Hannah Means-Shannon writes for Bleeding Cool from Heroes Con
On an otherwise fairly laid-back day at the opening of Heroes Con in Charlotte, North Carolina, Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber packed a large hall to talk about the alarmingly successful series Hawkeye. It’s rare for a panel at a con to be devoted to a single series on its own, and even rarer for one to feature a relatively new series in this way, but walking into this Hawkeye panel, it was clear that this was the place to be. It’s unlikely that fans expected to also hear so much about the return of the cult TV series Arrested Development in tandem with the comic, but they certainly didn’t mind Fraction slingshotting into comparisons between situations in the comic and situations in what was clearly a favorite show for him.
Fraction and Lieber started things off talking about issue #7 of the comic, and the workings behind getting out a Hurricane Sandy issue out so quickly. Fraction reconstructed the time-line for his work on #7, referencing the October hurricane, working on it over Thanksgiving, and being given the “green light” within a month of that time. Lieber was under some intense pressure to get the art done in time, and also found himself working in “Marvel style” on the book for the first time in 18 years. This led to a tete a tete between Fraction and Lieber about the virtues or challenges of working in “Marvel style” (passing the rough script back and forth with an artist and completing the dialogue last as espoused by Stan Lee), and Fraction gleefully recounted a friendly war between Brian Michael Bendis and Joe Quesada that he’d been party to in Chicago. Quesada, he said, loves his family, the Beatles, the Mets, and “screwing with Bendis”, “in that order”. Quesada was arguing in favor of Marvel style work, pointing to “classic” Marvel work, whereas Bendis, as a writer, felt that we are living in a “writerly era” and that this method actually “robs artists of the ability to do raw artwork” at their own pace. Fraction admitted that the idea of writing in Marvel style made him nervous, and it was his general impression that it was simply “not done” anymore.
But Fraction also felt that the issue, and the series, benefited from this method which rendered it more “intricate” in structure. He compared Hawkeye to the “recurring scenes” in Arrested Development’s comeback season on Netflix, then paused to ask if the audience knew what the hell he was talking about. When they cheered, he beamed and said, “Nice! My people!”, which elicited even more cheering. The series has become so intricate, Fraction said, that he only keeps his planning straight through using a series of index cards spread out on the floor in part of his office, strictly off limits to his wandering cat. Issue #7, he reported, was completed over a period of 6 weeks, and was relatively easy to compile despite “playing with structure” because all the parts were there. There were times early on, though, when he wasn’t sure at all exactly where things were going, and admitted that you can track the stages in his thought processes by reading interviews he gave at the time in chronological order, showing increasing clarity. He pointed out that Lieber’s artwork, particularly a splashpage of Hawkeye’s building, contains details that “reference objects” and “shared shots” that readers might overlook, part of the interlocking system of the book.
Moderator Seth Peagler asked Fraction and Lieber about the strange role social media has played in promoting Hawkeye and rallying fans, to the point that “Pizza Dog” has his own Twitter account. Fraction insisted, laughing, that Pizza Dog is “not me” secretly. He also pleaded to never find out who Pizza Dog actually is on Twitter, saying, “I don’t want to know. Just let it be a dog. An actual dog!”. The hilarity breaking out in the panel only increased from this point onward. Peagler suggested that Pizza Dog’s tweets ought to be featured on the back cover of the Hawkeye trade when it comes out, and Fraction found this idea so appealing that he live-emailed Marvel from the panel, reading aloud as he composed it, asking for this to happen, and expected a quick reply about it. He was clearly delighted with the way things were shaping up.
Fraction reflected that when he began work on Hawkeye, he expected it to be cancelled within 6 issues, and then things gradually shifted and became “clear”, when 9 issues had sold out in a row that things were going way further than he had dreamed. “There’s never been a Hawkeye #9 before!”, he said, and the fact that it even debuted on the top of the New York Times Bestseller List blew his mind and clarified that they were “onto something”. Hawkeye #11, he said, arose out of the need to do a one-off “rest issue” for David Aja to draw fewer panels but quickly became complicated when Fraction realized that he needed to “figure out what everybody smells like” from a dog’s point of view. He and his wife trawled perfume sites online that discussed fragrance “notes” and developed a “smell chart” for the book. There are hints at continuity, again, in the smells encountered by Pizza Dog that even savvy fans may not have noticed at first reading.
A fan asked from the floor why on earth Hawkeye maintains this sense of a secret identity when everyone seems to know, really, who he is. “Everybody knows he is but he’s kind of pretending he has a secret identity”, Fraction said, a psychological thing he’s “holding onto”. Lieber commented that this happens in the real world, too, as in the case of a friend whose husband works for the CIA, and everyone knows it, but he can’t personally admit it, perhaps because he’s not allowed to say it out loud. Fraction sees some value in it as a “gag” that brings some humor to the story. The discussion took a hairpin turn into the realm of the socially bizarre, referencing the “track suit Dracula” phenomenon, “real dudes”, Fraction assured. He based some of the characterization in Hawkeye on a friend who only speaks in the phrases “bro” and “seriously”, and acted out some of their conversations in a exemplary manner for the audience with increasingly humorous effect. This reminded Fraction to inform the fans that he’d seen real websites devoted to “track suit Dracula” kids in Serbian states who all seem to be obsessed with assuming a squatting posture, “intentionally squatting” in photos. Mimicking the conversations between these kids, complete with Eastern European accent, and playing off the hilarity of the audience, he finally took a deep breath and concluded, to a loud round of applause, “So that’s how you write Hawkeye”.
Fraction brought up two more serious points about the comic during the final questions from the floor, firstly that he specifically desired to move away from “long arcs” like Invincible Iron Man in working on Hawkeye. He conceived of smaller arcs or single issues as being a “challenge” to his normal working methods. “I like it when I don’t feel comfortable”, he said, “I like that uncertainty”. After working on stories at only 17 pages, even, “22 pages felt pornographically excessive”. It’s the “small stories” that are attracting Fraction right now because he can tell short tales of “human decency”, including the texture of daily life “about a guy who can’t stop being a hero, even at home”. Fraction broke into more Arrested Development references as a finale, hinting that he really hopes to bring out the humor in Hawkeye where possible. The panel was quite a crowd-pleasing opener to Heroes Con and whipped fandom up to a near fever-pitch, and seemed to reinforce something particular about the Heroes Con ethos: obsession with good comics is something to be encouraged and fan movements via social media are part of keeping those comics alive. Hawkeye has really exhibited those trends, and the momentum is clearly still building.
Hannah Means-Shannon is a comics journalist and scholar working on books about Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman for Sequart.org. She is @HannahMenzies on Twitter and @hannahmenziesblog on WordPress. You can see her other Hreoes Con reports this weekend at The Beat, On the Scene: Image Crowds the Dais at Heroes Con 2013 and On the Scene: How Awesome is Heroes Con