CASANOVA, VOL. 1
Writers: Matt Fraction & Michael Chabon
Illustrators: Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá
Publisher: Image Comics
WHAT IS IT?
A mystery around the past and identity of two men, potentially tied to cult activities and an end-of-the-world prophecy.
Also, a B-plot that revolves around pop music and the multiverse.
It feels like an Old Hollywood, supernatural season of True Detective.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Quentin Cassaday is majordomo for an older man, Mr. Boutique. Boutique has money and style – he throws parties, and it’s Cassaday’s job to know everything about everyone at those parties.
Cassaday knows more about those people than he knows about himself. Some kind of amnesia took away his memories up until just a few years ago. He’s not too worried about what he’s forgotten, though — a blank slate has helped him get to where he is today.
Turns out, Boutique is the same. But Boutique is curious. And so, the two set off to uncover the mystery that is each other, trying to uncover the other’s past, so that they may learn more about their own.
But they may not like what they find.
Oh, also the world is supposed to end in 9 days. Allegedly. But you know how these things can go.
Fábio Moon's illustration style is lithe and organic, bringing a sense of classic elegance to the page, as well as an implied menace and a sense of dread. The latter is partially due to the moody lighting and limited palette that gives Casanova so much of its sense of style, but also in the cult symbols littering the city, making an appearance just in the margins at first, maybe even going unnoticed until later pages for some readers.
Cris Peter's color palette is simple and limited to blues and yellows with pops of reddish-orange, with only minor disruptions to those colors to bring gravity to a panel or offer a necessary change in the scene’s tone. I'm a sucker for a well-curated palette – it gives a title a personality, and it does so much for Casanova's in this case.
Speaking of style, the book has a lot of it, even beyond the line art and color. There's a classic feel to it. Old cars. Timeless fashion from a glamorous yesteryear. You feel fancy just reading it.
Dustin Harbin's lettering matches the illustration's more natural style with captions that look handwritten, adding to Casanova's unique style. But more impressive are Harbin's flourishes and elegant solutions for organizing and presenting information: narrative captions in caps vs Cassaday’s captions in lowercase shows a difference in narrator without relying on breaking the color palette. Word balloons coming through the open space in a prison window vs standard balloons pointing at the speaker's mouth. Tails of one speaker upstaging another’s balloon. Occult language filling red balloons with eldritch symbols to the point where the balloon looks as if it can't contain them. Hand-drawn sound effects that elevate the book with a sense of authenticity. Harbin is a treasure.
I really enjoy Fraction’s solution for dialogue/"people-noise" that isn’t important, using nonsense with words that stand out from the rest, or just saying the same word over and over. He knows how to manipulate the medium in a way few other writers choose to do.
There are interesting little bits in this first volume that I think will pay off as the story develops in later volumes, like all the interesting ways Cassaday and Boutique are connected and intertwined throughout the book, how the symbols look in black vs gold, and the voice of the narrator.
Love the nod to Matt Fraction's Sex Criminals comic (which he makes with Chip Zdarsky) via one character's "brimp" shirt.
Interstitial pages at the end of every issue give humorous glimpses into the lives of the creators during the process of making Casanova – mostly, Matt Fraction and his personal life.
The "Metanauts" logo design is a delight every issue.
Also, the Metanauts storyline frequently mentions multiple universes, referring to them by their number. It sounds like they call the main timeline the “919 timeline,” which may be a play on Marvel’s own main timeline, the “616,” turned upside-down.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Maybe it doesn't pay off until later volumes, but the quotes at the beginning of the comic didn't do much for me, and the self-referential quote from Michael Chabon, who writes the B-plot, feels tacky and self-absorbed. But maybe I'm missing something.
My biggest beef with Casanova is that the Metanauts storyline feels totally separate and hard to follow, and it kills the momentum gained by the events of each issue. While it does help to have a little levity to relieve the audience from the heaviness of the primary plot, I'd rather not have the spell (and momentum) broken by a separate story that feels more like a way to get Chabon on the title so it appeals to people who don't normally read comics but like his novel work.
There are a lot of acronyms in this book. While that could be one characteristic that helps build the world for us, it doesn't feel like it adds anything to the story beyond that.
Nudity and cult stuff may make it not the best read for a kid if you're sensitive about that sort of thing.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
If you've seen their work before, you know Matt Fraction, Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá, alone, are worth the cost of this comic. And if you're a Michael Chabon fan, you've got that going for you here, too.
The aesthetic is stunning, the mystery is compelling (especially for people who like a little bit of a supernatural and/or potentially science-fiction bent to their mysteries), and the whole thing feels like it's just getting started.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Sex Criminals, Vol. 1 by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky
Gun by Jack Foster
Thief of Thieves, Vol. 1 by Robert Kirkman, Nick Spencer & Shawn Martinbrough
If you like the art:
The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1 by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá
How to Talk to Girls at Parties by Neil Gaiman, Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá
The Edge Off by Fraser Campbell & Iain Laurie
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Matt Fraction – Writer
Award Winner: Has won several awards for his work on Hawkeye and Sex Criminals
Knew several other big names in comics through a Warren Ellis web forum before all of them made it big
Dream Team: He is married to talented comic book writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick
Michael Chabon – Writer
Multitalented: He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, essayist, and comics writer.
Fábio Moon – Art
Dream Team: Often works with Gabriel Bá (who is his brother), and they have worked with comic heavyweights like Frank Miller & Will Eisner
Has 15 years’ experience working in comics
Outlander: Lives in Brazil
Gabriel Bá – Art
Dream Team: Has also worked with his brother, Fábio Moon, on other projects, like How to Talk to Girls at Parties, The Umbrella Academy & Daytripper
Outlander: Lives in Brazil
Multitalented: Also loves writing
Cris Peter – Colors
Outlander: Lives and works in Brazil
Dream Team: Was nominated for an Eisner award for her work with Matt Fraction on this title
Majored in advertising, like a certain charming and attractive yeti you may know
Dustin Harbin – Letterer
Multitalented: Also does work (much of it, autobiographical) as a cartoonist and illustrator
Lauren Sankovitch – Editor
Dream Team: Is (or "was"?) managing editor for Milkfed Criminal Masterminds, the production company of Kelly Sue DeConnick & Matt Fraction, which also counts many of these creators among its number. Click here if you want to learn more about them or the company.
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