Saturday, August 18, 2007

Casanova and Pathos with Matt Fraction (reprint from Free Form Comments)

Jason Powell asked a really good question about Casanova in yesterday's Free Form Comments; I answered it in a way I think Matt Fraction, the author, would not have. I thought it was a good topic for discussion, and knowing that Fraction drops by sometimes and comments as well, I thought I would give him a heads up if he wanted to weigh in on this. He did, which is awesome. Now I have cut and pasted the whole conversation into its own post so this quite good back and forth is not missed by incurious readers who, like me, often read blogs without reading comments. If you want to add to this discussion, do it here and not in Free Form, if you want to be heard.

Jason Powell said...

Geoff, a statement and a question for you.

Statement: I finally got and read my copy of the Cassanova Vol. 1 hardcover. Obviously you've raved about it many times in many forums but the single line that had really made me curious was your saying that its "surface is too dense to pick apart in a single reading." Very evocatively worded sentence, I thought, and I wanted to read the book that inspired it. I was happy to discover that it was true. There really is a lot going on, and in such a way where you glide along the surface picking up as much as you can on the way and hope you didn't miss anything TOO important. I haven't re-read it a second time to see all the stuff I missed yet.

Question: Would maybe be answered by the aforementioned re-read-that-hasn't-happened-yet, BUT -- what I didn't get was the warm-fuzzy-toned ending with him and his sister. Their relationship was pretty insane and not at all warm throughout the book, but then they seem to share this heartfelt, familial good-bye at the end. If there was a place where the transition occurred, somewhere amidst the densely-packed information, that's one I missed.
Geoff Wrote

I love me some Casanova. It is my favorite comic book of all time. I have gone on and on and on and on about how great it is, perhaps to the point of mind-numbing stupidity. I also know Matt Fraction reads this blog, and occasionally comments here. I hope this bit next bit will not offend him, but I am not about to avoid good, direct questions from people who post here.

I did not realize how much "heart" matters to Fraction in Casanova until I heard Fraction talk about it in the Comic Geek Speak interview we did. He did not like the comparison of Kill Bill vol 1 to Casanova because he felt Kill Bill vol 1 had no heart. That kind of surprised me. It wasn't that I thought of Casanova (the book) as heartless; it is just that there was so much right with it I did not think the heart Fraction was talking about was vital to the book's success. I did not notice he was going for that effect so much. You can see heart I think in both Kill Bill vol 1 and in Casanova but in both cases I think the heart of both is how much FUN the creators are having, and how clearly they LOVE what they are doing, and the influences they are drawing on. That Fraction's personal heart is the heart of the book is clear to me from the backmatter to issue 7.

When I got to that moment in 7 where the tone goes warm and fuzzy I just read it as one more of-the-wall surface effect: monks fused together in a wad! floating head exposition! hot girls! an emotional ending! robots! But from the interview I did with Fraction it was clear that he did not see it like that -- he sees emotional moments like that as the core that anchors the surface. If I am right that he sees it that way, and if you read it that way, you might call that brother-sister good bye a small error, an un-earned emotional weight. But if you read it like me it's just one more pure surface crazy throw everything at the wall and -- MY GOD --EVERYTHING sticks moment that makes Casanova fun.

Or I just need to re-read Casanova again with this in mind: there may be more justification for their good-bye than I remember. You can always argue that their antagonism is displaced love, that brothers and sisters always fight but really love each other through and through, but that is not what I would argue. I would argue the emotion is just one more nutzo surface effect, one more thing to add to the mix at the close of the book because -- as the narration of a fight scene in issue 2 reads -- THE GENRE DEMANDS IT!

fraction. said...

The hardest thing I ever had to do was forgive someone that broke my heart.

"This / Is the process whereby pain of the past in its pastness / May be converted into the future tense / Of joy," as Robert Penn Warren wrote.

Or "War is over," as Casanova/I stole&said, at the instant when he saw the truth in it. And what's the follow-up to that classic line? "If you want it."

I wanted it, or needed it, maybe, as did Casanova. And thus did the pain of the past begin its miraculous transmutation through time.

You might choose to see how that motif exists throughout the rest of the work if you wish or, as you do now, as an unearned (or at least questionable) gratuity, or, as Geoff does, yet another Nouvelle Vague-style crescendo piled upon crescendo that achieves subversiveness by being exactly the kind of traditional third-act payoff CASANOVA had set one up to not expect, or, most simply, just flip the page to where the villain of the piece and three naked women are preparing to eat a guy for laffs. I'm just happy you read it at all, and loaned it space in your head, even for a little while.

I don't know how anybody forgives anybody, but I believe in its power and profundity.

Jason Powell wrote:

I don't mean to imply that I thought it was "unearned" or "unjustified." More like, incongruous. But really -- when I said it was something I "didn't get," I really was putting the onus on myself -- it wasn't one of those disingenuous "I'm sorry, but I just don't get this" ploys that critics sometimes use to try and take the edge off the fact that they hate something.

So I wasn't sure if maybe there was a thread buried among the crazy latticework of Cassanova that set me up properly for the warm, fuzzy ending and I just missed it. (I read it all in one night, and I really was thinking periodically as I was reading, thoughts like, "Okay, I think I've got it all straight so far -- no, wait -- what? Oh yeah, right, I remember that.")

Maybe a good way of explaining my reaction is not to say that I wondered whether the ending was "earned" or not, but rather whether this was the ending I was supposed to want. Like, should I have been rooting all along for the brother and sister to reconcile?

Hmm. Now after all this talk I think I'll just have to read it again to see how it strikes me on the second go-round.

Anyway, cool to have both Geoff and the author himself weigh in. And P.S. to Mr. Fraction -- I love the bit where that one guy shoots the other guy for saying that The Beatles are overrated. Honestly, who among us hasn't wanted to do that?
fraction. said...


i didn't mean "unearned" as a pejorative there at all, or to correct you somehow if you did indeed feel that way-- i just didn't want to sound like Mr. Writer Guy coming down from on high and instructing you on THE way to interact with the text because you so clearly know nothing and blah blah. i hate hate hate that shit, and you see it on the internet all the time, you know?

anyway, it was a good question so i wanted to respond a little-- not correct you, but toss it out there for consideration.

the only invalid way to respond to the work-- mine, yours, anybody's-- is to say i don't get it, as that says nothing about the work and everything about you (the royal you, as it were, and not the you-you). because that's really just saying i like what i know. in which case you've nothing to say about anything new at all.

but that's another show, oprah.


Geoff Klock said...

[Christian posted to Free Form while I was putting the new post up, so I pasted it here. He makes a very good argument.]

Christian said...

Matt said it was okay a little above, so now I'll superimpose my thinking on Cass. You might say that the emotional payoff is unearned, but the entire catalyst for everything that goes on reaches back to Zeph's death in #1. I'd argue that everything Cass does in #1 is his way of dealing with that loss; I mean, he goes out, gets high, gets in a fight, gets laid and falls in with a bad crowd. That's certainly staples of the spy action genre in general, but it's all as a reaction to Zeph getting killed by her own evil twin and something not entirely uncommon when dealing with loss. When Zeph turns out to only be sorta-dead, he shuts off and goes back into juvenile sibling rivalry until about #3 when he slowly comes to the realisation that he might not like the person he's become and starts changing.

Of course I'm full of shit on a regular basis, but that's just how I see it.

Saturday, August 18, 2007 10:52:00 AM EST

Anonymous said...

To Monsieur Fraction:
Well, that's cool then. Thanks for clarifying. And if I seemed to back off from what I was saying, it was because if we see too much of creators being pedantic about how interpret their own work, then we see equally too much of critics (which I am, professionally, albeit of theatre, not of comics, or at least I was until just recently) throwing their view around as if it were the only one worth being thrown. Equally worthy of hate hate hate, I think.

Anyway, Christian's comments above (about the much-debated "earned"-ness of the scrutinized scene in issue 7 has its seeds with the death of the other Zephyr in chapter 1 are illuminating (at least to me). That's an interesting interp, although I'm questioning the idea that the relationship between Casanova and Zephyr is simply a "juvenile sibling rivalry" in the middle bits. Isn't that right when they, y'know, get their freak on?

And perhaps the answer to my own original question is simply that I've got some issues, because I liked it better when their relationship was thusly freaked than when it transformed at the end to something more benign.

P.S., Geoff: I can't remember you doing something like this before, taking someone's comment and making it into a new post. I won't deny it, I'm a little thrilled by the awesomeness of seeing a blog-posting that starts with the words "Jason Powell."

Geoff Klock said...

JP: I was very frustrated a while back trying to explain why New X-Men riot at Xaviers sucked so much. Neil Shyminsky explained my problem in a few short words in a comment -- having lame villains may have a point but it robs your story of any tension or surprise. I quoted it in the next New X-Men blog post. But basically, yeah, this is the first time I blogged about something BECAUSE of a comment someone made.

Anonymous said...

they don't get their freak on. she tortures him and gets off on it but, while he's naked, she very clearly is not. There's no, uh, genital-to-genital freakness.

That scene's about their power differential, one-upping Cass' pigtail-pull gutshot that ended #2. And pushing the line between them as absolutely far as it can go.

(and, christian, nice one.)

Christian O. said...

Wow. I said something that wasn't completely stupid. SUCCESS.

(And since my username here doesn't indicate it, I'm also Solario at your board.)

Streeborama said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Streeborama said...

Fraction said:

the only invalid way to respond to the work-- mine, yours, anybody's-- is to say i don't get it, as that says nothing about the work and everything about you (the royal you, as it were, and not the you-you). because that's really just saying i like what i know. in which case you've nothing to say about anything new at all.

but that's another show, oprah.

Geoff, Jason, Matt -

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I've been waiting for someone to say this during the entire course of these "authorial intent vs reader's interpretation" debates. That's the one non-interpretation interpretation that tries to invalidate everyone else's response to any given work. That outlook really bugs me.

And as to the genital-to-genital freakness - I believe the technical term is "dry humping" and it's not illegal to do that with one's sister. Or so I hear. . .

EDITED for spelling errors. I don;t want Geoff coming down on me for errors, so I deleted my comment above in order to correct it here.

Geoff Klock said...

I frightened everyone with those Bill Bryson posts. I do not come down on people for spelling errors. Back to your regular programing.

Anonymous said...

"this is the first time I blogged about something BECAUSE of a comment someone made."
***Then this is, indeed, pretty awesome.

"That scene's about their power differential, one-upping Cass' pigtail-pull gutshot that ended #2"
***Ah, thank you, I see that now. It's still pretty hot, though.

" I believe the technical term is "dry humping""
***Any of you guys use to watch the show "Clone High"? "I like my humping like I like my martinis -- dry!" Man, I loved that show.

"I do not come down on people for spelling errors."
***Although *I* come down on Geoff for spelling errors. He once called me this blog's official proofreader. I'm going to put that on my resume, I think. :)