C2E2 2010: MATT FRACTION on CASANOVA's Move to ICON

In the six years since the debut of Marvel’s Icon imprint, this boutique creator-owned imprint has hosted creator-owned work by comics luminaries such as Brian Michael Bendis, David Mack, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Mark Millar, Steve McNiven, J. Michael Straczynski and even Jack Kirby himself. But coming this summer, a real casanova is coming to the fold.

Casanova, that is.

Created by writer Matt Fraction and artists Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, Casanova originally debuted back in 2006 at Image and ran a total of fourteen issues before going on hiatus. The series told the story of Casanova Quinn, the son of who gets tangled up, tossed and tied into his family’s business: the business of espionage. In the two story arcs released thus far, Casanova has gone up against both his parents, his sister and even some people he’s not related to. The series has bent space, time and a couple genres to boot, and now it’s making the jump to Marvel’s boutique Icon imprint.

But why?

“We’re a better fit at Icon,” Fraction said bluntly. “Aside from being imprint-mates with Powers and Criminal (and everything else that's to come), Casanova now has the production support, promotional backbone, and catalog placement that being an Icon book affords it-- to say nothing of the huge raise in profile. It's an honor to be asked to be a part of the line.”

The Icon imprint was founded with the exodus of two Image titles back in 2004 with Bendis & Oeming’s Powers and Mack’s Kabuki, but has gone on to be the birthplace of several new creator-owned series over the years including the just announced XO series from Bendis and Alex Maleev. With this change-up in publishers and promise of new issues to come, the creators decided the first thing they should do is re-release the long out-of-print issues of the original run – with some changes. Casanova was originally released in the 16 page $1.99 “Slimline” format that Warren Ellis pioneered with the series Fell, and Casanova took to that same format. But in this new Icon issues, they will forgo the experimental size and price point in favor of a more traditional release.

““The shortest answer to why [we’re not doing this in the “Slimline” format] is that, for us, the format was ultimately a failure,” Fraction explained. “Had we gone full size, or maybe full color, maybe it would've been different but, as it was, the book was too easy for retailers and readers to ignore. Clearly Warren and Ben have made the format work beautifully with Fell, and Darwyn Cooke makes monocolor sing with his Parker books but we're neither Warren and Ben nor Darwyn. And having done just about every convention under the sun and talked to as many retailers as I could about the book, that's coming from the mouths of an awful lot of folks who sell the things.”

When originally released, the creators of Casanova were in the early stages of their budding comics careers – and since then have gone on to great heights, with Ba and Moon working on their own series Daytripper and Fraction becoming one of the pillars of Marvel’s writing cabal. But doing Casanova back then was more difficult for the budding creators, who hadn’t yet attained the name recognition they have now.

Casanova has never been an easy project,” said Gabriel Ba, who drew the first story-arc. “Not easy to write, not easy to draw and a hard sell. Don't get me wrong, it's a great book, but it's not for the regular joe. It's more, let's say, for the "experienced" comic book reader that will appreciate all its layers. With our careers just starting 4 years ago we didn't have a good enough following of readers, our sales were not good enough and that cheap cover price didn't help after all, it became financially impossible for us to keep doing Casanova back then. We couldn't make it while doing something else to pay the bills, since it's such a hard-to-do project.“

But it’s something fans had been asking about for years – literally.

“What I know is that people want Casanova back. They want it so bad they fell for my April's fool joke last year (which I did because I wanted Casanova back too),” said Fabio Moon, who illustrated the second story-arc and in 2009 posted new artwork for Casanova which at the time was an April’s Fools joke. “I finished the artwork for the last publish issue of Casanova two years ago (on April 9th, 2008) and basically we knew we had to live in a different reality to make it come back. Now, the time has come.

Fast-forward four years from the series debut, and the trio have made leaps and bounds in the world of comics – with Fraction’s status as one of Marvel’s key writers with work on Invincible Iron Man and Uncanny X-Men allowing him access to the elite creator-owned Icon imprint. That gave them the opportunity to revisit the series and re-establish it before working on new issues.

“So, for the book to live,” Fraction continued,” and for me, Gabriel, and Fábio, to get to tell the story we want to tell-- which is far more important than format and appearance, honestly-- we had to make the oh-so-painful not-really-I'm-just-kidding-about-it-being-painful compromise of going full size, full color, and full price. While we loved what it was, we love what it's become, too. And now there's the bonus that maybe stores will carry it and people will buy it.”

The original Casanova issues at Image were in the shorter 16 page format, so in the Icon version they will be doubling up issues for the larger Icon issues – save for Casanova #1.

“Well, the first issue of v1 was 26 pages. So I wrote a 6 page short that Fábio is drawing,” said the writer. “It's fun because it's about a tangent character from the first issue-- we get to see the beginning and end of her story-- as her life intersects with Casanova Quinn. And we've never seen Fábio doing "Gabriel's characters" in "Gabriel's world" before, doing his take on Gabriel's Casanova arc. Anyway, so that takes the first issue up to 32 story pages, which is how much comics you'll be getting in each issue after that.”

More than just an ancillary tale, this new story featured at the end of Casanova #1 is the creative team’s first chance to revisit their characters after many years on the shelf.

“I can tell you it takes place in the past and it came from the future,” said Moon about the back-up story. “I can also tell you it had more pages of script for an eight page story than the scripts I write for 22 pages. Seriously, I can say these are the first pages of Casanova done having in mind they will be in color. It's a completely different mindset, working in color, knowing you'll have color to play with, and at the same time you want to be consistent with the rest of the series, with the look we're trying to give to Casanova.”

The final issue of the second Casanova story-arc, “Gula”, was also released in the larger 26 page format – so you can expect an extra story there to round out the second story-arc and lead into the third arc.

“So when we get to the end of the V2 reprint, there'll be another bonus story, this time a take of a ‘Gula’ character that'll be drawn by Gabriel, just to put the shoe on the other foot, and serve as his warm-up for the brain-battering third arc,” promised Fraction.

When readers open up the pages of the new Casanova #1, the new story won’t be the first thing that they’ll notice is different – as Fraction explained, the series will be re-colored as a full color book as opposed to the previous monotone look.

“Our colorist, hand picked by the twins in a process that has been described to me as the "Brazilian 'American Idol' of Art" by my cats, who are both drunks, is the divine Cristiane Peter,” said Fraction. “Working very carefully with the formerly color-averse Boys From Brazil, she's taken every page, every scene, and... lit it. Check out some of the comparison pages alongside this article and you'll see the difference. And you, like me, won't miss the monotone at all. It's like a film shot by Chris Doyle now. Incredible.”

Another new addition to the creative team is an old friend of Fraction, and up & coming player on the comics’ scene for his own comics work.

“Also, Mr. Dustin K Harbin, whom I have known and loved-- that's right, loved-- since I was 20-- and who is an astonishingly gifted cartoonist in his own right (www.dharbin.com), is hand-lettering the entire series from scratch,” said Fraction. “Because, um, apparently we can't ever do anything simply on Team Casanova.”

Although Fraction had nothing bad to say about the original digital lettering seen in the Image issues of Casanova, he saw these re-issues as a chance to tweak it with his love of hand-lettering.

“Not that the old lettering wasn't fine and dandy but it was digital, and no matter how great and fast and clean digital lettering is it's still digital, it's still cold and computer-perfect,” explained Fraction. “And while almost all the industry does digital lettering these days, dammit, we own Casanova so we get to make the decisions-- regardless of how absurdly work-intensive they may be. Dharbin, who has, and has always had, the greatest handwriting of anyone alive (that isn't, maybe, Jaime Hernandez), is the missing thing, the inarticulate third heat our Casanova Microwave needed. So: recolored, relettered. New bonus matter. Gorgeous new cover and paper stock. Oh! And trade dress. And all new covers.”

The stylized covers produced by the Brazilian brothers definitely stood out on comic shelves at the time, but given the chance to revisit them – they both found an opportunity to improve on themselves.

“As much as I like the original covers, they were the best I could do back then and I have grown as an artist since,” Gabriel explained. “ So I felt we could have a bigger impact on the covers. Also, we're trying to set the book's identity with the reader and the new covers will help on that goal. This book is different from everything else and these covers have to take it to the next level.”

For long-time readers, the next level for them will be as the Icon Casanova transitions out of the remastered reprints and into the all-new territory of the third story-arc and beyond.

“We’ll begin that right after ‘Gula’ concludes,” said Fraction. There might be a short break between arcs, but it won’t be long. Gabriel, Fabio, Cris, Dharb and me will be the team , and it’ll be 32 pages an issue.”

“The whole idea is to finally be able to do all seven story-arcs of Casanova,” said Ba. In an earlier interview, Fraction explained the series plan as seven collections each subtitled with the Latin word for the “seven deadly” sins, in the following order:: Luxuria, Gula, Avaritia, Acedia, Ira, Invidia and Superbia. With two already done but five more to go, they’ve got a lot of road – and pages – ahead of them. But for these creators, they’re looking forward to it just as much as the readers.

“The first line of dialogue [for the third story arc] is ‘Was it the cancer?’,” revealed Fraction. “The title of the issue is ‘W.A.S.T.E.-Free Wilderness. I can’t wait for people to finally get to read it.”

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