Comics Will Break Your Heart: Influence

Published on September 20th, 2012

I think it was in 2004, when I got back into Marvel, that I realized Brian Bendis was writing most of my favorite books. That set off a chain reaction that made me stop following characters and start following creators. I was 15.

A year later, I broke out of reading just superhero comics. I followed Bendis to Fortune and Glory, took a trip with Frank Miller to Sin City, and found out that Mark Millar used to hang out with a guy named Grant Morrison. If I hadn’t followed those threads through, and tracked the histories of certain creators, I wouldn’t have found such an interesting cross-section: from auto-bio to hardboiled crime to animals in battlesuits.

It started then, but through today, spheres of influence blow my mind. You can’t have Brian Bendis without the films and plays of David Mamet. You can’t have Frank Miller without the novels of Mickey Spillane. You can’t have Grant Morrison without (some would say drugs, but definitely) the insanity of Kirby’s Fourth World.

Tracking all of that back takes a vested interest, but it pays you back in perpetuity. I became open to different genres, different publishers, different creators, different formats. It kept me from putting down books because they challenged me.

No book has ever challenged me like Casanova, by Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba, and Fabio Moon. I bought the first issue, read it several times, and felt like I was learning a foreign language. I didn’t get it at all. So, I filed it away. A year later, Fraction ended up on Punisher: War Journal, and I read that and enjoyed it, so I figured it was time to pick up Casanova again; another failure. I bought the first hardcover; gave it away. A year later, I bought it from Fraction himself at an Emerald City convention, prompted by an amazing Q+A he did on Warren Ellis’ Whitechapel forum.

That didn’t quite do it, but it made me take the step that did it. I bought the Image singles, which had essays and rambles by Fraction in the back (plus, at that point, there weren’t trades or reprints). I read through the essays first, since they remained, if not spoiler-free, willfully obscurant. I learned what he was referencing, and ended up reading, watching, and listening to a lot of new stuff. The backmatter of Casanova also did something a comic never did for me before: it helped me through one of the hardest experiences of my life.

Fraction’s taste in music has also cost me a lot of money.

Shortly after all that, I read issues #1-#14 in a sitting. And I finally got it. I’ve read a lot of them, but — gun to my head — Casanova is my favorite comic. It beat my ass, stretched my brain, made me cry, and changed my lfie.

Anyway: I don’t want to get into a “the moral of this story is…” thing. I’ll give you a list. I’m not asking you to make any promises, but:

If you dug his Batman and Robin and All-Star Superman, check out the Invisibles, Doom Patrol, and WE3 by Grant Morrison and some of the best artists in comics.

If you dug Batman: Year One, check out Ronin and Sin City by Frank Miller.

If you dig his Avengers and dug his Daredevil, check out Jinx, Goldfish, and Fortune and Glory by Brian Michael Bendis. He even drew back then!

If you dig his Defenders and Invincible Iron Man, check out Casanova by Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba, and Fabio Moon.

Pick any writer or any artist on any book you like and figure out where they started and where they’ve been. Figure out who they like.

That’s how it starts.

Adam Witt