During Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Emerald City Comicon panel about their creator-owned book “Sex Criminals,” the duo announced a Christmas-shipping sex book titled “Just the Tips,” Zdarsky discussed his Facebook adventures with Applebee’s and Fraction talked about what it was like getting his nipples pierced in a sex club.
After Zdarsky made his entrance by climbing up from underneath the curtained table, where he had hidden himself pre-panel, to take his seat next to Fraction, they immediately showed the infamous fourth printing photo cover to “Sex Criminals” #1 on the room’s screen. Explaining how the cover came about, Zdarsky said Image Comics‘ Director of Business Development Ron Richards sent him an email saying he needed a new cover for the first issue after it sold out for the third time. With only a day to come up with a design, Zdarsky decided to do a “Sears family portrait.”
“It was about 9 o’clock at night for me, and I did a quick sketch of [the cover] and sent it to Matt and then went to bed,” Zdarsky said. “I had an arrow pointing ‘Matt and Me.’ Then I went to bed. I woke up like on Christmas morning and checked my email… My directions had been to get the lighting [a specific way] and then I got like an iPhone photo in a basement or something. Just horrific. I woke up my girlfriend like it was Christmas, and said she had to take a picture of me wearing this sweater and holding a comic book. My girlfriend, I live with her and I love her, but she just started reading ‘Sex Criminals’ like three weeks ago. She has no concept of comics, so when I asked her to do this for me, she was like, ‘What? What’s this for? That sex book you do?’ So then I quickly matched it up in Photoshop, created a backdrop and two hours later, I sent it to Image.”
Zdarsky revealed the original text at the top had read “Time Magazine’s Comic of the Year,” before changing to “From the writer of ‘Hawkeye’
and ‘Inhuman’ and the guy who talks to Applebee’s on Facebook.”
In the three weeks it took to print the book, Zdarsky’s now infamous interactions with his local Applebee’s Facebook page exploded online. Fraction said, “You’d think we planned it… We looked like prescient goddamned geniuses. We should start putting lottery numbers in the book.”
Fraction then revealed he received an email from an actual sex criminal recently, although he thinks it might have to do with the fact that the email he uses for the book is firstname.lastname@example.org. Fraction theorize, “He might have just been blindly firing off emails.”
They showed a teaser for issue #6 that read “Sex is a word. Love is a sentence” before opening the panel up to questions from the floor.
Someone asked if they’ll put the original lyrics to Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” back into the musical sequence for the collected edition. As it stands now, Post-it notes cover the lyric-filled word balloons, explaining how they were unable to get the rights to the song. “We did not [get the rights],” Fraction said. “That said, there will be all-new sticky notes in the trade.”
Zdarsky added, “The actual lyrics are underneath the sticky notes. There’s just a layer waiting for me to throw it in the trash and print it.”
A woman loved the book’s lack of a fourth wall and asked why they decided to take the book in that direction. Fraction said, “There was no planning. That came out literally when I wrote the first page. I just thought that was a great opening. A couple going at it in the bathroom and someone screaming, ‘Come out with your hands up!’ and she goes, ‘Don’t judge us.’ I would turn the page. I wanted to see what happened next.”
Fraction told a fan that the final issue will be a “profound leap forward in time… We thought that issue three would be 16 pages. We thought we would be out of pocket by issue three. I think you can tell if you read those issues that we realized, ‘Oh — I’m not just going to get to keep going with this. We can really go.’ Just like a relationship, we’re gonna go until it’s not fun.”
Zdarsky quipped, “And maybe see other people?”
The next question was how badly it hurt for Fraction to have his nipple pierced on-stage at the “Sex Criminals” #1 release party, which was held at a sex club.
Zdarsky joked, “Oh, I was fine.”
In all seriousness, Fraction said the piercing did hurt a lot — and he didn’t realize until later that it shouldn’t have. “The thing is, when I got the other one done later, the guy was so fast and painless that I said, ‘You’re fucking kidding.’ I think what happened was a confluence of bad ideas at play. Part of me wonders if that maybe since it was in a sex club, the guy thought I was into pain.”
Zdarsky interjected, “And also because I told him you were into pain.”
Fraction plans on wearing handcuff nipple rings to his next Portland book signing now that he has both pierced. “I couldn’t stand having Cagney and not Lacey, so I went to Portland and had it done there.”
Zdarsky went into detail when asked why he started posting on Applebee’s Facebook page. “I just wanted them to be my friend,” he said. “It started because, if anyone here has parents on Facebook, it’s an amazing thing. Watching them try to interact with brands. One day, I was catching up and I saw a photo of a hamburger, and both my parents had liked the photo of the hamburger. My dad wrote, ‘Looks good!’ And that was it. I wrote, ‘Looks great!’ I went to their page, and there was just post after post by this earnest social media person. ‘Oh boy, anybody catch the hockey game last night?’ Nothing. ‘Check out our new deep-fried platter!’ Nothing. So I just wanted to make them act human. I’d post things like, ‘Don’t know what I’m wearing for Halloween, what should I wear?’ and they’re like, ‘Batman?’ The instinct of almost everybody is just to troll these brands on social media, to trash talk and be mean, and this was like my one chance, because they were all mine. There were 27 likes on their Facebook page. Two were my parents.”
Since then, Zdarsky said he’s been “invited to dine at Applebee’s, on Applebee’s, with the mayor of that town. I’m not doing that. Mostly because I don’t actually want to eat there with a stranger. I’m sure he’s a nice mayor. Turns out I went to high school with him.”
Ultimately, Zdarsky did 15-20 interviews about the Applebee’s incident, including one with NPR’s “Morning Edition.”
Asked how the pair have managed to create a book about sex which is funny without being juvenile, Zdarsky said, “It’s not?! It’s called Cumworld!”
Fraction, answer was more serious: “It happened when it stopped being John’s book and started being Suzie’s book.”
“The sex in the book isn’t to titillate,” Zdarsky added.” It’s to tell the story.”
Zdarsky revealed that he has two actors who play John and Suzie in real life. He has them act out scenes and takes photos for reference.
Asked if they had expected such a positive community to spring up around their “Sex Criminals” letter column “Porn in the Woods,” Fraction answered, “No — and I think it’s a pretty accurate representation of the male-to-female ratio [of our readers.] There was a tremendous outpouring from women reading the book, even more so than the men, and they were incredibly honest and earnest and fucking funny. Just something about that first issue, they trusted us.”
A girl got emotional asking how Fraction is able to write about sexual issues from women’s points of view so well. Fraction said part of it was sharing stories he’s heard back and forth with Zdarsky. “I’ve told Chip stories I’ve never told anyone else.”
Zdarsky replied, “I’ve told Matt stories I’ve told a lot of people.”
Fraction went on to say that he uses a lot of stories from friends and “guesstimates” the rest of it.
At this point, Fraction revealed that he and Zdarsky are releasing a sex advice book called “Just the Tips” for Christmas. “I am not kidding. It’s going to be a collection of sex advice, our favorite moves, tips, tricks. Coming this Christmas. Hopefully in your stocking. Or on your menorah.”
Zdarsky added, “I’ve already designed the cover, and the P looks like the tip of a penis. I’m really happy with it.”
Asked who comes up with all the sex puns in the book, like the web browser Ass Jeeves. Zdarsky said Ass Jeeves, specifically, was all him — Fraction had just written in “sexual web browser” — but generally speaking, the two collaborate back and forth on jokes during the creative process.
While they aren’t interested in developing a “Sex Criminals” podcast, Fraction said, “We are in touch with a sex doctor. She’s a doctor of sex… We are in touch with a legit sexologist, and we are looking for a way to have an ‘Ask an Actual Sex Doctor’ feature, so we’ll see where that goes.”
Finally, Ron Richards brought the afternoon full circle, closing out the panel with, “I thought I’d just save you an email and let you know that ‘Sex Criminals’ #5 is sold out. And so my question is: Chip, when can I get a cover?”