Too serious about comics.

Comics of the Decade: Casanova

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cas1For three Wednesdays, the Comics Daily team will be taking it in turns to pick a comic – a run, full series, graphic novel or even single issue – that we feel defines the last decade in some way. These aren’t necessarily our absolute favourite or objective “best” of the decade (if we could even pick just one of such a thing), just books that we think have been a special part of our comics reading over the past ten years. This week, it’s Julian’s choice…

While it’s become something of a cliché to describe Casanova as being one of the books which will influence comics over the next few years, it’s just as true to name is as a book which influences comics today. As this year has run its course, I’ve found myself using a particular word more and more frequently in ‘Daily’ reviews: freewheeling. The industry is starting to move on from the Brian Bendis-inspired decompressed arc model, with rising prices of single issues forcing creators to find ways of making the readers feel as if they are receiving more story for their money. Book after book is beginning to cram its pages with an apparent superabundance of plot and information, telling a story in the traditional way but adding in an array of detail and extraneous data that makes the world created feel so much denser and more interesting than a more minimalist approach to writing could convey. And it’s easy to see where this trend started.

But Casanova Quinn’s misadventures deserve to be remembered for so much more than their contribution to the storytelling medium they call home. While virtually every writer to tackle the archetype created by Ian Fleming has pile on the hi-tech elements of the superspy model, allowing their agents to achieve more and more remarkable feats, Matt Fraction approached this genre from exactly the opposite direction. He regards the hi-tech world of pocket teleports and instantly-reversible revisable sex-changes not as sources of wonder, but as the prerequisites which would be needed to make a character like Bond plausible.

It’s a remarkable piece of thinking in a type of story strangely resistant to change, but what the writer does next is even more extraordinary. With perfect timing, he brings to the boil the comedy inherent in each of the situations his stories create, without ever diverting from the plot. Indulgences such as the inconsistent acronym of W.A.S.T.E. are mere window dressing compared to the way that humour is used to progress the plot. When Cornelius Quinn needs to put something in writing but doesn’t have any paper, it’s only the director of E.M.P.I.R.E.’s stern manner which prevents the assembled cast from joining the readers’ laughter as the affidavit is carved into a metal desk. Fraction almost never goes for the cheap gag, with every piece of humour driving the plot forward, rather than undermining it.

For all its more conventional imitations, Casanova remains unique. While the completed seven-volume tale would undoubtedly tower over the rest of the medium, the achievement of ‘Luxuria’ and ‘Gula’ alone is remarkable.

Written by Julian Hazeldine

December 16th, 2009 at 12:58 pm

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