Image Comics' Casanova may just be one of the greatest comic books of all time, a fact I can probably prove with graphs and charts given enough time to prepare. Suffice to say that the book — ostensibly about Casanova Quinn, a super-spy kidnapped by his dead sister into a parallel dimension where she lives and he's dead — is unlike anything else around right now. We spoke with writer Matt Fraction to find out where the series had come from, what it all means, and what television show he'd revamp given the choice. Warning: Spoilers ahead. Also, people who don't want to see me being called a dick should not read any further.
Elsewhere on io9 I described Casanova like this: "Every science-fiction super-spy idea gets mixed up in this story that shows what happens when the black sheep of a spy family gets stolen into an alternate dimension where he's the white sheep for a change. Sexy robot girls! Floating heads that are scientific genuises! Incest! Catatonic mothers! It's all here, friends."
Matt Fraction: Hey, dick, you spoiled our surprise cameo color in that post. How about some spoiler warnings next time for people that might not know there's some purple in their future?
Spoiler: we see "Luxuria Green" come back in CASANOVA #13.
So, obvious first question: What the fuck, Matt? Where did this all come from?
I dunno. It was the first ongoing comic I was given and I was convinced I'd never be offered another one. So: get busy quick, you know? Cue "Lose Yourself." One shot, one moment, Mekhi Phifer, all of it: I thought nobody would ever ask again or give me the opportunity to lose their money and waste their time again. So if you (I) only had once chance to write a comic book, what would you (I) write— the 9,000th Batman rip-off, or would you (I) dig a little deeper maybe? In spite of the received wisdom suggesting the direct market seeks otherwise, I wrote a book I wanted to read; I wrote a book I hadn't seen before on the stands but had always wanted.
The series deals with some pure sci-fi concepts (time travel, alternate universes, robots, etc.) in a very offhanded, throwaway manner. Do you think that comic readers in general are so used to this stuff you don't need to spend time explaining it, or is it that it's so secondary to the human interactions that you want to write about?
Nah, it's just not what the book's about, at least to me. It's not about spies or floating heads or giant robots; it's not about what movies I've seen or what bands I like, no matter what the text bits at the back go on about. All that's maybe the form but not its content. Or not its only content, anyway.
Like, there's a line Ballard said of science fiction that "from the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century," and I guess, in my own sweetly retarded way, I'm looking to make Casanova the kind of "literature" from which my own intact reality might spring, or at least from which said reality may be divined. And not even in that base, Rod Serling sort of "Oh noez the martians are an allegory for immigrants and science fiction is really just symbolic social fiction and we've seen the enemy and it is us" sort of reality, not the shared reality of this craa-aaa-aaa-zy world we live in, but the brute, base reality of MY life, of my world and whatever it is I'm going through at any given moment. You make it all up and it all comes true anyway. As a writer, Casanova is the lens through which I try to view my life.
It's also an excuse to execute every abject genre jolly I ever had, so, y'know. Bonus.
Okay, so you say that the book's the reality of your life and whatever you're going through, which makes a lot of sense; reading the text pieces in the back of each issue, the reader gets the feeling that Casanova (the series) seems to be developing into some kind of allegorical almost-autobiography, with what happens to Casanova (the character) happening in some form to you, and vice versa - Is that why you decided to get rid of the character for the majority of the second volume, to give yourself a less dangerous life?
I think I can answer this question, and be somewhat disingenuous, as the answer would be predicated on what your personal perception of the second volume is, to date, which is — incomplete, or I can answer it and completely blow the ending and the resolution to the story and more than a couple fairly complicated reveals that I've worked really hard at not resolving prematurely. So I'm going to answer a question you didn't exactly ask and hope that it suffices.
In a story about choice, responsibility, and identity, I thought it might be of some value — as a writer — and hopefully of some entertainment — to a reader — to completely disregard any and all assumptions we all might have and see where that leads us. The biggest assumption, the most basic assumption, being that this is a book starring Casanova Quinn. The first volume studies Casanova as a character in positive space; the second, in the negative space that surrounded him. When it's done, both volumes form a kind of whole. For a book starring twins and drawn by twins, that felt kind of fitting. Then again, I'm easily entertained.
Talking about drawn by twins... Your artists Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon — Greatest comic artist brothers in existance? Discuss.
Ask me in about thirty years— Los Bros. Hernandez have a goddamn monstrous head start on them. That said there will undoubtedly come a day when people look back at their careers and marvel and laugh at the fact that they ever were saddled by working with a "writer."
Modesty or cheap shot at Gerard Way? Something else that seems to be happening in the second volume - and maybe connected to that last question about autobiography, or maybe I'm just reading into things — is that the writing seems to be going beyond the surface cool and into deeper, and kind of kinder, areas. The book seems to be more willing to wear its heart on its sleeve, instead of its influences, as it goes along if that makes sense. If I'm not imagining that, why the shift?
The short answer? It's a different volume, and if I had to write the same thing every month for the rest of my life I'd kill myself from the boredom. The first volume is very much about surfaces, about influences and reflections and the components of identity we scavenge from the world around us. As young people, becoming adults, I guess I think that so much of our character isn't actually our own; it's learned, reflected behavior, it's magpied aspects of personality we adopted from others. Like any arrogant teenager and like Hollywood, you get beneath surface tinsel to get to the real tinsel beneath.
So, now, moving on to the second volume, we explore what happens when an identity is chosen, a personality is set and a code is decided upon. Rather than action, it's about effect.
If we get to do the third volume, it'll be different still.
There's an "if" about that? Last chance to woo the io9 faithful, Matt: You have to choose between rebooting NBC's Bionic Woman or Sci-Fi's Flash Gordon on fear of death. Which one do you choose, and what do you do with it?
Flash Gordon. Hands down, not even an eyeblink worth of thought. The source material is crazy-rich, vivid, fantastic, fanatical, and pulpy and woefully, direly incorrect. To say nothing of having some of my very favorite art of the Golden Age of strips from both Raymond and Raboy. Hell, I'd rather reboot the Sam Jones FLASH movie a thousand times over. I love that movie. It's like what would happen if lycra and cocaine decided to make a movie.
Bionic Woman is a remake of a spinoff, for fuck's sake. That's like making a commercial for book of coupons.
If you haven't read Casanova yet, you really are missing out. Luckily, the entire first issue is available online here. You can also find out more about Matt Fraction at his website. Go and learn who Sister Fister is. You'll thank me, I promise.