Matt Fraction fared very well in 2013, as multiple year-end lists can attest. “Hawkeye”, the highly acclaimed Marvel Comics series written by Fraction and illustrated by David Aja and other notable names, landed the top spot in CBR’s Top Comics of 2013; and he and Chip Zdarsky‘s creator-owned “Sex Criminals” not only launched from Image Comics with impressive numbers and inspired multiple, increasingly amusing printings of its first issue, it came in at No. 1 on Time‘s top comics of the year list — among heaps of other praise for his recent work from various outlets.
Nine days into 2014, Fraction began his follow-up at this year’s Image Expo in San Francisco, appearing on stage during publisher Eric Stephenson‘s keynote address to further discuss the upcoming “Ody-C” — a cosmic, gender-swapped adaptation of Homer’s “The Odyssey” illustrated by Christian Ward — and to break the news that “Casanova” was moving back to Image Comics after a few years under Marvel’s creator-owned Icon imprint.
This year also looks to be something of a transitional one for Fraction. Soon after his debut at the company in 2006 he became one of Marvel’s most high-profile writers, working on major events and flagship books like “Uncanny X-Men,” “Invincible Iron Man” and “The Mighty Thor.” But following the end of his “Fantastic Four” and “FF” run and the recent news that Charles Soule would replace Fraction as the new writer on upcoming series “Inhuman”, “Hawkeye” is currently his only announced project at the company.
CBR News spoke with Fraction backstage at Image Expo about all of the above and a whole lot more.
CBR News: Matt, let’s start by talking a bit about this past year for you, which not only built on the early success of “Hawkeye” in a big way, also saw the debut of “Sex Criminals,” which after only three issues was named Time‘s comic of the year — psychologically, how does all that feel?
Matt Fraction: It’s crazy. I’ve had the bad year. It’s nice as a reminder that you can be up and you can be down, and down is not out, and up is not over. It’s been amazing. It’s been head-shakingly amazing, and I will express my gratitude until the day I die for this past year.
With a book like “Sex Criminals,” which despite its appeal, was in some ways a tough sell — and indeed has proven to be tough to sell in certain outlets–
Yeah, there have been stores that don’t carry it. It is a tough sell; that is absolutely true.
To see something unconventional launch to such good numbers, does that almost renew your faith in readers? Or is it validating what you always thought was there?
It validates what I always thought was there. My career has always been guided by writing what I want to read, and making the books that I wish existed. I kind of had a feeling — there never really had been a book like that before, that I can think of. There’s been similar books, but in terms of comics, it felt like something new. It felt like the expression of a new idea. That’s what interested me.
I took a straw poll of a few retailers around Portland, and they all got really excited. And accepting that Portland is kind of an aggressively weird place sometimes, still, these are people who make their bread and butter on selling [“Avengers vs. X-Men”], and they’re not going to be excited about a book they’re not going to move to make me feel good. “Do you think there’s room for a dirty sex comedy? If there was a ‘Superbad’ on your shelf, or an ‘American Pie,’ do you think you could sell it?” Everybody got really excited, especially with what Image means these days. It’s been gratifying that other people felt there was a gap like I did; that other people wanted to read this stuff, too.
It’s been said that comics can tell any type of story, but sometimes, especially in mainstream American comics, there’s a sense that’s not always being tested in a prominent way. Has that been a deliberate goal of yours?
I just kind of write whatever it is I want to read at the time. I’ll think of a book that I wish existed, and then make it. That’s true of “Hawkeye;” it’s been true at Marvel, it’s been true at Image. What’s the Thor book I would want to read? What’s the Iron Man book I wish existed? It’s cool when it lines up with what people are into, because it means you get to keep doing it. And when you own it, it’s life-changing. So, it’s pretty dope.
The only negative story surrounding “Sex Criminals” has been the issue with Apple blocking sales of the book on comiXology’s iOS app, which obviously has to be frustrating.
They’re a retailer. They get to choose what they sell. I think I’ve said this before — I absolutely respect and understand their decision, and I absolutely have the right to make fun of them. There’s nothing more ridiculous than hypocrisy, especially hidden behind the tut-tut-tuting of moral outrage. Hypocrisy and moral outrage go together like peanut butter and jelly. You can buy the “Saw” films and “Hostel,” but you can’t buy “Sex Criminals.” Fine, they get to decide, it’s their rules, and I’m sure they will at some point staff up and realize this is ridiculous, or they’ll have faith in their own gateway system. But for now, their call, and I get to make fun of them.
I hate the idea that there’s any place that people can’t get the book, but we do our best with the digital stuff at Image, and comiXology’s been incredibly supportive of the book, especially in light of all the Apple trouble. I think there’s maybe a lesson learned from “Saga.” It’s unfortunate, but I hope that we can get the situation corrected. Whether that’s title, or cover content, I would like to be able to figure it out.
It does seem deliberately ambiguous in terms of what Apple constitutes as objectionable content.
In their guidelines, they’re not obligated to tell us, they don’t have to tell us. I would like to be able to find an accord. If it’s called “Whoopee Crooks” if you buy it on comiXology on iOS, that’s great. Whatever we have to do to get there.
You revealed more at “Ody-C” on stage at Image Expo, a gender-swapped version of “The Odyssey.” Were you always a mythology buff?
Yeah! It really started with wanting to write a hero for my daughter, and they’re not going to let me write “Wonder Woman” anytime soon. So I wanted to give her a classic hero that was a strong warrior and a strong woman and a strong mother, and there’s no better template for the hero than Odysseus. That, combined with wanting to find something appropriately cosmic for Christian [Ward] to draw — something that was appropriate for his talents.
Is that how the gender swap idea came about, wanting to write a hero for your daughter?
Yeah, why not make it Odysseus? I’m particularly compelled by the story — it’s about a father returning to his homestead. It’s more interesting when it’s a mother trying to be reunited with her daughter, to me.
What’s the format for “Ody-C”?
It’s going to be 24 chapters long, there will be 24 issues. Each issue will be a chapter of “The Odyssey,” and we’re going to bang through it.
So it sounds like a fairly direct adaptation — within the boundaries of the major changes you’re making.
There are big chunks of the story where like, for 10 years, nothing happened. In those sequential gaps, we’re going to fill in the missing story. It’s a story that depends on you knowing the other things that happened in these other heroic myth sagas, so we’re going to fold all those into [the narrative] — you’re really going to get the story about the three ships that left Troy and how they found their way home.
When I started to think about doing it, and re-read the “Odyssey” — it’s all out of order, you have to know what happened in three other things.
Like comics, as you pointed out on stage.
It’s exactly like comics! So, fuck it, let’s go for it.
Christian Ward is illustrating “Ody-C” — how did you first become aware of his work?
I knew him as an artist. I knew him before “Infinite Vacation.” He had this amazing painting of Takeshi Kitano blowing his brains out from the end of “Sonatine.” That was my desktop wallpaper. I knew him from Internet art, then when “Infinite” started, I was like, “Ah, there’s that guy!” We sort of exchanged mutual fan mail one day, and it became a thing.
You also revealed at the Image Expo keynote that “Casanova,” formerly of Marvel’s Icon line, is now back at its original home, Image. What prompted that decision?
It’s just best for the book right now. And that’s sort of what all the business decisions about “Casanova” have always been — “What is going to allow the book to exist right now?” This is the best place for us right now. I’m thrilled to be back.
It was the first comic I ever wrote, and I wrote it because Eric Stephenson asked if I wanted to write a comic. I had written short stories, and I had written graphic novels, but I hadn’t written a comic with staples. It was all on Eric. He was and is “Casanova’s” first fan, and I think I can channel the excitement and energy that Image has right now into recreating and rebirthing the series.
When the story opens up, Casanova has complete amnesia. Casanova doesn’t remember the first three volumes, and he’s not going to figure it out. So it’s kind of a perfect place for new readers to come in, because your lead character has no idea what happened in the past, either. An interstellar James Bond has complete amnesia, and Blofeld and all the bad guys find out. Basically everybody he’s ever pissed off, every woman whose heart he’s ever broke, every relationship he ever ruined, every person he’s ever left widowed or orphaned, find out he’s helpless as a kitten, living on our Earth, in a very regular, normal place, in Los Angeles, and all of the bad guys come after him. It’s like a sexy, psychedelic, spy-addled “Straw Dogs.”
This sets up the next trilogy. There were three volumes, and we’re going to put out hardcovers of those; we’re going to put out, I hope, a big collection of all three. But this is always going to stand alone, unless we collect everything in one giant book — which I’m not a fan of, but I could be swayed. This was always a standalone in the grand scheme of things. This is the most different; this is entirely independent. It’s the midpoint, and the main character doesn’t remember the first three — so, come on.
And we can’t ignore the Michael Chabon-written back-ups, which, from the news that surfaced a few months back, started with him being a fan?
That’s how we met. Chabon was on a book tour — he was in Lawrence, Kansas, this was when I lived in Kansas City — Jai [Nitz] and I went to meet him, talked about comics a little bit, and Michael expressed that he was a fan, and he knew that I was there, and was hoping I would come out. Jai said, “This is going to sound crazy, but Michael Chabon just said he wished you would come out and meet him.” I was terrified. I can’t express to you — I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it — how important of a writer he is to my life, and how important a writer he was to my development as a writer. I always feel weird saying, “This is the book that made me want to be a writer!” It feels so diminishing and silly. But he is an incredibly important person in my development.
I just didn’t believe it. I introduced myself — I brought him comics, which he then stopped me, and reached into his own bag. He had brought them just in case I came out. So we started to talk, then we became friends, and our families have broken bread together; I’ve watched his kids grow up.
One day we ended up on a podcast together, and we were joking around about doing something, and he said, “The only comics I want to write are back-up stories for ‘Casanova.'” “Done. You’re in. Let’s go.” Afterwards: “Were we kidding? How much of a joke was that?” “I’m not kidding at all.” So, away we go. One of my heroes is now writing a book with me.
We’re at Image Expo, and you have several projects with Image between “Ody-C,” “Sex Criminals,” “Satellite Sam” and “Casanova,” and right now you only have one book at Marvel — a very acclaimed one, “Hawkeye” — but that’s certainly different than it’s been for the last seven years or so for you.
It’s weird, people have been saying, “Oh my god, you’re so busy!” I was writing six and a half books for nine months, until September of last year, and no one mentioned my schedule. And now suddenly I’m overbooked.
I’m at this point banging out “Hawkeye,” and happy to. I want to get that done, just write all the scripts and get them banked, and finish that kind of thought and then figure out what comes next — whether that’s more “Hawkeye,” whether that’s something new, I don’t know. I don’t want to start [speculation], “He’s leaving Hawkeye!” I don’t know what’s coming next. It’s all very new. At this point, my head’s still spinning from everything.
People like to jump to conclusions when they hear things like “Matt Fraction’s off ‘Inhuman,'” but we’ve seen creators like Ed Brubaker, who was also a very prominent writer at Marvel, now focus solely on creator-owned comics. Is that something you could see yourself doing?
Sure. I also could have seen myself writing at Marvel for the rest of my life.
We tried to make “Inhuman” work. That was so much of my energy, and so much of my time, and just the idea to not have that anymore is a seismic change in my thinking. And it happened right before the holidays. And then suddenly Thanksgiving, and then Christmas — we’ll get there. Never say never. We’re talking about stuff now, but I feel like if you’re reading “Hawkeye,” we’re getting to the home stretch of this particular story. This is all building to a head now. I just want to stick the landing, and focus on this. Writing for two artists is complicated enough, and then I wrote for a third artist — Chris Eliopoulos is doing an issue, so suddenly there are three artists on “Hawkeye,” and there were four a while ago. We’re talking about stuff, and we’ll see what happens. But for now, “Hawkeye.”
Look for “Ody-C” and a new volume of “Casanova” from Image Comics later in 2014. “Hawkeye” is on sale monthly from Marvel Comics.