A Proper Sex Comedy: Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky Talk ‘Sex Criminals’
Writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky's new Image book Sex Criminals is a funny comic with at least one Family Circus parody in its second issue. It's a comic about people who can stop time with their orgasms. But it's not necessarily the madcap romp readers might expect.
Fraction and Zdarsky answered questions in a Wednesday conference call with reporters, and during that call talked about the real emotions at the heart of the story, along with its origins and just how explicit the book's content gets.
On the story and collaboration's origins:
Matt Fraction: I found his work before I knew him. I think I knew Prison Funnies before I knew Chip. I sort of fell in love with his work and with him... Having someone this funny in my life is never a bad thing.
Chip Zdarsky: 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." That just happened. That's weird.
MF: 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, which I think is the worst idea for a comic book, ever.
CZ: I'm the king of bad ideas.
MF: The idea of wanting to do a "proper" sex comedy with him came out of our guttural response to not wanting to do our Game of Thrones. It's a genre I love in other media, and that tends to be underrepresented in comics. I've been able to come up with three or four. We wanted it to be legitimately funny, rather than a genre work with funny lines in it.
On explicit content:
MF: We aimed for it to be an R, you know the equivalent of an R-rated comedy or a show like Girls on HBO, or The To-Do List which came out this summer... It's not Black Kiss 1 or 2. It's not even Sex. Was it in Forgetting Sarah Marshall? We're probably OK with it. Was it in American Pie? We're probably OK with it.
CZ: I don't think there's anything extreme we even, kind of, set out to do.
MF: The dirtiest stuff tends to be the little Will Elder jokes, the tiny details in the background.
CZ: Nobody's even going to catch half of them.
On the content warning on the back cover, which says, "Don't sell this to a kid":
CZ: I overdid it on the back cover.
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 need to be careful. It's not a book that should answer children's questions about sex. They should go to parents or 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: 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.
On choosing a female protagonist:
CZ: Matt delivered the scipt to issue one, and it was actually touching and heartwarming and a story, which I hadn't even envisioned. I'm so used to doing one-off gags, that they fact that he was able to string it together into so much more, it was like, "Oh man. I'm honored to be a part of this."
MF: 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 divided up into six issues...It became the book I wanted it to be when it became her story. Everything sort of unlocked. It's much harder, but it's much more satisfying.
CZ: There's such an instinct, especially when you're a couple of middle-aged dudes, to do this experience-drop of your own history and make that your 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.
On the "criminals" half of the title:
CZ: 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.
MF: It's not True Romance. When we get to the actual crime of it, it's not going to be that. That was kind of a fear. Fun-loving bank robbers isn't the book we're doing.
We're set up a kind of, 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? ...I felt like we had to earn it through character.
On the time-stopping effects the two main characters have:
CZ: [Fraction] is 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 or time or scientific stuff.
In the end, Matt just kept pushing me to make it more colorful and more fun.
MF: You and Frazer Irving are kind of singular in your use of color. 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.
On how long the series could go:
MF: We're going to go as long as we can. We have a series of stories planned. We like these kids.
Sex Criminals #1 is available in comic shops and digitally September 25.