Kissing Casanova: Lust in LuxuriaA comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Jason Sacks, Aaron Meyers, Keith Silva
Daniel Elkin: Let's talk about Lust.
You know what Lust is because you are human and you feel it.
It's that intense desire that you are overwhelmed with at the sight of a person or an object -- the one upon which you have that deep animal longing to rub your genitalia.
It's that copper taste in the back of your mouth as the blood rushes turgidly to whatever corpora cavemosa happens to be about. It's that hunger. It's that singularity of focus. It's the body taking over for the mind.
What is it about Lust that is so elevating and debilitating, so visceral, so all-encompassing, yet so potentially destructive?
Out of Lust can come great art: tremendous paintings awash in reds and purples and swirls and undulations; epic poems rhyming words like "right" with "tight" or "taste" with "waste"; powerful ballads that can fill the loins of teenage boys holding their lighters aloft in the Megadome at the end of the third encore.
Just as easily, though, Lust can turn us illogical, brutal -- wars and rape and wanton savagery are all gestated in lust's womb of more, more, more. Thought gives way to expression. The grabbing hand moves quickly, devoid of social constructs, grabbing all that it can.
Lust is fecund. Lust is destructive. Lust is that fine line between our greatest aspirations and our basest cruelty. It is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. It is also the gasoline that powers the body's hope.
Which brings me to Matt Fraction and Gabriel Bá's Casanova Volume 1: Luxuria.
Luxuria is all about lust.
Jason Sacks: It's all about lust in all its multifaceted respects; not just fucking and the overwhelming need for fucking, but it's about different kinds of lust, too: the lust for family and the lust for belonging; Luxuria is about the lust for doing good and doing good well; and the lust to create great art or Great Art or at least something that will be special and live on beyond your lifetime, whether that's a silo full of money or these amazing robots that you create or an insanely appropriate and insanely wonderful Japanese WMD that looks to the past and to the future or a dense, complex and self-referential work that amazes and thrills and sits as a thoroughly unique achievement.
Luxuria is a densely packed idea machine. When the original comics appeared in 2006, in fact, that was part of the hype around the book: Fraction and Bá brought readers a comic that is the opposite of the Bendis Books that were then bedeviling the industry with their decompressed storylines and overly-glib conversations. Casanova was built from the bottom up to be dense and complex, offering a value for the reader that went well beyond the much-hyped buck-ninety-nine cover price that was also part of the marketing of this book.
But that's all history, stuff from the past, almost from an alternative dimension where the price of the single issues even mattered, because what we're considering here is a thoroughly unique, thoroughly idiosyncratic and complex and mind-blowing weird explosion of ideas upon the page.
Elkin talks about lust above, but the lust here works on multiple levels: there are all the multifaceted, complex lusts in the comic itself, then there are the lustful ways that Fraction and Ba explode a whole complex and dense universe on the comics page. And then, of course, there is the lust that the reader feels when he feels he must keep exploring this astonishing weird and thoroughly fucking lustful achievement.
It shows that the results of lust may often be messy, but may also create genius. "From the sleep of reason a life is born."
Aaron Meyers: My esteemed colleagues Daniel and Jason, like most men, have confused Lust with Love. What Fraction an d Ba create with this book is a story of a fractured world, a fractured family, torn apart literally by time and space, hate and love. Casanova's desire to find sanity and sanctuary in a world that runs off madness and chaos is an allegory for his wish to heal the rifts between himself and his father and sister.
The onion that is Luxuria layered with giant WWII robots, sex androids, and telepathic battles to the death is, at its center, a story of redemption and peace. There is an immense complexity of ideas at work here with one sentence being cried out over and over throughout it:
''Love me! Why don't you love me?''
Fraction is exploring a common human condition. We all desire to be loved, to freely give love. When we don't have it we manufacture distractions, subversions and manipulations in our lives to give us a moment's respite from that empty feeling that drags us down. Only rarely are we able to peel back the fabric of reality to escape to an island sanctuary and evolve beyond these base needs. We all want to act on our base desires and revel in debauchery, but in the end what we really want is to be safe in the womb and not to die alone.
Keith Silva: Lemme take a pull on this space gas ''SSSHHHHK.'' Ah … huh? When am I? Why is Mick Jagger, circa Her Satanic Majesties Request, buff, balaclava-ed and working as a spy? What's with all the acronyms Btw? Is this the "One After 909" or the later version? Cuz, I would prefer to talk about the Beatles than to eat in silence before venturing into the robot orgy rooms. And oh yeah, "God, Creator of All Things" is in this too, he wears a triangle through his head and, sort of, explain things, "important" plot points and such? Some of that makes sense, yeah?
Fraction's fugue state and Bá's style of lusty angular bravado has me questioning if this is either a fleeting ether frolic or post-modern snot-nosed middle finger in the face of comic book bromides. Like how Our Man Flint was a groovy graft of James Bond, except, in the case of Casanova there's more bullets, more blood and more six-eyed mutants, because, as Winston Heath (he being the raconteur of the robot orgies) sez, ''the genre demands it!''
Fraction and Bá have heavy hands as they concoct this cocktail (tale?) that is equal parts spy and assassin intrigue; add to the hugger-mugger a jigger of 1950s science-fiction, splashes of family drama, sex, the space-time continuum, top it off with a twist of noir, a generous dash of meta commentary and you have something approaching Casanova: Luxuria and oh yeah, it'll get you drunk, way drunk.
This is my first Fraction (first Bá too, but that lacks the alliterative appeal of "first Fraction"); yep, I'm a regular virgin Seychelle unit. Call it a bit of fanboy fan service, but true is true: Fraction writes the ever-loving lusty fuck out of this book. Actors act for the chance to say a line that a writer writes like: ''Suit up, son … you're stealing God.'' And how could I, a dyed-in-the-wool "Pynchonophile" who names his blog after a line in The Crying of Lot 49 not love the fun Fraction takes with W.A.S.T.E? I can't. I won't.
For all its lust, its complex-complexity and all its doomsday idea machine-ness, Casanova is a family drama about a brash, bull-headed dad intent on making his lothario of a son (a mamma's boy to boot) and his white hot G.O.A.T sexy twin sister a part of the family business err, E.M.P.I.R.E. which in this case stands for extra-military, police, intelligence, rescue, and espionage. Bunch of (ego)maniacs, the natty Quinn clan wants nothing short of world domination and to be dressed to the nines in attire appropriate for eschaton.
Elkin chose lust, Meyers love, and Sacks the act of creation. I offer another choice -- this is a story, after all, about copies, dupes, iterations -- Casanova: Luxuria is about joy, the aftermath from lust and love and creation. Dense and intense with its silly silver agedness, this is a comic book that is fine-tuned to light up the pleasure centers. To cop Kaito, Casanova: Luxuria is ''content and no context;'' instead, its got contexts, lots of 'em and that's the point, that's that thing we talk about when we talk about comic books, anything can happen, if you can believe 'a man can fly' or that a marriage brokered over the internet to marry three women (well, one women, one android, and one six-eyed mutant, the latter two of which share identical minds, natch) in exchange for your family's ancestral home which is actually, funny story, a giant robot, than you'll believe anything, anything. I'm with Fraction,''I love comic books!''
So, Elkin, it's been (more than) six days since you got all hot and bothered with your lusty-talk. Am I making sense or is it the space gas talking?
Daniel: Silva, with you it is always the gas, and I've been crowned with a spike right through my head.
But let me get back to lust -- LUXURIA -- as that's where it all started for me. They say that lust is the first thing to fade, that it either tempers into love or abandons into rejection -- but it's the impetus, right? The first step of a long journey of a thousand miles doesn't begin with it a single step. It begins with the desire to move.
And that's, perhaps, what we got here. Sure -- let Sacks talk about the act of creation, let Meyers talk about family, let Silva talk about some sort of post-coital confirmation of change -- but it all has to begin somewhere. And in Casanova: Luxuria, it starts with the desire for a desire (perhaps even a "Desire"). Fabula Berserko? The Seychelle Ruby? "That's what we humans call a ‘heart,' Zeph. Don't be frightened… It can't hurt you from all the way up here."
Everybody in this book wants -- they don't want from WANTING. And therein is the movement and the story and the rhythm and the flow. Meyers mentioned layers, and each layer in this book throbs with a lust of its own. What does everyone in the Quinn family want? Something. What does Newman Xeno want? Something.
"A lost masterpiece is only cool if people know you lost it."
But the problem with all this is that when you start to put thought upon the desire, when you try to cage lust in concept, you break the intent. You slip the moment. You breach the timeline. And when that happens -- well, it all gets fucked up doesn't it?
Aaron: What is love? [Baby Don't Hurt Me] But really what is it? Especially what is it when you have never known a sane version of it? When you go into the world looking for something you have never known, the bridges you burn, the problems you cause, the chaos you draw around you. That is love when you don't know love. This story of Casanova is trying to answer that question, what is love?
When you spend a lifetime trying to find something you don't have, a young man making his way in the world that doesn't love him, doesn't trust him and is trying to kill him, love becomes fear. Baby don't hurt me is what we say when love isn't safe. When the world is full of double agents, cyborg killers, and psychic battles, love is a myth. This quest for love, for a moment of safety in a world of danger and madness is what Luxuia is really about. Sex, drugs, rock and roll, fighting, fucking, betrayal are what you fill a day with when the emptiness of your heart is asking just to be loved.
Silva says this book is about Joy and creation, that afterglow when the debauchery is done, that moment of refraction before the next round begins. Sacks & Elkin say it's about lust, that human need to devour, to give into desire. But what are all these things if not the misguided search for love? To suckle again at our mother's teat, that first game of catch on the front lawn, a parent's hug before bed time. That tender kiss that says "you are my one and only" without ever having to say a word. We spend our lives trying to find these moments over and over, and when we can't, we replace them with distractions, which inevitably come back with a hefty price to pay.
Keith: Meyers, you bring out a tenderness in me that makes me want to pull back the curtain on this reality and send my mother to 'Coldheart Island' for safekeeping. Like Cass, however, my work is here; to quote the man himself, ''this is where I belong.'' In Casanova Quinn, Fraction and friends create a 'bond' with another quintessential super spy, Bond, James Bond, about whom Raymond Chandler says: ''Every man wants to be James Bond and every woman wants to be with him." Maybe this is the font from which Elkin's lust is sourced. There's an energy (an attraction) to Casanova: Luxuria that gets the reader hot and bothered, it's a sexy book and I think a lot of its appeal goes to Bá and colorist Cris Peter. Bá draws sexy people. As we all know, mainstream comics are lousy with unrealistic or purely imaginary women whose body shapes look like they've been drawn by someone who's been handed a throwaway to a strip club, but has never been to said strip club, a real strip club, stretch marks and all. Bá slips these snares with grace and with (ahem) style. Zepher Quinn is maybe an inch or three off of Marilyn Monroe's hourglass dimensions of 34-24-34 -- Z's certainly taller than Ms. Monroe -- but Zepher is no Jessica Rabbit either. Bá can cartoon, but he, like Cass, does everything with style.
I don't know about the rest of you fine gentleman, but I love me some back … matter. Bá, Peter and letterer Dustin Harbin all get to talk about their craft at the backend of the Casanova: Luxuria trade paperback. The flat color palette which Bá calls the ''CASANOVA PALETTE'' is only 45 colors with no ''gradients, airbrushes and smooth shining areas.'' Peter talks about how this less is more approach freed her to really concentrate on her work, to ''use [her] head to color.'' It's curious to me that another Fraction effort that takes this same 'flat approach' to color, Hawkeye, is fast becoming a critical darling; is it possible that the quality of a writer's work could be 'colored' by this approach to color? The limited color palette is another of the stylistic choices that I find separates this comic from the great unwashed and makes it … better. The color of Casanova tones down the un-realness, the silliness of the pipe-cleaner thin waists, broad butts, square shoulders and bullet-shaped busts and makes them believable without being exploitive or unrealistic. Color me impressed.
The one panel that brought this comic home for me occurs early on in Chapter Two, Pretty Little Policeman, when Cass is sent to infiltrate Áqua Pesada. Goggled and headphoned, Cass has a jetpack strapped to his back as he flies through the inky night. There's a smile on his face, less a grin or a leer, smirk might get at it the best. I thought, how cool is that: a jetpack. I want to be that guy. Imagine flying through the night sky, jet pack on your back listening to Rubber Soul and Revolver. As Cass says, ''my head was spinning.''
Jason: I write a lot about comics. I've probably written a million words about comics in the last eight years or so; hell, I've probably written 30,000 words about comics just in the last month or so. That's a lot of thinking about comics, a lot of writing about comics. And in that time I've read works both sublime (The Nao of Brown) and thoroughly ridiculous (have you read Secret Wars II recently? It's even worse than you think it is).
In my writing journey, there are a few common denominators that cause me to love a comic, but it really all comes down to one simple concept: a writer or artist or writer/artist (geez we need better terms for this kind of thing in comics, don't we?) at the top of his or her game; a creator presenting something so innovative and interesting and compelling that it stands alone on the comic stands. Many can imitate but none can exceed. I want a work that seems alive and complex; diverse, thoughtful and haunting.
Keith, Daniel and I saw an example of that sort of comic with Brandon Graham's blissfully amazing King City; we're all seeing an example of that sort of comic with Matt Fraction and Gabriel Bá's Casanova. It's a complex, diverse, endlessly creative and recursive and thrilling and charming and immaculate work of comics art. As we've discussed over these last 3000 or so words, there's a depth and complexity and intense, deep, caring, thoughtful heart that beats inside this little trade paperback that makes this book beyond compelling, beyond interesting.
In a true sense Casanova is alive and breathing; a complex, always surprising creation that reflects the diversity of all of our lives: lust and joy and creation and a love for the Beatles and Bond and even things that don't come from England and start with the letter B. It's innovative and intriguing and if it were a girl I'd have the maddest crush on it because, as my much more articular compatriots wouldn't say, this is a pretty damn amazing book.
The last lines of dialogue in this book are "You're staying?" to which Cass replies, "Of course. This is where I belong." Yeah, we all wish we could live in Casanova's world. Because that world isn't just interesting and complex and exciting but because in the end, unlike poor James Bond, Casanova Quinn has a family to go home to. No matter how weird and dysfunctional his family might be, the emotion at the end of this book is the one we all want: contentment.
Daniel: That's where we end? With contentment?
You all do realize that Volume 2 of this series is titled Gula, don't you?
Can you glut yourself on contentment? Maybe you can if you're Casanova Quinn. Or Teen Age Music International.
Whatever. I'm just glad that we can all agree that Casanova: Luxuria is the kind of comic book that by its very existence will keep fellows like us reading comics.
Remember the climactic scene in the book, the one Silva alluded to earlier, where Fraction scribbles out The Seven-Fold Smackdown Several Issues in the Making, Girls Versus Boys Who Fight Girls Who Hate Boys, and It's A Nice Day For A Fight Wedding, only to resign himself to that feeling that we all have when we are reading something like this? He openly declares what absolutely needs to be the final words of this review: I LOVE COMIC BOOKS!
Jason Sacks sometimes wants to become a bigger fan of the Stones than the Beatles, but when he puts on Revolver, he just wants to put on a jetpack and cackle like a teenager. Watch Mick Jagger top that! Though Exile on Main Street is incredible. Jason's the Publisher here at Comics Bulletin and sometimes he tweets as @jasonsacks
Aaron Meyers is a full time nerd for both money and pleasure. When he's not knee deep in networking cable or trapped in a server rack, he can be found on Twitter at @aaronmeyers or posting his musings about the world of comics or whatever strikes his fancy at his blog Proactive Continuity.
The first Bond movie Keith Silva saw was Octopussy -- which was nowhere as naughty as it sounded; his first of many lessons in the difference between make-believe and not-make-believe. Follow @keithpmsilva and as a wise man says in his bio, Silva keeps a blog at Interested in Sophisticated Fun?
Daniel Elkin wishes there were more opportunities in his day to day to wear brown corduroy and hang out in lobbies. He has been known to talk animatedly about extended metaphors featuring pigs' heads on sticks over on that Twitter (@DanielElkin). He is Your Chicken Enemy.