Monday, November 27, 2006

Casanova review at Guttergeek

Ping got me to read Casanova a while back and the only articulate thing I said was that it was the best comic book ever. People around here have asked me to clarify, and I have put them off because I was waiting for a my review of the series to go up on another site. Now it is up at a place called Here is the first paragraph: click on it to go to the review (This paragraph only appears on the main Guttergeek page and not on the review page, where the link will take you, so you might want to read the paragraph before you click on it).
Casanova is written by Matt Fraction and drawn by Gabriel Bá. It is a book in the Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. mode, sci-fi meets James Bond. At the time of this writing, only five issues have been published. Each is done in only three colours: black, white and sage green. Each issue has sixteen pages of story, with no advertisements, followed by five pages of “DVD-extra”-style notes in a loose essay format. Each issue, after the first, uses the inside cover for a helpful “Previously in Casanova” section. The covers are stylish and simple; the back cover gives a preview of next month’s cover. The first four issues were so much fun to read I fell down on my knees and denounced God.

Brad counselled me not to use this blog to just link to stuff I wrote elsewhere without adding something new, so let me say three quick things about issues 5, which have further solidified me in the thought that this is the best comic book ever.

(1) How did Grant Morrison fail to come up with the fantastic phrase "Bongload of evolution"?

(2) Casanova 5 has my new favorite example of synaesthesia: "Listen to how the light strikes [his mind]. Its tempo is solely its own." (Synaesthesia is a poetic device, used famously by Wordsworth in "Tintern Abbey", where terms for one kind of sense impression are used to describe another, for example "sharp sound" or "loud colors").

(3) There is also a weird little Robert Frost allusion, when Casanova's captor says of his futuristic prison "You're in a space that isn't really a space." Frost's "Directive" (his best and most tricky poem) reads
There is a house that is no more a house
Upon a farm that is no more a farm
And in a town that is no more a town.
The road there, if you'll let a guide direct you
Who only has at heart your getting lost...

The allusion is important because Frost is leading the reader to a goblet of which you can "Drink and be whole again beyond confusion," which is something like what Casanova is up to; its insanely convoluted plot "only has at heart your getting lost."

I will save a discussion of issue 6 for a future blog.


Darius Kazemi said...

Casanova is definitely a good comic book.

Patrick said...

I'm still not convinced it's the best comic ever, but I agree that it's insane, trippy fun.

buckshot said...

Casanova is beautifully drawn, lots of fun, and pretty damn cool, especially by comic book standards. That's about as far as I can ride on the bandwagon though, because quite frankly I just don't think it's that great of a book.

This whole thing about out-Morrisoning Grant Morrison... I think Fraction is definitely trying to out-Morrison Grant Morrison (and that self-awareness is probably my number one problem with the title, and Fraction's work in general) What I feel he lacks is any sort of foundation. Morrison's big ideas, at their best, have always been tethered to something a little more grounded. His characters in Doom Patrol for example were weird and trippy, sure, but they were also incredibly human. Fraction's character work so far just seems to serve as a conduit for his cleverness. Which he has in abundance, no doubt. But sometimes less is more.

I think that synaesthesia and Robert Frost allusion should take a back seat to stuff like character and story. Maybe I'm just old fashioned?

Casanova gets a partial thumbs up from me, and I think Gabriel Ba and Matt Fraction are both destined for great things, but in my opinion this book is just trying a little too hard.

Geoff Klock said...

Buckshot: I have to say comments like yours, and they are many, confuse the hell out of me: beautifully drawn, lots of fun, pretty damn cool, but also not that great of a book? Though perhaps what you meant was not as great a book as I said it was, which is fair (many people have chastised me for being too dramatic in my reviews).

Your point about grounding the weirdness in something more human, like plot and character, is fair -- no one in the thing feels like a human being, I agree. I guess for me the thing is SO MUCH FUN it overwhelms that objection. It's a bit like pointing out how street vendor hot sausages are not good for me -- I know they have no nutritional value , but they are SO TASTY I have a very hard time caring.

James said...

I don't know, I think Cass himself has had a few human moments; the stuff with his mum, shooting Zeph etc. It also helps that he often seems to be as overwhelmed as the reader when it comes to the craziness of his adventures. Sure, he's part of that world, but I still find him at least a little relatable.

buckshot said...

It's beautifully drawn in the sense that Gabriel Ba is amazing. It's fun in the sense that there's a lot of imagination to it, and the format is unique. Also because Gabriel Ba is amazing. It's cool in the sense that it's one of those fashionable 'it' books that only come along so often.

I guess I just find this one of those cases where something is less than the sum of its parts. I love quite a few elements of Casanova, but the end product feels kind of flat to me.

Marc Caputo said...

It's funny because I'm finding the same about Morrison (his recent Batman stuff notwithstanding - and not because it's stupid, but because I don't see where this is going and don't feel comfortable saying that the stupidity is warranted) as Buckshot. Adding to the comments about Doom Patrol, his last issue came from a place of great warmth. And his Animal Man ultimately reveals a person who feels guilt over letting an imaginary friend go. I'm currently reading Alan Moore's Supreme; after a few issues, I see where he's going (and where I'd like to see him take the story) but I don't know if the payoff is going to be worth the set-up. Yes, it is well-written, but I'm going to need more than pastiche to hold it over my head to show off the man's genius.

Marc Caputo said...

(Hit the damn Publish button too soon!) Also, I've got the first 6 Casanovas banked behind some other stuff. I'm thinking I should shuffle the batting order before this book gets hyped out of anything approaching objectivity.

Geoff Klock said...

James: It's not that it's impossible to related to him; it's just that the book does not have a "humanistic" quality, and a lot of people (myself included sometimes) want to see more human beings and less post-modern pastiche. It's just that I don't need it here cause this pastiche is too much fun.

Buckshot: it is funny that you use "flat" pejoratively: Fraction himself discusses wanting the work as flat as possible but in a good way: he compares it to Spector's wall of sound and Beatles songs.

Marc: Yeah, Alan Moore's Supreme is exactly the kind of lame post-modern pastiche that makes me yearn for plot and character. Oh, and READ CASANOVA! SCREW OBJECTIVITY (it will always be too late)! DIVE IN!

butter said...

If Casanova is Morrison it is Morrison through Moorcock and perhaps as much the Moorcock is Ellis/Moorcock and I like it but the beatlessongs annoy me.
When moorcock had jerry cornelius quoting beatles it did already then(i think intentionally) show him as somewhat out of tune. Quoting beatles today make you loose plenty cool and casanova is made of cool.

Geoff Klock said...

Butter: Beatles are cool. Also Fraction is using the Beatles "Wall of Sound" idea as the basis of the comic book, so he makes reference to his origins.

buckshot said...

Hey Geoff, what's your take on the 'Wall of Sound' approach. I read that little essay as well, and even though it sounded really cool, I had a little bit of trouble seeing how it actually applied to Casanova.

And 'flat' ain't always a bad thing, I will admit. I think Casanova has certain bits of flatness that actually hinder it though, but maybe I just haven't been in the mood for flat lately. Like you said, 'screw objectivity'

Geoff Klock said...

Buckshot: well Jason Powell mentioned on this site about how Morrison is using bad musical analogies; Fraction may fall into the same trap, and I might fall into it again, since I don't know enough about it, certainly not as much as Powell (who I hope will weigh in here). But, just going with the Wall of Sound idea and not thinking about it too hard, it just seems like the concept is to put so much stuff on the surface you don't need to go looking for depth. A very busy kind of fun takes precedence over any other consideration -- like plot, characters, philosophical backing, theme, argument, metaphor and so on. If I am right about how it works, then Casanova seems to be doing a good job.