself. My example is always the guitar riff from “The Ocean.” I knew it from “She's Crafty” first. I knew it from The Beastie Boys rather than Led Zeppelin. It wasn't until I got older and found Led Zeppelin that I realized, "Oh, that song I heard in the fifth grade, that guitar [part] came from this song." Even when I was in art school or in film school, it was just a thing that we did; it was just a tool that work inevitably talked about other work, through reference, or parody or ripping it off. It didn't matter.
|CASANOVA: GULA art|
It's interesting that with comics where you're constantly referring to continuity, the relay race style of doing a Marvel U book proper where you have 46 years of other guys doing it. I think it's a way of using that kind of muscle in a brand new book. I don't have 46 years of Casanova continuity to navigate around or refer to, but I can talk about “Diabolik” or Paul Bartel movies that nobody's seen. If nothing else, it's to try and contextualize it for myself. I think it's all about context, and very little about the audience. And our numbers show it. [Laughs]
I do the same stuff in the Marvel books, in tiny ways that don't make you feel, "Oh God, I have to go read seven books" or whatever. It'll just be a throwaway line, but if you get it, you get it. Just because I know who Parnell Jacobs is, doesn't mean anybody else does. But the other guy who does know who Parnell Jacobs is will enjoy the nod to him.
Marvel.com: One thing that's striking in CASANOVA is how alienated the characters are, how out of touch with the world around them they all are—except maybe Cornelius, who's kind of a jerk.
Matt Fraction: Who is the world around him.
Marvel.com: There's a grand tradition of comics about alienation at Marvel, all the way back to Ben Grimm and maybe even Namor and the original Human Torch. CASANOVA might be the strongest work about that subject since HOWARD THE DUCK. Casanova Quinn is literally a man out of time, someone not from this world. You even deal with the feeling of alienation within the stories, that sense that something is just off-key and wrong and not knowing why.
|CASANOVA: GULA art|
Matt Fraction: It's one of those things where you sit back and you go back and you look at it when it's finished and you see you've been talking about yourself the entire time. Or rather you've been talking about yourself in ways you didn't realize. It's incredibly autobiographical, and in ways that are often unintentional. I only realize in the rearview mirror how explicitly autobiographical I was being. It started off as a book being written by a guy who was putting in 80 to 120 hours a week at a motion graphics and design firm and going home and as long as he could keep his eyes open, writing comics. You know? It's about a guy looking for a better job.
Marvel.com: Why blend work and family so explicitly? Usually when people blend the two, they use surrogates, but with you it's right there. Casanova takes orders not from a father-figure boss, but from his actual father; he competes not with someone that feels like a sister, but with his actual sister. Why so direct?
Matt Fraction: I was running a business with five of my best friends and it was the lens through which I understand work. I'm not a vacation guy. You know the parts of the Michael Mann movies where you're supposed to be horrified by the relentless professionalism of the protagonist? It comes to that point where you're supposed to be like, "Oh my God! Stop!" I'm never like that when I watch those films. I'm more like, "Yes! Now it's time to go to work again!" There's no differentiation, I don't think.
Marvel.com: Are you a different person now than in 2006 in a way that shows up in CASANOVA?
|CASANOVA: GULA art|
Matt Fraction: Sure. I'm not sure I can articulate it. I hope that progression is happening, that change is happening. Maybe I'm trying to understand it through work. It's just me solipsizing endlessly. I think about Grant Morrison doing a stint where he was writing the same story in The Invisibles and Justice League. Literally telling the same story. I don't even know that he was conscious of it at the time. I understand how things like that happen now.
Marvel.com: You did an a really remarkable and revealing interview in LUXURIA #3 with a musician named Mike Doughty that touched on your shared experiences in recovery, about making art after becoming sober. Does sobriety change the way you look at heroic fiction? Has it changed the way you look at the world?
Matt Fraction: Oh, yeah. No doubt. If nothing else, it cuts through the romantic B.S. of the writer. There was a time where I looked at someone like Hunter S. Thompson with envy and awe. Now there's a sympathy and pity. If nothing else, I hope, it's made me more compassionate, and that can't help but make you a different writer. Just baseline compassion for your fellow man is pretty great and is something that solipsistic and egomaniacal addicts lack.
Marvel.com: What is the size and scope of Casanova when you're totally done? You mentioned a volume four, but how many volumes are there when you're totally done?
Matt Fraction: There are seven unique volumes that tell a whole story. One, two and three work as a sort of trilogy. Four is a kind of stand-alone piece that works as a bridge but is also wholly unique. Five through seven tell a second trilogy.
|CASANOVA: GULA art|
Whenever I take on a book I have a beginning and a middle and end. I know where I’m heading and I know how I’m going to get there. It's like planning a road trip without a map. You understand the rough geography of the country. You'll get to where you're going eventually. Maybe not the most efficient or the most direct way, but you'll intuit your way through it.
When I started to think about what the story was, and came up with the characters and started to think about how much time you wanted to spend with this guy, I found this story about this boy becoming a man, and how to parse that out in these little chunks, and what each kind of discrete unit would be and what these seven kind of story beats were. It's really a way of boiling down a traditional three-act structure into seven parts.
Marvel.com: A lot of what works or what doesn’t in a comic comes down to the execution of the story on the page. I was impressed with the set pieces in CASANOVA. It's lean. All of the scenes have a point; the violence resolves itself when it's shown, and there's a point to having shown it in the first place.
Matt Fraction: The hard part is figuring out what it's all about. That takes forever. The actual writing is a breeze. It's joyous. Figuring out the image is the hard part, putting it together is the fun stuff. That's the way I'm made. I can say, "Oh yeah, I wrote that script in two days!" But it took me three weeks to write the outline, and all the false starts count.
The typing is easy; it's the writing that's hard.
CASANOVA: GULA #4 arrives in stores on April 6; the first three issues as well as the collection of CASANOVA: LUXURIA are available now
Tom Spurgeon is a professional writer and editor who runs the award-winning blog The Comics Reporter