Review: Casanova: Avaritia #1

Cover for Casanova: Avaritia #1, by Gabriel Ba and Cris Peter.

This is the church, this is the crucible: Casanova's back.

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.

First page of Casanova: Avaritia #1

...it wasn't, but... yes and no?

“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.

Review: Daytripper #3

Daytripper #3

“Chapter Three: 28″

By: Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá
Coloring: Dave Stewart
Lettering: Sean Konot

I wanted to review Daytripper when the first issue came out, before the blog existed. We set it up and issue two came out, and I still wanted to review it. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, though, and I’m glad I waited. Reviewing this series on the first issue wouldn’t have done it any justice or allowed me to really say anything; as it stands, I’m still hesitant to speak up on the third issue, because it’s going to be a work that’s judged on its whole. In a market where a great book like S.W.O.R.D. gets cancelled by the numbers on its third issue, it’s a pretty bold statement on Vertigo’s part to release something that’s not even going to really start to make sense until issue three. A lot of things started to click for me when I read “28” last night, however, and I feel like it’s time to talk about it.

One of the best discoveries I made in film school was the work of Krzysztof Kieślowski. He had a way of taking normal, everyday moments in life and elevating them to levels of great importance and meaning. This worked to tie the everyday existence of his characters into the arching theme of the film, oftentimes resulting in the medium itself or one of its aspects taking a role as one of the characters. The camera in Red is as much an actor as Irène Jacob; the music in Blue is working as hard as Juliette Binoche. They all, in turn, work towards the common meaning, avoiding hitting the viewer over the head with it but still carrying the message. It’s done with purpose, but not didactically, and the end result is lyrical.

Bá and Moon are in the process of accomplishing the same thing with Daytripper. On the surface, each issue is a slice of Brás de Oliva Domingos’ life; not random, meaningless moments, but the normal points of focus we all encounter. The day we meet someone, the day they leave our lives. A trip somewhere you may never go again, an important milestone for someone close to you. It’s a tribute to the twins’ writing that Brás’ internal dialogue is completely natural while maintaining the poignancy. He’s easy-going and instantly relatable, a character the reader can empathize with in the first few pages of the book.

Each issue has its own theme, at least so far, and this is where the similarity to Kieślowski really comes into focus. Issue one, being our introduction to the characters, is about life and death. (Since it is the intro, I expect the themes in issue one to be revisited in issue ten.) Issue two is all about faith. Issue three is about love. Each of these themes merge with Brás’ life by the end of each issue, punctuated with what other critics are calling the book’s “twist.” I think it’s a little unfair to put what Bá and Moon are doing here in the same category as your average M. Night Shyamalan movie, but I will admit that the quirky nature of the setup was the main thing that made me stop and wonder what they were up to with issue one. By issue two, however, the purpose starts to clear up; the narrative conceit feels less like a gimmick and more like the necessary punctuation to the moment where Brás touches the beating heart of the issue’s theme. His moment of absolute faith, his first awareness of true love– every time, the twist drives home the essential, shared humanity of Brás’s adventures.

I’m glad the series is as long as it is. I have seven more issues to enjoy more as my awareness of what they’re trying to do grows. Part of me hopes I’ve not got it all right, that I’ve missed something that will reveal another layer of the book’s magical realism, though either way I expect I’ll be surprised more than once as things progress. Fábio and Gabriel have really created something special here. Get in on the ground floor if you can.