Dark Horse Comics' anthology series, "Dark Horse Presents," serves a variety of purposes. The anthology format allows Dark Horse to feature new and emerging writers in a collected testing ground. In addition to functioning as a proving ground for new writers, "Dark Horse Presents" also serves as a space for established writers to test out new ideas, or to feature short stories that, due to format and length, may not find a home elsewhere.
"Dark Horse Presents" #25, hitting shelves June 19, features Eisner Award-winning writer Matt Fraction ("Hawkeye," "Fantastic Four," "FF"), teaming up with reality-bending artist Christian Ward ("Infinite Vacation") on a time-travel short story, "The Time Ben Fell in Love." Comic Book Resources spoke with Fraction about the upcoming piece, the benefits of constraint and the nature of time travel.
As the title implies, "The Time Ben Fell in Love" is not just about time travel -- it's also a boy-meets-girl story about love, and ultimately loss. At the core of the story is a certain kind of productive failure.
"It's about a suicidal inventor that fails to invent teleportation but succeeds in inventing time travel. And then the visitations start happening," Fraction told CBR News. "It's very much about the guy at the center of it all and how you can haunt your own life and never forgive your own mistakes. The time travel is literally and figuratively just a device to get us there. As there're only eight pages of it I don't want to give too much away though. It's a love story. Or a loss story, I guess."
Metaphorically, time-travel is a science-fiction trope heavily wrapped up in examinations of mortality and regret: Can we outrun our own future, or correct our past? In Fraction's short, time travel serves as a vehicle for character and storytelling rather than delving deeply into theories of temporal paradoxes or the mechanisms of diving into the time-stream.
"Sometimes the boy just meets the girl (or the boy -- or the boys -- or girl or girls)," said Fraction. "Though ours is really more of a "boy loses girl, boy meets boy, boys conspire to win girl back" sort of a jam. It's time travel, so, y'know -- it's allowed to be screwy. It's only eight pages -- you want time travel how-tos, go read a Kaku book. We deal with having to vent colossal amounts of radiation as being the key, though."
Working in short-form storytelling for "Dark Horse Presents" was a welcome challenge for Fraction: a chance to step away from long, multi-issue stories for a standalone adventure. It was a chance to hone and sharpen his writing, tightening his scripting for maximum payoff in minimal space.
"This was a tight done-in-one thing, a chance to play in that EC, 'Twilight Zone' realm -- which I love, love, love and so rarely get to work in," said Fraction. "I'm convinced a huge part of the so-called 'British Invasion' of the '80s came about because of '2000AD' training scads of writers to think in 8-page increments -- if not smaller. It's a lost art over here, that's for sure. Anyway what was the question? Short. Keep it tight. No fat. Race, race, race to the punch line. Then punch as hard as you can.
"You appreciate what you have," continued Fraction. "You learn to move more meaningfully in confined space. You learn just what one can accomplish in a single page. Comics are fucking great for that."
Along with the constraints presented by writing a short-form story for an anthology series like "Dark Horse Presents," Fraction is thrilled to be working with both the publisher and the artist, Christian Ward, on "The Time Ben Fell in Love."
"That little horsey head means a lot to me, and the chance to be associated with [Dark Horse], however briefly, is a bucket-list thing, y'know? A lot of my favorite comics came from Dark Horse and a lot of my favorite creators have worked or are working there now -- I just, if for no longer than these few pages, share that space," said Fraction. "And, and, and, almost more than that, I wanted to work with Christian [Ward]. I tried my best to write the story I wanted to see him draw, and to stay the hell out of his way.
"These eight pages are totally better than his astonishingly-good work on all of ['Infinite Vacation'], so buckle up," continued Fraction. "This guy's got moves people haven't even considered yet. It was fun writing into that."
As for his dream time-travel destination, Fraction takes an entrepreneurial position as accomplice to a popular alt-history cause.
"I'd set up a booth in Braunau am Inn, Austria," said Fraction, "and charge other time travelers $1 for maps to Baby Hitler's house."
"Dark Horse Presents" #25 goes on sale June 19.