Image Comics' David Brothers sat down with Matt Fraction at Comic-Con International in San Diego, where the pair discussed Fraction's early career at Marvel, his creator-owned works, and of course, "Hawkeye" -- but not until Gary Sassaman, Director of Print and Digital Media for Comic-Con, opened the panel by presenting Fraction with an Inkpot Award. "Well," joked Fraction, "it really is the end times."
Brothers began by asking where Fraction got his start reading comics. "I was an art kid," Fraction said, "I drew. So I kind of came into comics by what excited me visually -- what I liked to look at."
"But you work as a writer," Brothers said. "Are you an artist in your spare time?"
"No. I was an artist on an art school track long enough to realize that I wasn't an artist," Fraction replied. "There was a thing that happened to me in school, when I first met an artist -- like, a real artist. I realized, not quite like Saliere in 'Amadeus,' but, like, 'Oooh, that's an artist. Oh, fuck, I'm not that good.' I did fine; I was capable; I was competent, but I knew I didn't have that 'thing'... and eventually, I kind of transitioned from fine arts into film... Then, after school, I went into advertising and doing animation for broadcast, but comics were sort of my night job."
The first person to publish Fraction's work was Robert Kirkman, whom he met through forums and similar social circles. "There was this glorious time on the Internet when everything was beautiful and nothing hurt," Fraction joked, "Warren [Ellis] started this forum, and at the time, not everybody that read comics was on the forum, but everybody that worked in comics was there. My whole generation got their start on a Warren Ellis forum: [Kieron] Gillen, [Jamie] McKelvie, Bryan Lee O'Malley, Charlie Chu..."
His background also helped him to approach people at conventions. "I came from art school... I would come up to people I liked, people whose work I admired, and give them the stuff I was working on, because I just came from a culture where you talked about your work... I treated people of whom I was a fan as if I was their peer."
"How did they take it?" Brothers asked.
"They seemed pleasantly amused," Fraction said. "But it got me work. Or it gained me new friends."
"What I've realized is, editors are insanely busy," he continued. "Especially at the Big Two. There's a billion things they have to do that aren't fostering and developing comic books. When writers meet editors at conventions and things, your job is to prove that you're not crazy. Like, 'I'm not going to wear your skin!'... Once you pass the "you're not going to kill and eat me" test, you [can] give them work."
Fraction's approach eventually led to his first work at Marvel, a short story in "X-Men Unlimited" #9. He had given Axel Alonso some of his work at a convention, and Axel put him in contact with his assistant, Warren Simons.
"Warren Simons was my only reader in comics for, like, two years," Fraction said. "I wrote hundreds of pages no one but Warren ever read. But eventually, he was editing this collection of X-Men short stories, and he was like 'Hey, why don't you wrote an X-Men short story? Ten pages, how much damage can you do?'"
Next, Brothers asked about Fraction's work on "Punisher: War Journal." In this run, Fraction created a plot in which Kraven hunted down Marvel's animal-themed characters to create a zoo. "I got a lot of Rhino in the book," Fraction said. "Rhino is the best. I will write Rhino forever... I want to write Rhino and the Vulture on a road trip."
"How much of your Marvel work was knocking things off your bucket list?" Brothers wondered.
"Oh, all of it," Fraction said, laughing. "Everyone at Marvel does three things in their first Marvel work. Spider-Man shows up. Nick Fury shows up. And a Helicarrier crashes... That Wolverine short [from "X-Men Unlimited #9"]? Spider-Man shows up. A Helicarrier crashes. Nick Fury shows up."
Brothers next turned to Fraction's run with Ed Brubaker on "Iron Fist." "There was this mentorship thing happening," Fraction said, explaining their partnership, "I was Goose to Brubaker's Maverick... Ed had made a similar leap, from weird indie to Marvel mainstream, and was uniquely situated to help me make that leap."
Next, Brothers brought up the "Sensational Spider-Man Annual," which Fraction described as "the issue that opened the door for me [at Marvel]." Fraction was approached in the lead-up to "One More Day" to write an Annual for "Sensational Spider-Man." Even knowing that Peter and Mary Jane's marriage would be erased, he wanted to write a love story. "I wanted to write that story... because I think it's clear when people who haven't been married write about marriage, and I'm over the moon for my wife... I got to go through and pull out some of my favorite moments of their relationship and kind of weave it together."
After the issue came out, Jeph Loeb stopped Fraction at a convention to compliment him on it. "That was the minute I realized, 'This is different.'"
Speaking on work-for-hire, Fraction advocated telling the story that the series is built to carry. "You know, if you want to tell a story about late-term abortion, 'Thor' is maybe not the comic to do that."
While he was at Marvel, his creator-owned "Casanova," which he worked on with Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, often provided the venue for his heavier stories. "'Casanova' is a very unique beast compared to everything else I do," he said. "It is its own thing, and it works in its own way. It's always terrifying, and that sort of tends to be where I go. If I start to think, 'Oh, I shouldn't write that, that makes me uncomfortable,' then that's exactly what I have to write. That's the instinct to honor."
Discussing "Satellite Sam," Fraction emphasized the importance of his collaborator, artist Howard Chaykin on his own career. "Howard's comics were the first comics I ever read that didn't give a shit if I didn't get it. They trusted that I would go back and re-read... It's like tricking Paul McCartney into playing in your Beatles cover band."
Lastly, Brothers turned to "Hawkeye." Fraction admitted he was not optimistic at the series' start. "There had never been a 'Hawkeye' #7 -- and no one cared," he said. "I was convinced my career was over at Marvel before that book came out... I was the guy who had tanked 'Fear Itself,' and I was convinced it was over.
"I haven't written the book in like three years, and it's still sold more than anything else I've done at Marvel," Fraction continued, motioning to all the Hawkeye cosplay currently in the room, including Kate Bishops, Clints and plenty of one-eyed stuffed dogs. "Thank you to everyone who has fidelity to blinding stuffed animals."
Currently, Fraction is looking back on his work in an almost-weekly series of essays on http://milkfed.us. "I hate reading my stuff once it's done," he admitted, "The worst day in comics is Wednesday, because that's the day all of your mistakes are permanent."