Casanova Is Comics for Music Lovers: An Interview With Matt Fraction

If you don't think music plays a big role in Matt Fraction's writing, you're not reading closely enough. Or the last album you bought was Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet.

Let's present the case:

  • He titled an issue of Uncanny X-Men "All Tomorrow's Parties" and used Velvet Underground references as caption character descriptors.
  • Lyrics from "No Children" by the Mountain Goats appeared in an issue of Invincible Iron Man, which led to a friendship with the band's singer John Darnielle. 
  • The last issue of the second volume of his creator-owned super-spy series Casanova featured tracks for each scene, his way of putting a soundtrack to the story.

So yeah, Matt Fraction likes his music, and it's an interesting lens to look at Casanova, which is being re-released in full color this week. So, taking a piece of advice from Fraction, I put on the new M.I.A. ("It's fucking stellar!") to write about how Casanova is like a mixtape for Fraction, the way music references can be a secret language and what Casanova the super-spy uses instead of Barry White to get it on.  

Casanova comparison.jpg
Gabriel Ba
Spot (A) or full color (B): Which one do you prefer?
Casanova as mixtape
The first two volumes of Casanova--Luxuria, illustrated by Gabriel Ba, and Gula, illustrated by Ba's brother, Fabio Moon--were released between 2006 and 2008, and its wild content of multidimensional espionage and crazy sci-fi was only matched by its wild content, 16-pages of spot color comics and backmatter filled with behind-the-scenes stories and sketches. 

Moving to Icon, Marvel's creator-owned line, the series will reprint monthly the original 14 issues before new issues begin. But there will be some changes in those old issues. The most obvious change will be replacing the spot color with full color, which Fraction describes as being "more radical" than it really is. The book's original computer lettering also has been hand re-lettered. Finally, the backmatter has been completely changed, which for a guy like me who loves looking behind the curtain to see how the magician is doing his tricks, makes me glad I picked up the original issues (the collected editions of Casanova do not contain the back material either). In these pieces, Fraction explored the creative process behind writing an issue, and sometimes that meant discussing painful events such as his wife's miscarriage, showing readers just how personal writing Casanova had been for him.

Revisiting the old issues in preparation for the re-release, Fraction described it in a way that just about every Gen-Xer can relate to: "It's a little bit like going thru old mixtapes. No one never made a mixtape without it meaning something. Whether it was girls you like or something that happened in your life. Just not everyone knows what that is. With Casanova, I know what it was saying to all the girls."

But being that emotionally exposing without the buffer of fiction can take its toll, Fraction says. As well as distracting readers from the story itself.

"It's a little bit the singer and not the song," he said. "I'm done broadcasting about (my personal life). ... The (new) backmatter is not autobiographical, but evangelical."

Tribe building and secret languages
"Evangelical?" Fraction isn't going all Pat Robertson, is he?

No, his idea of evangelicism is about using musical and pop culture references in comics to send "smoke signals" to readers, possibly introducing them to new music, new writers, new ideas.

To Fraction, it's a way to connect to readers with a secret language of references and build little tribes. And it worked with his Mountain Goats reference. 

"I did it and ended up being put in contact with John Darnielle and started up a relationship with the guy," he said. "You send out little smoke signals. That's kind of ultimately what it's about."
Mountain Goats reference.jpg
Marvel Comics/Salvador Larroca
Matt Fraction slipped in two lines from a Mountain Goats song, and that led to a friendship with the group's lead singer.

And it's an approach that has worked on him when he would read Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol and Invisibles series, both bursting at the staples with cultural references that Fraction would decipher then search out. Same with the comics of Warren Ellis. Using art to spread the word about other art is just another way, Fraction says, to propagate, um, art.

"The act of loving art engenders art," he said. "Ultimately, it's an obsession of mine. There are people with far better taste than me, but when I find something I like, I want to tell people about it. ... I'm not much of a seeker but I'm a curator." 

Making the references organic
This doesn't mean Fraction is quick to do call outs to whatever musical act is playing through his headphones. It needs to fit his stories.

"It's never that forced," he said. "It's pretty organic. I think I kinda know where that line is. A lot of times it's not even deliberate."

And sometimes, the musical influences are much subtler than dropped-in lyrics. Sometimes the music creates a vibe or works as an influence. The genesis of Casanova owes itself to Fraction listening to the New Pornogrphers' Twin Cinema while riding a recumbent bike. After listening to M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes," the entirety of the last issue of Casanova's second volume fell into his head. And when Fraction describes his upcoming run on Thor, he invokes the names of Page and Plant. 

"(Thor) is very much Zeppelin III," he said. "Thor is very much metal. Thor is very much 'Immigrant Song'."

So what about Casanova, a dimension-hopping, super-cool, super-libidinous, super spy? What does he listen to when he's ready score with a woman?

"He would put on a numbers station and go from there."

Other comics to check out this week
  • Avengers: Children's Crusade #1 Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung return to their beloved creations, the Young Avengers, in this bi-monthly miniseries. Welcome them with open arms--and wallets.
  • Batman and Robin #13 Grant Morrison keeps sucking me into this story more and more, even with its outlandish twists and turns featuring a Batman who isn't Bruce Wayne. And all you Damien-as-Robin haters, it makes me sad for the way you see the world.
  • Scarlet #1 Former Daredevil duo Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev team up again, this time on a creator-owned series about a woman who starts her own revolution.
  • Steve Rogers: Super Soldier #1 While he's letting his old partner carry the Captain America shield, Steve Rogers hasn't decided to take a vacation. Neither has writer Ed Brubaker, who is back writing a character he's defined for the 21st century.
  • Werewolves of Montpielier Technically, this came out last week, and it slipped my mind. Which is criminal, because a new graphic novel by prolific Norwegian cartoonist Jason is always a must-read.

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