Matt Fraction went to art school. He emphasized that fact a couple of times during our interview. He wasn’t bragging or playing the artiste, he was simply describing how that experience shaped how he writes comics. It also sums up how readers view Fraction, though — he’s the indie hero who conquered the capes, an American Morrison injecting big ideas and idiosyncrasy into the often moribund world of superhero comics, while always embracing the inherent absurdity of the genre. The author of Hawkeye, Sex Criminals and Casanova writes serious comics without succumbing to the grim and maudlin tone that has seeped so thoroughly into the superhero world over the last few decades. And even when he’s writing superheroes and alternate reality science fiction spies, Fraction never loses his hold on the humanity of his characters.
Paste recently spoke to Fraction about his career, winding him up and letting him talk about many of the books he’s written over the last decade. Here’s the first part of that interview.
Rex Mantooth: Kung Fu Gorilla/The Annotated Mantooth!
Illustrated by Andy Kuhn
Originally published by Funk-O-Tron in 2001/2002
Collected by AIT/Planet Lar in 2003
Matt Fraction: The artist Andy Kuhn had the idea for a design of this character, that at the time he was just calling Kung Fu Gorilla. He had gone to an indie publisher to see if he would publish it or help him write it. The guy agreed to, but then decided he wasn’t going to publish it, but he was doing an anthology book at Image called Double Image. He decided he would write a couple parts of that, and then he got too busy or lost interest or decided not to do it — actually, I think Double Image got cancelled.
So that got cancelled and he then asked me if I would do it. The problem was Double Image was running this Joe Casey / Charlie Adlard book called Codeflesh, and it was designed to be eight parts, but Double Image was cancelled at five, so they had three parts of Codeflesh without a publisher, but drawn and finished. So Robert Kirkman thought “this is dumb not to publish a Joe Casey / Charlie Adlard book.” He only had half an issue’s worth of stuff, so he asked me if I would do what I was going to do. So Robert ended up publishing Mantooth.
I didn’t realize until long after Mantooth was published that it was Andy’s idea. I had a sort of zeal and vigor and lack of… I want to say austerity, but that sounds like I’m being sarcastic. It was a very weird work-for-hire gig in a way. I was like, okay it’s not my idea, so let’s just write something crazy and funny and ridiculous without sort of realizing that Andy was as invested in it as he was. Andy and I talked at a couple of shows about bringing him back; it’s just a matter of getting everybody’s schedules lined up and finding the space to do it. It was a chance to just dive in and not give yourself the pressure of having to write a Love and Rockets or From Hell your first time at bat. When you’re foundational DNA is Kung Fu Gorilla, you have a lot of funny places you can go, and learning to do.
Paste: Were you surprised a few years later when that kind of Silver Age goofiness became so big on the comics internet?
Fraction: Yeah, totally. I think it was really a result of a bunch of similarly minded people in the same space at the same time making jokes for one another. And then we all ended up taking over the world, or talking to people who took over the world. (Annotated Mantooth) was just the dumbest joke in the world, the silliest, stupidest thing in the universe. Then to give it an introduction, a forward, a preface, to run the scripts as if it was some great piece of… comics take themselves so goddamn seriously. So many fucking assholes don’t want to write, don’t want to make comics. They want to give interviews about the comics they make, so that was making fun of the stupid and self-important — like Jesus Christ you guys, it’s a comic book! Have a little fun. Maybe admit you’re not Thomas Pynchon. Just have fun. Stop trying to sound cool. It’s comics! If you were cool you wouldn’t be in comics. That’s why we’re in comics. You have to be cool and then come to comics, not start in comics. Deciding that you get to make a masterpiece is not how it works.
Paste: Do you think there is a Pynchon or David Foster Wallace of comics out there?
Fraction: That’s such a loaded question I want to punch you in the face.
Next: Five Fists of Science