Note: the following interview includes profanity and frank/candid discussion about sexuality. You have been warned.
Let’s talk about sex, baby. Let’s talk about you and me, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. Sex Criminals is the new and highly anticipated Image Comics series from Fraction and Zdarsky, slated for a September 4th release. While there is sex and there are criminals, the story is thankfully not about the type requiring national registration. Suzie’s just a gal who happens to be able to stop time when she has sex. It turns out that John has the same gift. They meet, hook up and, inevitably, start robbing banks together. Sex Criminals tackles very sensitive subject matter with tact, and just as importantly, a healthy sense of humour. We had a chance to chat with Fraction and Zdarsky about sex, the series, and “The Fingering”.
Dork Shelf: Where did the idea for Sex Criminals come from, and how did you two end up working together?
Chip Zdarsky: When Matt and I met, he leaned in and whispered to me, Lost in Translation-style, “I bet if we fucked we could stop time.” I suddenly threw up a bit, as I do when something excites me. A couple of years later he emailed and said, “What if we did a comic instead?” I was hooked and then threw up a lot.
Matt Fraction: The first time Chip and I said goodbye to one another in person, he tried to kiss me, and wouldn’t stop whispering “It’s Canada, nobody will know,” again and again, like a boner-mantra.
But the comic came from first off wanting to work with Chip, and wanted to do something that “took advantage” of who he is and what he does. Something funny and dirty was about as deep as that thought went until the basic idea came together one night. It was this or our Game of Thrones, with more fucking.
DS: What was it like to approach sex as a plot device? How did it affect your writing/art?
CZ: Well, the sex isn’t necessarily titillating. I don’t think Matt and I are consciously trying to get people off — our hands reaching through the page and tugging/rubbing our dear readers. In terms of the art, I’m trying to downplay any, you know, porn-y instincts and instead rely on reality. So, to that end (wink) I have friends posing awkwardly in my studio while I hover over them taking reference shots, because that’s perfectly natural.
MF: Because it’s something comics hardly ever does, let alone does well, let alone does for laughs. And I wanted to write a sex comedy. Since American Pie and its less-frat-y, more-heart-y, Apatow-ian offspring, it feels like a kind of golden age for the sex comedy in movies and TV, like a modernized blast of fresh air has come through the place and… yeah, I dunno, the challenge of doing something that’s never been done is hard for me to resist. So… so you steer into the skid, y’know? It’s a book about having sex, falling in love, and the wide gulf between them — and half the fun (and funny) comes from the ugly-bumping. So yeah. So you just go for it.
DS: The book has already received a lot of attention simply from having sex in the title. How scandalous is it, really (on a scale of 4chan to Disney)?
CZ: I’d say on a scale of 4chan to Disney it’s a Frac-chan or a 4chip. I’m not worried at all about going too far. Nothing is gratuitous, everything is either for the story or for comedy.
MF: It’s dirty, not prurient. There’s nothing to rub one out to here, and there never will be — unless you’re turned on by weird shit.
DS: Matt, you’ve mentioned in previous interviews that this book is fits into the niche of sex comedies, something that hasn’t really been explored in comics. Did you write it with that genre in mind, and what is it like to write a comedy vs. incorporating humour into your storytelling?
MF: That was right front and center from the get-go, and comedy is, as they say, harder than dying. Especially in comics. Timing is everything: structure, writing funny lines, or throwaway jokes, are pretty easy, for good or for ill, in a “serious” story to me. Doing a story designed to be funny, designed to make people laugh, has been amazingly difficult.
I spend so much time and thought on these fucking things it’s ridiculous.
DS: Chip, you’re well-versed in comedy, both writing and illustrating. Did you approach Sex Criminals any differently than your other projects?
CZ: Generally speaking I’m not a collaborator, either in work or in bed. But Matt is a tender, huge talent so I had no trepidation going in or being gone into. Obviously the big difference between doing my own thing versus doing it with Matt is that I have someone else to please other than myself. But that’s turned out to be pretty rewarding. When I do a drawing or contribute a joke and Matt responds with a fun, weird sound, I get pretty excited.
For the covers I wanted a style that stood out a bit and could carry through for the first story arc. I want to mix it up with the next round and maybe make them all Garfield strips or Frazetta paintings. We have SO MUCH FREEDOM.
DS: What’s your favourite part about writing/drawing Suzie, and what is it like to narrate a woman’s sexual experience?
CZ: Well, visually, she’s based on my friend Tiffy, who is one of my favourite people in the world, so it’s been fun turning her into a cartoon. Also, because she’s a friend, I have less desire to overly sexualize her (SHOCKINGLY). Nudity is either for comedy purposes or naturally story-driven. I think that’s our responsibility to female readers to not be sucked into gratuitousness just for titillation’s sake.
MF: Awesome. An exercise in empathy, compassion, and imagination. My favorite part has been learning who she is in this totally intimate way. It’s easy, especially in superhero comics, to have the story be something that happens to your characters rather than through them, because of them. This isn’t that. This story is her story: who she is and how she reacts and acts and what she wants and needs is our sole beating heart. I feel no more or less pressure than I always feel although there have been little details I’ve sweated. Tics of language or whatever.
DS: How have fans reacted so far? Any outrage over the subject matter?
MF: The response has been astonishingly great, honestly. Like, between the reaction to Hawkeye, Satellite Sam, and this, from the few folks that’ve read it, I thought maybe I had cancer and everybody was being nice to me.
CZ: I can’t imagine any outrage over this, really. It’s not like we have Spider-Man fingering Green Arrow (five-part major crossover, “The Fingering.”) The only real danger with a book like this is the dwindling “comics are just for kids” crowd, as if a parent will accidentally buy a book called Sex Criminals for their four-year-old. It’s a fun book for grown-ups! If you enjoy sex and jokes and good stories featuring loveable characters with stunningly serviceable art, you’ll enjoy… Sex Criminals.