SEX CRIMINALS. It's a strange title for a book. Almost a dangerous one. If you've heard Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky talk about it, it shouldn't come as a surprise. If we sum up the premise in a super brief fashion, it's a sex comedy where a man and woman discover they both can stop time when they reach a…certain point during sexual intercourse. Imagine the possibilities.
Where could a book like this go? Again, with Fraction and Zdarsky behind it, it's safe to say there is way more to this than a first impression might give. Having read the first two issues, I can official say I am hooked. But just don't quote me saying, "I love SEX CRIMINALS" or anything like that.
We had the opportunity to talk to both Fraction and Zdarsky in a press conference and things got pretty nutty.
QUESTION: What is SEX CRIMINALS about and how did it come to be?
Matt Fraction: Chip, go nuts.
Chip Zdarsky: First I want to say we're talking about SEX CRIMINALS, the book. We're not answering any questions about sex criminals, the people. So please, limit your questions. I think Matt's probably better to --
MF: Oh, you son of a bitch, I just woke up. Uhm, hi everybody. Chip and I have known each other for a while and I think I found his work before I knew him. I think I knew PRISON FUNNIES before I knew Chip and I sort of fell in love both with his work and with him. He's a singular in my experience and I have a very sincere desire to work with him, if nothing else, just because having someone this funny in my life is never a bad thing.
We had been kind of threatening each other with bad ideas for a couple years, culminating with Chip suggesting we do our Game of Thrones. This was basically the worst idea I've ever heard.
CZ: I'm the king of bad ideas.
MF: Somehow, and I wish I remembered what the catalyst moment was, the idea of doing proper "sex comedy" with him kind of came out of a herd of guttural response to not wanting to do our Game of Thrones. We kind of pitched the book, "What if we did this?" Then we began threatening each other with actually doing it and now we have a comic book coming out in a few weeks.
It's a genre that I love in other media that's sort of grotesquely underrepresented in comics. I've been able to come up with three or four, a couple which I haven't even read that people have told me about. The idea that comics about sex and love, which are so prevalent everywhere else in the world, aren't really in comics. Doing our take on that was super appealing. To do something funny, legitimately funny, rather than a genre with just some funny lines. Image is the kind of place where you can go up to Eric Stephenson and say, "Okay, so here's what I want to do. When these people have orgasms, time stops and so they rob banks." He goes, "Yeah, that sounds amazing. You should do that." And here we are.
CZ: I don’t generally work with people. I’m not really good with people. I’m not good at interacting with them. I’m not good at being in rooms or on phone calls with them, but I love Matt. I think he’s one of the funniest guys out there. Whenever I read his work, the funny parts always jump out at me. I’m just like, “God, it’d be great if we could do a straight-up comedy book.” I wish I could draw it too. Wouldn't that be great? That just happened. That’s weird.
MF: When Chip and I met, we're were saying goodbye - we hugged each other goodbye. Chip moved in to kiss me. And then in a kind of weird sing-song whispering, "It's Canada, it's Canada. No one'll know. It's Canada."
How do you not want to work with someone like that?
CZ: Yeah, and now the whole world knows.
QUESTION: Chip, in terms of developing the look of the book, specifically the time-stopping treatment, how did you end up on that approach for visualizing the time-stopping element.
CZ: That's kind of the great thing about working with Mat, he's extremely visual. He would send me examples of what he was thinking. Because he’s a bit of a film buff, he’d send me clips from movies I’ve never heard of and can’t remember their titles, but anything that had to do with color and time, even like more scientific stuff like how speed of light affects color. My first kind of goals for trying to come up with the effect was to play it a little more science-y. I kept trying to come up with the logic to it. In the end, Matt just kept pushing me to make it more colorful and more fun. It's a fun book, let's go for it.
MF: You have such a crazy palette. You and Frazer Irving are sort of singular in the places you'll go in a color range. So much of your work is about the color.
CZ: I’m trying to make up for my drawing skill.
MF: It works. It works wonderfully.
The idea is this shouldn't look like a DC or Marvel book. It especially shouldn't like like anything else out there.
QUESTION: Both Jon and Suzie (main characters) turn to books for answers to their sex questions but the back cover has a message about not selling SEX CRIMINALS to kids, do you guys mean it?
MF: Yeah, absolutely.
CZ: Don't give this to children!
MF: Children have to steal their knowledge. That's how it works, right?
CZ: When I had to design the back cover, I was like, "Oh, I guess we have to put a For Mature Readers sign on this." I didn't even think about it, it's called SEX CRIMINALS. I don't think there's too many parents that are going to be picking up ARCHIE and go, "Oh, this looks like fun, this sexual criminal book." So I overdid it on the back cover just to kind of comically drive home the point.
MF: There was a retailer in the South that reached out to me about the content. I sent him a PDF, and he’s not carrying the book because of the scene in the bathroom stall, which seems ridiculous until someone gets arrested. You want to be careful. It’s not a book designed for children. If children have questions about sex, they should go to parents and teachers or doctors and not a comic book. I grew up reading BLACK KISS, for God’s sake, and look what happened to me.
CZ: On a personal level, I would not mind at all the idea of a teenager reading the book. There’s nothing prurient or titillating in it, really. But I understand that, you make a book like this, and it’s going in comic shops and places that may frown upon it, you have to put some sort of warning on it.
MF: We don’t want to get our retail partners arrested in hyper-vigilant counties where sheriffs might be looking for re-election stunts. We aimed for it to be like an R-rated comedy or a show like Girls on HBO.
QUESTION: How early on did the science fiction elements come into the process? We know Chip really likes the comedy in Matt's work and wanted him to write a straight up comedy. When did this become a sci-fi sex comedy?
MF: Out of conception really. Right away it was having sex and stopping time.
CZ: The initial e-mails back and forth were, "Oh my god, it's going to be crazy, it's going to be extreme." We were throwing out all these sex jokes, we're going to make this sex-comedy book. The change happened when we started talking about the story and then Matt delivered the script to issue one. It was actually touching and heart-warming. It was a story I hadn't even envisioned instead of just being a one-off gag. The fact that he was able to string it together and make something so much more…at that point I was like, "Oh man, I'm honored to be a part of this." Instead of just being "Oh we're going to do a bunch of pee pee jokes and characters effing and effing, it was actually something much deeper than that.
MF: It was maybe one of those things where I knew what it was in my head. I just didn't know how to articulate it. Once we realized that Suzie was going to be the main character, and not Jon, that it was the girl’s story and not the guy’s, everything got easier to write. I wanted it to be a comic book. I didn’t want it to be a bad spec script broken into six issues. I wanted something crazy and visual and exciting, as a comic and not just an annotation for a film that hadn't been made. I wanted to play to the strengths of comics as a visual medium.
QUESTION: Was there anything you decided you didn't want to show and go too far. You were talking about the danger but Chip will do anything pretty much.
MF: We're not going to show penetration and ejaculation and stuff like that. It's not that book. It’s not BLACK KISS 1 or 2. It’s not even SEX. Its not that kind of thing. Was it in Forgetting Sarah Marshall? We’re probably okay with it. Was it in American Pie? We’re probably okay with it. I don't know if there's a metric or yardstick. Hopefully it's more about love than about sex.
CZ: When the script for issue 1 came in, I was like "Oh yeah, this is the kind of book we're doing. This makes total sense." I don’t think there’s anything extreme we even, kind of, set out to do. There's sex jokes but there's certain things that just aren't funny that I wouldn't put into a book.
MF: The dirtiest stuff tends to be the little Will Elder jokes, the throw-away details in the background. That's the theme of the porno store in issue 2. The most explicit stuff you need to get out a magnifying glass to see any of it.
CZ: There's one panel I counted fifty jokes I put into a panel. I was coming up with pornographic titles for things and there were little tiny details in the background. I'm sure nobody's going to catch half of them.
MF: That's sort of how explicit the book gets, in the tiny details in that one page. But who's to say.
CZ: By issue 10, we could be covered in all sorts of fluids and it's just horrific. Who knows? But probably not.
MF: If our comics are routinely out-sold by a book with a title like BLOWJOB, I don't think I've taken away a lesson by that.
QUESTION: You guys talked about doing a straight up comedy and how you wanted to do a sex-comedy in comics and yet, the first issue kicks off with tragedy. It's even directly addressed with "Oh, the jokes are coming." It seems a slightly risky way to kick off this comic. Why did you want to start it that way?
CZ: I can say, if you pick up the comic and you start to read it, you're not going to be like, "Oh page 1, forget it," put it down and not read the rest. If anything, I think Matt's opening kind of creates a bit of intrigue in "Oh, this isn't what I thought it was." Then as you get into it, kind of peeling it away, you'll see that it's multi-faceted instead of just opening with sex jokes.
MF: I'm getting worse and worse at talking about this kind of stuff the older that I get. I dunno, it's just how it came out. This is what happened. It's something about knowing my characters and who I'm writing about. I needed to tell her story. I'm not trying to be flighty and say, "Well you know, the characters start talking to you," but this is where it started.
QUESTION: We saw in the first two issues that it's more than just about Suzie and Jon stopping time, how far do you have the main story laid out? We see that there's something else going on, obviously.
MF: A lot. We’re going to go as long as we can. We sort of have a series of stories planned. It's very much a testament to what Image has done over the last few years. Whether it's THE WALKING DEAD or CHEW, the books create worlds where they can just kind of go. If we're given the chance to, if things remain as healthy as they are so far, I think we can keep going for a while. I would like to keep going for a while. At least until the inevitable acrimonious falling out between Chip and I. We like these kids. We could tell their stories for a long time.
CZ: We keep batting around the idea of different supporting characters that pop up. I look forward to the idea of introducing more into it.
MF: After the fifth issue, the tone and structure are all spelled out and revealed and in place. We can start exploring the cul-de-sacs of the world--
CZ: And exploring ourselves sexually.
MF: Exactly. So, as long as we can go.
QUESTION: About discovering things on your own and finding it, I was wondering if you felt like if you had gotten this information with the internet, how removed that part about sexual discovery would be? You mentioned finding the woods porn, Suzie putting bits and pieces together from friends. Do you feel the advances with the technology we have, bass sort of taken away from that discovery process and that's why this was set in that time frame?
MF: Yes…it's funny. We started putting it into our time frame, Chip and I. I'm in my…early/late 30s and then sort of realized we'd be telling stories about forty-year-olds? Watching forty-year olds ####ing around is kind of sad. With the time, that meant we had to be able to incorporate "Oh, these guys will be able to go to a computer at the start of the changing of things." We kind of introduce the idea that the internet was out there and you knew it was sort of the tip of an iceberg. You just don't know how to access the iceberg yet. As far was what it's going to be like for my kids? I can't imagine how things are going to change.
CZ: Their stories will still be stories of discovery --
MF: [in grouchy old man voice] There'll be giant streaming porno sites one day. Found in the woods.
CZ: I could see a kid stealing their dad's laptop that doesn't have the adult controls. It's still a similar idea. It's still slightly secretive.
MF: You actually get to see a content blocker used on a proto-Ask Jeeves in issue 2 when the kids go to a computer. A friend of mine has a ten-year-old and a call went around about a month ago by the parents of one of his ten-year-old friend's parents. She had looked at her kid's browser history and it was all smut stuff. "Heads up, the kids have discovered sex words and are using the internet." My friend went to his daughter's computer and looked at her search history and it was all "kitties."
I think we need to join a weekend support group and go out into the woods to bury pornography the old fashioned way just to keep the old traditions alive.
I keep threatening to do a "porn in the woods" anthology of some sort and literally no one has told me it's a bad idea yet. I think one day we'll have to get that. Porn in the woods! It's a tradition. It's how men of my era pass knowledge down to the next generation. Here's another thing the internet has taken away -- Ma and Pa book stores, record stores and porn in the woods.
CZ: I have to admit, and I probably shouldn't tell anyone, but when I was like…twenty-one, me and my buddies when back to my old public school and we actually hid some pornography in the far reaches where we first found pornography, when we were young. It was with that idea that kids are going to find this stuff.
MF: You paid it forward.
CZ: Yeah, you're paying it forward. And we made sure it was nice stuff, not any weird stuff.
MF: Maybe you shouldn't have admitted to being twenty-one?
QUESTION: Have you guys ever run into stuff that someone thought went too far?
CZ: Someone's not going to pick up SEX CRIMINALS and be offended by it. I can't imagine anyone buying it and going, "Whoa, geez, this is way too much. What was I thinking buying this SEX CRIMINALS book." It's about letting people know what they're getting up front. We're not tricking anyone into buying a book where there's going to be problems.
MF: I had a thing once that had to be quickly patched because there's issues with what can travel over the border. It wasn't so much a censorship issue but rather "this won't get over the border." It was like, "Do you want your book to come out?" It was something that was handled pretty quickly and it wasn't particularly story-essential. So it didn't feel like censorship.
Working at Marvel, we're confident with what can we say, what can't we say, what strange rating is on this book, do we have access to this language or that language. How come they can say "son of a bitch" in this book but we can't in that book or whatever. That kind of stuff I don't consider censorship but more what our internal barometer and standards are.
A friend of mine in comics, of some renown and note, is fond of saying no industry ever grows too far away from its roots. The roots of comics are gangsters and pornography.
QUESTION: What went behind the decision to make Suzie the point-of-view character and how that opened up things for you. You mentioned it opened the story for you, how did it? What's the advantage of having a female POV character?
MF: In the draft, it was where I wanted it to be with Jon. I didn't want it to be that story. As you see in the second issue, Jon's story is a little more raunchy. It's easier to fall into that stuff with Jon. With Suzie it became harder to write but it became the book I wanted it to be when it became her story. Everything kind of just unlocked. We haven't yet officially sent this off to press. We're still kind of nit-picking the first issue. It's much harder but much more satisfying, more fulfilling. But it allowed me to put the book down on page that seemed like the book I was seeing in my head.
CZ: It's such an instinct, especially when you're like a couple of middle-aged dudes writing about a dude's experience to drop down on your own history and make that the point-of-view character. But because there’s so many dudes in comics doing just that, you have to kind of fight the instinct a bit. It's definitely more challenging.
QUESTION: Chip, you talked about how starting with the tragedy at the beginning of the comic was added some intrigue into it. I also think there's some intrigue with the "criminal" half of the title. It's kind of been meted out to us in bits and pieces in the first two issues. We still don't know exactly what they're doing. Was that the plan from the get go? Was that a result from making Suzie the POV character where the sex was up front and the criminal stuff was sort of not all there from the beginning?
CZ: I think it's about the idea of fleshing out characters and showing how they would get to that point. We're not dealing with pre-existing characters. Having them by, page five, all caught up and robbing banks was not necessarily the way to go. We still need to tease it. I think Matt did a great job of bouncing back and forth to build up and mete it out. You want it to be an enjoyable story--
MF: It’s not True Romance. It's not that. When we get to the actual crime of it, it’s not going to be that. That was kind of a fear too. "Fun-loving bank robbers" isn’t the book we’re doing. It's tricky to introduce the crime element to it because we kind of set up an almost frail, emotional reality to the book. Consciously breaking the law speaks to character. Who are these people that they feel they can do this? How do we get there? By the time we get there, having the idea in the third issue, you can start getting away with stuff. I felt like we had to earn it through character and not just drop them into a fantastic Tarantino-esque "we're going to survive because we're the leads" or whatever. It's a choice and there are consequences. I wanted you to like these people and understand them before they made the choice to break the law.
QUESTION: The scene in issue 2, where young Jon is at the porn shop and he discovers the time limit, was his getaway, in any way, inspired by the Family Circus strip?
MF: The running around? Yes. The dotted line following him around? Yes, that is explicitly referred to in the script.
CZ: And I really appreciate Matt being able to write "…running around a porn store using Family Circus style" and then spending a week trying to figure that out. That was a lot of fun.
SEX CRIMINALS #1 is on sale September 25. Retail orders are due on Monday September 2. It'll be monthly with issue #2 in October, 3 in November etc.