When it comes to cross-overs, comics have seen a great many over the years. Sometimes they're intracompany cross-overs, seeing a storyline run across multiple books. Sometimes the cross-over has been between two different publishing companies, bringing heroes and characters from disparate companies. But the "cross-over" Matt Fraction has devised featuring some of the greatest scientific minds of all times is something entirely different.
This May sees the release of the 112-page original graphic novel from Image Comics "Five Fists of Science" by Fraction and artist Steven Sanders. We spoke with Fraction about the graphic novel, who brought us up to speed on the story and where the unique idea sprang from.
"'Five Fists of Science' is the story of genius author Mark Twain and genius inventor Nikola Tesla and their plan to bring about world peace while saving mankind from apocalypse," Fraction explained to CBR News. "Standing in their way are Thomas Edison and J.P. Morgan, the heads of an evil science-cabal that have apocalypse plans of their own.
"Best of all, it's 100% true. Almost."
At first glance the idea might sound nutty ("Twain and Tesla joining forces to fight evil?"), but it's one of those ideas the more you think about it, the more appealing the idea becomes ("Train and Tesla fighting evil together! Right on!"). Fraction says the idea works because it's got a little touch of everything, in its own way. "The true and the false, the unbelievable and bizarre smashed against the historical and real," said Fraction. "Twain as a huckster showman desperate for what he thinks is his last chance at posterity; Tesla as a Bruce Wayne-style millionaire playboy, a real life science idol adored by the press and the world at large. The time, the place, the themes - it's just too good to be true. It speaks in some way to the American... thing, you know? We admired and celebrated talent and gifts once upon a time, and few were more talented and gifted than those two."
At first glance some might be inclined to compare "Five Fists of Science" to Alan Moore's "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." The two share in common a steampunk/Victorian sense of technology and adventure, as well as a gathering of rather unique characters. But "Five Fists of Science" uses real life characters versus the fictional characters found in Moore's "League" and outside of the above observations, the two really are wildly different projects. As for inspiration, Fraction let his artistic collaborator and the real life heroes themselves drive his writing. "The characters and their ideas and their lives inspired the writing, and my association with Sanders inspired it too, no doubt," said Fraction. "Twain, for all of his tremendous talents and wealth, bankrupted his family. Tesla, with OCD and what must've been some form of autism, still managed to embody the American dream and all its highs and lows. These two men, with all their tremendous differences, were friends, were allies. I dunno. In this case, real life is so much more fascinating than anything we conspired to create.
"And, honestly, I love writing comics that Steve Sanders draws and I will write comics for him the rest of my life if he'll have me."
Fraction said chance and fate conspired to inspire this tale. "I found out about Twain and Tesla's friendship quite by accident and the story just fell into my head practically all at once," said Fraction. "How cool is that, right? Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla not only were friends, but they had a plan to save the world?!?
"The idea came from heaven, it really did."
"Five Fists of Science" may ultimately be a work of fiction, but it's impossible when writing stories about historical figures not to let some of the real world make its way into the story. "A lot of history makes it in, at least in one form or fashion. I think if you'd ask someone to point out where the bullshit starts, they'd guess wrong. I mean, it's not a historical document and it's barely historical fiction. Historically-slanted fiction? Carter beats the Devil?"
As for research and references into these stars of the series, Fraction admits he didn't need to do much in order to craft this story. "I very quickly found myself getting hamstrung by the details - but Twain was in Chicago in August of 1899! There goes the second half! - so I did very superficial research and gave myself the freedom to do whatever the hell I wanted. Twain's own autobiography, and 'The Singular Mark Twain' by Fred Caplan were valuable, but really I was terrified I'd start trying to write a Twain impression and fail utterly. Margaret Cheney's Tesla books were at hand as well."
Bringing Fration and Sanders together has been a now six-year journey. The two were mutual friends at the Kansas City Art Institute and they've been trying to get something going since 2000. "Longtime CBR readers with spookyweird memories might remember me going on about a 'Mars' graphic novel - Sanders was drawing that. We got maybe 30 some pages in and realized it was... bad. 'Five Fists of Science' came along shortly thereafter and we knew we'd found the comic we were fated to meet one another to make.
"Sanders... Sanders is Tesla," continued Fraction. "He sees and understands everything he draws in his head the way an engineer looks at a piece of machinery he's designed from screw one; there are no superfluous elements in his panels, no visual noise to clutter his composition. Sanders commits to each and every mark he makes, and if you asked him he could answer every question you pose to him about his artwork. We're including a small sketchbook section where you can see Steve work out his design and engineering, even down to what kind of bones are used to decorate a sacrificial headdress!"
"Five Fists of Science" will be published by Image Comics, Fraction's first book through the publisher and he's already set-up a second series with Image, Casanova." Fraction has only good things to say about his new publisher. "My experience has been really ultra-positive; they gave us a great home for 'Five Fists of Science' and were so enthusiastic about 'Casanova' they put it on the cover of 'Previews,' you know? That kind of treatment's just astounding to me. It's the best deal and the most creator friendly company in town, hands down, bar none.
"Working with Image has been great and I'll keep working there as long as they'll have me."