SPOILER WARNING: The following interview contains spoilers for "Sex Criminals" #1
Matt Fraction wants to make you laugh with some dirty, sexy jokes. That's the whole idea behind "Sex Criminals," his upcoming Image Comics series with artist Chip Zdarsky. The book finds a young woman named Suzie in a unique predicament: whenever she orgasms time literally stands still. After discovering this ability in her younger days, she turned to all kinds of sources for more information from the "dirty girls" in her high school to the local library. Only the latter turned out to be even remotely helpful, leading to a lifelong love affair with books.
After years of thinking she's the only one with this supernatural power to freeze time, Suzie meets Jon at a party fundraiser to help save the aforementioned library. Turns out, he has the same ability too. How do they decide to take advantage of this seemingly one-of-a-kind pairing? They rob banks in order to save the libraries they both love, making them literal sex criminals.
With yet another monthly comic book added to a schedule that also includes "Hawkeye" and the upcoming "Inhumanity" at Marvel as well as "Satellite Sam" at Image, Fraction took time out of his busy schedule to talk to CBR News about his plans for a book he says enters territory few other comics are these days: the sex comedy.
CBR News: First, just a few basics, is "Sex Criminals" a miniseries or an ongoing with a designated number of issues?
Matt Fraction: There's a beginning, a middle and an end, but I don't know how long it's going to take us to get there. It's a long form miniseries, maybe; an ongoing with a stopping point. Eventually.
The title, "Sex Criminals," obviously comes with a lot of connotations, but you go a more literal route with it. Were you at all worried about potential controversy?
About the title? No; it's deliberately cheeky, and a play on words or, at least, a play on meanings -- but I think the book itself stands on its own and speaks for itself. Any controversy that comes will only help promote us. It's not a particularly prurient or salacious or really even a dirty comic book; it's funny. It's naughty. It's a comedy.
The first book my work ever appeared in was called "Double Take" and it was beaten every single month in the top 300 by a book called "Blow Job." Just, boom, right there, on the Diamond list -- "Blow Job."
"Sex Criminals" is not "Blow Job."
Suzie's had a rough go of it from the death of her father to dealing with this supernatural ability she has, yet she seems pretty positive in the present. What helped her become the relatively upbeat person we see in the present?
Some people are resilient. And some are just goddamn indefatigable, like Suzie. How could you not fall in love with someone that refuses to let all of their very many bad times define them?
In the first issue you show adult Suzie in the flashbacks narrating her backstory directly to the reader. What went into the decision to do those scenes that way?
I don't know. I think that's just what writing is. I think that's what being creative is. I just have ideas. Or I have a series of ideas and they collide in such a way that makes a chord or a tone in my head that I like hearing. It makes some kind of sense. I don't know. It was what the story needed. It was what felt right.
And it lets us meet Suzie more and lets us get to know her better and faster and in a different more intimate way when she's talking straight to us, breaking the fourth wall and violating all the rules of time and space both within and without of the context of "story."
Did you bounce the scenes of Suzie in high school or later on in life off of any women to kind of "check for accuracy?"
No. I checked on a couple of language issues more than anything else. Newsflash: the words dudes use to refer to lady-bodies aren't necessarily the words that ladies use to refer to lady-bodies. A lot of ladies have read it at this point, though, and seem to really love it and have responded strongly to it. As strong as anything else I've ever written anyway.
There comes a point where the experiences are universal; only the mechanics differ, really.
Aside from their shared time-stopping sexual skills, what brings Suzie and John together and leads them to bank robbery?
Well, we kind of hint at that in our first issue and get more explicit as the book goes on -- y'know, things are tough all over right now for a lot of people. Especially people that might be trying to, say, save their library from closing down.
A library might sound like an odd thing to steal for, but they mean a lot to Suzie. Still, does it take much convincing to get her to use her powers to commit crimes?
That's rather what our first arc is really about. By issue #3 the seed's planted and our two fun-lovin' sexy criminals are slowly easing their way into the world of "actual crime." But it's slow. It's almost-victimless, the way they see it. Anyway -- the more you read, the more you'll see what I mean.
Will the origins of Jon and Suzie's powers come into play as the story progresses or are you dealing with it like some writers deal with zombies: they're here, deal with it, move on?
No, but -- they're not the only two.
We spend a lot of time with Suzie as she runs down her past in the first issue, does Jon get a similar treatment in #2?
Oh my, yes.
Movies like "40 Year-Old Virgin" and "Bridesmaids" which balance heart and laughs have been referenced as touchstones for "Sex Criminals." What are some of your other comedic influences?
Billy Wilder, Billy Wilder, Billy Wilder, Billy Wilder. And "Jackass."
What was the kernel of an idea that lead to "Sex Criminals?" Was it a character, the idea of the powers or something completely different?
I don't know. Wanting to do, or at least to try, a sex comedy for comics. It's a genre I like in fiction or in film or on television and for the life of me I can't think of a comic book that's really ever done it. So it started from wanting to do a funny, dirty, comedy. Not as a screenplay; not as some kind of failed venture into other media. I want all of my comics to be comics first and foremost. The time-stopping idea was a visual one. It was designed to be a comic.
I think if I'm being completely honest, the idea probably started to come from the realization that the only time I'm fairly free from thoughts about sex tends to be right after having sex?
And wanting to work with Chip who is funny and dirty and special like a sexy dirty angel. What idea would be appropriate for a funny, dirty, special, sexy, dirty angel to draw? "Sex Criminals."
In addition to being, as you said a "sexy, dirty angel" what made Chip the right collaborator for "Sex Criminals?"
He's hilarious, both as a person, and as an artist. He's amazingly gifted; he has an amazing eye for color that lends itself to comics. I knew that this book wouldn't look like anything else in the world.
Most of all he makes me laugh. I wanted to do something funny with him. I think that old joke is right: dying is easy, comedy is hard. So Chip makes that easier.
We'd been almost daring each other to work on something for a while; half bouncing ideas off of one another, half just wasting each other's time. And when this idea hatched in my head, I almost dared Chip to do it, and then he was practically daring me to write it. It still feels like a dare.
There are a lot of unique visual elements to the book like Suzie floating around the party in a nearly page-sized panel while Jon talks about "Lolita" and everything falling away as they chat on the couch. Are those explicitly described in the script or do they come from collaborating with Chip?
There's a lot of stuff that's all Chip but in this particular instance, it's in the script:
Because I actually saw it happen once. that is one of the very many true stories in "Sex Criminals."
How important would you say it is to you as a creator to get into the creator-owned world and make stories that might not fit in at Marvel or DC?
I can't, and wouldn't dare, speak for anyone other than me: it's vital. It's essential. It is profoundly important to my entire creative process. Aside from pride of ownership, I just start to get antsy and itchy and bored writing the same genre again and again. The greatest concern I have is that the writing will read antsy and itchy and boring. Getting away from the superhero mainstream from time to time to do anything -- "Casanova," "Satellite Sam," "Sex Criminals" -- tends to keep me energized and excited.
To see the result of Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's sexy, energized excitement, check out "Sex Criminals" #1 from Image Comics on September 25.