Fraction & Zdarsky Are Partners in Crime with "Sex Criminals"

[Editor's Note: The following article contains mature content.]

Is there anything that can make the embarrassing and awkward sexual discovery of adolescence worse? Of course there is! In addition to all of the confusing feelings your body has, why not add orgasms with the power to freeze time? Because that's covered in sex-ed class, right? Wrong. In writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky's upcoming Image Comics title "Sex Criminals," Suzie learns the hard (and hilarious) way that her ability -- temporarily stopping time in a post-orgasmic pink haze -- isn't something anyone else understands. She begins her own research to determine why her climaxes lead to the world around her hitting the pause button, but it's not until years later, when she meets Jon at a party, that she learns another person shares her unique talent. When the pair make their explosive discovery, they realize there's only one logical thing to do when you can put the world on hold: rob a bank.

"Sex Criminals" isn't just about sex and crime, though. With Fraction's deeply funny, sweet writing and Zdarsky's expressive artwork, the September-debuting title truly explores the connections between two people in love and the products of their passions.

Fraction and Zdarsky opened up about "Sex Criminals" during a round table press call involving several news outlets on Wednesday, diving deeper into the inspirations, experiences and creative process that made their idea and the book a reality.

What is Sex Criminals? How did it come to be?

Chip Zdarsky: First, I want to say that we are talking about "Sex Criminals" the book. We're not answering any questions about sex criminals the people.

Matt Fraction: Chip and I have known each other for a while. I found "Prison Funnies" before I knew him; I sort of fell in love with his work and him. The entire book was born out of a very sincere desire to work with Chip because, if nothing else, having someone this funny in my life is never a bad thing. We had been threatening each other with bad ideas for a couple of years, culminating with Chip suggesting that we do our "Game of Thrones" which is literally the worst idea I've ever heard. Somehow the idea of doing a "proper" sex comedy came out of a guttural response to not doing our "Game of Thrones."

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.

In terms of developing the look of the book, specifically with the time-stopping treatment, how did you end up on that approach for visualizing it?

Zdarsky: The great thing about working with Matt is that he's extremely visual. He'd send me examples of what he was thinking. He's a bit of film buff too, so he sent me clips from movies I'd never heard of. Anything that had to do with color and time, even more scientific stuff. The first video he sent me was how speed of light affects color. My first go-through trying to come up with the effect kept coming up more science-y. In the end, Matt kept pushing me to do more colorful and fun.

Fraction: You and Frazer Irving are singular in the places you'll go in a color range. So much of your work is about the color.
Zdarsky: I'm trying to make up for my lack of drawing skills.

Both Jon and Suzie turned to books and printed materials as teenagers to learn about their sex questions, yet on the final page of "Sex Criminals" #1, there's this message about not selling the book to a kid. Do you mean it?

Zdarsky: Yes, absolutely. Don't give this to children! Children have to steal their knowledge -- that's how it works, right?  When I designed the back cover, I thought we'd have to put a "mature reader" sign on it. It's called "Sex Criminals," so I don't think there are too many parents that are going to be picking up "Archie" and think, "Oh, this looks fun! This sexual, criminal book." So I overdid it on the back cover.

Fraction: 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 somebody is 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.

Zdarksy: 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.

Fraction: We don't want to get our retail partners arrested in hyper-vigilant counties where sheriffs might be looking for re-election.

How early did the sci-fi element come into the process? When did it become a sci-fi sex comedy?

Fraction: Right away -- from its inception, it was having sex and stopping time.

Zdarsky: Matt delivered the script for issue #1 and it was actually touching and heartwarming, and it had a story that I hadn't even envisioned. I'm so used to doing one-off gags and the fact that he was able to string the story into so much more, it's like -- I'm honored to be a part of this, instead of just throwing out a bunch of jokes it's something deeper than that.

Fraction: I knew what it was in my head, but I didn't know how to articulate it. Once we realized that Suzie was 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 up into six issues. There are enough of those in the world. I wanted it to be something crazy, visual and exciting as a comic, not just an adaptation for a film that wasn't made.

Was there anything that you decided you didn't want to show or that went too far?

Fraction: We're not going to show penetration and ejaculation. It's not that book. It's not "Black Kiss," its not even "Sex." It's not that kind of thing. Was it something in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall?" We're probably okay with it. Was it in "American Pie?" We're probably okay with it. It's hopefully more about love than it is about sex.

Zdarsky: Once the script came in, I thought that it made total sense. I don't think there's anything extreme that we even set out to do.

Fraction: The dirty stuff tends to be the little Will Elder jokes in the background, like the scene in the porno store is the most explicit in the book and you have to get out a magnifying glass to see it.

Do you guys feel like the ease of access to information with the Internet has removed a classic part of the sexual discovery process? We see Suzie get advice from misinformed friends through graffiti, and Jon discovering porn out in the woods -- did those coming-of-age rituals inform why "Sex Criminals" is set in its time frame?

Fraction: Yes. It's funny, because we started the story in Chip's and my time frame, and I'm in my late 30s. We realized that it didn't work because we'd be telling stories about 40-year-olds, and watching 40-year-olds fuck around isn't cute and funny anymore, it's sad. So we had to select a new time frame, incorporate computers and introduce the idea that the Internet was just starting. You knew it was the tip of the iceberg, you just didn't know how to access the iceberg yet. In terms of what it's going to be like for my kids? I can't imagine how this is going to change.

Zdarsky: For me, I stole my dad's pornographic adult fare as a kid. I can see a kid stealing their dad's laptop without adult controls -- it's still a similar idea, it's still surreptitious and slightly secretive. 
Fraction: I want to join a weekend support group where we go out to the woods and bury pornography the old fashioned way, just to keep the old traditions alive. 
Zdarsky: I might go to jail for this, I probably shouldn't tell anyone, but when I was 21 or so me and my buddies went back to my old public school and we actually hid pornography in the far reaches of it where we found pornography when we were young.

Fraction: You were paying it forward.

Zdarsky: We made sure it was nice stuff. Not weird stuff.

What went behind the vision of Suzie to be the point of view character and how that opened things up for you? What was the big advantage of having a female point of view character?

Fraction: It wasn't where I wanted it to be when it was Jon's thing, that sort of hacky fear of the magic pixie dream girl coming in and fixing everything -- I didn't want to do that story. You can see in the second issue that Jon's story is a little more raunchy and outrageous. It became the book I wanted it to be when I was thinking of it as her story. Everything unlocked. It was a much more difficult thing to do.

Zdarsky: There's such an instinct, especially when you're a couple of middle-aged dudes writing about a dude's experience, to drop in your own history and make that the point of view character. There are so many dudes in comics doing just that, and you kinda have to fight the instinct to do it. It's more challenging.

The "criminals" half of the title is metered out in little bits and pieces in the first issues, we still don't know exactly what Jon and Suzie are doing in the criminal aspects. Was that always the plan, to have the sex upfront and the criminal stuff in the background?
Zdarsky: It's about fleshing out character, showing how they would get to that point. We're not dealing with pre-existing characters. So having them caught up by page 5, robbing banks, that wasn't the way to go. You need to tease it. I think Matt did a great job bouncing back and forth.
Fraction: It's not "True Romance." That was a fear. If it's right into fun loving bank robbers -- its not the book we're doing. It's tricky to introduce the crime element, because we've set up a frail emotional reality, and introducing the idea of consciously breaking the law speaks to character. Who are these people that they feel like they can do this? How can we get there without losing people? I felt like we had to earn it and not just drop them into a fantastic Tarantino-esque place. It's a choice and there are consequences, as ridiculous as those consequences might be. I wanted you to like these people and understand them before they made this choice.

"Sex Criminals" #1 stops time September 25.

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