Matt Fraction On Sex, TV, And Re-Inventing Homer [INTERVIEW]

At Image Expo on July 2, Matt Fraction showed off three separate, and very different projects. The first was the ’50s-set, behind the scenes of a sci-fi TV show mystery with legendary artist (and famous “dirty old man”) Howard Chaykin, “Satellite Sam.” The next was the fantastical (and fantastic!) sex romp “Sex Criminals,” with artist Chip Zadarsky. And last was “ODY-C,” a gender-swapped, sci-fi re-imagining of Homer’s “The Odyssey” with “Infinite Vacation” artist Christian Ward.

I spoke with Fraction backstage at the Expo about his work on each of these series, working with such different artists, the difficulties of writing sex comedies, and creating the perfect female hero.

MTV Geek: The dialogue in “Satellite Sam” seems very complicated to write for a comic book. The way it’s layered, the way you’re in the studio and so many people talking at the same time. Was that difficult?

Matt Fraction: Yeah. [Laughs]. It was a lot of research. A lot of it was relying on Howard [Chaykin] who has done that kind of thing very well before. There was a lot of research. I can tell you what everybody’s doing and what all their stations do and what their job is and why they’re there and what those things means. Determining what was said in the room and what was said via broadcast what was said on screen. There’s a lot of work to get it into place.

Geek: I used to work at a news network and so I’ve been in that room. Obviously, it was 2000-whatever when I was doing it. But what you captured was the attitude—the casual attitude—that people have and the casual meanness that they have towards each other in a situation that no one takes personally. It just seemed like you had something figured out when you wrote it.

Fraction: I used to make commercials, music videos and stuff and have been in live broadcast and national broadcasts and s**t. So I’ve been in that world—adjacent to it. I’ve seen it and experienced it. It’s exciting—it’s a live production. There’s a danger, there’s electricity. One of the characters says that in the book, what’s going to happen next. That’s exactly it. No idea.

Geek: Why set the story here?

Fraction: I love the era. I guess too many reasons will give the game away. Power of the world, or the era or working with Howard is a no brainer. He would sell it. It is a fascinating time; the development of television is really interesting to me. I’m a fan of television; I like it as an industry. I’m a student of it as a medium, as a business, and all that stuff. I’ve never seen a comic book set there before. I feel like if you’re going to do these things, you should do things you’ve not seen. You should do things you can’t get. I don’t think this could ever be a TV show, I don’t think this could ever be a movie. I think it’s too period, it’s too expensive, it’s too dark, it’s too this, it’s too that. I mean, maybe I’m wrong. I would love to collect a giant check and be proven wrong. It felt like comics is the only place where I could do this my way. It just felt right. It felt like I would buy this. I would buy the s**t out of this. Don’t write a book you wouldn’t read.

Geek: Speaking of Howard, how did you get involved with him for this?

Fraction: I called him. [Laughs] We worked together on “Punisher War Journal” and struck up a friendship and relationship. I was a fan of him my whole life. Which always embarrasses him and makes him feel old I suspect — but it’s true. I went after him. I talked to him the way that he talked to other people and hoped that it would be enough to lure him. It worked. He called back. ’Hey Howard, figured out the thing. Give me a call.’ ’Got it, nailed it, let’s go.’ Sure enough it provoked his curiosity enough that he called back.

Geek: I saw your Twitter feed, S**t My Howard Says, I love that.

Fraction: Literally all verbatim.

Geek: What is he like to work with?

Fraction: Like that! [laughs] [Imitating Howard] “Eat my c**k, ya hear me? F**k it.” It’s great. He’s a raconteur. He’s a gentleman. He’s great and full of amazing stories and talent and he’s generous with his time and his gifts. He’s America’s most beloved dirty old man, he’s great.

Geek: When you’re a fan of somebody, especially someone who has been around like he has, is there any intimidation factor as the writer?

Fraction: Yeah sure. The first stuff was rough, and the first script was rough. I feel like the second issue is even stronger. I think the third is even stronger. We find our footing very quickly. I feel like it looks like the book had wanted it to look like an issue too. We leave the studio a little more in the issue too. We go to a club, we go to an apartment, and we see other stuff. The world grows substantially in our second issue, and by three it’s really right where we want it to be. There’s always a getting to know you phase that’s always dangerous. We’ve been kind of doing a kind of a mystery about television and sex in the 1950’s in black and white. That’s not exactly box office dynamite — it’s not a no-brainer necessarily. There’s that too. You’re just worried. I want to convince you to partner with me on this thing and then we go rocketing into a toilet. Luckily, numbers are really strong and people’s responses have been very positive. So hopefully, we’re going to be able to do our story the way we want to do it.

Geek: What kind of story are you planning? If everything works out. [Laughs]

Fraction: There’s a long range of planning and we’ll do it until they make us stop.

Geek: “Sex Criminals.”

Fraction: Yes. Did you read it?

Geek: I did.

Fraction: Did you laugh?

Geek: I did.

Fraction: Right on!

Geek: I loved it!

Fraction: Thank you.

Geek: Yeah, I think it’s fantastic.

Fraction: Thank you very much.

Geek: The scenes where Suzie is having her sexual awakening in the bathtub. How does it feel to write that kind of stuff?

Fraction: At that point, I loved her so much. At that point, I felt so protective of her and I liked her so much and knew her so well. A lot of this is really autobiographical I suspect…emotionally if nothing else. A lot of it was just wanting to protect her and give her dignity in this kind of weird crazy story we had planned in spite of all this. When she’s breaking the fourth wall and addressing the reader and acknowledging that it’s a comic book and “…bear with us, the jokes are coming,” and that kind of thing. I wanted her to have her dignity and have her moment and kind of discover these things about herself and not make it cheesy or sleazy or exploitative. There’s nothing prurient anywhere in the issue and it’s the filthiest thing I’ve ever written. Not a prurient bone in its body.

Geek: I was very surprised by that.

Fraction: The cover is as randy as it gets. The cover is as titillating as it gets… not particularly titillating at all.

Geek: Yeah, it’s not Howard Chaykin comic…

Fraction: Exactly. “Satellite Sam” has way more boner fuel.

Geek: It sounds like you’re — I don’t want to say concerned, but asking if I liked it, if I laughed — are you worried about the reception of “Sex Criminals.” It’s got a crazy concept.

Fraction: I think we’ve got a lot of work to do…getting the word out and letting people know what’s in store. It’s a sex comedy, but Image is publishing “Sex” and publishing “Satellite Sam,” but it’s another thing to… a retailer will ask me, “Is there penetration and ejaculation in this comic?!” Whoa, no. It’s a comedy. It’s a f**king joke. Comedy’s hard. I was really interested that you laughed, more that you read it and gave a f**k, but because you laughed — that’s the one that I was really worried about…because comedy’s hard. It’s a really hard comic book to do. Funny is tough. We’re trying to get the issue out and into as many people’s hands as possible. The retailers that I’ve spoken to — we’re not gonna walk them through it. They get it immediately. It was retailer response to the idea that convinced me I could do it in the first place. But I think there’s never been a comic book like this and I just (can’t understand word) this comical idea is so crazy, but we just don’t do sex comedies. I can’t think of a single sex comedy. Maybe “Why I Hate Saturn”, maybe moments of “Love and Rockets.” But what is comics’ “Superbad”? What is comics’ “The Apartment”? What is comics’ “Some Like It Hot”…it doesn’t exist. What is comics’ “’Shampoo?” I wouldn’t call it a comedy but you get my meaning.

Geek: Yep.

Fraction: I love the genre in another medium but it seemed like a completely virgin territory, no pun intended.

Geek: Where did this idea come from?

Fraction: I don’t know. [Laughs]

Geek: Perfect. [Laughs]

Fraction: I know, I’m sorry. I have this routine that I do about catching butterflies on a stick that’s covered with honey and that was just the butterfly and the stick. I love Chip [Zdarsky], I love Chip and I’ve wanted to do something with him and I was ranting, I think, about “Game of Thrones” and he goes, “Hey we should do a fantasy book together.” We were looking for something to do, we didn’t know what…and then it just came out and everything grew very quickly. The idea presented itself and there it was and I saw it all and I knew what it was — I knew Chip was the guy to do it. He was talented enough to do it. I don’t know, I think that’s whatever creativity is. You just look down and suddenly you got f**king Gumbo. I wanted to do something that was worthy of Chip’s talents and let people see and understand him the way I saw and understood him and what he’s capable of. Never seen anything like that book before, and he’s not like anything. I don’t know how to compare him.

Geek: The other book is “Ody-C” that you announced. You talked about wanting to have a hero for your daughter.

Fraction: …and what better one than Odysseus? Like a role model. That’s kind of the one to go for…the first…the best.

Geek: But you’ve changed the sexes of all the characters. Did you do that just for your daughter?

Fraction: No, I mean there are a lot of reasons. Part of it is there’s something about playing with the formulas, playing with the stuffiness of what we consider classics and looking for a way to pump new blood into it. I reject the notion and principle that women don’t have heroic fantasies like men do. Why not make it about a mother dreaming about being reunited with her child and her family? A maternal warrior…why not? It’s just one of those things where you look down and you laugh and there it was, this is what it’ll be. Like, what is Ithaca going to look like? What is it going to feel like? What is it going to—you know—sort of East Egg with sort of weird Gatsby parties happening all night long? Women in ball gowns and one man. I wanted to write a hero story for my daughter and I wanted it to be about the hero of all heroes. The trickster hero. I guess because I haven’t seen anything like it. It just sort of made sense.

Geek: …and Christian Ward…”Infinite Vacation” is really one of the best comics.

Fraction: You have not seen what he’s capable of. That’s the craziest thing. He’s capable of so much more than “Infinite Vacation.” And he does so many things in that book. I’m trying to write an even better Christian Ward book for him to draw than was for him to draw and he was perfect for that. That sense of color on that poster–that was crazy insane psychedelic thing. I was like it’s going to be psychedelic, of course! It’s our cosmic psychedelic space odyssey. He’s perfect for it and he’s just a fount of ideas and visual fuel. He’s an amazing collaborator and we’ve just gotten started.