Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's Sex Criminals launched from Image Comics four years ago this week, taking a provocative title and using it to tell a weird and wonderful story that is considerably more thoughtful and sweet than it is crude. (Not to worry, there are plenty of dirty jokes, too.)
Earlier this year, the series returned from an extended hiatus for its latest, five-issue arc, which is collected in Sex Criminals Vol. 4: Fourgy, available now (some spoilers in this article!). In these issues -- originally published as Sex Criminals #16-#20 -- things reach a low point between Jon and Suzie, the titular sex criminals at the heart of the book (as you surely know by now, time freezes when they have sex, and they use that unique opportunity in "The Quiet" to rob banks). The collection also includes interlude issue Sex Criminals #17, cheekily patterned after Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Criminal, and joined by that series' colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser.
CBR talked in-depth with Fraction and Zdarsky about the "Fourgy" arc, putting their characters in unpleasant positions (not those kinds of positions, oddly enough), the special bond the book has with its "Brimper" fanbase, and how a better (albeit less eye-catching) title a this point may be Relationship Criminals. The duo also provide an update on the Sex Criminals TV show -- no news to share at this point, but Fraction sounds hopeful -- the upcoming "Five-Fingered Discount" arc and the latest on Zdarsky's Harvey Award, which he won for the series in 2015 but declined because it only recognized him, and not Fraction. Also, "a spoonful of cum jokes helps the realness go down." (It'll make sense later.)
CBR: Matt, Chip, when this arc started, it was the first new Sex Criminals we had seen in 10 months, which by my math nearly a year. What was it like to have that period where the book was away from stands for that long?
Matt Fraction: Shitty and stupid.
Chip Zdarsky: Yeah. That's probably the worst decision we've ever made. [Laughs]
Fraction: We shouldn't have done it.
Zdarsky: I understand the rationale behind it, and I think I would have worked if it took us say, a month and a week to make an issue, but because we're two months an issue, that makes the break a lot longer. When you have that much time, you tend to deliberate over things a bit more than maybe you should. I think we did like 12 edits on issue #16, which was definitely a record. We usually had like two or three passes, and we'd send it to the printer.
Fraction: It just sat there forever. #17 would be done, we'd go back and make more changes to #16. #18 would be done, we'd go back and make more changes to #16.
Zdarsky: I don't recommend it to anyone publishing comics.
Fraction: Look, it's great if it's a title that's been around for 80 years, right? We were using the logic of selling apples to sell our oranges -- our sexy, sexual oranges. That was a little flawed in some fundamental and important ways. We never want to be that dark for that long -- that off the stands again. It's just simply not worth it.
It's weird for comics in specific -- sometimes a TV show can take a prolonged absence and come back hotter. Rick and Morty was gone for almost two years and now is bigger than ever, because people have found out about it and caught up. It seems difficult for comics to do that.
Fraction: Difficult because the direct market is predicated on seven-day sales cycles. And we want to find a sweet spot between servicing our direct market partners, and keeping them healthy and fed and satisfied, and at the same time creating a product that can compete with titles that have been around for 80 years, because, I would think, of quality. But whatever it is about the book, it's not going to get better if we do it faster. [Laughs] Unlike the Ramones, "do it faster" was not our solution.
Zdarsky: Theoretically, a book like Sex Criminals, once it's in trade, it'll be on the shelves for, maybe not forever, but --
Zdarksy: Alright, forever. So you want to think of the final, quality product that's going to last a lot longer on a bookshelf that the monthly, general output of comics, because the ultimate format for the book, while we enjoy the issues, and the issues have the added bonus of the letters column -- the collection is going to be the end result no matter what.
Fraction: Yeah. And it's how many, many people discover the book.
Zdarsky: Far more. Issue #1, I forget how many we sold, but we sold far more of volume 1 than we ever did of issue #1.
Fraction: Right. And continue to regularly. It behooves us, and it behooves our retail partners -- both in the direct market and around the world -- to create a product that will do that for them.
That said, we have six fill-in issues coming up with an exciting variety of artists. [Laughs] Sorry.
Zdarsky: You son of a bitch!
This month marks four years since Sex Criminals #1, which is a good chunk of time. How have your perspectives on the series changed over that time? Do you look at it differently? And have plans changed along the way?
Fraction: The plan changed pretty profoundly during the production of the third issue, because we got numbers back for #1 and we realized we were going to be able to do this for a while. In terms of just scale, it changed -- we figured like, five issues at first. So just from a practical standpoint, very early, it became a thing: "We get to do this for a while." We found a thing that has resonated; we can change how we do this. That's sort of the most literal way.
Everything else I would say sounds super-cheesy. Chip, save me.
Zdarsky: Well, the book grew beyond sex jokes. If we could change the name to "Relationship Criminals," we probably would.
Fraction: "Sexual Relationship Criminals."
Zdarsky: It's grown beyond the initial premise, and Matt and my relationship to each other has grown, as well. And the fact that when we started it, we had no feedback. Over the past few years, the amount of reader feedback has affected us on a bunch of different levels. I think it's reflected in the narrative now.
Fraction: I'd experienced this a little bit at Marvel, but it was a kind of surrogate experience, of being a part of something bigger than yourself -- being a part of a story that's bigger than yourself. That has everything to do with all the people who had written or drawn the stuff before you, and you're in this honored position of carrying a baton that matters a lot to people for a little while, and then you hand it to somebody else.
But I never had the experience of it being a thing that happened because of something we had created. It's not that it doesn't feel like it's ours, but it doesn't feel like it's just ours anymore. It's not the biggest-selling book on the stands, but by the time it's done, we will have met all of our readers. Something about this book fosters community and communication, and people come out to find us, in amazing ways. There's something incredibly gratifying and humbling in that. This is all of ours now -- this belongs to all of us.
Zdarsky: But the copyright is ours.
Fraction: The copyright remains firmly with me and Chip.
Legally, that's all squared away.
Fraction: Legally, yes. But quasi-spiritually, we're all owners. Literally, legally, it's me and Chip. Our lawyers literally started to text during my answer to that. That's amazing.