Meet Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick, the first couple of comics
“You are talking to adults dressed in onesies,” the wife announces midconversation. “Big, giant, adult onesies,” confirms the husband.
This comic-book power couple, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction, are camped out in zip-up pj’s among piles of books in the Portland, Ore., home their two children have just vacated for school. This sounds like a surprisingly prosaic (if cozy) morning for people whose minds are constantly flitting off to distant galaxies or warping through the time-space continuum and giving Death a daughter or gender-bending a classical hero. Stuff like that.
DeConnick and Fraction (or DeFraction, their family portmanteau) are known for each bringing his or her own inventive, sly voice and boundless imagination to some of the comic-book pantheon’s most beloved superheroes, including writing two of Marvel’s most critically acclaimed titles of recent years. Fraction’s stint on Hawkeye, which is wrapping up shortly, examined what the Avenger got up to when he was off world-saving duty. And DeConnick gave long-standing character Carol Danvers a promotion to Captain Marvel, giving new life to a cult favorite who in 2018 is slated to be the first female Marvel superhero to carry her own film.
“I was gobsmacked,” says DeConnick. “I wasn’t even watching the event [when the film was announced]. My mentions tab on Twitter just went nuts. I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
The couple expanded their union beyond matrimony with the founding of their company, Milkfed Criminal Masterminds, in 2008. They’ve yet to collaborate on a project, but they see their work as very much a partnership. “Our marriage is kind of the cornerstone of this little empire of ours,” says Fraction.
Currently, that empire encompasses a wide range of their creator-owned projects, which are now their focus as they move on from the comic industry’s big publishers, Marvel and DC Comics. They note that moving away from established houses and characters is exciting (if also a bit scary). “You’re walking away from this built-in audience. There are folks who are going to give you a chance because you’re working on these characters they know and love,” DeConnick says. Adds Fraction, “It’s the difference between running a relay race and just running. It’s just you and the open road and as far as you want to go.” The pair have accepted that challenge, both launching new series this past fall.
ODY-C, a new series by Fraction that launched in November, takes Homer’s classic tale, flips it upside down, and sends it into space. A female protagonist, Odyssia, leads a quest given epic life by artist Christian Ward’s kaleidoscopic art. “I wanted to give my daughter a great hero,” Fraction says of the gender swap. “Who’s a greater hero than Odysseus?”
Adapting a foundation of the Western canon comes with its own challenges, though. “Homeric verse is written in dactylic hexameter,” notes Fraction. “It’s the best-sounding writing I’ve ever done because I’m really forced to pay attention to how it scans.” It’s also the rhythm of, he notes, “a lot of hip-hop. Homer would absolutely be down with hip-hop.”
DeConnick followed up with the December launch of her second ongoing original series, Bitch Planet, which is set on a prison planet for women deemed “noncompliant”—everyone from feminists to minorities to those not conforming to gender norms. “It’s not as camp as I had intended. I had very broad humor plans,” she notes of the series, which she developed with artist Valentine De Landro. “It was supposed to be so crazy! Future-y!” Though otherworldly, it paints a more realistic picture than DeConnick originally envisioned. “It feels like just a couple years down the line in the wrong direction,” she says.
And in case it seems like the couple aren’t juggling enough projects, Fraction’s most beloved series, Casanova, returns in January, following the titular time-traveling, womanizing, universe-hopping superspy whose comic-book antics are often described as “on acid.” This time around he’ll have an A-list contributor. “It will be nice to be the sane one on Team Casanova,” Fraction says, referring to the addition of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon, a Casanova fanboy who is now penning backups (think of them as side stories) for the series about the comic’s pop group Teen Age Music International, a sort of Josie and the Pussycats blended with the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.
“It became this game of chicken, and neither one of us has flinched,” says Fraction of the collaboration. “I was chiding him to write more comics and he said the only comics he wants to write are Casanova backups. And I was like, ‘Your script’s due Monday.’ ”
Chabon is not the only one inspired by the duo’s work. Both writers have enthusiastic fan groups, whether it’s Captain Marvel’s Carol Corps or fans of the Sex Criminals series, who have created a wealth of fan works shared over social media and at conventions. “We come home from shows with a moving box of stuff…And it’s all so creative and energizing and exciting,” says Fraction. “It’s nice to have this kind of traveling community,” says DeConnick. “We’re excited about the same stuff, trying to encourage each other and be human together.”
Their work life (and Tumblrs) might be overflowing with the inventive creations of comics fans, but within the DeFraction household, there’s a much tougher audience. “It’s starting to dawn on [the kids] that it’s not a regular job,” Fraction says. What tipped them off? Finding out their parents are friendly with the cast of MythBusters. “Our son was like, ‘You know the MythBusters?!’ ” says DeConnick. “I think it was the first time we’ve ever really impressed him.”
This article appears in Entertainment Weekly‘s Jan. 16 issue.