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January 30, 2013

‘Hawkeye’ scribe Matt Fraction: Maybe comics can be less ‘comic-y’

Posted in: Comics

Matt Fraction used to live in the New York area that was devastated by Superstorm Sandy. To help out the community, the Marvel Comics scribe did one of the things he does best: He wrote an issue of “Hawkeye.”

The new comic book about the heroic archer/super spy has been seen as one of the best coming out of Marvel lately, and it is Fraction’s fresh take on Clint Barton and his downtime away from the Avengers that draws readers. In “Hawkeye” No. 7, which is drawn by Eisner Award-winning artist Steve Lieber and artist Jesse Hamm, Fraction humanizes the most human of Avengers even more by putting him in a situation that many had to face — albeit without trick arrows and S.H.I.E.L.D. training.

Hawkeye #7 (Marvel Comics)

“Hawkeye” No. 7. (Marvel Comics)

Fraction had to act fast, banging out the book over his Thanksgiving holiday, and recruiting help to make it all work out. Fraction, who also writes “Fantastic Four,” “FF” and “Invincible Iron Man,” will be signing “Hawkeye” No. 7 at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the House of Secrets comic book store in Burbank, donating proceeds and royalties he receives from the book to the Red Cross to help with continued relief efforts.

“I’m leaning really hard on my comics-writing friends to stop by for cameos, too, so hopefully we’ll get some other notable luminaries in the industry to stop by.”

Hero Complex spoke to Fraction about his approach to “Hawkeye” and his larger take on the state of the industry.

Hero Complex: First off … We spoke to your wife Kelly Sue DeConnick last year about Captain Marvel. How is that dynamic at home with both of you being comic book writers?

MF: Our processes tend to be pretty different. We may fire broad shots across one another’s opinion bow, but our working styles tend to be pretty opposite of one another. Kell will try to talk through stuff while I tend to rely much more on her as a Jiminy Cricket, like “I shouldn’t do this” or “I should do that.” It’s very complementary and we can identify with each other very very well — like I’d imagine any couple in the same profession could probably commiserate better than a “mixed marriage” couple might have trouble. That special frustration that only other writers know where you sit at your desk for eight hours and type six words. Or you lose a day to [stupid] email and calendar [stuff], where there’s very little actual writing but you’re busy all day long. The kind of stuff that would be different if she was married to a doctor or something.

HC: How did you approach the new “Hawkeye” book?

MF: My first take was actually very Bond. Tuxedos and parties and women in gowns … that sort of stuff. It kind of didn’t feel right the more I thought about it. I saw a story like that, but didn’t have a book. I bowed out of it, but then I started thinking of him as the Marvel Universe’s Jim Rockford. Then I just got it … it was a book that I not only wanted to read and but also to write that hadn’t been done before, a book that was in absolutely no danger of stepping on anyone else’s toes. I didn’t plan to not have him in the costume — someone pointed out that no one even calls him Hawkeye in the first issue — it was never deliberate, but it just comes out of the character in the situation. It’s a book that is about a guy who can’t stop helping people because he can’t stand himself. There’s very little contrivance there. You don’t have to worry about “How do I get him in the costume?” or “What trick arrow is he going to use?” It’s all very Jim Rockford.

Hawkeye #1 (Variant cover - Granov)

“Hawkeye” No. 1 variant cover. (Marvel Comics)

HC: Did Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of the character have any influence?

MF: I didn’t see ["The Avengers"] until everyone else. I had no inside look at it at all.  At one point, the book was supposed to come out in May, but it ended up not coming out until August, which was just as good because it gave us a chance to figure out more of what the book was. It was written out of order and has been sort of a weird process where we came at it sideways. The story that was [told in Issues] 4 and 5 was my initial pitch of what I thought the book should be. We wrote Issue 2 first, then I went back and wrote Issue 1. It wasn’t until Issues 6 and 7 or so that I started writing things in sequence.

HC: It’s Clint Barton-focused, so things like the upcoming “Age of Ultron” and the rest of the Avengers business is not in the book much.

MF: Yeah. That wasn’t deliberate or anything. This was just, “This is what he does when he’s not an Avenger. This is what Hawkeye does on Thursday afternoon.” I came up with an idea for an “Age of Ultron” tie-in, but it’s all locked. My idea was going to be him locked in a room … and he’s mortally wounded. That was it. A depressing 20 pages where Clint Barton is just bleeding out. I don’t know why they didn’t go for it! The Fantastic Four “Age of Ultron” tie-in that I wrote is the most depressing comic I’ve ever written. It was my fifth “Fantastic Four” issue, and I was like “This is bleak.” It was really weird.

HC: On that … What do you think about the whole “Age of Ultron” arc that’s coming up?

MF: It’s fun. It’s been in the works for a really long time. It’s why people love the Avengers. It’s one last chance for [Brian Michael] Bendis to do a great big calamitous Avengers adventure with weird futures and Ultron … It’s great. It’s fun to do these. The genius of it is that you skip the event. You just open it up and, bam — it’s already happened and the good guys lost. Now we see the aftermath. It’s a fun twist on the normal thing that we see so often.

HC: You’ve said before that you read things and think about what you could’ve or would’ve done instead, other choices you might have made. What was the last thing you read that made you rethink something you’re writing?

MF: I’m reading “Fantastic Four” comics to my kids at night. The stuff I write and the classic Stan [Lee] and Jack [Kirby] stuff. Once I do a final proof of a lettering packet, I don’t read my stuff again if I can avoid it. But the opportunity to actually read my comics out loud has struck me as tone deaf quite frequently. So I’ve now gotten back in the habit of when I get my proofs, reading them out loud. It’s a little inward-looking — “Oh, the last thing I read that changed my life was something that I wrote” — but that was sort of the [best example] of something that I read that now affecting the way I work. Your ear hears things that your head might miss, you know? Even little things like you repeating a word twice on one page.

HC: What’s your take on the accessibility of comics, and what Marvel and DC are doing to try to bring in new readers?

MF: Comics can do a lot to be more accessible. A whole lot of that is — well, there’s this sort of weird arc over the last 20 years of thinking that these things would never be collected, and that we were writing exclusively for 36-year-old men who read comics every week. At this point, I think the price point is at such a place and the content is at such a place that we can’t afford to do that anymore. I think Issue 788 of whatever book wouldn’t be a problem at all if Issue No. 788 was written in a way that was satisfying to new and old readers alike. I think it’s really difficult to do, but I think it’s possible. I think we as an industry fell into this pattern of not caring about new readers anymore. There’s a way that you can do it that isn’t the clumsy, awkward way that it used to be done where characters refer to themselves in the third person, thinking back on who they are and how they came to be. You don’t have to write every comic as if it’s the first comic someone’s ever read, but you do have to write as though you would like new people to read your comic — which is kind of what “Hawkeye” is all about. How clean can I make this? How much like “The Rockford Files” can you go? It’s not a show like “Lost” where you have to see it every week, or a show like “The Wire” where you really have to watch and pay attention closely every week. “Rockford” had a setup, then a riff, and that is very much how superhero comics are nowadays. So there’s no reason that we should be exclusionary. People love it. I mean, “Avengers” is the third biggest movie of all time. It hits a cultural sweet spot. It’s just that comics need to get better at not being so … comic-y.

– Jevon Phillips

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex

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