Chip Zdarksy rested easy the night of the “Sex Criminals” launch party. For weeks before, the artist had nightmares that no one would attend the release party for his and co-creator/writer Matt Fraction’s comic.
“You know when you invite 100 people to your party on Facebook and 10 show up? That’s what I was afraid of,” Zdarksy said during the festivities at Wicked, a downtown Toronto sex club. Wearing a poorly-fitting Garfield costume, he looked around to the packed room, filled end to end. The club was so full, the first floor smelled of sweat and was practically boiling from the collective body heat.
“This is nuts. This is nuts,” he said with a broad grin, signing a copy of “Sex Criminals” laid in front of him by a fan. More than 250 people showed up to the two-floor sex club that night, taking int the ambience which included stripper poles, a hot tub and easily accessible condoms.
“Sex Criminals” is a comic book about two lovers who stop time with their orgasms and then rob banks. the first issue of the new Image Comics series debuted last Wednesday, the same day as the party. The launch was a chaotic fever dream that enticed the crowd and left the creators feeling drained.
The evening opened with a presentation from “NOW Magazine” sex columnist Sasha, followed with a radio play performance written by Fraction and Zdarsky. Fraction played a man named Linda, who acted as a woman on a phone sex line; Zdarsky played the unwitting caller. The play led to incongruous moments of Fraction demanding to know “What are you going to do with your dick?” at Zdarsky on a makeshift stage.
The antics abruptly ended after Fraction had one nipple pierced and then briefly fainted.
Zdarsky reveled in the excitement. He had spent weeks promoting the event, the launch of his first major comic book since “Prison Funnies” in 2001. Since then Zdarsky has been working as a cartoonist under his real name, Steve Murray, for the National Post newspaper. He said he hoped at least 200 people would show up — just enough to make the venue look full. He had invited Stuart Immonen through the Marvel artist’s Tumblr, asking if his wife, writer Kathryn Immonen, would attend. Immonen jokingly responded, “There isn’t enough bleach in the world.”
Still, Zdarsky was persistent and results were noticeable. The first floor was packed with more people than the club usually receives on its busy days. Jonathan Lulelly, a 23-year-old freelance journalist who has frequented sex clubs in the past, commented, “I can’t imagine having sex with so many people around.”
Possible voyeurism, however, didn’t stop several patrons of the upper floor.
Zdarsky also attracted local comics luminaries like writer Jim Zubkavich (“Skullkickers”), writer/artist Ray Fawkes (“One Soul”) and artist Ramon Perez (“Wolverine and the X-Men”).
“When one of [your friends] has a launch like this, you want to go out and celebrate it,” Zub said, sitting on a couch near the simmering hot tub.
The biggest concern was the venue. Comic readers are stereotypically portrayed as sexless, straight males, so the choice of launching a comic at a sex club stuck out.
“There’s always the fear that nerds are afraid of sex,” Christopher Butcher, one of the owners of the Beguiling comic shop and one of the event’s organizers, told CBR. Asked who at the launch had been to Wicked before, a hesitant three hands rose above the tight crowd.
“Comic events are always held in cafes or bars or comic shops,” Zdarsky shrugged. “We wanted to do something different and special. [Wicked] was downtown and fit with the [comic’s] theme.”
During the signing, Fraction sat beside Zdarsky on the edge of the stage. He appeared no less enthusiastic about the book’s launch, but was admittedly tired. His throat was sore, and he had been at another convention only the week before.
Though Fraction took the brunt of the attention from the fans and seemed like the star of the show, he didn’t play a big role in the organizing it. The writer laughed, saying that when he found out that the launch would be at Wicked, his first response was, “Oh, God.”
Earlier that evening, Fraction sat shirtless as two piercers took a thick needle to his chest. He closed his eyes, The needle piercing his skin easily right before he suddenly dropped back into his seat. He opened his eyes a second later and shook his head, his torso covered in a layer of sweat.
Zdarsky quickly guided his creative partner upstairs, past the private rooms provided for clandestine meetings, to the patio, for some fresh air.
“I hadn’t expected it to be so hot,” Fraction said later. His dress shirt was ruffled and his tie was no longer around his neck. He fit alongside Zdarsky, whose Garfield costume became more shaggy as the night wore on.
“I miss my kids and I’m ready to go home,” the writer said around 9:30 PM. He had flown into Toronto from Illinois the night before, and then started signing copies of “Sex Criminals” around noon on Wednesday. He stopped around ten. “If I had a choice, I wouldn’t speak for another week.”
In spite of that, Fraction cheerfully greeted every fan who thrust a comic toward him, thanking them for their compliments. He drew a speech bubble on each comic, and inside wrote in each fan’s name.
“I’d rather be with my family […] but it’s the least I could do for fans,” he said, explaining that if his own idols hadn’t been so genial with him, “I don’t think I would be writing comics.”
Both Zdarksy and Fraction ended the night with weary smiles. Fraction had another signing at the Beguiling in the morning, and then he would fly home. “I’m just so fucking happy that it worked out,” Zdarsky said, knowing that he would soon have to return to his day job.
“Sex Criminals” #1 from Image Comics is on sale now.
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