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A Short Interview With Matt Fraction
posted March 25, 2005
 

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Matt Fraction is a writer still in the early stages of what could potentially become a significant career in comic books. He's produced such works as The Annotated Mantooth, Last of the Independents, and Juarez, or, Lex Nova and the Case of the 400 Dead Mexican Girls, currently being serialized. I first encountered him through his freqently compelling essays on sites like Comic Book Resources and Savant. I find him interesting both as a new creator and as a comics writer who emerged out of the second great generation of comics fandom, the on-line communities of the late 1990s. I'm grateful that he took the time to answer a few questions.

TOM SPURGEON: I don't think I've interviewed too many people younger than myself. Can you frame me according to your age as to what comics greatly influenced you and when? Did you have a superhero phase; how did you influence into other types of comics develop and what do you find significant now?

MATT FRACTION: I remember always being around comics of one form or another -- trying to parse Doonesbury collections and old Peanuts books around 4 or 5, Star Wars comics when I'd find them and on and on. I had the adaptation of Blade Runner that I think Al Williamson drew? I loved that book, literally, to pieces. So that would've been '82 or '83, I guess. I became a serious reader/collector/dork when I, after reading a terrible, terrible story that Michael Golden drew beautifully in a GI Joe comic. I went looking for more comics and met a guy who took me to a comic book store. That would've been spring of '86, I think. I was 10. So toy and movie tie-ins, I guess.

I came at comics without having any perspective on anything: I just went after stuff that looked cool. I wanted to be an artist, since my math was too weak to be an astronaut. I remember not really drawing a distinction between buying Michael Golden stuff where I could find it and Watchmen later that summer, only that I remember Watchmen was Very Important And Adult. But I thought it looked cool. Dave Gibbons drew so much little detail everywhere. I remember the third issue of Dark Knight being out the first time I went into a shop. Maybe it was the fourth? Whatever it was, I didn't buy it because they didn't have 1 & 2. That came maybe a year or so later, I guess.

The FIRST reprints of Lone Wolf & Cub. With the Frank Miller covers, then Bill Sienkiewicz, who continues to flip my shit. I remember him being the first guy I really got obsessively into. I remember trying to describe a Johnny Quest cover he drew to my dad. Chaykin, too. I loved how graphic and impenetrable Blackhawk was, and American Flagg! once I found out about it even more so. I liked the weird DC books and Flash and Green Lantern because everything was so colorful and exotic, you know? The larger, post-Crisis continuity made no sense to me, because I didn't know pre-Crisis continuity. But the ideas were sometimes cool. Marvel books, as poorly as they hold up today, at least went to the trouble of having their characters repeatedly explain their powers, origins, and motivations every third panel.

And there was this comic called Marvel Saga, I don't know if anyone remembers that book other than me. They took all these old Marvel comics and literally cut them together with typeset captions bridging it all together. So it was, like, nine stories and a billion characters in one book, and all the art was completely alien and weird to what superhero books looked like then. I loved that. Which is a really long way of saying I was attracted by the art; that sent me reading all sorts of weird shit.

Nowadays I tend to follow creators more than characters. The list would be unremarkable and rote.

SPURGEON: Can you describe the extent of your professional interest in comics? I mean, do you want to do a lot of them? Is there someone's career in comics that would serve as a rough model for what you'd like to do?

imageFRACTION: There are definitely stories that I want to tell that only work on the page; as long as I can't get them out of my system, I suppose I'll try writing them. I wouldn't mind doing a lot of comics but, at the same time, I tend to not play well with others so... so I don't know. There's definitely a degree of creative autonomy my day job affords me that I look for in comics to keep from going nuts.

And I'd be Frank Miller, circa 1985. Blank check, no oversight, full control, final cut, and a gajillion readers.

SPURGEON: Do you see work in comics as part of a lot of writing work you want to do, and if so, what are your other ambitions?

FRACTION: I'm a founder of a motion graphics and animation studio called MK12. We've done film and animation work for clients all around the world -- which is pretty sweet, because it gets even more people from around the world to hire us. We're ramping up a couple music videos at the moment; we've wanted to do more videos for a while so it's fun coming in to the office right now. Live action short films would be nice, too, just to get off the greenscreen for a while. We do that extra credit shit where and when we can.

I'm going back and forth between half-assed writing a novel and half-assed writing a screenplay.

SPURGEON: Can you describe specifically how the success and work demands of your studio has changed your perception of both comics themselves and the comics industry?

FRACTION: I'm a defensive little whore, I'll tell you that much. I'll wear either occupation as a shield of detached freedom against adversity in the other whenever and however it suits me. Which is a pure expression of insecurity, but, at the same time, I'm not really making it up.

It's nice to have a... take it or leave it perspective? If everyone in comics stopped responding to my emails, I'd still have this crazy outlet for all these ideas, and I'd still get to work with some of my best friends, and it would pay my mortgage every month. Not needing comics to survive makes for a weaker idiom but stronger freedom, maybe.

And having built this company and owning it with my friends, I have a really detached relationship to Work For Hire. I can see the value in it, but I'm not convinced I need to make my bones doing WFH stuff before doing my own. I'm fine taking and leaving ideas as it suits my fancy.

I think the industry is pretty unhealthy in a lot of ways, but at the same time, there've been a lot of changes at a fundamental level that can be seen as a logical first-step in self-repair. That's probably inappropriately optimistic.

SPURGEON: As someone whose earliest work is coming out from a smattering of publishers on a variety of projects, do you feel in control of your own development as a writer or is it more sort of learn as you go?

FRACTION: In as much as you can without being a pure cartoonist and self-publisher, maybe? It's been kind of strange because there are things I wrote that never came out for any number of reasons, from simply not happening to nobody buying to random behind the scenes shit... there are very clearly aspects of my "career" I'm not in control of. So both. I'm learning what I control and what I don't, maybe. Or what I control today.

SPURGEON: Where does one go to learn the technical aspects of what you have to do as a writer -- like how to format a script?

FRACTION: I'm a big process nerd. I harassed all sorts of people for scripts -- I have Peter Milligan Shade scripts that Richard Case gave me a hundred years ago, and a Matt Wagner Sandman Mystery Theater script that came from... fuck, somebody somewhere. Neil Gaiman printed one in a Sandman trade. Warren Ellis will leak bits of script out. Dwayne McDuffie has a ton on his site.... Bendis does it Final Draft-stylee; Brian Wood seems to adapt a different style per project. So I read as much as I could from other people, and then just did whatever made sense for me.

SPURGEON: The comics of yours I've read seem to have a definite film influence, such as the work you've done with Kieron Dwyer. Are you ever leery of working too much through film influences, or is that something you think is appropriate to comics or perhaps even one's first few projects in comics?

FRACTION: I went to a couple-three film schools and have always, always been a movie freak so... I mean, I lived in North Carolina for 13 years and I still say "I" like "Ah" sometimes, you know? Some stains just don't wash out. But yeah, I'm absolutely leery of working through too much of that, mostly because I think it ultimately makes for lousy comics.

imageThat said, I wanted to purge a lot of that shit out with Last of the Independents, from appropriating and riffing on the Charley Varrick set-up and spiraling out to that dumb meta-commentary stuff... I'd be dumb to pretend film influences aren't in me or that I don't have a profoundly filmic approach to narrative. It'd be dumb to take that as an all-bad thing, though, too.

It's always going to be in what I do, but... I don't know, LOTI was my first real comic, you know? So I'm learning how to cut it, and the me-who-wrote it, some slack. I think I know a thimble-full more now about comics than I did then, and even that little thimble would make it a different book were I to do it today.

I kind of want to keep answering this question. Which makes me think that, yeah, I'm leery. But, I'm also a novice. So fuck it.

SPURGEON: You're a definite part of that second generation of interactive fandom that came out of the spread of access to the Internet; I know that I first encountered you through Savant and your column at CBR. Do you have any perspective on how that whole wave of interaction has had an effect on the medium or industry? How important was that outlet for you, personally and creatively?

FRACTION: I think it's distorting a lot of perspectives, honestly. I read creators talk about how online reaction can just poison their work, or just their days and... yeah, I dunno. One asshat with a modem can make you think the entire world thinks your worthless.

For me, it was huge, and hugely calculated. I very consciously decided one night that it was time to start writing comics and... and there it was, this great big cannon I knew I could aim at this big wall and if I was lucky I might could sneak in. Which, yeah, worked. Not like I didn't or don't mean what I say or said, at least at the time, but I very clearly and very transparently had ulterior motives for opening my big fucking mouth. I was upfront about wanting to leverage the one into the other.

I tend to regret a lot of the bombast, simply because it's obnoxious; I think some of the hyperbole is still funny; I wish I had a stronger editorial hand/confidence, and if I could make it all go away I probably would. It's easy to beat myself up over.

SPURGEON: Tell me about your next few comics. Are you finding yourself still in a growing stage with them, or do they represent your first works after you've fully found your voice?

FRACTION: I hope I'm still in a growing stage; I think I'm getting better but I don't know that... I don't know that I'd recognize the sound of my voice if I heard it, you know? At least not at first.

The Five Fists of Science is a graphic novel coming out this summer. It's the anti-LOTI. Whereas LOTI was that gritty, 1970's-man movie pastiche, 5FoS is just 100% fun. I'm really bored by the state of mainstream comics' sense of action and spectacle right now, in that it all seems so very boringly CGI and terrestrial. So this friend of mine named Steven Sanders is, like, one of my favorite comic artists going today, even though he's only had one short published, and we'd been trying to work together for years so it's the story about Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla teaming up to save the world- which they really did, up to the point the robots and demons start saturating 1899 Manhattan. It's the most fun I've had in comics to date; every single page has been a joy to write, and it makes me feel like I'm a kid when I see what Steve's done with it. That's July.

Juarez, or, Lex Nova and the Case of the 400 Dead Mexican Girls is on part five currently with six of eight on its way later this month, I think. There's a collection out later this summer. It's the most comic book-y comic book I've done so far, I think, and I absolutely love love love Ben Templesmith's art. He does this real... it's almost a cartoon thing, like, a Kyle Baker-style cartooning thing and I don't know that any of the stuff I'd seem him do before that tried to take advantage of it; I hope Juarez does, somewhat. I think it's his best work to date, and it's certainly my smartest work to date. There's stuff I can point to and be proud of, in terms of... I don't know, voice, as you say, or technique.

I just read the proof of the last part and I still kind of like it. That should wear off in a week or so. That runs through May, and the collection is maybe August?

I wrote a Wolverine story (!!!) for the June issue of X-Men Unlimited #9 that Sam Keith is drawing. That was fun -- I got to do a moody kind of character study, a Terry and the Pirates-esque scene, and then all this big, berserk Wolverine stuff where we see how he's 'died' throughout his career. I mean, Devil Dinosaur eats him on the first page, you know? My inner nine year old was going through a manic fit the entire time. Damon Hurd, who's nine kinds of excellent, wrote the other half. That's in June.

Kieron Dwyer and I are ramping up a straight up historical crime comic called Thug later in the year.

Other than that... I'm sort of just planning what's next, I guess.

SPURGEON: Is there a Kansas City approach to comics?

FRACTION: Just try to write like St. Louis and the second you sell a book, milk it to death, tax the shit out of it, blame Kansas, and build an arena.

That's a very Kansas City joke, probably.

*****

Matt's Web Site
Matt's Column With Joe Casey
Last of the Independents