It starts with a podcast by Comic Geek Speak. Episode 256. The one guest starring Matt Fraction, Geoff Klock and the comic book Casanova.
A younger Fraction, on the interview block, tries his best to tow a line. He won’t cop to either writing a carefree spy exploit or an autobiographical tour of pop culture. He insists it’s both, if not a few other undisclosed angles, allowing his work to speak while he bites his tongue. Like any writer should. The panel can’t handle that, though.
Geoff Klock, cultural critic and fan, steers the conversation toward analysis and comparison, without a break, pulling on Kill Bill and hyperventilating under the pressure of saying “there’s more.” He’s the super mind. The Ivy League school professor with academic texts to his name, and he wants a definite answer as if he’ll cite it later. The CGS hosts – Peter, Murd, Deemer, etc., etc. – go with it, interacting at a touch, though still caught in the raw power of decision making, trying to decide what the fuck they’ve actually just read.
At 15 years of age, mowing my grandparent’s lawn and hearing that, comic books suddenly felt dangerous. The conversation, so rushed and indecisive, made it seem like the medium may have outsmarted us. To a point that the creator and critic could only stammer over one another, and leave others silent. There was, at least in my awareness, something complicated, now. Something rooted within something else, and the world opened up, if only a bit more.
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Sex Criminals is an internet meme, understood at a glance and alive beyond its source. This t-shirt – of Sexual Gary – is a prime example, though it’s certainly a late development. We’ve already had Chip Zdarsky’s Applebee’s bit, iTunes, the prom photo cover and Fraction’s Twitter handle of BUTT STUFF WEREWOLF. Not to say I haven’t enjoyed these things (that photo is amazing). It’s just something I’ve noticed about this comic – way before I read it. The reputation feels more alive, more complete, than the book, which really reads like something drawn out for no other purpose than to keep cracking jokes. And what’s the point? That’s what Twitter is for, right?
Greg Hunter, a critic at The Comics Journal, has already written about some of this, as well as the thought that Fraction’s clever concepts outweigh his stories, and I’m in agreement with this example. I find that Sex Criminals, while anchored by a fairly well-written, interesting protagonist, tends to meander and indulge itself on a scale where the ratio of payoff to indifference is sorely off balance. The playful filthiness (which is way more cute than filth. what the fuck, iTunes?) supplanted in the series’ hook puts something in the heads of these creators that they can run free, ignoring whatever obligation they made to structuring something which rolls forward or adopts numerous angles. Instead, there’s too much space for cum jokes. And while those can be funny, you find quickly, at least in my case, that cum jokes last longer with a range of other thoughts accompanying them. Or with a system which keeps these jokes short, concise and on the move. Or if they’re funny. But they stretch across this thing, glazing, like the computer color affect often in use, the entire page count – to a point that it’s no longer cute, but rather snide and annoying.
That, and the character stuff burns out. The authors have the space to slow things and write dialogue scenes, what with it being an ongoing series, but I feel like once Suzie and White Dude in Glasses are established, there’s little else to tell us about them. Instead, the authors should show us who these people are by way of their actions, yet the comic becomes too concerned with montage-like dates and flashbacks, placing the reader in a loop. It’s called Sex Criminals, and the crime barely appears. Sure, the relationship is important. So are the characters’ backgrounds. But it’s arguable it’d be more interesting, if not more exciting, to discover these things while watching these characters commit their crimes and live the lives the title would have us believe they inhabit. Fraction and Zdarsky go the Bendis route, though. Narrating something we already know as to have happened, slowly bringing us to a conclusion that the comic book should start with.
And the center of it isn’t always strong enough, like a Memento, to feed us properly, either. Unlike Fraction’s writing on Casanova, Sex Criminals operates as something drunk and sloppy, but more importantly it’s not a comic that’s cranking every possible gear to run its little world. You read Cas, and things feel at stake. Like they may break from all the push and pressure. That’s a comic book written by a guy who has no idea if he’ll even write another comic book after it, so the concept is explored. Something happens in every panel.
Much of that came from a few things. 1.) The early Image format of the title, allowing it only 16 pages per issue. 2.) Its low sales ever-threatening its lifespan. 3.) Seven-issue story arcs providing a cutoff for the narrative. I don’t know. I like the idea of those obstacles. They forced Fraction into the role of editor, cutting through some of his own bullshit. The artists, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, took on larger roles, as well. He needed them, even more, as effective storytellers in order to utilize every inch he had. Obstacles, man. That shit makes art because it’s all about overcoming them.
It’s a decent enough read, but Sex Criminals is an occasion where, I think, the meme of it managed to push aside the actual case and distract everybody, tricking the readership into thinking they’re in love. Or, hey, maybe they actually fucking enjoyed it, and I’m just a shit, but go with me, here. This could be a lot better. We’ve seen it before from Fraction. I hate to always compare his work to Cas, but when something that strong came from the guy, it’s tough not to expect more. I’ve been waiting for more since the age of 15. That moment led me to believe in this guy, for some reason. Maybe you did too. Like believe in something big, well-rounded and of attitude. Instead, it’s all just a fucking hashtag, lacking any bite.