Note: the following interview contains some language that may be NSFW, so suck it up or get back to your spreadsheets already.
If the NSA is reading this article, then let me be the first to assure you that nothing about Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s new creator-owned comic series for Image Comics, Sex Criminals, pertains to actual sex crimes. Rather, it’s just a title that will continue to create hilarious, SEO-related nightmares for them for years to come. In truth, Sex Criminals is a rollicking comedy series that happens to revolve around both sex and crime.
The story follows Suzie and John, an average young couple who just so happens to be able to stop time every time they have sex. You know, pretty normal stuff. And like a normal couple, after their mid-coital chronal shift, they decide to use their powers for financial gain by robbing banks and the like. Again, pretty normal stuff. But don’t take my word for it: I caught up with the Sex Criminals masterminds, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, in advance of the book’s September 4th release to find out how the series came to life, if they’re at all worried about forever being associated with the search terms, and trying to bring back the sex comedy genre to comic books.
Nerdist: Please, please, please tell me this was based on a true story.
Matt Fraction: A lot of it is, anyway – – there is a good deal of my story in Suzie’s and Jon’s as they unfold over the first three issues; and then bits and pieces pop up here and there… of course, you just kind of write what you know. I had no idea ejaculating felt good. That was all dumb-ass me. Chip stops time when he poops.
Chip Zdarsky: My favorite part of this process so far has been Matt and I on the phone talking about our sexual histories and the sound of Matt gently vomiting on the other end.
N: Are you at all worried about how Google will forever tie your names to the term “Sex Criminal”?
MF: OH, FUCK.
CZ: Well, it’s better than our original title “Matt Fraction Is A Sex Criminal.”
N: The first issue felt like a very honest portrayal of sexual awakening – e.g., the scenes in the tub – and still managed to pack in plenty of humor. How do you approach finding the right tone for the book to make it ring true?
MF: Making it about Suzie helped. If it was all about Jon – – our first instincts were that it was his story rather than hers – – it might have been more gross out, more ridiculous, more over-the-top American Pie shit. Somehow, making it her… Somehow making it about Suzie gave it an emotional grounding that I think our first instincts wanted to have but couldn’t make happen. I don’t know if that makes sense; At first, it was Jon’s book, and then at some point we realized it was Suzie’s book because she right away was the character we (I) fell in love with. I shouldn’t speak for Chip. I fell in love with it. I fell in love with Suzie. And I wanted to protect her very much. And that kept it from being prurient. Dirty is fine. Prurient doesn’t really interest me here.
CZ: Yeah, there’s kind of a lazy default when a couple of dudes want to do a story about jerking off and sex jokes: they’re going to write about a guy VERY SIMILAR TO THEM. Making it Suzie’s story out of the gate forced us to be better storytellers, for sure.
And, like Matt, I’m also pretty protective of Suzie, but a lot of that stems from the fact that I based her off of a good friend, so my instinct is to not parade my good friend’s ta-tas and hoo-hoo all over the place willy nilly. I’m not a monster.
N: It almost seems like this is trying to be The 40 Year-Old Virgin or Superbad-meets-Airheads of comics. It’s got this really great sex comedy and crime caper vibe going on. Is this meant, first and foremost, to be a humor comic, or is that pigeonholing it too much?
MF: Yeah, or Girls or The To-Do List… It’s meant to be a sex comedy. I love Billy Wilder; all of the kind of dirty, funny, movies that he made. Whether they’re the sex comedies of yore or the aforementioned recent stuff. I couldn’t think of a sex comedy that had been done in comics; Why I Hate Saturn and some moments of Love and Rockets and maybe Bob Fingerman’s Minimum Wage –– but for a genre that so prevalent in seemingly every other form of mass media, (it) doesn’t really exist in comics. So the goal, quite frankly, was to do SEX COMEDY. And to express whatever my thoughts on that particular genre are at this point in time. But yes, funny. Funny is good. Funny is hard. Doing a comedy in a comic that was written and structured like a comedy rather than a comic with funny stuff in it is murder. Maybe that’s why it’s not really been done before.
CZ: The closest I can think of in comics is Kill Your Boyfriend, which is probably the one comic I own that’s been passed around more than I have. Besides that book, there’s also Garfield. He constantly breaks the fourth wall, he’s got no clothes on, and he’s always in bed.
When Matt first talked to me about this book we were like giddy teens bouncing dick jokes off each other, and then he went and turned it into a beautiful script with a layered, fun story and I’ll never forgive him.
N: Sex Criminals plays around quite a bit with narrative, structure and breaking the fourth wall. What motivated this decision?
MF: I don’t know; it just kind of came out in the writing. I didn’t have it in my head that it was going to happen until the character in a panel description turned to camera and started speaking. I… find myself giving a fuck about shit like that less and less the longer I work in comics. Especially the longer I write in the superhero mainstream and then turn to creator-owned comics looking for an invigorating and personal kind of work experience. Not that the superhero mainstream isn’t creatively satisfying, but it’s not entirely the place for experimentation and… this isn’t even that experimental, It’s just, not the kind of thing that readers of Batman go looking for in any given month or whatever.
CZ: It may become the norm, though, thanks to you. Soon we’ll have Batman turning to the reader so he can properly recount the first time he beat off to The Mark of Whore-o.
N: Visually, it’s a pretty stunning experience, especially the scenes in the Quiet. How did you approach designing the visual aesthetic for the book? What, if anything, influenced it?
MF: I threw a few cinematography examples at Chip; Enter the Void was one I remember for sure…
CZ: Yeah, there was another one that I can’t recall the name of right now, but it had a light-web effect that I loved and swiped. We went through a lot of versions of the effect. There was a video Matt sent me on day one of how visuals would be perceived as you approached the speed of light and I… probably clung to that a bit too much at first, the “science” of the visuals. I originally had it so colour could only be found near sources of light, as if it wasn’t getting enough time to properly reach out. And instead of the web effect I had tendrils of light snaking off of light sources, looking like sperm.
Matt’s a visual guy so he’s been amazing in terms of suggestions and stopping me from making some terrible mistakes. In art. No one can stop me from making terrible mistakes in real life.
N: One of the biggest principles behind Image is putting out quality, creator-owned work. How does the experience of doing creator-owned work compare to working for the Big Two? Do you find you prefer one over the other?
MF: Well, I like it, working at Marvel, but you’re still beholden to other people — editors, executives above those editors, and, ultimately, a readership that’s invested years if not decades and these characters. Which, as long as you are aware of going in, is fine. It’s the parameters in the rules of the game you choose to play. And I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve enjoyed legitimately everything that I’ve worked on. So I don’t get bored is kind of the whole reason I started working in comics full-time anyway — don’t get bored and stay creatively fulfilled.
That said, there are absolutely no circumstances under which Marvel would publish a book like Sex Criminals. I don’t even know if I could have gotten that out via ICON or not. But that’s fine; that’s like complaining McDonald’s doesn’t sell burritos. Or sex toys, rather. And I don’t know that I could ever have, say, Thor turned to the camera and just start talking to the reader. Although, with the stuff we’ve been able to get away with on Hawkeye, never say never.
Long story long, the independence and freedom of creator owned work is absolutely exhilarating and invigorating. Without it, I’d go crazy — without Sex Criminals, Satellite Sam, Casanova, etc., I’d be miserable. It’s fun playing with other people’s toys, but there is nothing in the world like pride of ownership.
N: Well, we’re grateful that you’re exercised that freedom. What comics are you reading and enjoying right now?
MF: I found a lot of the Marvel NOW stuff to be really strong – – Bend on X-Men, Hickman’s Avengers, etc. Anything Brubaker does. I love that Rick Remender is about to start two new creator–owned series. Love and Rockets, always. Prophet, Saga. I’m amazed my wife [Kelly Sue DeConnick] has made me care about Carol Danvers; I love the voice she brings to Avengers, too, but I’m her husband and you should expect me to say as much. Write this down, though: Pretty Deadly, from her and Emma Rios, is going to burn the world down.
CZ: I recently started picking up comics again so I could follow artists and feel bad about myself. I would name them but I don’t want them to see when I’m awkwardly ripping them off.
N: Last, but not least – what would be inside your ideal burrito?
MF: Chip’s cock.
CZ: Ooh! Ooh! I know the right answer to this! A million burrito wishes! And my first wish would be for Matt to stop biting my freshly salsa-ed cock.
Image Comics’ Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky is hitting your local comic book shop on September 4th. Are you excited for the series? Let us know in the comments below!