Matt Fraction Gets Greedy with CASANOVA: AVARITIA
Matt Fraction Gets Greedy with CASANOVA
Matt Fraction has risen to become one of the biggest writers at Marvel Comics in the past few years, handling Thor, Iron Man, the X-Men and now Fear Itself. But before all that, he earned acclaim with his creator-owned series Casanova, which returns this September from Marvel’s Icon imprint with Casanova: Avaritia #1.
Nrama: This particular storyline of Casanova begins on a note of extreme self-hatred, with Cass sick, beaten down by a job he hates, forced to do shocking violence to himself, loathed by most of the supporting cast. Without giving away the storyline to come, I'm curious as to what your thinking was behind this. It seems almost in contradiction to the greed and avarice hinted at in the title.
Fraction: The macrostructure is that the first three volumes form a kind of complete thought as a trilogy; volume four is weirdly standalone and then, the final three volumes again form a kind of trilogy.
So if Casanova to date has followed a vague three-act structure, a Haglian dialectic, something in those clothes anyway, it means that this, then, that Avaritia, is the third act. Our hero is at his lowest after the ordeal at then end of part two and is in as asymmetric a place from the opening of volume one as he possibly could be. Even down to his first line there being inverted here.
And it's not a contradiction at all, I don't think; it's not Casanova's avarice that this volume is about. It wasn't his lust or gluttony, either.
Nrama: On that -- why the use of the Catholic Latin sin terms, if they don't reflect on the character? Though I suppose it could be that they're more reflective of the attitudes of the other characters, or they'll make more sense once the overall series is done, or that they just sound cool.
Fraction: It's not that they don't reflect on the character; rather, each arc wasn't necessarily "about" Casanova's 'sinful' behavior solely which isn't even "sinful," which is a concept I kind of reject... Everybody ate and f&*@ed in Gula constantly; it wasn't just Cass.
The whole story was about that joyless, endless, emptiness and the joyless, endless, emptiness trying to fill it evokes. So it's because they vaguely reflect the events of the story, the, uh, engines of the story, if you will. It's thematic rather than literal. To me, anyway.
Nrama: With this as the first miniseries that was designed for multiple colors from the get-go, you have an interesting contrast with the original two-color format on Casanova's "base" world and the wild schemes throughout the universes to which he travels, ranging from Kirby Krackle to Moebius-type futuristic cityscapes to limited 3-D. What were the biggest challenges in workign with Cris in crafting the different color schemes and using them to comment on the shifts in location? Also, I have only now realized -- is the 919 universe from which Cass originates a reference to the area code for most of North Carolina?
Fraction: Um... trusting that she'd be able to speak Casanova like the twins and I do. The good news is she doesn't just speak it, she sings it, and god, she makes us all look so much better. She's wholly integral to the process now; I write as much for her as for Bá and Moon. Dustin, too.
The whole art team has congealed. I have the same faith in Cris' colors and Dharbin's lettering effects as I do in the work of the boys. So the challenge was really on them, in how they got her on board doing the reprints. I just followed it very closely and saw how they were teaching her. Now it's samo-samo, in a way. Just another day at CasanovaCorp.
You're the first one to get the 919 thing. Also it's a different number set upside-down...
Nrama: One of the most elaborate pages is a straight-up homage to Jim Starlin's Warlock #11, the sequence leading to the death of the Magus, which I can only remember offhand because Douglas Wolk had a page on it in Reading Comics. How difficult was it to arrange that page, and what role did Starlin's work on Warlock play in influencing your writing/visual style?
Fraction: Wait, what? I love Warlock and I have no idea what you're talking about. And I know the twins have never seen it... Gabriel and I did another unintentional Starlin homage in the first Casanova arc but that was before I'd read Warlock as an adult; in fact I've not read it since. And I never read Reading Comics, so I've literally no idea what's going on. What did I do?
Okay-- writing this sentence later-- and I've dug through my Warlocks and I think I found the page you mean. Wholly unintended. And wholly unremembered, too, for what it's worth, but still. Funny. You think you figure something out and... and you're just biting somebody's style from 30 years ago.
That page took me an entire day to write... like... it was long. I was in Florida, it was f&*@ing hot, my back hurt, and I was going crazy doing it. I remember that much. An entire day, Zack. Isn't that sad? And I had to draw it, too, to send the twins, just in case it was wholly undecipherable. Wanted to make sure it read right. Anyway but no Warlock reference or homage intended. And I got no problem owning up to it when I do it...!
Newsarama Note: Fraction asked us not to run the specific Casanova page to avoid spoilers, but here is the Starlin Warlock page anyway, because it’s awesome.
Nevertheless: that is a very, very, special era of Jim Starlin's work and I do love it sincerely. I wanted to do a Warlock series with David Aja but nobody was into it. I don't even think David was into it. Ahh, well.
The only comic I can specifically, deliberately, point to and say this was a reference point/inspiration/touchstone for Casanova: Avaritia is Janwillem van de Wetering and Paul Kirchner's Murder by Remote Control.
Oh! and The Adventures of Luther Arkwright. Murder by Remote Control and Luther Awkwright.
Nrama: (A few of the post-coital shots of Cass and Lisi in bed reminded me of Barbarella in bed with the robot, but I don't know if that's a conscious homage i.e. the two-color look of the previous volumes)
Fraction: Barbarella is subtextual to every moment of Sasa Lisi's presence in Avaritia; even I didn't realize how much until I read Fábio's piece at the end of the Gula collection. It wasn't a deliberate reference, however. There's a difference. Knowwhatimean?
Nrama: The status quo of Casanova seems to be no status. The first issue starts with a premise it reverses halfway through, then reverses that premise again by the end of the storyline, then skips over two full years of that to an effective finale by the end of the second volume (during which time, half the supporting cast grows up and the protagonist is seemingly nowhere to be found).
How holistically do you view the overall arc of Avaritia, and how much comes from not just the spontaneity that occurs as you're writing a script, but the change in perspective that occurs as you evolve as a writer and a person?
Fraction: Well, Casanova was the first comic-with-staples I was ever given the chance to write; it's mission statement from day one has been to be the book I'd want to read and what I want to read has changed over the years... so in its design, Casanova was made to move, to shift, to change.
I'm going to look up ‘holistic’ now to make sure I understand it as you do, because I don't want to seem glib.
Later, after it’s been determined that the term ‘holistic’ was used incorrectly…
Hm. I'm not sure I understand the question, or at least, if I do, I don't realize I understand it. The arc is in place, the macrostructure, the story, in the way that, were you to close your eyes, you could, presumably, envision a map of the United States.
Were I to suggest to you let's drive to Los Angeles from Chicago, you'd know roughly where Chicago was, you'd know roughly where Los Angles was. You'd know you'd have to cross the Mississippi at some point; you'd know north means mountains and south means plains and desert and eventually Texas... but you'd maybe have no clue beyond that.
Could you make that drive, relying on your own innate sense of direction to get you there, and trusting your abilities as a driver to adapt and improvise as needed? I bet you could.
Writing Casanova is the same sort of process.
Nrama: My idea was about the series being plotted as a whole vs. issue-by-issue/scene-by-scene, but I think I lost my point somewhere in the underbrush.
Fraction: It's pulled back a bit further than that. Beginning/middle/end is about as specific as I get.
But, like, there are exceptions. There's a panel in Avaritia #4 I've been writing to since the opening of Luxuria #1. You know what I mean?
Nrama: Well, as a counterpoint -- when you reread the older issues prior to doing this storyline, what specific elements in the writing do you feel reflect the perspective you had five years ago, as opposed to today?
Fraction: I was, uh, deeply sobered by rereading the older issues. I had, in the back of my mind, that this was the book that had sort of... I dunno, made my bones-- lots of guys stopped talking to me when I started at Marvel but in my mind I felt like Casanova was the book that.. well, whatever it was, I thought it was better than it was. Rereading it was kind of depressing; it wasn't as good as I remembered it as being.
And it's all autobiographical, Zack, so I'm not sure how to... um, without completely tearing the veil away, as it were, how to answer your questions honestly. Allof Gula is who I was when I was writing Gula; all of Luxuria was me then. And now Avaritia is now but... yknow. Spies, scifi, boobs, underballs, etc.
I think maybe any writer worth his salt reflects their perspective at the moment they write? Otherwise... what are you saying? And why? I dunno; it's late, maybe I'm not thinking it through clearly enough.
Nrama: And on a far, far simpler note: I was most amused that you found a way to pull off a freeze frame in a medium that's ALL static images. What was the challenge in figuring that out?
Fraction:: Umm... once I knew I wanted to do it, I just wrote it. It was a pain in the ass for Bá and Dharb and Cris I'm sure.
It's funny, I just wanted there to be a kind of color hold and grain added to those panels; Bá came up with the notion of dropping stage lighting down. Dharb played around with a few different lettering techniques to get there... we had a long lead time to let us figure out and explore how all this new $#!t would work.
Nrama: In the name of including a juvenile, prurient joke question, I am curious as to why there is so much full-frontal from Cass this issue. Attempted to create some sort of pun involving the term "Moorcock," but it would just demean us both.
Fraction: Turnabout is fair play.
We created the term "underball" to describe, well, 'underball shots' of which we have a lot. And "exomuffin" to describe visible labia majora. Team Avaritia is nothing if not thorough in its dedication to crafting a new language of comics.
Underball & Exomuffin. They fight crime! Or are f&*@ing laywers. I don't know. From the producers of Franklin & Bash and Rizolli & Isles.
Nrama: So over the past year, the original series has been reissued through Marvel, and I am most curious as to what's been the most interesting reactions you've had from readers who've discovered it, particularly those only used to your writing hammer-y and armor-y and mutant-y things.
Fraction: People who love it super-duper-love it. It's always amazing and gratifying. They get that crazy oh-$#!t-we're-in-the-same-tribe-i-thought-i-was-the-last-kung-fu-panda-oh-$#!t-oh-$#!t sort of vibe thing that just... it's touching. Like, mission accomplished. You are not alone.
Nrama: What are the most challenging and rewarding things about writing Casanova?
Fraction: All of it is a challenge, Zack. All of it. There has not been a single thing with Casanova that has gone smoothly or easily f&*@ing ever. EVER.
The rewarding thing about writing Casanova comes from just simply getting it done. Whether or not it makes any sense to anybody anywhere is outside of my hands but the sheer effort of wrestling the thoughts out of my head and into submission on the page is at least satisfying on some level.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Fraction: How you been?
Casanova: Avaritia #1 blasts into our dimension in September. Ask your shop for it with order code JUL110708