Fraction Looks for the New, from HAWKEYE to SEX CRIMINALS

 

Matt Fraction has certainly been successful in his years at Marvel, but he's made it clear that he's not interested in standing still. That's evident in works like the acclaimed ongoing series Hawkeye, which takes Clint Barton away from his familiar Avengers surroundings, and his approach to the recently relaunched Fantastic Four and its companion title, FF.

This mindset extends to his creator-owned work, which looks to have a robust 2013 with the impending debuts of Satellite Sam — a collaboration with Howard Chaykin about a murdered children's TV show host — plus a series drawn by Chip Zdarsky that aims to bring sex comedy to the world of comic books, titled Sex Criminals (be careful when Googling that one).

Following the recent news that he'd be donating his royalty check from January's Hurricane Sandy-inspired Hawkeye #7 to the Red Cross, Newsarama talked with Fraction to discuss that series and the rest of his current slate, all of which share a similar ethos of "do something new."

Newsarama: Matt, Hawkeye is striking in that in just about every aspect of it, it looks and feels different than any other Marvel book right now. Both visually, and also in the stories, which have obviously tended to be more grounded. Was it always part of the idea to make it deliberately different? Sort of an anti-superhero superhero book?

 

Matt Fraction: Different wasn't necessarily the goal, neither anything as articulate as "anti-superhero." It all came out in the writing in terms of what sort of felt true to the character. He's the regular guy and these are the kinds of stories that I wanted to tell. I wanted to not be bored, and not do something that I had seen, or read before. There have been lots of Hawkeye books, and I've liked a lot of them, but they don't seem to last very long. So worst case, I thought, "Well, this book isn't going to last very long. Go out doing something different. Go out doing something you can be proud of, that doesn't look like a pale imitation of something else.

My first pitch — I actually pitched on this and was OK'd to write it, and then quit, because I had sort of the wrong take on it. I had a much more James Bond take at first — very international and cosmopolitan, lots of suits and women, exotic hotels and stuff like that. But that wasn't really Clint Barton. It didn't really work, so I bowed out again, and then at some point for whatever reason came up with The Rockford Files kind of approach, and then suddenly, that was it. I just had it. He's the regular guy who can't stop doing good even if it kills him. This is what he does when he's not an Avenger, this is what he does when he's outside the mansion, and he punches his card and goes home. This is Clint Barton not being able to stop being a good guy even though he's in a t-shirt and jeans.

Nrama: Right, just the fact that he's not really in costume other than in brief instances makes it distinct.

 

Fraction: And none of that was planned. It all came out in the writing. The first issue was done, and someone pointed out, "We didn't actually call him Hawkeye in the first issue." It wasn't deliberate, I hadn't noticed, it's just how it came out.

Nrama: Which lends itself to fun contrasts like in issue #4, when things look not dissimilar to the real world and then a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier shows up.

Fraction: I sent Steve [Wacker] #8 the other day, and said, "Hey, good news, he shoots an arrow in this issue!"  We might use it as a cover blurb.

Clint's got plenty of superhero books out there in the world. He's in three — possibly four Avengers books, not counting any of the Ultimate books. [Laughs.] There's a lot of Super-Clint going around. There's a lot of peanut butter, here's a little jelly.

Nrama: And it even seems like a different comic book for you, especially opposed to Fantastic Four.

Fraction: Which is literally not on Earth.

Nrama: How much is Hawkeye a different experience for you as a writer?

 

Fraction: I've never done anything like this before. It's way closer to something like Last of the Independents, my first graphic novel, then anything else.

Nrama: Another relevant aspect of the book is the role of Kate Bishop, who's essentially the co-star of the book. Though she's also in the new Young Avengers, how important is to you to keep a newer character like that not only visible, but not compromised? She didn't have to stop being "Hawkeye" when Clint Barton came back to life.

Fraction: I'm a big fan of Young Avengers, and I was a big fan of hers. I wrote the issue where the two of them first kind of got together, and she basically got the OK to keep trading on his name. I've been a fan of the two of them ever since — this sort of beat-down Steed & Peel thing they have, with both of them showing up to save each other at the right time. It's a good partnership.

Nrama: Their dynamic is refreshing, in that it's been made clear that nothing is going to happen romantically between them, when Clint plainly said, "I don't want to sleep with you."

Fraction: There's no subtext there. When he said "I don't want to sleep with you," it meant, "I don't want to sleep with you." Clint's subtext is Clint's text.

 

It's Steed & Peel. The UK Avengers is the template for it — playful, and they can be flirty, but there's no genuine sexual tension. It will not happen. At least while I'm writing it. It's not anything I'm interested in seeing, and I like the idea of Clint realizing, "I don't want to sleep with you. It's kind of why we're great partners. Tension will not pollute us., nor will my inability to not-smother to death the nice things that happen to me."

Nrama: Though Hawkeye is, as noted, unconventional, it appears to be a success based on just about any discernible measure — critically, and sales wise-too, as there have been multiple printings of the early issues.

Fraction: Yeah, it's gone into third printing on #1 and #2, issue #3 just went into a second printing. A new issue comes out, and retailers reorder all of the old ones. So that's great. I think having three issues out, boom boom boom, and hopefully the attention we're getting for the Red Cross issue, will only push things further along.

Nrama: That's pretty rare for comics, right? It seems that most series at the major publishers don't usually get the chance to build buzz, it's either come in with big start, or nothing.

Fraction: Yeah. Defenders got cancelled by the time the first issue came out. The reality of things is that I wasn't expecting to write this much past #8.

 

Nrama: Defenders was a somewhat similar case in that it was also you trying something different within your work at Marvel — is it gratifying to see Hawkeye embraced after that series ended?

Fraction: It beats being kicked in the nuts, sure. Especially because there were no expectations for this. That's way better than the alternative.

Nrama: If we can talk about Fantastic Four and FF a bit, obviously both of those series are still in the very early going, but I did want to ask about working with Mark Bagley and Mike Allred. Beyond being two of the biggest names in comics in the past 20 years or so, I think there are definitely similarities visually, in that they both have a sort of classic approach — albeit expressed very differently.  What has that experience been like thus far, for you?

Fraction: It's an honor and a privilege and it's thrilling and it's intimidating. It's great to wake up in the morning and have a mailbox full of art from those two dudes. It's been terrific. I've been a fan of theirs forever. Forever! They've literally done some of my favorite comics ever. It's a crazy, crazy thing.

 

You're right in that they're sort of classically similar, but different enough that I'm not going to ever confuse what I'm writing. The character of who they are, and how they draw, and what their art is, is finding its way into the books themselves. It's pretty terrific.

And Mike was the first pro who was ever cool to me at a convention. I wouldn't be in comics if it wasn't for Mike Allred. He's the guy, at every show I've done, I wanted to be as great to everybody I met as he was to me. I have failed, time and time again, for sure, but Mike is my aspirational role model when it comes to going shows and how to behave. I want to be like Mike Allred to everyone. I want to give everyone the experience Mike Allred gave me.

Nrama: When did you first meet him?

Fraction: It was… Heroes Con '94? It was the weekend of the O.J. thing, so at bar con that Friday night, everybody was watching the Bronco chase.

Nrama: It's interesting to see Scott Lang  at the center of FF, at least after the first issue, since he was out of rotation for so long. Do you see him as effectively the main character of that book?

 

Fraction: He's the broken daddy of this broken family, y'know? It's an ensemble book, but he's the head of the ensemble.

The thing that interests me about him is that he lost his daughter. He's a father in mourning that now is in charge of a school of children. There's friction and drama and tragedy there.

Nrama: You've also announced another new creator-owned series, which certainly has an intriguing titles — Sex Criminals. What can you say about that?

Fraction: Sex Criminals is being drawn now. It's me and Chip Zdarksy, it's a sexy comedy. A sex comedy. It'll be out, I think, in the summer.

Nrama: Is that a miniseries? Ongoing?

 

Fraction: I'd like it to go as long as we can go. So we're launching as an ongoing. It's about a lady who, when she has sex, stops time, and she remains conscious and cognizant and everything around her freezes. She has a kind of alienated and disconnected life, as you could imagine, if the most intimate of personal connections you could make with another human being results in you being removed from the entirety of time and space. One day, she meets a boy with the same gift, and the two of them do what anyone would do with the ability to stop time by having sex— they rob banks. It's like Crank, but with lots of laughs and sex.

Nrama: Your comments in the press release for it had a very good point, that it's a genre that hasn't really been attempted in comic books before.

Fraction: Yeah! There's never been a Superbad or a 40-Year-Old Virgin in comics, not really. These movies are a dime a dozen in the world of film, or even in novels or television, but there's never really been one in comics before, that I've been able to think of.

When you see the effects that happen when they're outside of the timestream, it's a sex comedy with a very visual hook. There's a look to this. It's not just people standing still - because, y'know, it's comics, so how do you show people frozen in time? Chip has this really great treatment to what frozen time looks like. I've never seen a book like this before, and retailers I've run the idea by get very excited by it, because they've never seen one, heard of one, or sold one like that, either. I think it'll fill a niche, and I hope it's funny. I hope people dig it. It's certainly not the 10th X-Men ripoff you've read.

Nrama: And you're also working on Satellite Sam with Howard Chaykin, on top of all of that.

Fraction: Yeah, that'll be spring/summer as well. Noir. Dark, dark noir. It's about a murder during the golden age of television.

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