‘Sex Criminals’ is a different kind of comic book

‘Sex Criminals’ is a different kind of comic book

Jonah: Well Lucy, let’s get into it. What is “Sex Criminals?” And why should people care?


Lucy: Well Jonah, let me tell you. “Sex Criminals” is a graphic novel series. First published in 2013 by creators Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, the series follows Suzie, a librarian (and also a super badass lady) and her mystical powers of….stopping time when she orgasms! There are so many reasons people should care about this series. It has fleshed-out, multi-dimensional characters (women! POC! sex workers!), action, adventure (some bank robbing), romance and a super sex-positive message that somehow manages to weave in high-level theory in an approachable way. It’s also pretty funny! In case it wasn’t clear, I’m a little obsessed. But maybe we should take it back a little. Jonah, what drew you in when you first started reading this series?


Jonah: Well Lucy, I honestly think this comic has one of the best elevator pitches of all time. People freezing time when they orgasm? Awesome! I’d also been a fan of Fraction’s work for a while—his work for Marvel on “Invincible Iron Man” and “Hawkeye” is pretty brilliant, and he’s yet another successful writer to switch to indie publisher Image Comics. Above all, Fraction knows how to write stories and characters that are charming as hell, and “Sex Criminals” is no exception. This book is hilarious, especially whenever we get to see the (ahem) seedier side of the sex-superpowered underworld. Make no mistake, this is an R (verging on X)-rated comic book, but like fellow Image comic “Saga,” the gratuitous nudity is kind of the point.


Also, I’ve got to take a second to shout out artist Chip Zdarsky, who is doing some of the most underrated work in the industry on this book. “Sex Criminals” usually takes huge hiatuses between story arcs, and I have a feeling that some of the long wait is due to Zdarsky taking his time on every panel. The effort shows: Zdarsky’s style is colorful and full of life, grounding the story through its more fantastical or sexual twists. That said, one side effect is that the plot tends to get lost during the long breaks between volumes. The story is far more episodic and scattered than serialized, in my opinion. What do you think Lucy? Have you felt that the plotting and storytelling is consistent?


Lucy: Jonah, that is a fascinating question. I don’t think I’m completely caught up on the series yet, as I’m a relatively new reader (thanks for the recommendation, by the way), but my sense right now is that the series is a mix between episodic and serialized. There are always the overarching conflicts, but sometimes the thread from the last volume is reconnected in a more roundabout way.


And, more importantly in my opinion, each storyline gives us a little more time with the main characters—each insane addition (sex police, sex fairies, etc.) provokes very real reactions from characters we have grown to know and love, and these reactions inform a continually fuller picture of who they are. For me, media is often more about the characters driving the plot than any story at all, and I think the characters in “Sex Criminals” are strong enough, and have enough depth, to keep me reading even with less direction.


A couple final questions for you, Jonah—What do you think are the weaker points of the series? Which character do you want to see more of? And what would you do if you could stop time when you orgasm?


Jonah: Three great questions! I think you hit the nail right on the head: I’m going to keep reading this book based on the strength of our two protagonists, even if I can’t always make sense of the plot. It’s really engaging to see the way Fraction and Zdarsky address Jon’s mental health. Again, it’s not always clear exactly what he’s going through, with some of the representations of what’s going on in his head getting very abstract. But this level of ambiguity is actually really refreshing in comics—the storytelling style of “Sex Criminals” is far more nuanced than you tend to see in a lot of superhero books today. I think this comes from Fraction’s experience in the industry, and he’s really learned how to let the art speak for itself.


Again, I think the weakest aspect of the series are the long hiatuses, but also Fraction doesn’t really hold back when it comes to naughty humor, and jokes are generally far from subtle. If talking about sex doesn’t make you feel super comfortable, “Sex Criminals” might not be your cup of tea. But I’d be lying if I said every single issue didn’t bring a smile to my face.

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