Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Gabriel Bá
Colorist: Cris Peter
Letterer: Dustin Harbin
To borrow a phrase from my friend Josette, it’s short shameful confession time. I’ve had an advance copy of Avaritia for… four months, and it’s Tuesday morning September 6th, and I’m writing my first draft of the review now. It’ll be in store for most of you tomorrow morning, unless you happened to be in Portland this weekend and already have a copy.
I have been comprehensively beaten to the punch, it’s true. Beaten by the best kind of people– folks like Joe Keatinge and Laura Hudson, Martyn Pedler and the crazy gang at Comics the Blog that made the lamb dish from the first run of Cass as part of their review. The observations, the spoilers for issue two, the squealing fangasms… all out there already. I’m trailing up the pack.
And that’s because I don’t have an objective thing in my head about this book.
“Was it the cancer? Lotsa folks dyin’ of cancer these days.”
Right there, on page one, I lost all my objectivity– because I was less than a month out of a cancer scare myself, less than a month from discussions of CA-125 testing, biopsies, large masses seen on pelvic CTs.
I watched Cass talk to a Newman Xeno-masked janitor and realized that there was nothing I could say about this book that didn’t talk about me, about my job, about the insane things people will put themselves through to get a credit on a comic, on a book, on a movie.
I watched Casanova Quinn exterminate universe after universe across 32 pages, and I thought about the nature of client-facing for-hire production work– TV, VFX, comics, whatever. The point of that exercise is to work yourself out of a job, every show, every movie, every issue. This is what we don’t talk about when we talk about the business.
Everything you do will come to an end, eventually. You will pack your desk into another box, your scripts into another Dropbox folder, and you will smile and write your email about what an honor it was to work with this team, this material, these characters. You’ll hand in your badge and shake a few hands and you’ll walk away.
You will want it to be the last time, every time. You will come home to your own Sasa Lisi and put your head on her thigh and you will want it to be over, and you know you will go back again and again. You will work yourself out of a job again, destroy every universe set before you, make every landscape uninhabitable and unprofitable for yourself. You will hate your team and you will expect support and what you will get is Cornelius Quinn screaming in your face about the next job and the next thing and all the ways in which you need to grind harder, do a little more.
You will work when you are sick, when you know something is gravely wrong in your own body, when your pain is off the charts. You will work until you are done, you will take the screaming, and you’ll do the little more.
You’ll do the little more. It’s you or some other guy, and there’s always some other guy, right? Some other guy will take a little less reward for even more effort. There’s always another Casanova Quinn, no matter how bulletproof he thinks he is when he starts the job.
There is, as Fraction himself pointed out in that Comics Alliance interview, no union for the professional dimension-hopping voyeur.
And when you’re actually done– you’re not done, of course; there’s another shot, one more revision, another block to write, but you’re done enough for now– then you might go to the doctor, to the hospital, have your cancer scare, have surgery. You will stay up night after night waiting for the biopsy results. You will learn that you are dodging a bullet in slow motion– you don’t have cancer, but your condition is such that your overall risk is increased twenty percent for reproductive cancers. Your personal bullet time could be over at any moment; only vigilant monitoring will tell, in the end.
You’ll probably be back at your desk a month later. Someone will have forgot a shot or omitted a crucial piece of functionality, and they’ll need you, even if you can’t sit up in a desk chair for 10 hours without painkillers. You probably won’t take the painkillers anyhow; you need to be sharp to get that last thing done.
And then you will wrap up your job and go home, and you won’t know when the next job is coming, if there is another job at all.
That brutal, punishing, there’ll-be-no-shelter-here grind is the core of the first issue of Avaritia. There is nothing beyond that here for you– if you want to be uplifted, if you want to be encouraged, this is not your book.
It is an astonishing book– Cris Peter deserves a medal for her balls-out handling of a particularly audacious fight sequence, and it’s Eisner or GTFO for Dustin Harbin at this point in the game. But it is not happy. It’s about the price everyone pays when they consent to complete someone else’s missions, about what work for hire takes out of your body and your soul.
Is it cautionary? Perhaps. But does anyone ever listen to the cautionary tales of their elders?
Go. Read. Be cautioned, be enlightened, be scared. This is what Steven Pressfield and Julia Cameron will never tell you about the way of the artist or the war that is art.