Smooth. Debonair. Suave. Women want him. Men want to be him. International Man Of Mystery. Think you know who we’re talking about? James Bond? Nice try. Joe Casey? Sorry, no guitar. Matt Fraction? Getting warmer. You all out of guesses?
Are you saying you’ve never heard of Casanova? Seriously? Well, this June, Image Comics is going to open your eyes to a world unlike any other in comic books, when writer Matt Fraction (who will also be writing “Punisher: War Journal” for Marvel Comics) and artist Gabriel Bá bring “Casanova” to life. Without further adieu, CBR News is happy to let Fraction explain the basic of the series that he says has been building up inside of him his whole life.
“‘Casanova’ is the story of Casanova Quinn– cat burglar, art thief, gambler, rogue, scoundrel, etc. etc. etc.– and what happens when he’s blackmailed into serving E.M.P.I.R.E., an international anti-crime and terror organization that happens to be run by his father,” explained Fraction, and then continued to introduce the rest of the cast. “There’s Cass’ twin sister, Zephyr; she’s E.M.P.I.R.E.’s star agent. She dies off panel before the start of our first issue, but I think you’ll like her anyway. His father, Cornelius Quinn, is the utter and absolute definition of law and order. He allowed Cass’ dalliances with the seedy side of things in the past as long as no one got hurt, but once Zeph takes the dirt nap, Cornelius tightens his grip– right around Cass’ neck.
“His right hand man is a swearing, swarthy little root of dude named Buck McShane. With his bowler hat and ever-smoldering cigar, McShane is the guy behind the guy at E.M.P.I.R.E., and that means doing a lot of hands-on dirty work. Then there’s Cornelius’ opposite number, the sinister supervillain Newman Xeno, who is so much fun to write I literally giggle out loud the entire time he speaks. He’s wrapped in bandages head to toe, but wears these amazing Fifties suits and skinny ties. He looks like a be-bop mummy.
“And then there’s Fabula Berserko, destined to be the most sensational comics character you’ll encounter all afternoon.”
Make no mistake: Cass may seem like the cool guy who we all root for in action flicks, but that doesn’t make him the hero. The first issue of the series shows Cass and his opponents to be equally ruthless. This isn’t Mark Millar’ “Wanted,” but it’s also not a typical story of heroism either. “There are a lot of bastards in the book worse than him, but he’s definitely no hero,” explains Fraction. “I wouldn’t presuppose to guess how readers will react to Cass, nor to guess how they’ll feel about him issue to issue, but I personally find the guy endlessly intriguing, and engaging enough to hang a series on.
“In short: Whose side are YOU on?
“The answer is always CASANOVA.”
By now, Casanova is probably reminding you of those devil-may-care heroes of old, from Captain Kirk to James Bond, a comparison Fraction understands. But the CBR columnist feels that there’s an essential difference, explaining, “Well, Bond may have played at being devil may care but at the end of the day, he was all about Queen & Country. The thing with Cass is, when we meet him, he’s an utter hedonist beholden only to himself– a status quo that gets wildly upended by, uh, like page 14 or something. So at first the book really kind of focuses on that conflict between an otherwise wild horse suddenly forced to play by such uptight bullshittery as “rules” and stuff.”
The comparison to Bond is especially apt because “Casanova” feels like a love letter to those old spy flicks, but with an eye on the future. Fraction’s writing is full of super-cool escapes and escapades that only the perfect man could pull of and he’s not afraid to explain where that sense of bravado originated. “Spy stuff, swinging sixties and the ultraquaalude decadence of the seventies spy stuff from around the world… its real origins came from the very earliest pulp villains– Fantomas and Dr. Mabuse. The whole book is about taking all kinds of things as influences– from the obvious spy stuff to completely un-obvious sources, like song lyrics or even a kind chair with a design I love. When I started to worldbuild the thing, I keyed into the idea of wanting to collide everything around me into some kind of coherent whole. I was in a little diner jotting down notes for a scene that turned into the location the scene takes place in. I hear a tune and somehow the chorus turns into a plot twist. So, I mean– it’s a book influence by everything from Orbit Sweetmint gum to Lois the Pie Queen, located in beautiful Oakland, CA.”
The first issue of “Casanova” is a done-in-one tale, eschewing the current trend of multi-issue stories, and while that may lead some fans to believe the issues won’t be interconnected, it’s just a matter of Fraction being subtle. “I’ve been thinking about it in terms of a show like ‘Buffy’ or ‘Angel,’ where there’s an overwhelming completeness to each episode but, at the same time, each issue feeds into an over-arcing supernarrative that spans the length of a volume. Our number-one goal is to be entertaining; our number-two goal is to make sure nobody feels ripped off. Number three involves the pleasuring of women. Number four– making Image Comics happy they took the gamble on us and earning their tremendous support.
“All of these goals are achieved from me and Bá making each and every single issue a whole, satisfying experience that builds to an even bigger experience.”
At the end of “Casanova” #1, readers will find a brief essay by Fraction, explaining his passion for the series and the ideas within. Beyond that, readers will also find Fraction’s very frank comments about the current “writing for the trade” trend that fans feel some writers have embraced. When asked to expand on his comments, Fraction said, “Well, as a reader, I just think it makes for weak comic books. And I mean that as literally as possible– the stapled books themselves are sucky and spineless and unsatisfying little ripoffs. And it hurts the industry in that people start waiting for collections, as they’re considered to be both inevitable and the preferred way to read the stories, as they’re very clearly being WRITTEN for collection.
“This book started to come together when I wrote an ‘X-Men Unlimited” story last year and had to do a lot of trawling through old X-Men books. I was just stunned that the classic Claremont run was made up of 16, 17, 18 page comics– they’re so thick! They’re so massive, in their way. Huge. And that was a kind of touchstone– that comics at half the size of our present books could pack twice the punch. Why don’t today’s books read like that anymore?”
To that end, Fraction has created an extremely intricate and involving read in “Casanova” #1. It’s a dense, unrelenting read that gives the writer the amount of action and twists they’d find in six issues of other comics. But will that turn away readers, who are used to less eventful comics? “Oh, I think comics readers are a lot smarter than you’re giving them credit for,” contends Fraction. “We are readers, after all, and anyone able to keep freakin’ ‘Infinite Crisis’ or ‘Civil War’ even REMOTELY straight in their heads should have no problem with our brisk little comics party.”
While Fraction’s writing style is unique enough to hook fans, readers will undoubtedly be drawn in by the unique artistic style of Gabriel Bá. “Gabriel Bá came to the team through his twin brother, Fabio Moon,” said the scribe. “When Eric Stephenson and I were looking around for the right artist, we talked to Fabio and he– in his infinite wisdom and good spirit– had talked it over with Bá and they figured that HE was the right brother for the book.
“And, man, was he ever. I thank the inky gods every day that Fabio connected the two of us; Gabriel’s work is a revelation, a joy, an encouragement and an absolute pleasure. He’s a designer and an artist that makes me want to write better, to think better, and to make the book smarter. I love his style, I love what he brings to the page, and every issue has been better than the last.
“Gabriel is great. Gabriel is my Art Hero. And I can’t wait for him to be all of yours, too.”
For argument’s sake, let’s say you’re not sold on “Casanova.” You haven’t rushed out to pre-order. Well…Fraction’s got a few words for you. “It’s two bucks. And I’ll put our two-dollar book toe to toe against any of those fancy pants big city THREE dollar books with their college ideas and hoity-toity attitudes.
“No, wait, that sucks.
“I don’t know, man. ‘Casanova’ is the book that *I’ve* always wanted to read– because there is absolutely nothing else like it on the stands. If anyone else wants to come along, that’s just gravy.
“Oh, also, I think you’ll be sterilized by MONSANTO-brand killer bees if you don’t pre-order. But you’d have to check with either Eric Stephenson or Jim Demonakos at Image on that score.”
And now you can discuss this story on CBR’s Image Comics Forum.