In the interests of Team Hawkguy, I have transcribed Fraction’s monologue.interview on the Livewire Podcast where he talks about the ‘secret origins of Hawkeye.” Spoilers for Hawkeye #15.
Matt Fraction on LiveWire #241
target time: 15:30 – 30:25
Host: Matt Fraction is the New York Times best selling writer of comics like Hawkeye Invincible Iron Man and Sex Criminals. He’s currently reviving the Image comics series Casanova with author Michael Chabon. Please welcome self-described “donkus” Matt Fraction to LiveWire.
Matt: 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 an 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 for year 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 come 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 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.
Host: Matt Fraction here on Livewire.
Host: I don’t hug a lot of the guests at the end of their performances but I felt like I wanted to -
Matt: - I played the dead dog card, I get it, we can hug it out.
Host: Was it just total serendipity that you got the Hawkeye character when you did? Or I mean, as you mentioned a little but there a moment ago, were you bending the Hawkeye character into your own real life of quiet desperation?
Matt: Yes. That’s the move. You know, Marvel has a lot of very smart people with a lot of eyes on these characters that go on to star in these massive global billion dollar franchises so, you know, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to take say “Well, hey, Hawkeye’s in the movie, maybe there should be a new Hawkeye book.” And maybe it hits, maybe it lasts 6 months, maybe it lasts a year, whatever, maybe it goes on and it’s a thing, but so there are these kinds of moments, well, hey, there’s a new Captain America movie coming out, a bunch of stuff will happen then too. Based out of that. There’s a kind of conscious “Hey people might see a movie and think ‘God, I read comics when I was a kid, I wonder what Captain America comics are like now?’ “ and they go to a comic shop and they discover… the wide world of comics.
Host: But then they let you write a comic about a guy who’s setting up his DVR.
Host: You are not being asked to create the kind of glossy super hero like ideal.
Matt: Yeah no, I wanted the opposite of that. I literally like, I called my editor and was like “He’s going to try to hook up a DVR.” And he said, “Promise me. That’s what the book is.” Like, “That’s it. That’s the issue, is DVR. Boom.” I had an editor who understood the same fatalistic mission we had and as such sort of stood between me and “shouldn’t he wear a costume?” kinda notes which I just don’t get. And now I think, now it’s like the car at the end of Blues Brothers, like, just don’t touch it, just let it go, and the second it stops -pfft- it’s all gonna fall apart and it’ll never work again, but for right now somehow the car is still moving.
Host: And where are you right now with Hawkeye.
Matt: Oh god. Uh. Oh, super bummer issue, a really bad… the bad guy got into the house… the whole thing is about this building, and the bad guy snuck in and caught him in a blind corner and had an arrow… and drove two arrows into both of his ears and it’s damaged his mid and inner ear so he’s deaf now. Oh, spoilers. So we’re going to do an issue with sign language. The character has a history of abuse and being… having deafness, at one point he deafened himself to, like, not hear the crazy rays that were… I can’t remember what the machination was but I remember as a kid he blew out his own ears so he couldn’t hear this thing and it was…
Host: That was some straight up Van Gogh sh*t.
Matt: It was pretty hard core. Yeah but it got undone later in the way that things get undone and um… I liked it. And I’ve met a lot of people in the Deaf community and I don’t know why they don’t get a super hero too. So uh, inner ear damage, sign language issue. His partner is tired of him being a sad sack bastard and has hightailed for a summer of adventure in California where she’s basically cosplaying as Jim Rockford. It’s everything…
Host: But that’s not from your real life.
Matt: Well… I mean…
Host: Oh jeeze.
Matt: I’m 38 I’ve been around the block a couple times. Things happen. I’ve fought crime a couple times, I did okay.
Host: Well, Matt Fraction, in your book Hawkeye, you show the kind of unloved Avenger, Hawkeye in his everyday life. And we were thinking that there are a lot of other unloved characters who could really you use your help out there, in popular fiction, and so we thought we would name some of these characters and then you might be able to kind of talk about what you could do to improve them or make them more loveable the way you’ve done with the Hawkeye character.
Host: Pete Campbell from Mad Men.
Matt: Pete Campbell should be the other guy to die at Altamonte. You know how there’s the guy that died at Altamonte and they never identified who it is? It should be Pete Campbell.
Host: Oh I see. Build towards that kind of in time and space in the world of Mad Men.
Matt: Yeah, in his final moment as he finally realizes what a horrible awful monster he is, what a sad, bland, evil loaf of wonder bread he is, what a white guy he is, and then like a Hell’s Angel just like -pfflt - breaks his neck and he drowns in a mud puddle. And then like, they start, I don’t know, sympathy?
Host: That really changes my perception of what happened at Altamonte too.
Matt: There was another guy who died! Everybody knows about Meredith Hunter but there was another guy. There was a mystery death at Altamonte. Writers get writing.
Host: Pete Campbell goes to Altamonte. How about Sneezy from Snow White? Not a popular dwarf. Really, just allergic if you think about it. We have stuff for that in this day and age, but not back then.
Matt: I would go… I would do something like, very like mythy like Grimm’s Fairy Tales like, sort of, in fitting with the origin. You know the idea of the Sin Eater? Where a town would present its sins in the form of food to a single person who would then consume it all in a way of absolving his community of sins? What if like… I have allergies, like really bad allergies, and I had, you ever get tested for stuff? They stab you like 400 times and they just wait to see what turns puffy. So what if Sneezy was like that but with allergens? What if he was just taking in all the toxins in the world and quietly sneezing and enduring a never ending sinus infection for the sins of man? And he ended up nailed to a little dwarf cross. “Achoo! Guh!” What was Doc a doctor of?
Host: Not medicine it would appear.
Matt: Like Renaissance poetry or something.
Host: He was like one of those old drunk guys that everyone just starts calling ‘Doc’ at some point. Alright, I don’t even feel like we need to gild the lily after that amazing description of Sneezy but I will, let’s see, how about Jar Jar Binks?
Matt: Wow. Uhm. Whew. Okay. Well. Could he be the one who kills Pete Campbell at Altamonte? “Meesa sorry!” –bluhh- “Oh no!” And off he runs. The Stones play.
Host: Huge Rolling Stones fan, Jar Jar Binks. He’s a Shadoobie. Do you know that’s the name of the official Rolling Stones fan group around the world? They’re called the Shadoobies.
Host: Yup. They just move from hot tub to hot tub across the continents. I know people who are Shadoobies this is a real thing. I can see Jar Jar Binks being into that.
Matt: Wow. As a husband of someone who serves in the KISS Army my heart goes out to all Shadoobies everywhere. Shadoobie widows left in the motel wondering, wondering when, “When is she coming back, god!”
Host: Alright last one. How do you spiff up the image of the bananas from a box of Runts candies?
Matt: I think they’re like the Steely Dan of Runts candies. I think, I don’t think that everybody loves them but the people that do love them really love them.
Host: That’s it, we gotta call it a night. Matt Fraction, thank you so much.
Matt: Thank you.