Rock n' roll, drugs, sex, robots, robots having sex on drugs, hover-bikes, parallel universes, casinos in the sky, psychic staring contests, warped perversions of science, supercriminal masterminds, floating heads, betrayal, sibling rivalry, déjà vu, and girls in sexy nurse outfits!
That's just Chapter 1.
Meet Casanova Quinn, the star of Matt Fraction & Gabriel Bá's psychedelic super pastiche, "Casanova." He's a cool guy. A gentleman. A ladies' man. A highwayman. That's right, the son of the highest-ranking lawman on the entire planet, Casanova Quinn is also the world's greatest thief . When Cass sort-of-but-not-really makes the move from stealing to kidnapping, he starts a chain reaction that sends him plummeting down the cold, dark waterslide of spacetime and into the deep pool of transdimensional super-espionage, treachery and blackmail at the hands of his estranged father's worst enemy and his own dead twin sister from another universe.
With "Casanova's" serial run winding down today with issue #7 and the complete volume 1, "Casanova: Luxuria," shipping in April from Image Comics, CBR News (barely) caught up with writer Matt Fraction to talk about the indie comics hit, the music and pop culture that influenced it, and what the special secret at the heart of "Casanova" really looks like.
"It looks like Ruby Berserko," confesses Fraction. "And she loves you." Ruby Berserko is the result of retrofitting the grotesque floating head super-gambling crimedroid Fabula Berserko with the state-of-the-art robot brain of a sexbot named Ruby. She is Casanova's intel specialist, floats around wearing false eyelashes and a Goldilocks wig, and is profoundly disturbing. "After seeing how ['Casanova' artist Gabriel] Bá drew Fabula, I felt ridiculously happy and I wanted to see the character again. The gag with the transgender thing presented itself and so I wrote it and Bá drew it and, again, I felt total joy and I wanted to see her again and again. Now Ruby is kind of my favorite character."
It is this gorgeous synthesis of ludicrously high yet seemingly disparate concepts that has become one of "Casanova's" calling cards. Since its debut last year, the book has earned itself a reputation as a destination for readers who like their pop culture to really pop , with each new chapter surpassing the last in density of ideas, style and fun. Looking like a cross between Mick Jagger and James Bond, Casanova Quinn himself is a totem of the 1960s "superspy" mini-genre and all its aesthetic trimmings. Not really bad, but certainly no hero either, Cass lives more or less without restraint - and without purpose.
"He's me, you know? He's Bá, he's you. He's any young man on the cusp or just passed actual adulthood, faced with having to deal with Real Shit for the first time ever - family, and duty, and responsibility, and integrity and love and passion and everything else.
"Cass, as we meet him and follow him across this first album, is a guy that gets to make a choice between living in arrested adolescence his whole life or actually manning up and fighting to become someone."
Kicking Cass into the bounce house of destiny is Newman Xeno, his father's arch rival and impresario of the multidimensional supercrime syndicate W.A.S.T.E. His face covered in bandages and shades and dressed in a slick suit, it was Xeno who hunted Casanova across parallel universes, blackmailed him, and then deposited him in a timeline where everyone thinks Cass is a great guy. It is in that world that Cass must work to destroy from within his father's international peace keeping task force E.M.P.I.R.E.
"We've only seen the tip of his particularly black and twisted iceberg," warned Fraction. "[Xeno's] got some of the best lines in issue 7, my favorite being 'Great question, Sascha, but the sweetbreads are neither sweet, nor bread' as he's standing over some poor bastard that's restrained to a carving table."
Although Casanova and his dad never really had an Opie & Andy thing going on, they aren't exactly Luke & Vader, either. It's not an easy thing to conspire with transuniversal villains to wreck your father's life and endanger the entire multiverse. Making things even harder on Cass is Zephyr, the alternate timeline version of his dead twin sister, who in Xeno's world is a vicious yet fabulously dressed, power-mad hedonist and Xeno's top agent.
"[Zeph] has that Destro-esque love to hate/hate to love thing going for her," Fraction explained. "And she's hellbent on exploring the boundaries of just what incest is and isn't - which, to my unending horror and to the unending displeasure of our readership (I'm looking at you , Ed Brubaker), she doesn't explore quite far enough. She seems like she's nine kinds of evil, but only Casanova knows her like she needs to be known."
Illustrating the sultry Zephyr, debonair Casanova and their high-contrast world of high-end style is the remarkable Gabriel Bá, who's creating in "Casanova" some of the best looking and most unique comic book artwork in recent memory. The book's two-tone landscape gives each chapter a sublime sense of time and place; a fantastic world of action and intrigue straight out of genre books and films that you somehow know intimately yet weren't actually alive to have read or seen. Part Mike Mingola, part Jim Steranko, part every crazy album cover you ever saw, Gabriel Bá loads his pages with depth and detail, so much so that to turn to any random page results in an explosion of content. Together, Fraction and Bá have packed so many ideas into "Casanova," the reader will often feel like they're overflowing like foam from a shaken up soda can.
"Inventing the grammar for our book along with Bá as we went along was fun," said Fraction. It was uncharted territory for each of us, and every issue was different. I mean, poor Gabriel has had to visually invent seven or more wholly different worlds, you know? There aren't a lot of recurring sets in 'Casanova.' Just that is a huge pain in the ass."
One of "Casanova's" most endearing motifs is the tendency of characters to appear in kind of "side-panels" and speak directly to the reader, often explaining their true feelings about the events on the rest of the page. And as for the inspiration for the two-color scheme, Fraction confesses that debt is both owed to Jean-Claude Forest's "Barbarella" comics and to a desire to save money. "Back in the day," Fraction explained, "when cheap pulp comics wanted to add a little visual flare but couldn't afford to print full color, they'd print a single changing spot-color on every eight- page signature. It was this great, weird look that [Bá and I] both really fell for-- and, like I said, we thought (incorrectly) that we'd be saving money.
"As it stands, we're actually paying to print a full-color book... we just choose to not print all the colors that aren't green. We are crazy-mad geniuses. "
Stay tuned to CBR later today, as we'll be presenting an exclusive look inside Gabriel Bá's creative process in the latest edition of our STUDIO TOURS series.
In serial form, "Casanova" is published by Image Comics in sixteen page installments, the same format made popular by Warren Ellis & Ben Templesmith's "Fell." Working in the format created some unexpected but not unwelcome results. Having received high marks for his work on other indie hits like the graphic novel "The Last of the Independents," Fraction was eager to create a long-form book. The sixteen page "Fell" format made sense, Fraction thought, as the work and travel demands of his old day job made the idea of writing a traditionally sized twenty-two page comic seem very unrealistic.
"Now, this was all before I'd written word one. It was, as I recall, January or February-- it was winter, and I still smoked, which means it was early 2005. I had been writing an "X-Men Unlimited" short and doing a bunch of digging around through the old Claremont and Byrne stuff-- those stories were all 17, 18 pages, something like that. I was reading a lot about Phil Spector, and talking to Warren Ellis a lot about both that and Andrew Loog Oldham. [Ellis] was starting to put "Fell" together. And all these things sort of coalesced and collided in my head, all of it stemming from how Spector made these tiny little pop records sound so epic and massive. With a thing like "Casanova" -- a genre piece, a genre period, etc -- where there are so many inescapable references and touchstones... I don't know. I guess I started thinking about comics crafting comics as little pop confections, like three minute Phil Spector pop songs. I started thinking about layers of ideas, of information and of style and started developing the method that would allow all of these fetishes to live on the page.
"Needless to say, it takes three times longer to write than any other book I do. And also needless to say, I love it more than anything I've ever done." Fraction added, "There's a charge you get that's unlike anything else from working in this format. It's a wholly personal thing, maybe, but, goddamn, every time I finish an issue, I feel like I've earned whatever sleep I'll take that night. The whole adventure has upped my game."
As if there wasn't enough of it in this book, the gorgeous artwork and hyper-kinetic stories are just part of the creative experimentation going on in "Casanova." Just as a club DJ would consider his surroundings, live in the moment, feed off the people around him and layer instantly into his mix what he processes, so too does Fraction when writing "Casanova." While most comics writers plan out their storylines in meticulous detail far in advance, Fraction takes a dramatically more organic and spontaneous route. Song lyrics heard on the train turn into lines of dialogue, even plot points. Shots from films, real-life scenes in diners, cups of coffee, and scenery passed a car's window are thrown into "Casanova's" mix just to see how they work. The result is a comic book that is in a way more easily comparable to record albums than to other comics, in that it has a distinct identity as a whole, with each chapter existing on its own just like your favorite songs exist on albums.
"Looking at it literally as an album--'a collection in book form of short literary or musical pieces or pictures' -- that collection has a shape and form that really delights me. There are patterns and echoes and motifs that reverberate through the whole book, some of them I meant and others I didn't. Ultimately I don't think it's my place to say what worked in great specificity. What works for me might not work for you or for anybody else, and with the backmatter [the author commentary that accompanies each single issue of 'Casanova'] I already come dangerously close to instructing people how to approach the work. I feel like it's akin to boasting about how smart and talented you are, you know? It's all subjective."
Fraction doesn't really need to keep talking about how smart and talented he is, as the accolades for "Casanova" are proof enough. With virtually no exception, the book has been well-liked if not loved by all who've read it, readers and press alike. Not only did I mention the book in CBR's 2006 Year End Round-Up, but "Casanova" also charmed its way onto Comics Should Be Good's Best of 2006 Extravaganza as well as numerous other comics blogs and news sources.
Of the whole "Casanova" ride, Fraction remarked, "This maybe is the most important thing I've learned: any butler characters absolutely, positively must be named after little towns in North Carolina. Albemarle, Apex, Avon, Balsam, Belmont, Brunswick, Buxton, Calabash, Candler, Chadbourn, Clemmons, Creswell-- just pull up an alphabetical list and go to-- ho ho!-- town. If there's a butler, you've got to name him Carolina-style or you just won't cut the mustard. Alternately, if there's a maid-type character, she must be named either after a Prince song, after a Prince protege, or SOUND like she could possibly be, in either way, Prince-worthy. That these two keys to quality writing are now on my mighty keyring of quality, the locks I can open are nearly limitless."
As for Fraction's other work at Marvel Comics, the author wasn't able to reveal much about future plans for "The Immortal Iron First" or "Punisher War Journal," but he did give a strange answer that we thought to reprint here just in case any of our readers could decipher it:
For those of you new to the world of "Casanova's" hardcore cloak & dagger and other psychedelic science fiction superspy superlatives, check out for yourself this completely free preview of the entire first issue of "Casanova," provided graciously to CBR News by Matt Fraction himself. If you prefer to use a comics reader application, you may also download the issue in .cbr format. There's a lot more to look forward to when you're done with this, including three-faced squishy transgendered robots, Buddha's reincarnation as an ass-kicking mix between David Bowie and David Blaine, and the last tribe of Pre-Neolothic men on the planet and their high-tech bongloads of evolution.
"Also," noted Fraction, "and how glamorously superficial is this--"Casanova" is a story that answers the question 'What if James Bond (or Diabolik, if you prefer) hooked up with Barbarella?' We've met our James Bond/Diabolik. So next up, we meet our Barbarella."
"Cassanova" #7 is in comic stores now, and the complete volume 1, "Casanova: Luxuria" infiltrates booksellers this April. And don't forget to check back at CBR a little later on, as we proudly present Gabriel Bá in the latest of our STUDIO TOURS series.