Without Fear

Ryan K Lindsay – Writer

Tag: matt fraction

PanelXPanel – I Wrote an Essay About NOVEMBER

The latest issue of the comics magazine PanelXPanel is live and it’s all about NOVEMBER, the OGN from Elsa Charretier and Matt Fraction. I was honoured to be brought aboard to write about NOVEMBER, and I looked at a recurring visual which was a chainlink fence and how it represents the many lives that exist in a city and how people constantly affect others, and we get some agency, and sometimes life just happens to us.

The comic is great, so to get to write about it was a joy. There was so much to chew on, and everyone should go check out this issue, and then buy every PXP there is. It’s great brain fuel.


NOIRVEMBER 006 ~ Casanova

CASANOVA from Gabriel Ba/Fabio Moon/Matt Fraction [and now Michael Chabon] is one of my favourite comics of the past decade. It’s this pop spy comic about being cool and flipping through realities while flipping reality the bird. It’s very modern, with very psychedelic old stuff inspiring the actual core of it. It’s just so goddamn good.


The book is currently in its fourth volume, of which I believe there will be seven, and each volume is dominant for its own specific and varied reasons, which in itself is an insane feat of artistry and skill.

The first volume is LUXURIA and it introduces us to our hero, Casanova Quinn, and his world. This arc is impossibly cool, the characters wild and spectacular, and the structure is just introducing one gonzo thing after another and threading a line that is Cass’ circulatory system. He travels to another version of reality and teams up with his superspy family to take down the bad guys. The chassis of the narrative could almost be clean if it weren’t for the detritus of experimentation and fun the creative team layer into every moment.

Volume 2 was GULA where we followed a broader case across each of the issues and we got a real build to a climax that certainly wasn’t telegraphed, and was something that brought integrity to the title and our lead. If Vol 1 set ‘em up, this volume hit ‘em so hard they split the stuff inside atoms.

These two arcs are stupendous things, really truly great comics, and I could bang on all day about it but I’ll never say it better than Tim Callahan did over seven years ago so instead I’ll link to his essay “Why ‘Casanova’ Matters” and hope you dig [LINK]

Buy, y’see, the book then took a long break, where everyone in the creative team dispersed to create anything from books with Tony Stark to stories about life and love and truth. It was heartbreaking but these were the financial realities of Image books way back when. But then, because providence is real and it loves us, the book was given a chance to return. Something that happens so rarely and so very much needed to happen here. And so we, the few who tune in, were gifted:

Volume 3 – AVARITIA, which put Cass into a new mission and really formalised his place with his story nemesis, Newman Xeno, as they build a Ying/Yang dichotomy. Intertwined, sharing good and bad. Cass tries to wipe him out on all the different realities, and naturally that kind of one-man genocide takes its toll. Here, we got a sense of the true larger scale of all of this, which is fun because the first two arcs certainly weren’t closed door mysteries.

Volume 4 is ACEDIA and it’s playing out now and it’s stripped Cass back a bit and we watch him build back up. Considering AVARITIA had quite a large climax it makes sense to reset Cass a little, take his memory away, and see if he rebuilds in the same way again.

Which brings us to what is to come – because this isn’t a recap, this is a crystal ball into which we might dare to gaze. I can merely postulate, but knowing that Fraction has mapped the story against the seven deadly sins, and he’s burnt through lust, gluttony, greed, and now sloth, this means he has superbia, invidia, and ira to go [pride, envy, and wrath]. In what order those will come who knows, though they say pride cometh before the fall, and noir is the ultimate fall, so I have to ponder:

Is the tale of Casanova Quinn going to be a noir?

I say yes.

Cass is a character who has been built up and shown to make terrible choices. He’s a broken man, not quite doing what’s right, but doing what he wants to think is right. Manning the ship a hard north on a compass he knows won’t ever work quite right. As a noir lead, we desperately want to see Cass succeed but he’s going to need to overcome himself before that will work.

To consider the alternative, could we stomach an ending to the whole mess that’s Cass getting his happily ever after? Would that suit Cass, has he deserved this, and would he even let it happen? You get the sense Cass knows he’s spiralling and he just wants to take a few key players down into the void with him.

I could see Cass sacrificing himself to redeem Newman Xeno, and then even that doesn’t yield a positive result, making his move pointless. There’s a nihilistic streak in Cass and one he uses to his advantage, because if you believe in nothing then you are set free. Cass is so free he spreads his wings and soars through galaxies. And we could, each of us, wonder a variety of ways Cass could ruin his own life/story/world but then there’s always the angle that he’s left fine, and he ruins it all for someone else.

Ultimately, the noir end I feel is coming from Ba/Moon/Fraction, it’s going to be something that I know will happen, I feel must happen, but I get that sense of impending dread that it’s going to crush me just that little bit. It’s not going to be easy and that’s how you measure the quality of your noir. If it lays out simple, it’s dead before it hit the ground. If it’s on its back, sputtering blood into the air, gasping out as you watch, well that’s magic.

CASANOVA is a study in how to look damn fine even in your death throes.

Comic Structure is Your New Fantasy

If you are writing comics then you absolutely must be thinking about comic structure.
The whole idea of page construction, panel layout, gutters, page turns, etc is why comics is so exciting as a medium. That idea of control is like so few other media. I always say comics are like a sonnet in iambic pentameter and this is why, the structure of it is key.
A comic with superb structure is usually indicative of an artist and writer being on point.
So, I can only assume structure is something you are thinking about a lot. You’ve no doubt read McCloud/Eisner/Bendis (which are my trio of start up #makecomics guides) and now you’re branching out, finding your voice/style, becoming a comic structure citizen of the world. As such, let your thoughts be informed by much, read plenty, dissect it all, and if you need a hand, start here:
HAWKEYE by David Aja + Annie Wu + Matt Hollingsworth + Chris Eliopoulos + Matt Fraction, from Marvel.
This book is an insane structure dream come true. This book is must read material if you are looking to level up the ways in which you make your comics – and don’t worry, I was beyond ambivalent about the character of Clint Barton before this title started up. In fact, I wasn’t even pulling the title at first and then reviews dropped and so I had to sample and now I think it is the best book craft-wise being put out right now. So if you even downright loathe Hawkeye, still consider dipping into this.
As an example, I offer up HAWKEYE #20 – a Kate Bishop tale of her taking on Madame Masque. Read the issue.
Now read it again.
Now marvel at how Wu/Fraction use time. They bounce all over the place, from locations, to times, and back again, and around, and they never tell you how, when, or where, they just do it. They assume the reader is smart enough to get it. They don’t pander with non-diagetic captions for reference, they believe half the fun, half the beauty, is just making you do the work. They play a conversation across two pages, the first page, and the last page, and you only get one side of the conversation on one page, and then you wait until the final page to get the other half of the conversation – and everything in between informs what Kate has to say. It’s a brilliant move and one that made the process junkie here start salivating.
Moves like these takes guts, and precision like you’re shaving someone on the moon with a laser from earth. You have to be bold, and sure, and you certainly need to plan like you’re invading Russia in winter. Structure doesn’t just happen, you do it, you make it, you force it into the world like you won’t settle for the standard mediocrity.
Now read the issue one more time…
…and start to think about how you structure your comics. I’m not saying you need to play fast and loose with time like some drunk wizard, but I am hoping you’ll think about the myriad ways you can tell your story. A-B-C-D storytelling might get the job done, but if I want someone to get me from home to the holidays I guess they can drive me in their beat up Datto, or they can sling me into a private jet and let me sip G+T while listening to ELO while I’m pondering my ETA, you down with OPP?
And this should come as no shock, Matt Fraction has been an out and open process junkie for years. He tears apart the work of others so he might drink from its soul and redefine his own process. Think about his Reverse Engineering script activity, or the things he wrote about BORN AGAIN. It should come as no shock that Fraction thinks this much and this hard about comics and then his books are just this good (and for the quality debate I lay at your bare feet: CASANOVA, IMMORTAL IRON FIST, SEX CRIMINALS, and HAWKEYE – argument over).

Ergo: you also need to think this hard about the books you are reading, and then the things you are writing. Again, good quality is no accident.

Structure, it’s the difference between a one-bedroom basement dwelling and a liquid labyrinthine Hogwarts dorm-frat funhouse.
You wanna make something as good as HAWKEYE, think about the structure.

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