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CASANOVANAUTS: From Dinner to Avaritia #1

I am so excited I just peed a little.Casanovanauts!  It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  The last time we talked, the final issue of the full colour reissue of Casanova: Gula had just come out and we were exulting over how fantastic it was.  Gula’s ending is, simply, the reason we’ll follow Matt Fraction anywhere, and with the impending release of the first issue of the series’ next arc, Avaritia (arriving tomorrow), we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than to have an actual celebratory dinner before reading an early copy of the new issue itself [Ed Note: Skip to the end for that part].  But what do you serve at a Casanova dinner party?  As it turns out, the answer was sitting right in front of us in the pages of Gula itself.

Since he’s the one less inclined to burn down a building making a roast, we let James explain the rest of the cooking process as our very own monstrous crimelord Israel Benday.  Brandon, of course, being a spitting image of Kubark Benday, right down to the hyperviolence, filled in the role of eating.

01. BABY, I WAS BORN TO ENJOY YOU (J)

Goddamn, this was so good. Why is Fraction good at EVERYTHING?
From Casanova: Gula II, by Matt Fraction & Fabio Moon

I don’t usually make recipes I see in my favourite comics, you know.  Then again, most of them don’t come with actual clippable recipes, either.  Usually it’s just, Oh, Tony Stark, how you are enjoying that duck terrine, I bet that would be very good in between battles with Detroit Steel!  Luckily, this one made it pretty simple to take a three pound roast from glistening with oil to glistening with delight (and herbs (and oil)) in just a couple of minutes:

Pre-BendayAlways rub your meat har har aren't I smart.

A quick 15-hour spin in the refrigerator and four hours in a cast iron dutch oven later – no, you’re misunderstanding what “quickly” means – my apartment smelled great and the lamb truly was “tender, dark and fragrant,” which came time for the next step: forgetting to take a picture of the gorgeous roast before I completely ruined it trying to carve around a bone that was more oddly shaped than I thought it would be.  You know what, though?  It was still incredible.

There was actually more but we ate it.

But what do you serve alongside a lamb shoulder that’s fit for a madman?  Well, if my liberal arts degree has prepared me for anything, it’s making bold thematic claims to connect things via the scarcest and most bullshittiest of threads.  You’re welcome, University of Alberta.

Obviously, for a comic that’s as rich as Casanova, the only option is the kind of garlic mashed potatoes where you simmer potatoes in cream and half a bulb of garlic until all the liquid is absorbed.  Because it doesn’t get any richer than that, especially when you top it with a thick gravy made from the roast drippings that also include a full head of garlic.

I'm not a photographer, I'm a researcher slash sexy comics enthusiast amirite?

But lamb and potatoes don’t fully explain the wonder that is Casanova.  Also, who serves a meal with only one side?  Communists, that’s who.  And I’m a democratic socialist, dammit!  We serve more than one side at our dinners!  We’re the good guys!  Plus, it gives me an excuse to say this: Casanova is one of the most complicated, layered comics I’ve ever found, which is why I love it so passionately.  And grilled fennel, with its anise taste and caramelized sugars, certainly has a nuanced taste befitting the multidimensional adventures of a suave superspy.

This is literally the kind of ridiculous shit that got me on the dean’s list for four years.

You're welcome, bulb fetishists.

Rounding out the whole meal was a grilled peach salad on a bed of arugula, with toasted pecans, goat cheese and a drizzle of olive oil and honey.  There’s no actual reason I can cobble together from the comics for making this, though.  I just thought it would be good!  I just wanted it!  And really, filling the second arc’s title and theme of gluttony is about as close as I can get, even though I wasted nothing, right down to the broth I’m making from the bones.  Isn’t it pretty, though?

The noises Brandon made when he ate this were... undignified. But flattering to me!

That’s the made-up reason for the dishes, though, but here’s as close to a genuine one as I can find:  I love Casanova.  It is, hands down, my favourite comic that I’ve ever read, and I find it as rewarding as any other art I’ve come across.  I love cooking, too.  I believe that preparing food is all about love and sharing it with people you care about, and Brandon is one of my best, closest friends.  He introduced me to Casanova, for goodness’ sake!  Reading it and talking about it together has brought us closer as friends, and I’m exceptionally grateful for that.  Simply put, I wanted to do something nice for my friend, and having him over to share a meal that I’d worked hard on was the best way I could think of.  Celebrating the beauty of Casanova was just a great excuse.

Thank you Matt, Gabriel, Fabio, Cris and Dustin.  From the bottom of my heart.

02. SOUND OF SPATIOTEMPORAL CONATUM (B)

The weight of this undertaking is atrocious, if not complete and utter bullshit.

The problem is this: I love Casanova. It’s a book that makes the would-be creator in me ache, because I will never be able to craft something close to its… its, uh… whatever the fuck it is. Somehow… somehow I’m supposed to dredge up a few words to do the new volume justice, and dammit, there’s just no way. It’s impossible – or more accurately, improbable because I’m hindered by two things: a deep abiding passion for what’s being created and a deep abiding hatred for any descriptors I can muster.

The dichotomy of this ends up being fairly amusing. On the one hand, I’m afraid of coming off as sycophantic, muttering incoherently about the book’s various charms. On the other, I’m afraid that I’m not describing it’s nuances well enough. There’s absolutely no winning here – so why even bother?

Why even bother. Well, for many reasons, I suppose, but mainly this: Matt Fraction is straight up mentally ill. In the back matter of this new issue, he details a bit of the creative process, talking about how he went back and read the previous two volumes of Casanova before finally cracking open the script on Avaritia and found them to be lacking. Found them to be lacking.

This is absolutely astounding to me. When I look at those books, I can’t find the edges. I can’t see the cracks. There’s not a single place I can find where my fingers can grab hold and start tearing. The fact that this man, this… this fucking guy can take a look at this material and find flaws is baffling. But bless him, he does, and when he does he digs. He finds the edges, the cracks, gets his fingers in and pulls and dissects and deconstructs and constructs in a futile attempt to build something perfect, something lacking in any flaw, either visible or imagined.

It’s this desperate search, this quest for absolute crystalline perfection that makes Avaritia what it is. In my opinion, following up on Gula is a tall order (my god, that last chapter still gives me chills to this day) but dammit, it’s done. They do it. Fraction, Bá, Peter and Harbin, they all bring their very best, lessons learned from shit they somehow think is less than and they prove that better things exist.

There are storytelling things in the first chapter of Avaritia that just aren’t done. Bits of pacing, bits of lettering, scads of colouring, that you just don’t see in the pages of other comics. They weren’t even in the pages of previous Casanova volumes. But somehow, they were found. They were found and they were put to use here, and dammit, if it’s not just stunning to watch.

Few books act like Casanova. I enjoy many things, but very few make me feel like that kid who secretly thought that song on the radio was about him – and this book does that. More to the point, it’s a beacon that has allowed me to find other like minded folk. Because while Casanova is many things, it is not for everyone. It’s a specific language, one shared by a select group – though unlike most Secret Precious Things, it’s not insular. Every book begins with the words “Stop downloading. Start uploading,” telling the reader to create, and do, and share. Spread the language, infect the masses, and let people enjoy. Be infectious, and adventurous and god damn AMAZING.

…oh wow.

Tomorrow, a new volume of Casanova begins. It’s a thing for people to enjoy, and if you enjoy things, you should pick it up. If its your first go, there will be some slight discomfort as you adjust yourself to a new world. That’ll pass, though as the characters take over and sweep you on an adventure that spans all of space and time. Nothing is what it seems and everything is what it seems and blah blah blah. Join us, won’t you? It’s gonna be fun.

03. [SOUND OF SPACIOTEMPORAL HOLOCAUST] (J)

Even considering the rest of the series, Avaritia #1 is like nothing else.  If Luxuria was about adventure and Gula was about wanting – and failing – to fix everything and escape the consequences of everything you did before, Avaritia is about the emotional toll it all takes.  There’s no escape for Casanova Quinn.  All he’s got left is a job he hates with people who can’t stand him anymore.  And if you think your job is awful, imagine having to obliterate entire universes.  Untold trillions of people… gone.  Because of Casanova.  Because of the hero.  It’s awful.

That’s the thing about this comic, too: you feel the weight of it all.  Lots of comics could toss something like universe destruction into the mix, call a character the Destroyer of Worlds or something.  Hell, a lot of comics do.  You don’t feel it there, though.  You do here.  I have no idea how, but every time Cass has to do the most awful thing imaginable – is it even imaginable? – that black background and those four simple words just kill you a little more each time.  By the end, I was quietly begging them not to appear.  Please, not this one.  But you can’t escape consequences.

Beyond all this are the characters themselves and their hidden wounds.  A line from Cornelius Quinn puts everything in a new light.  One from Sasa Lisi does it again.  The final words of the issue change everything.  What will happen next month?  I cannot wait to find out, because I have no idea whatsoever.  No comic breaks my heart, thrills me, challenges me and keeps me holding my breath like Casanova does and this is another one of those triumphs.  I will follow it anywhere as long as it will let me.

Casanova: Avaritia #1 comes out tomorrow.  For only $4.99, you get 32 pages of all new content.  That’s a giant bump in size from the Icon reissues, which were already bigger than the original slimline releases.  Plus, you get what is quite probably the best letters page around.  It’s an embarrassment of riches.  And in the meantime, why not reread the new material that was at the end of Gula #4?  You’ll see why.

You owe it to yourself to read this comic.

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