The creators of saucy, sub­ver­sive Sex Crim­i­nals talk men­tal health, in‑jokes and, er, brimp­ing.

It’s the sauci­est, most sub­ver­sive cult comic on the stands. Will Sal­mon meets Matt Frac­tion and Chip Zdarsky, the creators of Sex Crim­i­nals...

Comic Heroes - - Contents -

One of Im­age’s bold­est, quirki­est books has also be­come one of its big­gest. Sex Crim­i­nals – the cheer­fully horny com­edy about Suzie and Jon, a cou­ple who dis­cover that they can freeze time when they or­gasm, and promptly use that abil­ity to rob banks – is both as filthy as you’d ex­pect with that premise, and also ten­der and nu­anced.

As the book has grown in scope, other char­ac­ters with di­verse pow­ers have emerged, as have the re­pres­sive Sex Po­lice, who have be­come the bane of our he­roes’ lives. And while the premise sounds wild, the book has dug deep into the minds of its char­ac­ters and tack­led is­sues of men­tal health in a sin­cere, funny way. You come for the sex and stay for the char­ac­ters and hi­lar­i­ous gags. As book four has re­cently be­gun, we sat down with Frac­tion and Zdarsky...

Comic He­roes: So... vol­ume four. What’s the theme this time?

Matt Frac­tion: It’s like it says on the first cover: goals. The char­ac­ters are fig­ur­ing out what they want, both for them­selves and within their re­la­tion­ships with each other and their re­la­tion­ships with so­ci­ety. We’re reach­ing the end of the sec­ond act. This is the char­ac­ters fig­ur­ing out how far they’re will­ing to go to get what they want, if they even know what they want. So there’s a lot of in­ter­nal drama. There’s a lot of per­sonal stuff. There’s a lot of re­la­tion­ship stuff. But at the same time, we’ve pushed the “crim­i­nal” part of the comic for­ward, and we see the Sex Po­lice be­come more ag­gres­sive. All the stakes get raised.

CH: With the new is­sues it feels like you’re bring­ing the story back to Jon and Suzie again...

MF: Yeah, ab­so­lutely. They’re al­ways the centre of the book. It’s just that some­times we can look at other things. In fact, I think Chip and I started to miss Jon and Suzie, too. So we’re go­ing to start do­ing an­nu­als to both bridge the gap be­tween arcs and give us a chance to meet other char­ac­ters apart from Jon and Suzie. There’s a re­ally big world we’ve built and imag­ined, but pages are fi­nite. You can only get so far away from your core cast and your core story be­fore things start to feel adrift.

CH: Will we be meet­ing any new char­ac­ters with sex pow­ers?

MF: My most favourite – and Chip’s least favourite – comes in our next is­sue. CHIP ZDAR SKY : Oh God, I hate that char­ac­ter so much.

CH: Re­ally? Why?

CZ: There’s a few rea­sons, but I don’t want to spoil any­thing. There’s an el­e­ment of it that I have to draw over and over again that’s so gross, but in a re­stric­tive gross way. I love the char­ac­ter. I hate the power.

CH: Do you have a big list of these dif­fer­ent pow­ers, like

sex­ual X-Men mu­ta­tions?

MF: Yeah! That’s one of the things we’ll get to with the idea of the an­nu­als. There’s other char­ac­ters we could meet, but it would just take mo­men­tum away from the core story. But we still want to tell these sto­ries. My mis­sion is now to make Chip love this char­ac­ter, in spite of how much he hates the char­ac­ter. I think it’s a chal­lenge.

CZ: Draw­ing the char­ac­ter is fun be­cause he’s like a big, kind of dumb, Will Fer­rell-style char­ac­ter. I ac­tu­ally en­joy draw­ing him, and I think the story that Matt’s crafted for him is pretty fan­tas­tic.

CH: This new char­ac­ter, is he stranger than the an­ime sex de­mon dude? Be­cause that was pretty wild...! MF: He’s based on an ac­tual dude. We call him the Lit­tle Man.

CH: You men­tioned that this is the end of Act 2. Does that mean you’ve got a fixed end point for the se­ries in mind? Is that com­ing up or still way off?

MF: It’s a way off. But yeah, there’s a be­gin­ning and a mid­dle and an end, for sure. This is re­ally the story of Jon and Suzie and what­ever their “ever af­ter” is. When we get there, we’ll get there. But there’s also a struc­ture to it. There’s a plan to it. This is the sec­ond act.

CZ: There’s al­ways the op­tion to keep it open ended, but I think that might be not as sat­is­fy­ing for the reader. It’s nice to have a plan and be able to vi­su­alise the end point and know where you’ve got to be by a cer­tain time.

MF: And the whole joy of pub­lish­ing through Im­age is, you es­cape the Marvel or DC thing of the per­pet­ual sec­ond act. Spi­der­Man comics will never end. Bat­man will never end. We have a be­gin­ning and a mid­dle and an end­ing. That makes it a dif­fer­ent kind of story and a dif­fer­ent kind of comic and a dif­fer­ent kind of ex­pe­ri­ence to cre­ate and read.

CZ: Spi­der-Man might end, be­cause I’m writ­ing it now. So there’s that.

MF: Oh, Chip! I came up with a good char­ac­ter for you. He’s a su­per-pow­ered the­atre critic – The Cul­ture! He has lit­tle suede el­bow patches and a mon­o­cle.

CZ: Ev­ery once in a while, Matt will text me ran­dom Marvel ideas that could never be pub­lished. And I can’t tell if he’s do­ing it in order to get me fired or just to point out how stupid our jobs are.

MF: There’s no “off” po­si­tion on the ge­nius switch. He doesn’t need these ideas any­more, so I’m giv­ing them to you. Like the ManSpi­der – a spi­der with the pro­por­tion­ate speed and strength of a man. It’s ba­si­cally a spi­der that drives a car.

This is the story of Jon and Suzie and what­ever their ‘ever af­ter’ is, but there is a plan

CH: You guys push the meta ele­ments quite far. Will that con­tinue in this vol­ume?

MF: Inas­much as we ever have. Putting us in the book took it far. But whether it’s the Post-It notes in vol­ume 1 or the char­ac­ters tak­ing nar­ra­tion back and forth from each other in vol­ume 2; there’s some­thing very base-level when you’re deal­ing with a comic book about char­ac­ters who freeze time in a medium where time, by na­ture, is frozen. The joke is, it’s comics – it’s all frozen time. I think it’s just keep­ing with the spirit of the book.

CZ: Whereas some comics might break the fourth wall once in a while, I think what we do is break the fourth wall but we’re sit­ting next to the reader. It’s not do­ing it just for the reader; we’re do­ing it for us as well, if that makes sense.

CH: The book deals with men­tal health as much as with sex. Why was that im­por­tant to in­clude?

MF: Chip adds all that stuff, and I have to let­ter it. What the fuck is go­ing on? CZ: A true part­ner­ship. MF: I feel like if you could boil the book down to a mo­tif, it’s: “Yes, but not like that”. It’s called Sex Crim­i­nals, but not like that. It’s a sex comic, but it’s not sexy. It’s not pruri­ent. It’s not de­signed to arouse or titillate. It’s re­ally a ro­mance comic. It’s a re­la­tion­ship comic. It was a chance to talk about the stuff and write about the stuff in a way I hadn’t seen be­fore, at least in comics. And I think... I don’t know, it’s im­por­tant.

CZ: I think also, once the comic be­came more about re­la­tion­ships, that’s a huge thing in re­la­tion­ships: in­tro­duc­ing your is­sues to your part­ner. So many peo­ple have ei­ther se­vere cases of things or mi­nor cases of things, but it’s still usu­ally some­thing you keep from some­one on the sec­ond date. But as it goes on, it be­comes part of a re­la­tion­ship – you need to ex­plore that.

MF: Yeah, that’s ex­actly right. My wife pointed out that me and Chip’s re­la­tion­ship with the book charts Jon and Suzie’s re­la­tion­ship with each other. It’s like: “Oh look! It’s go­ing to be a re­la­tion­ship. It’s go­ing to last for a while. Oh shit – what are we do­ing? Who are you re­ally? What do we want out of this? What are we here for?” We re­ally thought it was go­ing to be four is­sues. We thought Im­age would do the

We re­ally thought it would be four is­sues and that would be that

first three, and we would pay for the fourth and beg them to col­lect it. We’d sell 1,100 copies, and we’d have made our funny lit­tle book. And that would be that. But I think there’s some kind of map­ping you can do be­tween our cre­ative re­la­tion­ship with the book, and Jon and Suzie’s re­la­tion­ship with one an­other.

CZ: I hope they make it as a cou­ple, then...

MF: Well, if one of them wouldn’t mouth off so god­damn much.

CZ: I’m so sorry. Please don’t leave me.

CH: How do you guys ac­tu­ally col­lab­o­rate? Is it lots of email, lots of Skype?

CZ: Yeah, the first is­sue es­pe­cially. In the first few, there was a lot more back-and-forth be­cause we were try­ing to fig­ure out the whole world of it. We’d have phone calls that were a bit more gen­eral about our own sex­ual his­to­ries and feel­ings on things and what we should be do­ing. Af­ter that, we ended up in a bit more of a rou­tine. Ba­si­cally, once an is­sue, Matt and I usu­ally get on the phone. Matt will tell me what’s com­ing up, and I’ll give my two cents. But it’s pri­mar­ily Matt driv­ing ev­ery­thing. I still en­joy the feel­ing of with­hold­ing all the art­work un­til it’s done, as a sur­prise to Matt.

MF: I re­ally try to wait un­til it’s all fin­ished, so I can just take it all in. It’s my favourite thing; I get to be the first per­son to read Sex Crim­i­nals.

CZ: I have the thing too, like when Matt’s work­ing on the script, he’ll some­times text me bits of it. I love it, but there’s also a part of me that’s like, “I want to get it all in the one chunk. But these are so funny, I never want the bits and pieces of it to stop.”

MF: Yeah. It’s re­ally a comic that I write to make Chip laugh. I think it’s a comic that Chip draws to make me laugh. Ev­ery­thing else is gravy. Lit­er­ally ev­ery­thing else.

MF: I re­mem­ber the is­sue where Jon gets his heart bro­ken and is cry­ing in the movie the­atre. I was on an air­plane. I kept my phone on longer than I should have to down­load the PDF. So I’m read­ing it on my phone, which is a ter­ri­ble way to read a comic, and I’m zoom­ing into each panel, and there’s a shot of a guy hav­ing sex in a car. It’s just a dude’s butt and his balls. And it’s just so lov­ingly ren­dered, for no other rea­son than: I’m go­ing to see this and laugh, so Chip’s go­ing to take how­ever long it takes to draw it.

A lazy artist would have drawn a hand­print and made it look like there was fog in the win­dows, or maybe two feet. But no, Chip just went full grun­dle.

CH: You put in a lot of sight gags. What are your favourites?

CZ: At some point, it be­comes so au­to­matic that it’s even harder for me to re­mem­ber. “Oba­ma­core, soft­core and hard­core.” That’s the one that still makes me chuckle.

MF: My favourite kinds of jokes are the ones where you’re clearly at the end of your rope. The jokes where I can tell that you hate your­self for de­cid­ing to do it, but you’re not let­ting your­self quit. Like, one of the sex toys is called “Just Half A Tit – Why Not?” The ones that are both funny and a cry for help are my favourites.

CZ: There’s one where Ana’s read­ing a news­pa­per. It must be the clas­si­fieds sec­tion. I knew even as I was putting these jokes in, they weren’t go­ing to be seen. But I ba­si­cally cre­ated a dozen dif­fer­ent job list­ings for the clas­si­fieds pages. Even if you zoomed in, you wouldn’t be able to see them. CH: It’s ob­vi­ously work­ing – it’s got a huge fol­low­ing. I guess you didn’t an­tic­i­pate that?

MF: Who would an­tic­i­pate this? Any­one who says they would an­tic­i­pate it is ly­ing. “Of course, I knew the book with all the dicks was go­ing to be huge.” CH: The let­ters page feels like a place where you guys can be re­ally open with your read­ers. Does it ever feel ex­pos­ing?

MF: Yeah. I mean, I’m wildly un­qual­i­fied for most of it. I can speak from ex­pe­ri­ence, and I can speak from a sense of moral­ity. But I’m not a sex ther­a­pist. There’s a sui­ci­dal guy who wrote to me once on my blog. I said, “Lis­ten, you’re writ­ing to a dude you don’t know on a blog. You need help. You need a doc­tor. You need a med­i­cal pro­fes­sional. That’s the def­i­ni­tion of a cry for help.”

What I love is that no mat­ter what the sex­u­al­ity re­flected in our let­ters, it ties us all to­gether. Asex­u­als write in with their ex­pe­ri­ence and I’m like, “I get that! I know what that feels like!” It’s kind of great. It proves the the­sis of the book: we’re all alone to­gether, and no mat­ter what your taste or level of ex­pe­ri­ence is, ev­ery­one has these same kinds of awk­ward ex­pe­ri­ences in life. It’s a won­der­ful re­minder about hu­man­ity.

CH: It al­ways seems there’s a warmth and an ac­cep­tance there, which is re­ally heart­en­ing.

CZ: Yeah. It’s a nice mix of warmth and com­mu­nity and jokes. Half the let­ters will com­pletely touch my heart, and the other half make me giggle.

CH: Brimp­ing. Dis­cuss.

MF: It’s when you have sex with hair.

CZ: There’s a cou­ple who went through a few of the poses, and then posted pho­tos on their blog, and then gave me their brimp­ing one at a sign­ing. MF: You’ve met? CZ: Yeah, I’ve met them. They phys­i­cally handed me the photo. I’ve prob­a­bly got it kick­ing around here some­where. You know, full nu­dity, just go­ing for it. At con­ven­tions, we get a lot of fan art and weird things. My favourite – I’m ac­tu­ally hold­ing it right now – is a cro­chet naked Jon doll, where if you flick the penis up, it lights up.

MF: It’s the kind of book we wanted to write, to draw, to spend time on. That’s the thing about comics – it’s re­ally hard. If mis­takes hap­pen, noth­ing hurts worse. Be­lieve me. You work so hard on these things. But then when we turned it into some­thing we wanted to read, it felt like the book worked for us. But again, we just thought it was go­ing to be four is­sues – “no one’s go­ing to like this but us.” So it’s nice to have other peo­ple be like, “Yeah, this is what I like too. This is what I want. I wanted a dirty ro­mance comic.”

Be­low left: For all the rude bits, the se­ries has al­ways been very much char­ac­ter-fo­cused.

Be­low: Dou­ble-en­ten­dre is never very far away.

Above right: The lat­est se­ries makes a point of fill­ing new­com­ers in.

Above: Like all the best cre­ator-owned ti­tles,

Sex Crim­i­nals gives its writer and artist the op­por­tu­nity to en­joy them­selves and of­ten throw in back­ground de­tails and lit­tle bits of busi­ness just for fun.

Left: Stylish, highly de­signed cov­ers have been a fea­ture right from the start.

Right: Chip and Matt get a cameo as Vol­ume 3 gets a bit meta-fic­tional.

Above right: It’s a sex com­edy and a crime thriller, but Suzie is at its heart ei­ther way.

Above: Sex Crim­i­nals won the re­spected Eis­ner Award for Best New Se­ries in 2014.

Right: Suzie and Jon’s abil­ity gives a new mean­ing to “af­ter­glow”.

Be­low: The se­ries has in­tro­duced more char­ac­ters with sexre­lated abil­i­ties.

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