Sunday, June 17, 2007

Indy Spotlight: Matt Fraction

In preparation for the MoCCA art festival next weekend in glorious NYC, I'm going to focus on one of my favorite independent creators each day this week. First up is a creator who is both a new obsession of mine and someone who I've known (about) and admired for years: MATT FRACTION!

Sure he's a big time mainstream guy now, with his fancy Punisher, and half of Iron Fist, and the upcoming recently-retitled Champions comic (now called The Order? Is that right? It's not a great title change). I'll review his Image book, Five Fists of Science in a minute (because I already wrote about Casanova yesterday), but the Matt Fraction I still think of is the guy who kicked off Savant, the internet magazine for comics activists. If you missed those early issues of Savant, you missed a pissed off Matt Fraction. A Matt Fraction who wanted to let the world know that comics mattered, damn it, and people had better start paying attention.

As he says in the opening essay, written nearly a decade ago: "I think there are more great comics being made now than ever before. I think there are more comics that could appeal to the mainstream world, more genres with vital and important work being made right now than there ever has been before. I certainly buy more than I ever have before. And what's sad is that if you would stack them in a pile, I would still have pairs of boots that go up higher." Here's a guy, writing years and years ago (has it been about 10 years since Savant first launched?), about his unrestrained love for the medium, and his disappointment as well, and then he goes on to tell us what we need to do about it: "Graft pop sensibilities onto Comics: cult of celebrity, collectability, sexiness and hipness," Fraction says, "Think of Punk Rock. Make work that kids will read and think This is the most important thing I've ever read. Or write about it, reciprocating the passion and importance you feel."

"Zealotry, Idolatry: Now's the goddamned time to make things change," he says, "This is what we've been thinking about while preparing to launch SAVANT. For the sweet love of fancy fuck, just be cool. Anger is proactive. Find something broken and fix it; there's plenty to go around. Let's get to work. Stop talking. Keep moving."

This is the Matt Fraction I remember. He helped produce Savant for the first couple of years, and I drifted away from reading the site around the same time he stopped writing for it. I didn't leave just because Fraction stopped contributing, but I'm sure there was a correlation there. He was the best writer they had--the most enthusiastic spokesman for comics, the most joyously angry, and perhaps the funniest.

Now he's on the other side of the page, producing major work for Image and Marvel. So how can I say he deserves an Indy Spotlight? Because he's still Matt-freakin'-Fraction, the Savant guy. He's an outsider working on the inside all of a sudden (does it feel like it's all of a sudden to you, Matt, or just to those of us still on the receiving end of the work?). And even though he is a Marvel writer, his most important work thus far has come from Image, where he has not only produced the brilliant Casanova, which embodies the "just be cool" aesthetic the younger, angrier Matt Fraction vocalized years and years ago, but he's also written Five Fists of Science, an ambitious work that perhaps tries to do too much in too few pages, but isn't that better than doing too little in too many?

Five Fists of Science, for those of you who haven't read it, is a steampunk thriller which features the unlikely team-up between Nikola Tesla and Mark Twain (among others). On the brink of a new century, these two geniuses, with the help of a few other historical figures, concoct a scheme to promote peace across the world via a robotic arms race. Their plan is, unsurprisingly, not embraced by world leaders, which causes Twain and Tesla to resort to demonstrations of just how much the world needs these giant robots. Thomas Edison, J. P. Morgan, and other men of stature provide an opposition force to the Tesla/Twain team, as Fraction throws in Lovecraftian monsters (and a Yeti!) to provide visual symbols (and good targets for punching) of the corruption and violence inherent in these men. It's a story of true genius versus stolen credit, and it's as much fun as it sounds. The only flaw is Steven Sanders's artwork, which is at once too murky and too stiff. The designs are nice, but the story deserves clean, vigorous art to accompany Fraction's vibrant script. After reading Casanova, I can't help thinking how much better the story would be if someone with a clean line like Gabriel Ba had provided the pictures.

But, If you like giant robots, 19th century science, evil cabals, wit, and the Yeti, you can hardly go wrong with Five Fists of Science. It's Matt Fraction, and he's still a comics activist. Only now he's producing the Punk Rock comics himself. I'll keep looking for that Indy Matt Fraction no matter who's signing his paychecks.


Matt Jacobson said...

What do you recommend I check out first: Five Fists of Science or The Last of the Independents?

Timothy Callahan said...

Good question! Beats me, since I haven't read "Last of the Independents" yet, but I'm going to pick it up ASAP now that I'm deep into my Fraction phase.

Read 'em both, I say (though I'm sure the Dwyer art on "Last of..." is stronger than the mushy work on "Five Fists...").

Good to see you back, Matt!

Matt Jacobson said...

I've been working like crazy lately so I haven't had time to post... recently also been spending time reading a fine book called "Grant Morrison: The Early Years".