In Defense of References and Casanova Quinn

March 13, 2008 at 6:47 pm 2 comments

To me, one of the greatest pleasures in reading a book, watching a movie/television show, or listening to a song is realizing that there is a hidden allusion. Often, this is no more than a reference to another work, but it can even be a larger thematic or stylistic reference. You know what I mean. This is what makes “Family Guy” funny, (well, as funny as it can be) “Ulysses” daunting, and Quentin Tarantino, well, a director. So imagine my sheer delight when I saw this picture in a comics review over on Pretty Fakes:

Squint if you can’t see it: someone is saying “Be ready and be brave,” a line from the Mountain Goats’ “Magpie,” from inside a robot! And there are crows (Magpies and crows are both in the corvidae family) circling outside! Why “Casanova” might possibly be the best comic ever, a paper I wrote in high school, and the reason I’m linking a lot of punctuation after the jump.

“Casanova” is an intense “spy-fi” comic from Image, jammed into 16 pages an issue so it can be sold at the reduced price of $1.99. The references come constantly, and I’m sure I’m only getting a small percentage of them, but that’s part of the appeal. And once author Mike Matt Fraction gets going in one direction, he does not easily let up. The writing is brilliant, and the duotone art, first by Gabriel Bá and then by his twin brother Fábio Moon, is also awesome. But seriously, as if the first reference was not enough, there was this line from “Love Love Love” …

And then this one, my favorite, a line from “This year” “Up the Wolves” at the beginning of this speech.

And these were all within two issues! To illuminate some of the mysteries, Fraction writes a lengthy letter at the end of each issue. As he admits in one such letter, “I need to send [Mountain Goats writer John] Darnielle a check I think.” Fraction also wrote one of the best descriptions of writing comics I’ve ever read:

I write things down and send it to a brilliantly talented guy who takes what I wrote, the thing I saw in my head, and absolutely makes it something real and wonderful and unexpected. If that alchemy isn’t magic I don’t know what is.

But back to references to wrap this up. Some people don’t like them one bit. References can be pretentious, and even take away from the work as a whole. As one of my friends put it, “references are for fags.” While I obviously don’t agree with this derogatory statement, I see where he was going with this. Once, my high school philosophy teacher brought in a copy of a chapter of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” he had annotated in a class. The first thing I noticed was that he had circled the “8” in “Chapter 18” and noted that when turned horizontal, it becomes the symbol for eternity. He was brilliant, but it’s hard to say if Joyce went that far. And I was thinking about it, and I found a paper I wrote for that class analyzing the references in “Star Wars: A New Hope.” Here’s the paper on Star Wars for you to read if you want. It’s amusing.

Also, I’ve linked all the oxford commas in the post to a video of Vampire Weekend performing their song of the same name. They are lame and preppy but this song is hopelessly stuck in my head and has been for days.


Entry filed under: comics, fiction, indie, inspiration, music, post-modern, writing. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Professor Fury  |  March 14, 2008 at 2:30 am

    Thanks for the link, Josh, and for the fun Casanova write-up. I’ve been wrestling with what to call Fraction’s hyper-referential style — it’s not pastiche, exactly, nor is it bricolage. Maybe it’s something new under the sun. Thoughts to chase in a future post, perhaps. BTW, pedantry compels me to note that Sasa Lisi’s line is from “Up the Wolves,” not “This Year.” I love this series a little more with each passing day. Your friend’s “references are for fags” comment reminded me of this article from the Onion.

  • […] Iron Man,  and liked reading it more than before. No surprise really: it’s written by Matt Fraction. Anyway, here’s War Machine in issue 11, being a […]


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Shit Just Got Real

Josh Kramer is a blogger, cartoonist, journalist, etc. I'm the Editor of The Cartoon Picayune. I live in Washington, DC and I just graduated from the Center for Cartoon Studies. See work by me and my classmates.

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