The Basement Tapes: Issue #34

Tue, April 5th, 2005 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Joe Casey & Matt Fraction, Columnist

Sometimes, this is what happens when two writers e-mail each other:

An ongoing conversation behind closed doors, equal parts experience, opinion, critique, and outright rambling, THE BASEMENT TAPES are an attempt to present somewhat serious discussion about the somewhat serious business of comicbooks between two writers waist-deep in the perplexing and ever-evolving morass of their own careers.

Just when you thought it was safe to head back to The Seminary: Tomorrow, THE INTIMATES #6 comes out, and Joe sent along a preview for me to check out. If THE INTIMATES #5, with zombie superkid Dead Kid Fred was a gem of teen angst pop, then the followup is a prog rock deconstructionist concept album. More than just a seeeekrit origin story-- although it is that, too-- THE INTIMATES #6 is a risk well taken and a rewarding experience as both a reader and as a creator. So on the cusp of this book hitting the stands, I asked him about it...

FRACTION: THE INTIMATES #5, the story of Superzombie suicide case and hivejournalista Dead Kid Fred has been my favorite issue of THE INTIMATES to date. It was the first issue that not only felt like the world had clicked for you as a writer and for me as a reader, but the characters clicked for me, too-- they were bratty and prickish and sweet and naive all at once. I think, in a lot of ways, it was the first issue of THE INTIMATES that really plugged me in to the larger scope and potential of the concept, and you and Cammo and everybody else really did a great job with the book all around. So, hand job over, you've sent me an uncolored preview of INTIMATES #6 and... and it's different. And not just different from the other issues of THE INTIMATES to date but... this is really kind of different from everything I think I've read of yours, for any number of reasons which we'll get to, I'm sure. So to start it off: where were you coming at when you got into writing INTIMATES #6?

CASEY: There's always one issue of every series I launch where I decide to draw that line in the sand... and for THE INTIMATES, issue #6 was it. In AUTOMATIC KAFKA, it was issue #4, the Charlie Brown story. So, on the one hand, it's really just the secret origin of Sykes. But, I suppose I looked at the story I was about to tell and decided to experiment with the form a bit.

The question I would ask you is... did you get it? Or, more specifically, what did you get out of it...?

FRACTION: I'd hazard to guess I got at least most of it; but then again, it's a pretty subjective experience. Interesting that you referenced your work on KAFKA; I was gonna say it's like Sykes has the whole of KAFKA in his head...

What I got out of it, first off, was being impressed with the technique-- not just as an act of formalism, but that the technique worked so well to pull the story off. I mean, this couldn't have been an easy one to write, and I think you pulled it off with flying colors. And that you did it in a book like INTIMATES, where the parameters are so seemingly well-defined -- I definitely get-- and got-- a kick out of the subversiveness this kind of complexity can bring, you know?

CASEY: Yeah. Although I do hope that it doesn't come across as too complex. That wasn't my intention. What I really wanted to do was present not only the facts --- but the feelings -- behind Sykes' origin story, but present them in a decidedly non-linear manner. Seemed to fit the subject matter. And, from a purely pretentious writer POV, it does the soul good to challenge yourself, to try and push your skills (whatever they may happen to be) into some new area.

And you're right... it is meant to be a subjective experience. Completely subjective, as a matter of fact. I think when you take out the linear aspect of a story, all that's really left is the subjective impact. I dunno... maybe sometimes you've got to take the idea of telling a linear story out of the equation. See what's underneath (if anything)...

FRACTION: I don't think it read as "complex" so much as 'impressionistic,' almost? And as the kids are sorta bum-rushing Sykes' brain, you know, it works.

So how'd you go about getting this one down? Did you write it all linear and then go back in post, as it were, and move stuff around? I guess I want to know how developed and specific this was in your head before you started writing, how you got it down, and now that it's done, what do you make of it?

CASEY: I outlined it pretty much as it reads in its final form. I knew the various threads of narrative I wanted to show, then I just cut them all up in my head. Where I would cut from one scene to another was basically intuition on my part. One thing I tried to keep in mind on every page was pushing myself to cut into other scenes as much as possible... almost like asking myself, "How many times can I cut between scenes on a single page without slipping into total madness?" Y'know, Frank Miller was a master of this in DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, so I might've been channeling a bit of that...

I'm still not sure what kind of effect I'm going for with a story structured like this. Again, I guess I wanted to try something that -- for the reader -- would be as subjective an experience as possible without completely throwing out the idea of a narrative. I do think all the relevant information concerning Sykes' origin is there if you look for it. I don't think I left anything out.

At the end of the day, I think my intention was to find a different way of delivering information to the reader, without short-changing on the amount of information being delivered. There's no real secret to Sykes origin. It's not obtuse. Not to me, anyway... I think it's fairly straightforward. But after six issues of the guy being a bump on a log, I wanted his origin to have added dimension, even if it's just on a storytelling level...

FRACTION: The funny thing is he's just as much a cypher in his own head as he is out-- but you come away from the issue feeling like he's no longer the book's enigma. As you say, there's no real secret to his origin, but you leave the book feeling like there is, and feeling like it's this whole strange thing you've been let in on. It's a nice effect.

So the majority of the issue is in a 9-panel grid, or a variation thereof. I'm a fan of grids, but a 9 makes me shudder to think too much about-- how'd you find working with it? And do you think you're gonna start pushing the bounds of formalism more and more in THE INTIMATES?

CASEY: "Only where appropriate" is the best answer to that question. It's interesting that you picked up on the 9-panel grid thing. It wasn't something I planned in any sort of formal way. We were just using ways to cram in as much info -- both in art and text -- as we could. God bless him, Cammo never balks at stuff like that. I think he likes dense storytelling.

I mean, look, let's bust out our new favorite credo... we're well aware that we're not curing cancer here. But every so often you've got to throw down the gauntlet for yourself. You might fall flat on your fucking face (as I have many times before), but I'd rather take the shot that shy away. I warned Cammo at the outset... that if we could pull this issue off, we could do fucking anything. Well, I think we pulled it off, but all it really did was open up some new avenues for us to explore. If we really think we can so anything, we'll never know for sure until we try everything.

FRACTION: I think it's kind of cool, too, to take something like a teen melodrama and try to execute it with as sophisticated a bag of tricks as possible... "Little symphonies for the kiddies..."

So what's next, then? Where do you want to take the book creatively from here?

CASEY: I think Cammo and I genuinely feel like we can take it anywhere. Plot-wise, it's all deceptively simple. In two months, the kids head off for their respective summer vacations. The underlying story about what the Seminary Is all about will start to emerge more fully, in so far that there is a bona fide antagonist in this series. It's been the biggest hurdle to actually engage readers with new characters, as opposed to new spins on old characters. But with each issue, I feel like we're still in there swinging.

I think the readers that have stuck around have started to understand what we're trying to do here, the kind of series this is. It's not rocket science. Storytelling experiments aside, it is exactly what you pegged it as: a teen melodrama. It's a book about kids growing up. Of course, the fact that they're superheroes makes this the most fucked up Coming Of Age story you've ever seen...

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