Matt Fraction on ‘Hawkguy’, his career dying, and a dog saving him
It is little secret around here that Matt Fraction ain’t just one of my favorite comic book creators. He’s a source of genuine inspiration and resiliency, and I follow his travels in ways that may be “unhealthy” and “borderline obsessive.” Okay. Whatever. So forgive me if this post really doesn’t fit in anywhere (though to be fair This Site is Me and I Am This Site). But I stumbled across this really fucking outstanding diatribe from Fraction detailing him falling into Hawkguy‘s first issue. It’s tremendous. He admits what I was sort of worrying about at the time (his career dying), once again somehow conjures tragedy into art, and continues to generally move me.
“Uh, one night my dog leaned against a wall because his back legs decided that they were done. And those kinds of stories never end well and this one wasn’t going to be different. We put him down the next day.
I’m a writer and that is the first and easiest trick we all have. Uh, it’s true, so it’s not cheap. It happened. Lying is kind of the cheapest trick of all, but still to come out here and lead off with my dog died is uhm, about as courageous as taking a stand against child abuse. But I did it because I want you on my side and I only have 4 minutes.
His name was Captain Applejack because he spent four years in the dog navy and would not be called mister. And anytime a dog owner says, “Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy?” The answer is always Captain Applejack.
I was actually on a deadline so I did what writers do and I compartmentalized. I stuffed it into a box and put it next to the other boxes marked, like, dad issues, and high school crushes and then I got on with my day. Uhm. I write comic books and my career was ending so I wanted to meet my deadlines. My worm had turned in the way that the worm turns for people in popular entertainment. There’s no retirement plan where I come from. There’s just one day people stop calling and the work stops coming. You don’t get hired anymore.
I was launching a book called Hawkeye and if you saw the Avengers movie he was the guy… he was the first archer in the history of cinema to run out of arrows. Which is a very kind of true moment for him. He’s the regular dude in the Avengers. And as a kid I always liked him because he was the regular guy. He came from Iowa. I lived in Iowa for God’s sake! It just seemed to make so much sense. He was a bad guy who made good. And he would like, drop his g’s when he spoke and he’d get so wrapped up in his thinking he’d get lost in like their super mansion and stuff. He was very human and he got to be an Avenger and that’s what I liked about him and now it was my chance to write him. This is before the Avengers movie came out and they were looking for opportunities to make that cast of heroes a little more visible.
When you work for someone like Marvel it’s a shared universe where everyone is playing with the same toys in this strange imaginative game all at once. And because of the movie and because of a couple of other things, Hawkeye was everywhere as I was supposed to launch my book. And I could sense that there were people that wanted him here and wanted him there: “Well I’ve got him on the moon on Tuesday, and you’ve got him underwater on Wednesday, what is he doing on Thursday?” And that I decided would be my take. My book is what he does on Thursdays when he’s not an Avenger. It’s where he goes… my book was going to be about where he goes to change his pants. It was going to be very slice of life, small ball kind of stories.
It was supposed to last 6 issues and it’d be done. And nobody thought it would do better than that because it has never as a character ever done better than that. It was… and then I’m putting him, you know, in pants in an apartment building it was commercial suicide. But as my career was ending I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by writing books that I would want to read.
But my dog was dead and my first issue wasn’t happening and I wanted to cry and be alone and be sad and grieve and mourn but I had this stupid comic book that I had to write. And I had the ‘what happens’ but I didn’t have what it’s about. I knew in this Hawkeye story we were going to meet him on Thursday afternoon when he’s not an Avenger and there’s a neighbor in his building who’s getting kicked out and what Hawkeye is going to do is he’s going to buy the building so she doesn’t get kicked out. Cause he had a bunch of… yeah I know, right? Dynamite, dynamite stuff!
And I came up with these kind of tricks, if I’m going to do this small ball stuff, like, there’s an issue where he just wants to buy tape. There’s an issue where he just wants to hook up his DVR and people keep bugging him. And he’s… so… Like, small things and I came up with these different things I was going to do, we’ll tell the stories all out of order, and we’ll do this and that and in a way to kinda keep it compelling… and try to keep it compelling and keep it interesting a little more than just: “This issue Hawkeye buys tape.”
The honest truth was I didn’t care about the building or Hawkeye or the neighbor getting kicked out ‘cause of my dog. And then I pulled out my first trick. And I gave him a dog.
Yeah. So when Captain Applejack was a puppy I found him under a car. And he was so sick and so little and uh… so mangy I didn’t know if he was very young and very sick or very old and about to die. He was wrinkly. So I gave him to Hawkeye. I gave him this beat up mutt who was neglected and ignored. And as I started to kind of write and give him this kind of emotional thing he was connected to, like, the character’s anima appeared. That was it, it wasn’t a hawk it was a dog. And then I got the book. I understood what the book was. I knew what happens. I knew what it was about. And if I couldn’t save Captain Applejack, Hawkeye could save Lucky.
Spoilers, the dog lives.
So I wrote it in a single day. I wrote it… it was a very bad, very sad day, but I wrote it in a day. And it comes out, and the response is impossible to ignore. And I do my very, very best to ignore response at all, at all costs. But a fandom roared, or barked as the case may be, and like we started to immediately get fan art and crafts. While Hawkeye might not have the best sales in the world I’ve met literally everyone reading the book and they were dressed. Uh, but it’s he’s just wearing pants so it’s super easy, it’s pants and bandages. My editor said “People love the dog” so it’s the dog. And this entire corner in my career was turned.
If I said ‘miraculous’ it would actually insult real miracles but I don’t know what else to say. I was on my way out the door but it turned out the door was revolving and I was right back in and my entire life turned around. And everything in my career exploded off of this book. I tried to save my dog, and he saved me.” [Source]
If you go to the source (and you should), the audio of his take starts around 17:00.