By Josh Hechinger
Welcome to the latest installment of From Strip to Script, where I take a crack at reverse engineering a script from a finished page of someone else's comics.
For the last couple pieces, I've been working my way through my Four Comics choices. This'll be the last one of those, and frankly, the one I've been putting off. Because…well, it's Casanova.
All y'all remember the original Image run? Slimline format, Barbarella coloring? Yeah, those are the only comics I keep in my fire-safe box. Not bagged and boarded or anything, just…if everything else burns down around me, I consider those copies of that comic irreplaceable.
It's not my favorite comic, it's not an untouchably great comic, it's not a comic that got me into anything, but Casanova is…
Starman, Scott Pilgrim, Transmetropolitan, King City, Phonogram…the comics that inspire me the most as a creator are always the ones that are coming from a place of creators processing their influences, their interests, their lives, through a genre comics filter. I chase a lot of things in comics, mostly "being clever" (God help me), but…doing what those comics do is my personal peak aspiration as a creator.
Casanova, especially that first run, is my favorite of that lot. A lot of it is the "screw you, we're doing the book we're doing" production choices of the original run, a lot of it is the collection of individual moments that hit me however and accumulated into fondness for the whole shebang, the petty bit of it is that I've never had problems following what's going on (well, broadly, anyway), the personal bits of it are hey, I like super spy and super thief stories, I like evening wear, I like psychic knacks and giant robots and kung fu and blah blah blah, but also, that I respond strongly to the general formula of "Cass is working for someone(s). How's that working out for him? (Poorly)"; that thing of spy/thief/whatever fiction I dig as work fiction…
Casanova is a blatantly personal work that also means a lot to me personally, and doing my thing on it feels a little hinky, so I've been putting it off.
But I've also got a job to do, so.
This is Casanova issue 1 by Gabriel Bá (art), Matt Fraction (writing), Sean Kindt (letters), and Laurenn McCubbin (design).
(This is also a semi-janky scan from my oh-so-important fire-safe copies.)
PAGE ELEVEN (NINE PANELS)
I'm thinking four tiers, European style. 3-2-4-1.
P1. Talking head of CASANOVA.
– CASANOVA He's a big mutant brain. Three, even. I heard he's three monks that practiced some form of Occult Zen for so long they fused together in a wad.
– CASANOVA Whatever—he's an arrogant special effect and I'm gonna fuck him up for money.
P2. CASANOVA and FABULA at the table. Well. CASANOVA at the table. FABULA floating above it; its lowest head at eye-level with CASANOVA.
– FABULA We shall crack that pretty little mind yours like a walnut, Casanova Quinn.
P3. Floating head, FABULA. Preferably, we see its little bowtie.
– FABULA We are masters of the purest and holiest forms of psychic warfare. The combatants stare at one another until the other's mind shatters. Blinking is allowed. Averting your gaze is not.
– FABULA We have killed nine score and three in this fashion.
P4. CASANOVA smirks.
– CASANOVA So. Gettin' any?
P5. FABULA is FABULA.
– FABLULA Do not attempt to coffee-house us, Casanova Quinn.
– FABULA It has already begun. Can you feel it?
P6. CASANOVA'S face goes still.
– CASANOVA (cap) Ever done this?
P7. FABULA'S wad of faces fills the panel.
– FABULA (cap) Behind the eyes. Inside.
P8. Punch in on CASANOVA'S eyes. Bloodshot. He's sweating.
– CASANOVA (cap) Just stare at someone for hours.
P9. Punch in on the FABULA wad, the lowest level. Its nose is dripping. The mouth of the wad above it has gone slack.
– FABULA (cap) Deleting fictions of self.
P10. Blow out the walls of the panel: we're at the table with CASANOVA and FABULA, but also seeing their psychic avatars in this staring contest: CASANOVA'S is an orgy of spiders. FABULA'S is three saggy-faced Shaolin monks in an aura of Lotus blossoms and stars. The captions are boxless text between them.
– CASANOVA (cap) You see them inside; you know them as you know you.
– CASANOVA (cap) And vice versa.
– CASANOVA (cap) I don't know—I have weird brain things. Maybe it would work different for you.
So, What'd We Learn?
– Eyelines. Yeah, no, I know, we're talking about a staring contest, I'm not being cute. But look at the eyelines Bá draws: Fabula Berskero is a floating stunted troll that's 3/4ths head. And that head is two comedy eyeballs on top of a "realistic" pair of sunken peepers. Cass doesn't engage with the kitty eyes or the angry pinprick anime eyes, even though those are the visually engaging bits…he engages with the lowest eyes, the sunken, horribly human eyes. The core of Fabula.
Engaging with the lowest pair of eyes means that in P2, Cass and Fabula are as equal as they're gonna be, in terms of the space that they're using.
But at the same time…Fabula is a cluster in the upper right corner, and extending into Cass' vertical space with his words…but Cass is a stillness in the lower left, and his hands on the table make it an extension of his figure, undercutting Fabula. This will play out later.
– 3-2-4-1: This page…it compresses by starting "small", expanding the number of (bordered) panels, then detonating that layout. One (bordered panel) becomes two, becomes four, explodes into an edge-to-edge single panel (that still has an upper line, to delineate it just enough that it becomes part of the border rhythm).
At the same time, those open talking head panels in the first three panes…letting them be borderless panels makes them feel looser around the bordered panel they bookend, to keep the feeling of tightening- tightening-exploding.
– I missed this in the scripting, but Cass' psychic spider orgy is encroaching across the panel space in P10, and Fabula's Zen monks are mostly receding/blocking/bracing. It recalls P2: Cass is always visually aggressive, even in the form of sit-down brain-fights.
Philly-based comic writer Josh Hechinger is a Cancer, and his blood type is A+.