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AICN COMICS Q & @ with Matt Fraction, writer of PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL, IRON FIST, and CASANOVA!!!

Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. This week, the @$$Holes are taking some well–earned time off. But that doesn’t mean that you guys won’t get your weekly fix of @$$y-goodness. Fellow @$$hole Humphrey Lee had a chance to talk with Matt Fraction, writer of IMMORTAL IRON FIST, PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL, and CASANOVA. The ‘Holes will be back next week. Until then, enjoy the interview.

HUMPHREY LEE: If you were to look high atop a list of "hot up-and-coming" comic book writers (if there even is such a thing in the industry) you would see the name of our interviewee here, Matt Fraction. Mister Fraction has been gaining a lot of buzz this past year, starting with the indie sensation CASANOVA, gaining a lot of mainstream attention working with fan favorite writer Ed Brubaker on THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST and also penning the now officially "best selling" CIVIL WAR tie-in, PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL. So now that he's all sorts of hot shit, we @$$holes here at AICN would officially like to thank the Fractor (man I hope that nickname sticks) for taking the time out of his undoubtedly busy schedule to answer a few questions for us.
So, okay, let's get this started. Your name's starting to get around now thanks in part to titles such as THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST with your partner in crime Ed Brubaker, and the CIVIL WARly spun off PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL series. Besides those titles all most of us really know you from is the wonderful CASANOVA title from Image. So, all that out there, where should we know Matt Fraction from? Where were you before all these titles hit in this past year?
MATT FRACTION: My first comics work came out through Robert Kirkman's Funk-O-Tron press in a comic called DOUBLE TAKE. Me and Andy Kuhn did a story about a gorilla super spy named MANTOOTH! that ran for three issues. Then there was a graphic novel drawn by Kieron Dwyer called LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS. I was the first guy that Steve Niles invited to play in the 30 DAYS OF NIGHT sandbox, which I did with Ben Templesmith in an 8-part story called JUAREZ. That ran in 30 DAYS OF NIGHT: BLOODSUCKER TALES. Then last spring saw the release of THE FIVE FISTS OF SCIENCE, from Image Comics, drawn by your favorite and mine Steven Sanders. That was a kind of steampunk take on the almost- true story of how Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla teamed up to save the world from J.P. Morgan, Thomas Edison, and a Yeti. Amongst others.
HL: Goddamn Yetis. I hope they all burn in whatever hell spawned them. Sorry, childhood scars.
Now, as far as CASANOVA goes, that book obviously stems from a genre of uber-stylish superspy stuff that I can't really pretend to know much about. Is there anything in particular that influenced the creation of that book? Especially since it has a sort of "trippy" overtone to it, if that's a vague enough term for you?
MF: Y'know, there's enough obvious stuff in the genetic mix-- from Bond to Flint to Jerry Cornelius to Jason King and beyond-- that's really pretty obvious and entirely inescapable. Which is why we try to present as much of that source material as possible, I just can't escape it.
Anyway, to me, the biggest, and most profound influence to my thinking was Howard Chaykin's AMERICAN FLAGG! I wanted to create the kind of comic that had a well-rendered world and fully-realized context that never once talked down to its audience, a genre fiction and piece of world-building that wasn't like anything else on the stands. I wanted to create, in the mold of FLAGG!, a comic that taught you how to read it as you went along--to sound like a totally pretentious asshole. I mean--I've seen this in CASANOVA reviews--every issue, I've seen comments along the lines of "Issue X is the one that finally makes sense, Issue X is the one that's NOT just trippy for trippy's sake, and they're finally done screwing around," or whatever. When in fact--no, not really. We screw around equally in all 7 issues, I promise...I think people have maybe just gotten into it at different points?
Anyway. What was the question?
HL: Eh, just asking if you've had all your shots. But anyways, also speaking of CASANOVA, was this a project that was already in your "to do" pile before you adopted what I guess we're calling the "FELL format" or did it formulate itself when you were introduced to the idea of doing more "compressed" stories in a 16-page pamphlet?
MF: Yeah, it was definitely something I was moving towards, doing a sci-phedelic super spy book. The format was sort of the missing component, in a way. The format was one of the tools missing from the toolbox at first.
Sci-phedelic! I just made that up. As far as I know.
HL: Could be. Then again, that crafty bastard Warren Ellis coins phrases every ten minutes it seems, he might have beat you to it.
Now, as far as the 16-page format goes, how significant are the adjustments needing to be made to write in that limited space as opposed to the normal 22-page format? Obviously you have to adapt to a more panel-heavy framework with the pages, but how much more to that is there than just a sort of "let's tighten up the camera angles" philosophy?
MF: For me, it was pretty profound. Part of the CASANOVA mission statement was to create self-contained stories-- which we did until our 'season finale' two-parter in #6 & #7. It's not just a matter of cutting six pages out per month, or condensing a standard issue down six pages. There's a kind of holistic re-imagining you need to do, I find, with the format. From panels-per-page to style of storytelling, it's a fierce and unforgiving format comparatively speaking.
I tried to explain my approach at the end of issue 1--the idea came from Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" production technique, applied to comics...can we attack a piece of comics pop with the philosophical techniques that informed BE MY BABY? Can we celebrate the past and the future in the same breath, acknowledging where we came from and, like a hip hop deejay, create new beats and transform samples into something new? And on and on.
I don't want to, like, pontificate about how great and brilliant I am or anything like that, but to make the 16-page format work you need to bring a different array of tools with you aside from just a pair of scissors. I hope Image exercises a degree of editorial oversight as they grow the format. A superhero comic with six pages cut out will read like a rip-off and will hurt the format's chances to thrive.
HL: Well, while that wonderful and wild Direct Market still rings in the air, let’s tackle that bastard real quick like. Like you said, it has to pretty much be hell to sell a book like CASANOVA simply just because it's not a Marvel or DC book, let alone that it's not in the superhero genre that dominates the marketplace. But with the cheaper format how strict are the sales quotas you have to reach? Does it even out to be the same mark as you would set for a three-dollar, 22-page book, or does it give you some leeway on the production side? I'm just curious as to the overall viability of the format.
MF: Well, the only quota is really just to break even, which we do with a lot of wiggle room, to be honest. But beyond that, the curve is shaped differently than on a 3 dollar or $3.50 book. If we were doing this business on a 3 dollar or $3.50 book, we'd be a runaway financial hit, you know? With a 2 dollar price point you've got to move more to make more. We hit a successful point in our sales immediately and have stayed above that.
HL: And what lies ahead for the future of CASANOVA? I'm understanding the book is going on a hiatus or whatever after this next issue. Is that just what it is, a hiatus? Or are you going to be taking a sort of "seasonal" approach to the book?
MF: Well, we always wanted to take on a kind of HELLBOY format, in a way, that'd see us putting out seasons, almost, then a collection, then move on. That way we can tell a story, gauge interest in another run, and get everyone caught up to speed. I think in the pitch to Image I said I'd be modeling it on a BBC TV series--short run seasonal arcs.
I mean, I'm not laboring under any false impressions--CASANOVA is a difficult sell to a Direct Market that's been engineered from the ground up to sell serial superhero comics. We're just trying to make a book unlike anything else out there.
HL: Now onto the Marvel stuff. How did that "breaking in" go about? Did they contact you after seeing the buzz that's been generating around you with the release of CASANOVA, or did you play off some connections? How did that all fall into place?
MF: Axel Alonso knew and liked my work. We started talking, and Warren Simons--at the time an assistant in Axel's office--and I began occasionally pitching things at them. Now, at the time, I had a day gig making animated shorts and live action commercials and music videos and stuff. So I wasn't crazy-pitching to make ends meet or anything and would drift in and out of their orbit. I did a Wolverine short in X-MEN UNLIMITED, for example. I kept sending the occasional pitch based on conversations with Warren and whatever work of mine came out. And out of the blue Axel called and suggested I do PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL.
I wrote up a little one-sheet basically talking about how I saw the character as he re-emerged into the Marvel U, and the Stilt-Man scene, just to show how I'd handle the page by page stuff and the superhero action was really just a test, to get my head into writing superhero world. Between that and a handful of conversations with Axel, I got the job.
HL: Well, good to see you didn't have to do anything involving kneepads. That's just sad. And messy.
Now, playing off that last question, how did you end up on the titles you did? PWJ seems like a "cutting your teeth" book that I can see Marvel giving to an up-and-comer of theirs given how it's a more low-key book but with ties to their big event going on. But how did IRON FIST come about? I mean, I bloody well love the character, but I really doubt they were looking to come out and try and revitalize a character that obscure out of nowhere, so I'm just assuming that one was a hell of a pitch.
MF: IRON FIST came about from Ed Brubaker. It's his love for Danny Rand and all things IRON FIST that got this book born and delivered. I came along because Ed asked, and here we are. We batted ideas around until the book took shape and put the document together and sent it along. It's very much a passion project for Ed and me as--like you say, the character is kind of obscure--and Marvel I think picked up on that. But response was so crazed when the project was announced it immediately went from being a mini to an ongoing. So whatever we did--and, really, Ed's doing the heavy lifting in the relationship--it must've worked.
HL: How constraining has it been now that you're working with characters that are the property of someone else? I know these guys you're writing up now are more "on the fringe" so I'm sure you have more room to play around with them than a SPIDER-MAN title or whatnot, but I'm sure you're having "fun" with some editors now.
MF: You know, back in the day I always thought so but that was--there was a degree of growing up I think I had to do, creatively speaking. Before I wrote comics I worked in advertising, and there's always a push and pull with what you can and can't do, and ultimately the lesson is learned's not what you can get away with but rather what's appropriate. I don't feel like I've been fenced in or muzzled or anything, but that's because (I hope) I understand the parameters of what the jobs require, you know?
A real big reason that I went after PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL was for the opportunity to work with Axel Alonso, whose reputation as one of the best editors in comics was surely earned and not simply given. I wanted to work with editorial; I wanted to see what it was like to play in the weird waters of a giant corporate crossover (if only because I was afraid I'd never be asked again); in short, I knew the job was dangerous when I signed up. My notes are almost always language-related, but that's more me not really knowing the ropes yet. I'd just as soon not waste anybody's time on that stuff, so I'm learning as I go.
Thinking about it more, I gotta say I've suggested some berserk things-- Let's kill Frank! Let's introduce an all-new Punisher out of the ashes of Civil War and never deal with Frank!--and have had some berserk things suggested to me--stay tuned on some of those--and have never, ever been told that I was out of line or COULDN'T do something. We had real discussions about what it would mean to put Frank Castle in the ground and ultimately came away from it because the story we found was better, stronger, more resonant. But I found it remarkable that we had the conversations in the first place.
HL: So when did Frank Castle become internet savvy? "Asshats" isn't something you exactly hear on the streets too much.
MF: I prefer to wonder when the internet became so Frank Castle savvy.
Frank's been busting "asshat" since before MYSPACE made FRIENDSTER look like LIVEJOURNAL. OMG.
HL: Hrms, I guess I'll have to Facebook him next time I log in then. Can you give us any ideas as to who good ole Frank might be looking to shoot in the crotch with a portable missile launcher next? Because I have some ideas, and they all involve The Shocker... the comic book character that is.
MF: I can't, sadly.
But the Shocker shows up in #4.
At Stilt Man's wake.
HL: While we're at it, would you be interested in working on someone like SPIDER-MAN, or are you happier in playing with the unpopular kids like the Punishers and Iron Fists of the Marvel U?
MF: Yeah, in fact-- I have a SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN special coming out in '07 that Salvador Freakin' Amazing Larocca drew and it ties into the BACK IN BLACK event. Long story short-- a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent with a connection to Mary Jane's past corners her with the chance to turn Peter over to their custody in exchange for total amnesty... it's a love story, it spans the whole of Peter and Mary Jane's relationship, and I loved playing in the Spider-Sandbox. I'm really inordinately proud of how it came together, and Salvador did gorgeous work.
But really my interest goes only as far as I think I have a story to tell. Thor's a great character and the Simonson run is one of my all time Marvel favorites but, really, I have absolutely nothing to say about Thor. You know what I mean?
HL: Ooo...smell the exclusivity. So, when you say "special" do you mean like one of those 48-page one-shot dealies, or do you mean you guys are doing a fill in issue on the actual SPECTACULAR series itself, or is it its own beast? Just wanted clarification for the kids at home.
MF: Well, it's 34 pages, so it might be called an annual or a special, I dunno what, exactly. But it's 34 pages.
HL: So, because I guess I'm obligated to ask, CIVIL WAR: Whose side are you on?
MF: Fuck all y'all-- I'm with Frank.
HL: Are there any plans for you and Mr. Brubaker to be reuniting IRON FIST with some of his old running mates? You guys gave the "flashbacks" about Luke Cage and Misty and the crew, any chance of seeing this title linking up with HEROES FOR HIRE or NEW AVENGERS for a reunion?
MF: The old gang will most definitely be showing up. Luke's around in break the news to Danny about what Misty and Colleen have been up to lately. And as much as Ed and I love the, erm, Marvelsploitation characters, I'm sure we'll be seeing more of them.
HL: How is it you keep getting lined up with the artistic talent you do? You've got Gabriel Ba's absolutely sublime pencils on CASANOVA, and you pull down Ariel Olivetti and David Aja for your Marvel work. Those are some serious pencils there my friend.
MF: I've got great luck, what can I say? The best thing about working on WAR JOURNAL is, for me, that I knew before I'd finished even the first script that I was writing for Ariel, so part of my objective became, okay, write the Ariel Olivetti book you've always wanted to write. And David's just going to explode at Marvel. The second Ed and I started getting pages back from him-- and Ed had worked with him on a DAREDEVIL issue-- we just knew we were working with a major, major talent.
HL: Anything else new coming from you in the future? Maybe a return to the world of OGNs ala THE LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS or whatnot?
MF: Well, there's CASANOVA V2 that'll roll out later this year (summer-fall, we're guessing) and I'm working on a graphic novel about the presidential election of 1864-- it's a real piece of scholarship, though, so I'm neck deep in doing the research now. I know what you're thinking-- THANK GOD someone is FINALLY writing a graphic novel about the electoral politics of the nineteenth century. I HAVE HEARD YOUR PLAINTIVE CRIES, AMERICA. YOU ARE WELCOME.
HL: Man, while you're at it, if you happened to put out a book called BLOODFEST '36!: TIPPECANOE AND TYLER TOO!! I'd fucking love you forever!
And that about wraps that up. Again, we'd like to thank Senor Fraction for being such a sporting chap and would like to remind you all to buy THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST and CASANOVA or terrible things involving certain orifices and medieval gauntletry will be done to your person in delightfully ironic torture....yep.
Thanks for reading.
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