Cover Casanova 14
Mustn’t let the twenties pass without a mention of Casanova 14. Non-specific spoilers hereafter, about a spF 8, mildly alkaline spoilers.

The past few issues have established this book as a real star of the stands. Building on a run of at least two good issues, no. 14 is itself a huge step-up in quality even from the impressive heights it had reached earlier. Be under no illusions – it’s an intelligent, ambitious book, that manages to fizz the forebrain, thrill the adrenaline glands and softly touch the heart. It has action, romance, sex, fun, pain, and all manner of high strangeness, and puts them to work in a way that is currently unique. The layers of structure, delicate and subtle, make the reader sit right upright and engage with the text – a living thing with wise and curious eyes. Reading Casanova makes you Read. No other genre book out there today does that – Casanova makes you realise how complacent you’ve become, how prepared to put up with any old spandex-wrapped crap you are, and makes you ashamed of that state of affairs. It’s a good comic, and it’s good for comics.

Basically, in issue 14 there’s a Twist. Way back in the history mist, there was a Hallowe’en bash and two Mihndless Ones were talking about the new Bruce Willis movie, out that week. The Mindless knew exactly four things about the movie: it was called The Sixth Sense. It had Bruce Willis in it. It was about some kid who could see dead people. It had a Twist. ‘Bet Bruce Willis is dead’ slurred a Mindless. And really, what else could Bruce be? Ever since that moment, Twists have been shit.

The Twist in Casanova 14 is not shit. It arrives stealthily, beautifully, ringing like a downpour of golden pennies. Crucially for a Twist, it entirely recontextualises all the previous issues, renews them completely. It is a generous and open thing for the comic to do – it instantly turns seven comic books you have read into seven comic books you have not yet read. The inevitable return to this second volume, ‘Gula’ (ancient Iraqi goddess of health and punisher of bad rulers – cheers Wicky-P; Latin for ‘gluttony’ – cheers weird knowledge of unknown provenance and origin), will be an utter delight.

There has to be a But, of course. No free blowjobs here.

It’s the same old moan unfortunately – for all its many staggering highs and various well-groomed charms, Casanova hasn’t shaked the winnet that’s been hanging off it’s arse since the first issue of book one: It just can’t stop fucking smirking at you. It absolutely will not wipe that ‘aren’t I cool?’ smug grin off its face. This means that there are a number of Mindless Ones out there – smart, sensitive, sexy souls to a Mindless – who don’t get this book, who sneer right back in its handsome face, not bothered by the treats they suspect they’re really missing. The problem, the cause for this willful nose-chopping and face-spiting, is unfortunately the man himself, Matt Lightscameraction! Fraction.

(First rule of cool school – Stop waving your arms about telling everyone how cool you are.)

16 pages of strip + covers isn’t great for a printers. You”re going to need some padding. The no-ads, one-colour, low-price format of Casanova is one of the many things that makes it exceptional, and also that makes Image the most interesting comic book publisher – for Mindless action freaks anyway – currently in America. But there will be some pages at the back which you’ll need to fill. There is a perfectly good, time-honoured method of doing this, and it’s called a letter’s page. Folk seem to call it ‘backmatter’ these days. For whatever reason, perhaps a noble notion to emulate some of the advantages of hypertext by providing a few annotations; or a thought to give the fan horde a peek behind the green curtain; or just a smart business move to cultivate the extent of his name/brand recognition, Fraction has always opted to fill out Casanova‘s flab with some ‘this is me’ first-person reflections on some aspect of the issue itself (with occasional interjections from his art-supremo partners Ba or Moon). It seems like a small thing to bitch about, and it is, but we fanboy princesses have delicate skins that can feel a pea through limitless layers of paper and mylar and acid-free backing board. (And it’s shame to mar such a good bookwith anything, especially something as aviodable as, whisper it, artistic ego.) These rambles, though frequently well-written or interesting in their own right, have covered such burning topics as Fraction’s general circumstances and state of mind as he was writing the issue, and the story’s influences and intentions. And something about it doesn’t sit right. For a comic as broad and multiply rewarding as Casanova, to have the author give an editorial at the end of each episode can only be a limiting exercise, can only serve to reduce, not increase the range of possible responses that the reader can make. Behind the curtain is just a crap old guy, not an all-powerful wizard, remember?

The backspatter is most annoying (and this whole problem is just annoying, not evil or anything, but sometimes it is very annoying indeed) when Fraction lists his megaclectic musical influences, as he does frequently. One can only assume he is doing this for the best, Pater-esque reasons, but sadly (annoyingly!) he always comes off like someone from an indie band giving their first fanzine interview. Id est: Annoying. Just as all the best elements of Casanova peak with issue 14, so has this unfortunate tendency, to the point where he lists tracks for a mixtape to accompany the reading experience, the definitive soundtrack. This even bleeds over into the strip itself, with each scene given its own title-tune, as to be enjoyed simultaneously. This might seem like a novel, harmless idea – but it doesn’t match up. It’s just damn daft compared to all the smart moves made in the rest of the book. Example: probably the best-known track on there is Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep, Mountain High’, an enormous, bombastic, affirmative track, that for some reason is matched with the most downbeat, saddest, almost tragic scene that this book has yet managed. Scene and song do not belong together, even if one does begin with the line ‘When I was a little girl…’. There’s a problem of taste here too. What if the reader isn’t interested in Dan Le Sac? (Dan My Sack more like – for the blissfully ignorant: Basically the ‘Preach! Preacher!! Preacherman!!!’ episode of Nathan Barley stretched out into a music career. Schoolboy French puns and cheap soapboxery somehow escaped from Speaker’s Corner and on your radio. Samples so obvious even Kanye West would turn them down.) Don’t tell me what to listen to with my comics, cheers. That’s up to me. Besides, dense and layered though this comic may be, you can’t spend four minutes reading three pages. Even if you pore over each panel, you’re still going to be finished by track five or so, with nine more to go. Fraction isn’t a film director. Matching music to the visuals isn’t one of the options availabe to him, but for some reason he thinks it’s worth a try anyway. Each individual reader is the one who gets to decide what music accompanies a comic book. That’s one of the good things about reading comics (websites, books, newspapers…) – you can experience and enjoy them alongside music (telly, conversation…) as you see fit.

This is getting petty of course. But there’s quite possibly a deep malaise at work here, and it’s not just Disco Vicar syndrome. By flashing its cool credentials so desperately, as though responding to critical voices that in reality disappeared long ago, Casanova dates itself. As if it isn’t just comfortable being a comic. When really, is anyone really telling the comic fans they aren’t hip anymore? Is anyone really still trying to ghettoise comics?

(Second rule of cool school – Ignore all the rules. I contain Multitudes/hypocrisy rocks:)

Because despite the regular gripes, comics are good and hip and way ahead of the mainstream, and don’t need to apologise for themselves or shout about how they’ve ‘got all this other cool shit going on in their lives actually’. Because we already won that battle. We’re there being cool already. We got the cool jeans and turned into god on the dancefloor. We haven’t had the ‘comics aren’t just for kids anymore’ conversation for nearly a decade. We don’t need to worry about our comics making us feel hip and validated, alluding to the crazy, sexy, cool world of the latest swinging tunes, like it’s another world or something. So a bit of Casanova, for all its composure and swagger, is really still battling with the shadows of the long departed, when it could leading the form into brand new territory.

*RE: The title. A music reference. As if I know what the fuck I’m talking about – been listening to one bloody Hawkwind record for nearly a year now.

See – it’s annoying, isn’t it?

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15 Responses to “Youshouldn’tdothat – youshouldn’tdothat – youshouldn’tdothat – youshouldn’tdothat*”

  1. Papers Says:

    The backmatter never really bothered me that much, though I have a habit of loving writer’s wanky behind the scenes bollocks, so that might be why. It led me to look at things like the old Barbarella strips or the music of the New Pornographers.

    The soundtrack, well, it didn’t work out; particularly when certain tracks are only available through obscure YouTube vids from forever ago. But, you can watch TV with the sound off and read this with the music off if you want; that’s what I did (though I did download a couple of the tracks).

    It does cloy a little bit, though. I think Fraction almost but not quite manages to deliver on his promises of spy-sex politics. The BIG TWIST is a good move that recasts the whole thing, and I’ve had to rethink my reading of GULA on the whole.

    I’m still pretty bothered by the use of Ruby Seychelle this time ’round. She bothers me in particular, and she’s still just a woman in a fridge when you think about it — robot or not.

  2. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    Great review btw. One of the things that bothers me about Casanova, and maybe Fraction’s whole writerly persona, is that he’s so hetero about everything whilst acting like Mr Enlightened. It’s all ‘well of course there are sex-bots, it’s a super/sex/spy comic – durrhh!’
    Ok, so show us some cocks then. Boy on boy. Men getting subjugated. Something outside of the well covered ground of white middle class male-ville. Which is not to say I don’t think ‘Casanova’ has a load of good things going for it. It’s just not necessarily the absolute fucking solution everyone seems to claim it is.

  3. Bill Reed Says:

    There was plenty of cock in the first arc, from what I recall, Beasty.

    Casanova is, for my dollar, one of the best comics of this century. I love the backmatter, and certainly don’t mind the comic knowing it’s cool– because, well, it is, at least for this hopelessly uncool reader.

  4. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    I don’t recall much cock, but maybe I blocked it from my mind HARHARHARetc.

    I think the problem or otherwise, depending how aspirational you are, is Fraction’s possibly too easy to recognise through these notes; given my crushing internal revelation that I will probably never attend a Marvel summit*, as I write no fiction and little else, it’s a bit hard to take that a guy who maybe just put in 10-20% extra… his music taste is not really very esoteric or great, albeit ’tis broad. Adam Warren did this much better in an issue of Gen13 some years ago, where they were all really obscure remixes and he didn’t say shit about them. I’d maybe heard one song. He was clearly much cooler and smarter than I. (And he can draw like hell! Adam Warren is an awesome guy, i’short.)

    It works both ways, I guess – if I was actually not a lumpen turd, I’d maybe go and be inspired and guys like Tim Callahan and Geoff Klock in the blogosphere fucking have total ping-ons and write these I think ridiculously overstated paeans to how this is the best comic in 20 years; in both ways though, I think it’s not handy for a critic to be that close to the author, really. I *like* Casanova, that said, but it’s probably not even in my top five monthly books.

    *Even though it’d probably be horrible and you have to be nice about Jeph ‘the Loebster’ Loeb who is the single worst… Christ, what’s wrong with me?

  5. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » May 27, 2008: Mazuruka Fantasy Theater Says:

    [...] The Mindless Ones‘ Bobsy on Matt Fraction and Fábio Moon’s Casanova [...]

  6. Essay no. 7 - sometimes i think i’m bigger than the sound « supervillain Says:

    [...] #14 of Casanova tries to combine a playlist with with silver age style chapter titles, and the entire issue suffers. The playlist thing, in all it’s variations, never seems to quite [...]

  7. Christian Otholm Says:

    I vehemently disagree with the assessment that Casanova doesn’t enjoy being a comic. There are a myriad of things in that couldn’t happen anywhere else. (the fake-out in #8, the narrator, the elegant breaking of the fourth wall and so forth.)

    Fraction isn’t forcing you to listen to the songs while reading it, nor has he structured the book, so it follows the length of the song for an average speed reader. He’s simply saying that he thinks this and this song fits this and this scene. I don’t see how using the title of songs as Silver Age “chapters” is taking anyone out of the reading enjoyment.

    @Bots’Wana Beast
    I don’t really see the point of making a soundtrack so obscure that you’re unable to find more than half the songs anywhere, nor do you get a quick little description of why the author finds them significant for the story. But I do love Adam Warren.

    Considering this very website, I’m genuinely amazed that you don’t like the backmatter. But yeah, I’m a sucker for annotations, so I enjoy it. And Matt’s a funny, smart guy.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I am of the opinion that Casanova is the best comic of the last 20 years. It’s certainly my favorite comic of the last 20 years. So yes, I am bias.

    PS. There were plenty of cocks and male torture in the first volume.

  8. Zom Says:

    I really want to read a fannish essay that explains the appeal of Casanova because I want to like it a lot more than I do, and I’m of the opinion that seeing it through the eyes of a devotee would help.

  9. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    Not maybe fannish but this might be your thing – http://www.thoughtballoonists.com/2008/10/meanings-inside.html

    I feel a bit dreadful about my behaviour in this comments thread, partly because Fraction has said he won’t do the backmatter anymore and it’s because people on the internets loathe it, some fairly loaded phrasing that we to be fair didn’t use, ‘n this is the only place I’ve seen the opinion expressed that the backmatter is shee-ite. It is, mind, but I hope it wasn’t me upset him. (Or do I?) No, I really do.

  10. Zom Says:

    I didn’t use no phrasing. I don’t endorse or necessarily share the opinions of my fellow mindless ones. Innit.

  11. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    Backtrackers!

  12. Zom Says:

    No. Truth

  13. bobsy Says:

    Huge spoiler in that article B-Beast links to upstairs btw.

    Nice that Casanova really does seem to inspire such fanaticism in some people. Nicer still that the next volume will be free of the Portrait of the Artist backspatter.

    The worst aspect of the Fractionatics was, ultimately, that those precious pages could have been used in so many different, better ways. Why not have a letter’s page in there, for instance? Or, my preference, why not have MORE CASANOVA in there? Not necessarily strip, but cool in-continuity world-building stuff: detailed schematics of the cool Element X ships; pages torn from Ruby’s diary; bits of Cas and Zeph’s high-school yearbook (not entirely sure what a yearbook is, but I’ve seen them on telly); Cornelius’ dossiers on the baddies; newspaper reports of the hullabaloo on Shag island. That kind of thing. Wouldn’t it be much more fun to read?

  14. Zom Says:

    Sounds about right to me

  15. Final Crikeysis #7 - All foreground, all the time! « Mindless Ones Says:

    [...] See, I was concluding – in the (correctly) implicit soundtrack… it sez in my Daily Record (not actually mine) that Nubia is a trib to [...]

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