Brad Fraser, enfant terrible of Canadian theatre, has been creating controversial and groundbreaking plays for over twenty years, and has recently lectured on censorship and his personal battles to see his work produced. A comic book fan since childhood, he has worked that interest into his plays, most notably Poor Super Man and Martin Yesterday, and was a writer on the American production of Queer As Folk. He was kind enough to spend time with Geek Chocolate on his recent visit to Manchester.
Geek Chocolate – You’re a collector of comic books and associated memorabilia. How did that start?
Brad Fraser – I started collecting comics as a child mostly because my parents would never let me keep them, but kept tossing them out or giving them away whenever we moved – which was often. I seriously accumulated books and merchandise from my teen years right into my forties. I had an amazing collection but eventually began to tire under the weight of it and sold it for a very tidy sum about five years ago. I still read but no longer collect. For me, it was a sickness.
GC – You strike me as a guy who likes to explore the fringes. Rather than just Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, do you have any underground titles you think our readers should be checking out?
BF – The Boys, by Garth Ennis and various artists, is a terrific book, evocative, intelligent and funny, really irreverent in terms of its treatment of super-heroes. Underground books as they once existed don’t seem to be around anymore. I used to love the old Fantagraphics undergrounds with the amazing Robert Crumb and Richard Corben artwork in them. That was when underground meant truly alternative and took some real chances.
GC – You said in the introduction to True Love Lies that you like to direct the second production of a play, stealing the first director’s best ideas and changing the things that don’t work. What’s it like to see someone else take the reins on something you created?
BF – It depends how good they are. When they’re skilled, as is the case with Braham Murray at the Royal Exchange, it’s amazing. When they’re insecure or less talented it’s a nightmare. And there’s plenty of those types in the theatre.
GC – Your new play, [email protected] is a major departure for you, an all female ensemble, although it touches on your familiar themes of dependence, both on relationships and substances. Did you approach the writing differently, and, assuming there is such a thing as a typical Brad Fraser playgoer, how do you think they will take to the new work?
BF – I treated this play the same as any other. It’s not like these are the first women I’ve written. After the opening and run I get the feeling some “typical Brad Fraser playgoers” were somewhat disappointed for reasons they didn’t seem able to articulate very well, while others liked it a lot. In the end I can’t control those people who insist on wishing for the play they wanted me to write rather than the one I actually wrote.
GC – The Manchester Royal Exchange is a fantastic space. How specifically do you write for it, and how easy is it for your work to then translate to a new space, or do you assist in easing the plays back to your native Canada?
BF – The RX, being in the round, and very intimate, makes it impossible for the actors to hide in any way. It also makes scenic elements and visual imagery a bit of a nightmare but I love it. The transition for the play back to a more typical space usually isn’t very hard but the production itself is never the same.
GC – In Martin Yesterday, Rachel struggles in the world of comic book publishing both because she’s an inker, and because she’s a woman. You said in the introduction to that play that it needed a woman to balance the male characters and make the play more accessible, but I wondered why you chose that particular background for her.
BF – There are not many female inkers in comics and I felt it said a lot about her that she would be able to make it in such a male dominated industry.
GC – Love and Human Remains was the first gay film I ever saw at the cinema, and you were a major contributor to the US version of Queer As Folk, which I preferred to the original. Do you think the way gay characters are shown in the media has improved, and how much do you think you have contributed to that?
BF – It’s very much a case by case basis but there are moments, particularly on TV and film, where it still feels like we’re in the 1950’s. Brokeback Mountain and A Single Man both had gay male characters who were undeserving of love and did very self destructive things. You’d think that might have made those films more interesting than they are. We’re long past the point where having gay characters appear on film is enough, they have to have some complexity and authenticity as well. We have far greater story choices than “unhappy dead faggots” and I do hope to have contributed to that. David in Love and Human Remains is one of the few gay protagonists from that period who is not dealing with coming out or having AIDS but is simply living his life like everyone else. I think that gets overlooked a lot.
GC – On your Facebook page you often flag up comic books that could be interpreted as homoerotic. Do you think this is intentional, and how much genuine representation is there in mainstream comics? I read recently that Marvel are relaunching Alpha Flight, and Northstar and his boyfriend will be major characters.
BF – Again, case by case and depends on the time. Superboy’s best friend Pete Ross waking in the middle of the night in a tent the boys are sharing to witness Clark pulling his pyjamas off to reveal his Superboy costume was clearly unintentional and yet potent. Likewise with Neal Adam’s drawings of a shirtless, hairy chested and amazingly sexy Batman duelling with an equally sexy Rhas al Ghul in the early 70’s. On the other hand, some of the scenes between Midnighter and Apollo in The Authority are more potent than most gay porn. I haven’t read the Alpha Flight book so I have no idea how North Star’s being depicted there.
GC – In your work you’ve always insisted that the gay characters are not always positive representations, that they are flawed rather than heroic. Some of the strongest gay characters in science fiction were on Battlestar Galactica and Caprica – Felix Gaeta, who was executed as a traitor in the final season, and Sam Adama, a violent mobster by day who spends his nights with his loving husband. Assuming you watched the shows, what would be your reflections on that, or have you other examples to offer?
BF – I’ve never watched the shows but I do believe gay people can be heroes, villains and bores just like everyone else.
GC – What can you tell us about the pilot script you recently submitted to Canada’s Space channel?
BF – Nothing. It was passed on and I’m reinventing it for another medium right now.
GC – Last question – and it’s the money shot. In Poor Super Man, Matt and David discuss the merits of DC versus Marvel. Suppose both approached you to write the real story why Professor X and Magneto are no longer friends, or what goes on behind closed doors at Wayne Manor when Batman and Robin get in from a hot, hard night of action on the streets. Which publisher do you choose, and why?
BF – I’m a DC guy from childhood. That being said, I’ve always been a huge fan of Marvel too. Couldn’t I swing both ways?
Many thanks to Brad Fraser for his time. Brad’s new play [email protected] recently enjoyed a successful run at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, and a revised version will be opening in Canada under the title Interventing Olivia