Okay, so I’m just gonna come right out and say it…I’m pretty much insanely jealous of Matt Fraction’s Casanova…
And I say this as someone who absolutely loves a ton of books by a ton of fantastic creators, and whose major vice is that I buy way too many comics. Spent almost fifty bucks at the shop yesterday, and that’s with a phenomenal 35% discount, so yeah, go ahead and do the math on that. I might have a problem, but we’ll talk more about that another day.
The point is that Casanova in particular is the only comic book that fills me with both overwhelming joy and unmistakable envy. I want to feel about all comics the way I do about this book, not just intimidated and inspired, but with jealously pouring out of my fingertips whenever I sit down to write something. Because really, I want every comic I write to feel just like this book—something that’s bursting with creativity, reckless ambition, and a powerful and obvious personal statement. One man’s mandate on how comics should and could be if the shackles were removed.
And it’s not just the actual comic that makes the comic great, it’s also the pages and pages of backmatter material that solidifies this as an unmistakably personal work that changes and shifts alongside its creator, making Casanova a comic that’s also about the life experiences that ultimately created the great comic. It’s the one book I’ve recommended to the most people over the last few years and I literally can’t stop buying it. I bought the original Image issues, the first oversized hardcover, the ICON full color, hand-lettered reprints, the subsequent ICON trades, the digital versions, etc. etc.— if it’s Casanova, I own it and own it proudly.
So since yesterday marked the release of the first all-new issue of the series in like ages (haven’t read it yet, saving it for the very last, but I have no doubts it’s awesome) I’m going to devote a couple days to talking about some of my favorite single issues from the first two series. And honestly, I love all of them for different reasons, but for this purpose, I’m focusing on the ones that make me feel the most inadequate, and yet incredibly inspired to one day create a book that passes these same feelings onto someone else. And this whole thing began in earnest way back when with the very first issue, affectionately titled Execution Days.
What makes this first issue one of my favorite scripts ever really comes down to one very important word…density. This is one of the densest stories I’ve ever read, the storytelling equivalent of shoving a 44 page story into a much smaller 28 page frame. There is sooo much happening in this script, from both a pure plot perspective, and also from a storytelling perspective. When it first released, I had to read it twice before I felt like I was even coming close to absorbing almost all of it, and having read it a number of times since then, it’s like anything else great—every time you dive in, you notice at least one more cool little thing you didn’t see the last time.
There’s a ton of characters, set-ups, timelines, fourth wall breaks, wordless word balloons, snark, and awesome all over this story. But awesome above all else, obviously, and it’s one of those fleeting moments where you’re watching someone attempt to give narrative meaning to the word “ambitious.” Like somewhere out there, a perfect comic book exists in both its conception and execution, and every once in a while, someone finds it and delivers it to the masses in a package they didn’t even know they were asking for. The type of book that even if it falls down for a page, or a sequence, does so in a way far more interesting, clever, and engaging than most everything else.
Without this turning into a laundry list of things I consider great about the story, which I am so very equipped to do (and have done before), we’re going to talk about specific points where I knew that I was going to love this book forever and ever. Kind of an emotional walkthrough of sorts that provides some additional context and is a precursor to some of the themes that I’ll be pointing out in two upcoming companion pieces.
So When Did I Think I Knew I Loved Casanova?
The scene at Zephyr’s funeral where Cass kisses his sister on the forehead and then almost immediately gets into a fistfight with his father. Couple things going on here that I appreciated—first and foremost, the wordless word balloons that changed shape when characters started yelling at each other. When I was re-reading this story yet again, I excitedly turned to my wife and explained the greatness of the sequence. “There’s no words in the balloons, because it doesn’t matter what anyone is saying,” said like it was the most important and clever observation in the world. But it’s so simple and so perfect here, as is the captioning—
“We both loved her so much our hearts could burst and we loved her for the same reason. She wasn’t like me.”
Great scene, great moment, and some great art from Gabriel on top of everything.
So When Did I Know I Knew I Loved Casanova?
In the Round Room where Cass goes head-to-head (literally) with Fabula Berserko. First off, great character name, which is something this series also excels at, and a great design which soon became a staple of the series. But the two guys sit down in front of a crowd of spectators and stare at each other for hours and hours until one of them breaks under the pressure of the other’s psychomanifest. (That last bit is important and we’ll come back to it in the next few days.) But if that all sounds strange and awesome, it absolutely is, and the “fight” sequence is launched by the following bit of narration from Casanova, which is just a lovely piece of dialogue work.
“He’s a big mutant brain. Three, even. I heard he’s three monks that practiced some form of occult zen for so long they fused together in a wad.
Whatever—he’s an arrogant special effect and I’m gonna fuck him up for money.”
So When Did I Know That Casanova and I Were Going To Be More Than Friends?
When Casanova jumps out of a UFO, and shoots back at it for no apparent reason— other than, well, why the hell not? Like the man says, “It’s not every day you get to leap to your death while shooting bullets at a U.F.O.”
It’s yet another great moment in a series of great moments that’s really indicative of the kind of attitude and ambition powering this comic and ultimately, making it one of the absolute best being produced right now. And this is only an abstract of my thoughts about it and if given the opportunity, we could be here all day.
But I think you get it—every time I read this book, I find more reasons to love it, to be inspired by it, and wish that more comics were like it. It’s brash, bold, and above all else, unafraid—of making everything unbearably personal, of challenging its readers and itself, and of failing horribly. Which it has clearly never done…but it’s not afraid to, and that’s a strong sentiment that radiates off the stories. Casanova doesn’t give a fuck and that’s what makes it special.
And I’ll be back real soon to talk about a few more reasons why while discussing more of my favorite scripts from the series thus far…