The Casanova Project: Adventures in Book Design

The minute I found out that custom book binding was a thing that actually existed, and that people were using it to create their own hardback collection of comic books, my first thought was: Uh-Oh. Because right then, I knew I was in trouble.

I’ve been a design geek for ages. I spent a big chunk of the 2000s doing CD mix discs as presents for friends and family – doing them incredibly lavishly, so that they weren’t just random mixes, they were themed experiences that had been tracklisted and mixed together to a boggling degree. (You can see some of my previous work over at my design Tumblr, Discs of Fury). The potential of taking some of the comics that I’d been collecting and turning them into a uniquely designed book that I could design how I liked, of maybe even adding a small section of extras at the back… well, it blew my mind. It gave me lots of ideas, and one of them was doing a collected edition of Casanova – the mind-melting comic book by Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon. It’s a saga of multi-dimensional espionage and action that’s massively influenced by 1960s cult movies like Danger: Diabolik, and is also one of the most out-there and experimental comic books I’ve ever read. It’s stuck with me a lot over the last few years, and I liked the idea of giving it the lavish edition it deserved. It’s always a bit vexxing when a comic I love gets a half-hearted presentation, or is given a nice presentation but other, lesser comics get something an awful lot better. This was the chance to redress the balance, with something deserving.

And of course, because this is me we’re talking about here, it all got a little out of hand.

Casanova Custom Bound Edition Matt Fraction Gabriel Ba Fabio Moon - Front Cover

Casanova Custom Bound Edition Matt Fraction Gabriel Ba Fabio Moon - Spine Casanova Custom Bound Edition Matt Fraction Gabriel Ba Fabio Moon - Back Cover

 

This is what I ended up with, and it’s a bit of a monster. 12 issues, in all. An 8-page intro section. 4 page dividers between the first and second miniseries, and between the second and third. And then, at the back, 160 pages of extras (totalling the 60 pages of extras that appeared in the first two-colour run of Casanova back in 2006-2008, along with interviews with Matt Fraction, a script, and 30 pages of art by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon). All of which I designed myself, and tried to get looking as nice as possible.

(A note for anyone who’s thought “Hmm- looks like the graphics on the cover are a bit stretched” – you’re right. The bookbinders made a bit of an error with that, one they are hopefully (fingers crossed) going to be fixing very soon.)

I spent a huge amount of effort on this. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to design, and tried multiple versions of the cover before finally getting it right. The back cover took me almost as long, and while a few mistakes were made, a lot was learned, and I know a hell of a lot more about printing and book design than I ever did before.

One of the main reasons I did this was because Fraction, Ba and Moon were all going to be at the Thought Bubble comic con in Leeds that I was going to, which gave me a deadline and also resulted in me pulling out all the stops to make it as impressive as I could. The end result was being able to get it signed by Matt Fraction, and getting a bit overwhelmed with how amazed he was by it (I often get reduced to slightly embarrassed grinning and thinking “Don’t say anything stupid!” in these situations), and I also was able to get both artists to do quick sketches in the front and back of the book, which basically left me in a state of complete fanboy shock.

Casanova Custom Bound Edition Matt Fraction Gabriel Ba Fabio Moon - Sketch by Gabriel Ba

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I’ll definitely be doing this again. Despite some things not going according to plan, there’s nothing like having an idea and then being able to turn it into a physical thing you can hold in your hands – a unique object that isn’t quite like any other graphic novel or comic collection out there. I might just go a little easier on the extra material next time…

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Comics Review: The Week in Comics (7/9/2011): Casanova – Avaritia 1, Morning Glories 12

Reviewer: Saxon Bullock (aka @saxonb)

Casanova Avaritia 1 cover art Matt Fraction Gabriel BaCASANOVA – AVARITIA issue 1
Writer: Matt Fraction ~ Artist: Gabriel Ba ~ Publisher: Icon

[xrr rating=4/5]

It’s been a long time coming. Fast becoming known as the ‘Velvet Underground’ of indie comics, Casanova is a sprawling, wild and deeply bizarre mix of sci-fi and demented spy thriller that built up a major following when it was first published in a stripped-down, adventurously cheap ‘two-colour’ format back in the mid 2000s. Now, following a full-colour reprint of the first two series, we’ve now got the first brand new Casanova material in years… and it’s unsurprisingly tricky. Matt Fraction’s since risen to fame as one of the biggest new writers at Marvel (especially for his work on The Invincible Iron Man), but Casanova is something different, and weirdly personal in spite of its seemingly too-cool-for-school mix of spies, sex and alternate universes. Everyone involved in Casanova has moved on in one way or another during the ‘hiatus’, so it’s no surprise that this feels different – for a start, we have an uninterrupted 32 page chapter (which also means the price has gone up to $4.99 an issue), and also the storytelling is a little bigger, and not quite as fiercely compressed as before. That isn’t to say Fraction and his team aren’t still experimenting like crazy – there’s a dizzying whirl of techniques here, including seventies-style freeze frame captions, genuinely effective thought balloons, and sixteen different alternate universes on a single page. But with the story much darker, as Casanova finds himself stuck annihilating realities under orders from his ‘father’ (only to then discover something much more significant), this isn’t quite the full-on, no-holds-barred explosion of pure comics that Casanova has managed before. New arc, new theme, new style – I may have been ever-so-slightly disappointed with the first instalment of Avaritia, but I’m willing to give Fraction the benefit of the doubt and settle in for what’s sure to be a wild and unpredictable journey.

Morning Glories 12 cover art Nick Spencer Joe Eisma Rodin EsquejoMORNING GLORIES issue 12
Writer: Nick Spencer ~ Artist: Joe Eisma ~ Publisher: Image

[xrr rating=2.5/5]

Oh, Morning Glories. You had me. You really did. I was buckled in for the ride – the first six issues hooked me with their mix of Lost, The Prisoner, and the early (best) years of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You even had Nick Spencer, one of the most promising writers out there, and the man reponsible for the Jimmy Olsen special that was, frankly, close to being the comic of the year. So why exactly did I end reading issue 12 of Morning Glories by deciding that 12 issues, frankly, was quite enough? Honestly, it’s because the second six-issue helping (I hesitate to call it an ‘arc’) started really well, but has ended up leeching all the momentum out of the story. The concept of doing character-centric issues is a good one – it’s very Lost, and it should have given us time to get to know our characters. And it did, in a manner of speaking – but Spencer’s decision to pile mystery on top of mystery has ended up with lots and lots of intrigue, but a glacial storytelling pace that feels like it’s going nowhere.

Added to which, most of the mysteries haven’t been followed up on in the slightest, meaning it’s been rather like reading six issue ones in a row, and I’ve gotten fed up of waiting for the story to start. Lost-style longform storytelling is risky in a monthly comic book format, because you’ve got to give the audience enough meat to feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth, and with Morning Glories it’s as if I’ve been buying 22 pages of tease for the past few months. Even issue 12 (which features some strong moments, seriously intriguing reveals and a couple of big revelations) still manages to introduce another new character and a whole selection of other things we don’t have answers for, and the results are more frustrating than entertaining. Added to this, there’s Spencer’s occasional moments of dialogue clunk, particularly when someone decides to say something significant in bold and italics for extra emphasis in case we hadn’t gotten the message that this was important… and then there’s the art. I’ve given artist Joe Eisma twelve issues to convince me, and his line-heavy, slightly bare style simply hasn’t won me over, while it’d be nice if he could draw more than one female character (Scarlet) who doesn’t have the same face as everybody else. It’s a real shame – Morning Glories has tons of potential, and properly entertained me for its first six issues, but right now I’m leaving this high school thriller to it. I’ll check in once the third arc is out in trade, but for now, Morning Glories is on its own.

 

Comic Review – Casanova : Luxuria

Year: 2010 ~ Writer: Matt Fraction ~ Artist: Gabriel Ba ~ Colours: Cris Peter ~ Publisher: Icon

Casanova Luxuria Matt Fraction Gabriel Ba cover

[xrr rating=5/5]

What’s it about?: Casanova Quinn – liar, bad seed and international scoundrel. He’s leading a life of crime, enjoying the hell out of disobeying his father Cornelius Quinn and the forces of E.M.P.I.R.E… but then, he’s abducted out of his own timeline and taken to another. Here, he’s enlisted by his sister Zephr and bandaged villain Newman Xeno to become his own evil twin and destroy E.M.P.I.R.E. from within…

The Story: “How can a bunch of stupid comic books compete with drugs and girls that let you take off their clothes?” It’s a damn good question (asked during the second story in this collection, ‘Pretty Little Policeman’), but if there’s one comic that stands a pretty good chance of competing, it’s the mad, brain-expanding and sinfully sexy Casanova. The brainchild of comics writer Matt Fraction, a man who’s carving out a selection of highly acclaimed stories in the mainstream Marvel universe (including an acclaimed run on The Invincible Iron Man), Casanova is the kind of full-tilt, love-it-or-hate-it, packed-to-the-brim-with-invention story that thumbs its nose at normality, convention and good taste. Instead, what we get is a gorgeously hyper-lurid blend of sci-fi, pop art spy thriller and twisted family saga, as if someone had taken cult sixties adventure Danger Diabolik and mashed it together with Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius novels and a heavy dollop of Grant Morrison-style insanity.

Casanova Luxuria Matt Fraction Gabriel Ba Panel issue 1Originally published back in 2006, Casanova was first issued in smaller-formatted 15 page instalments (and in a simply coloured green/black/white style), and Fraction made every page count by cramming a jaw-dropping level of invention into each one. In the first instalment alone, we get horny fembots, psychic combat, drugged-out sex and a helicopter-driven supercasino – and that’s only in the first twelve pages, shortly before our hero gets torn out of reality and things get really strange. It’s a demanding read, one that hurls concepts at the reader as fast as they can take it, and while the broad ‘Bond on Acid’ style is fun, energetic and wonderfully sexy, the world of Casanova is also a weird, disturbing and downright brutal one. If it isn’t the torture, it’s the nude male wrestling deathmatch. If it isn’t the robot orgies, it’s the worryingly flirtatious nature of the relationship between Casanova and his alternate, not-technicially-in-a-quantum-way-related twin sister Zephr.

Casanova Luxuria Matt Fraction Gabriel Ba Zephr QuinnFraction knows how to mess with our preconceptions, and spins a series of tales that up-end traditional pulp fiction assumptions (especially in ‘Coldheart’, where Casanova investigates a savage island of tribal warriors), twisting the narrative into interesting and mindbending shapes. It’s not just a romp, though – at the heart of Casanova, there’s a dark and troubling story of a tangled family, and what happens when reality collides with comic-book insanity. The sheer level of invention is boggling, and this isn’t a collection that’s easy to take in one sitting, but in today’s world of decompressed comics where whole fight sequences can stretch over multiple issues, a comic as packed full of goodness as Casanova is something to be applauded. Combine that with Fraction’s crackling dialogue and truly demented sense of humour, and you’ve got a turbo-charged dose of craziness that repays multiple re-reads.

Casanova Luxuria Matt Fraction Gabriel Ba panelThis Icon collection reprints the original series from 2006, but it’s been spruced up with new colouring (creatively done by Cris Peter, and still referencing the green look of the comic’s first outing) and new lettering, along with a selection of fresh extras at the back of the book, including the new 10-page story ‘I Think I Almost Loved Him’, which fills in some of the gaps in the story around the character of the Night Nurse. Also, Icon is currently reprinting in issue format the also-recoloured and never-before-collected second Casanova run Gula, with an all-new Casanova story coming later in the year. Don’t hesitate – get onboard now with one of the most entertaining, challenging and genuinely offbeat comics out there.

Casanova Luxuria Matt Fraction Gabriel Ba Zephr QuinnThe Art: Brazilian artist Gabriel Ba is better known for his work on offbeat fantasy comic The Umbrella Academy, but Casanova was the first work to get him serious mainstream attention, and it’s no surprise – this is stylish, distinctive and wonderfully sexy stuff. Dynamic and graphically interesting throughout, he’s brilliant at laying out pages and grabbing the reader’s attention. He also draws women like nobody else on Earth, managing a style that’s simultaneously over-the-top ludicrous, characterful, and utterly drenched in sultry sexiness (especially when it comes to Zephr Quinn in the ‘Pretty Little Policeman’ carnival sequence). There’s barely a crazed idea Fraction can come up with that Ba can’t pull off, and it all adds up to the kind of characterful and utterly unique comic art that’s easy to get lost in.

The Verdict: Like a particularly demented night out on the town, you may not remember everything that happens by the end of Casanova, but pretty soon you’ll be hungry to go through it all over again. It’s certainly not for everybody, but lovers of the cult, the strange and the sexy should buckle up for this ride as soon as they possibly can.

[amtap book:isbn=0785148620]