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Casanova

Best Comics of 2011 Runner-Up: Casanova: Avaritia

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We’re pretty wary of putting comics on our “best of” list when they’ve only released a few issues in a year. For us, “best” doesn’t just mean technically outstanding and original, it’s also a measurement of entertainment value as spread over 12 months – and if a series is late, absent or slow, that counts against it. It’s why the otherwise brilliant Avengers: Children’s Crusade didn’t make the cut, for example, or why we felt it too early to put Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men on the list separately.

The thing about Casanova is that in only two issues, it’s managed to do more than some comics manage in a lifetime – not just in terms of technical skill, but in its tapestry of concepts, characters and plots. Written by Matt Fraction and drawn, in this instance, by Gabriel Ba, the best compliment I can offer Casanova is to say that it’s truly a comics-readers’ comic. It panders to no-one, dares you to keep up with it, doesn’t look back if you fall behind. At a time when the world’s creative industries are obsessed with providing accessible material with as much popular appeal as possible, it’s refreshing to find a creative team willing to treat its audience as if they’re as intelligent and enthusiastic as they are.

It’s tough to decide what the real strength of Casanova is. Its pace and density. Its originality. Its humour. If I had to pin down the one thing about Avaritia that gave me most pleasure, it would be the meticulous control of the comic’s tempo. Where some writer-artist teams get you raving about a fantastic spread or plot twist, this one excites you with details as minute as a page transition. Turning from a 20-panel action sequence set in 16 different realities where universes die in the gutters, to a languid post-coital splash. It’s the kind of reckless gear change that should make a story flip over itself, turn into a fireball and skid roof-first across the tarmac. But somehow, it doesn’t.

Perhaps the strangest thing about Casanova: Avaritia is that in a year where Fraction’s Marvel output has ranged from “disappointingly pedestrian” to “complete misfire”, it somehow manages to be the absolute best work of his career. We could speculate why, but the fact remains that we saw two Matt Fractions in 2011. The writer of Fear Itself, Thor and Iron Man, a reasonably good creator struggling to live up to even those mild terms, and the writer of Casanova: Avaritia, an absolute genius deserving of mention alongside the likes of Morrison, Ellis and Gaiman.

If I were a professional comics writer, I’d utterly hate Casanova, if only because every issue would make me think “great, another brilliant storytelling device that I’d never have thought of, and which I can’t use for another decade without looking like a cheap imitation.” As a reader, I’m just happy to see those ideas put down once. It’s really only being kept off the top spot by the technicality of having delivered only 2 issues in 12 months – but the fact that merely the first half of the third arc is enough to make us call it one of the best reads of 2011 should tell you how strongly we both feel about this comic. Outstanding stuff.

James Hunt | 30th December, 2011

Casanova Comeback

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The news that Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon’s Casanova – something we’ve already described as one of the best comics of the last decade – is moving to Marvel’s Icon imprint later this year is spectacularly good. Not that I particularly care who puts the thing out (and nor is it a massive surprise that Marvel should want to keep another of their hot writers sweet by letting him play in the creator-owned imprint), merely that it guarantees that a third volume will be on the way around August/September. Splendid.

It’s also great to hear that volume two, Gula, will finally make it into trade – I managed to track down the individual issues after an extended hunt last year (having not been smart enough to have been into the series when it was actually coming out), so it’s nice to know that it’ll be available in a much easier-to-obtain format (and it also means that James might finally get round to reading the damned thing, as he refuses to do so until he can actually own it in trade).

But the third main aspect of the C2E2 announcement is one that I’m slightly more apprehensive about – the news that in their new editions, volumes one and two will be recoloured. It’s one of those where you wonder if it’s strictly necessary – there’s nothing wrong with the two-tone palettes used in either volume, they certainly don’t hamper the reading experience (although, granted, they’re probably slightly offputting to someone picking it up and browsing if they’re unfamiliar with just how bloody good it is), and I’m never sure how keen I am on the idea of going back and “fixing” comics just for the sake of it. On the other hand, if future volumes are going to have more colour (and there’s no denying that the brothers’ work looks even more beautiful that way), it makes a bit of sense to unify things a little. And, more importantly, if you look at the samples that have been released, it’s clear that it’s not a move to full colour, just adding a few more tones. And it’s hardly to the detriment of the thing – quite the opposite, in fact.

So, mark me down as excited for this one. Even if it does mean I’ll end up with two copies of Luxuria on the shelf. It looks like late 2010 is going to see something of a Casanova blitz, and it’s about time.

Seb Patrick | 18th April, 2010

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.

Julian Hazeldine | 16th December, 2009