Thumbnail: ‘Casanova’ and Autobiography in Genre Comics
With Casanova: Acedia now underway, and a new collected edition of Casanova: Avaritia available, now is the perfect time to discuss one my favorite sub-sections of comics: semi-autobiographical genre books. Yeah, it's a real thing.
When you parse out the world of comics, there are these great big bins that most everything gets thrown into: mainstream and alternative/independent. The overwhelming majority of mainstream books are in the superhero genre, while autobiography is easily the most prevalent type of comic among the independents. There's plenty of great work in those two larger categories, but things get really fascinating to me when they intersect.
Such is the case with Casanova. With Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, Matt Fraction has carved out a niche for the types of stories that can straddle the mainstream super-genres (super-spy, in this case, which just means it's a super story with more sex and tuxes) while fulfilling the more personal pursuits that drive somebody to write a straight autobiography. From the beginning of Casanova, the backmatter sections written by Fraction pointed out when he was drawing from real life and translating it into story: health scares that he endured became plot points for Casanova Quinn; whenever he loved his job or hated his job, so did Cass, etc.
Though the character is very far removed from Matt Fraction in real life (the pseudonymous "Matt Fraction" already being something of a fiction), it was made very clear that Casanova was Fraction's avenue to discuss the issues and crises that actually affected him, and I believe that's part of what's made the book such a pleasure to read over the years.
It's not that the approach is particularly groundbreaking --- creators are always drawing upon personal experience, because that's all that creating really is. As far as I know, Brian Michael Bendis has never put a fictional version of himself in any of his books, but when his wife went into a coma, characters in pretty much every comic he was writing also went into comas; Brian K. Vaughan is currently channeling fatherhood into his most personal project yet, Saga; when Mark Waid was writing The Flash, he often remarked that writing Wally West was easy because he was just writing another version of himself.
With Casanova, though, it's made apparent that what we're seeing is more direct link between genre fiction and autobiography. Like Matt Wagner and Mage (who may have invented the approach) Grant Morrison and The Invisibles, or Kieron Gillen and Phonogram, Fraction built Casanova as an engine to process real-life experiences. Now in the fourth arc of a planned seven, over the next few years it will be interesting to see how Fraction approaches the back half of his fictional life.