I’m a noob when it comes to comics, so I asked the host of the upcoming Cocktail Movie Recap and Awkward Human’s own Richard Cardenas to give me a hand. Below we review a book I thought our readers/listeners might enjoy, Sex Criminals.
What’s it about?
CHRIS: Sex Criminals is a comic featuring a young woman whose orgasms stop time. It’s a story of sexual self discovery with some levity to keep it from getting too serious. For example, our main character, Suzie, will use her power to rob a bank and save the local library. Any questions?
RICHARD: Sex Criminals tells the story of a woman learning how to live with an unusual ability: time-stopping orgasms. She soon meets a man who shares this ability and it’s almost as if the relationship was meant to be. Eventually, the couple begins to really learn about one another. When one of their jobs is on the line they make a moral and very illegal decision. And if their own consciences aren’t enough of a barrier, they run into very real people who can also time-stop orgasm.
Who Makes it?
CHRIS: The book is from Image Comics and it’s by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky.
RICHARD: Matt Fraction, the writer of the series, brings with him a high caliber of previous works. He started his career with indie publishers such as IDW and soon found his way over to Marvel. At Marvel he was able to get his hands into such comics as The Immortal Iron Fist, Uncanny X-Men, and The Invincible Iron Man, which led to a job as a consultant on the Iron Man 2 movie. In 2013, he teamed up with artist Chip Zdarsky to create Sex Criminals.
Chip Zdarsky, an eventual pseudonym for Steve Murray, began his career illustrating for various publications such as New York Magazine and Canadian business. In 2000 he began creating his own independent comics series, which eventually led him to Dark Horse Comics. Most recently he’s written for Jughead and Marvel’s Howard the Duck.
Why is it worth reading?
CHRIS: That’s a loaded question. This comic has something to say and it does it with a sense of humor. In the first volume, it delivers drama balanced with humor like M*A*S*H reruns. As I read, my face would cringe with empathy for Suzie and a page turn later, I’m laughing out loud.
It’s easy to empathize with Suzie because who hasn’t rubbed one out and then felt guilty because society says it is taboo? As she and her partner in crime, and time stopping orgasm ability, Jon go through their dating & sexual history, you’re sure to find more common ground.
I like the message of this story as well. Sex is not a crime. Let your freak flag fly. I mean, be respectful to those around you, but be open and stop feeling shameful. In fact, I should mention that the book isn’t some smutty comic, looking to get audience with unnecessary boob shots like an HBO show of the 90s. While the subject and some of the artwork is adult in nature, it’s not exploitative.
RICHARD: Sex Criminals takes a very interesting look at how society in general perceives sex. We tend to not talk about the urges and give bad information to those seeking answers. When Suzie is a teenager, she discovers that when she has an orgasm time comes to a halt. She tries to ask about this discovering, thinking this is something that happens to everyone, but is met with disgust and even teasing. Suzie suppresses her feelings and eventually no longer talks about it. As an adult, she has become disconnected with most people due to the strain of her secret.
When Suzie discovers that her most recent one-night-stand, Jon, also has the time-stopping ability, she is immediately fascinated. This opens up a whole new world for her. She can finally discuss how she’s been feeling this entire time with someone who can actually understand her. Jon brings along something else, though. He is able to help her open up about her desires without her feeling judged. They begin to explore new sex positions and new places to have sex in. The years of suppression are finally a weight lifted off both their shoulders.
In our reality, we are often taught that sex is not something we talk about. We never learn how to truly enjoy sex with a partner due to the fear of them knowing what we like and what we are curious about. We still live in an age where an overwhelming amount of sexually active woman don’t know what an orgasm feels like. Without speaking directly of this societal problem, Fraction is able to confront these issues and offer a few remedies. Of course, along the way these characters still have to deal with other people trying to stop them from living their lives and having the sex they enjoy, much like our own reality.
Why did you like this comic book?
CHRIS: I thought this concept sounded entertaining, but what I got was something much more. Equating an orgasm to a super power is a really gorgeous analogy. Modern superheroes constantly struggle with the concept of being different. Society abhors mutants in the X-Men comics, for example. In the beginning of Sex Criminals Suzie is going through this journey of being different as she discovers her sexuality, something we can all relate to.
The story is told to us by Suzie directly. While it is not entirely uncommon, the idea of Suzie breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to us allows for some pretty hilarious observations and some serious discourse. That moment when I was laughing out loud? There’s a section near the end where Fraction uses his own voice & thoughts to censor Suzie’s dialogue bubble because he didn’t get clearance for the song she’s singing.
As I said above, I liked the message of Sex Criminals. This comic is a judgement free exploration of sexuality. The two characters talking so open and matter of fact about sex is foreign to this Midwest boy. That’s the message that stuck with me, being open and remembering that we’re all figuring this life stuff out. No matter how put together someone is, they’re still flailing around in the oxygen, just like the rest of us. So let’s not treat the sexual desires and kinks of people as criminal.
RICHARD: I enjoy the humor of the characters. They feel like adults that I am friends with. Nothing is off limits, and that’s an aspect I appreciate in any form. We also get to dive into the awkward stages of adolescence when people don’t quite understand their bodies or their emotions, but they continue to explore behind closed doors. The takeaway message for me is that we shouldn’t be ashamed of ourselves. Often we close ourselves off from other people, not letting them know who we are or what our desires are. Too much suppression can be damaging, and this series shows that there are people going through the same things, and that’s not bad.
CHRIS: The humor was used to break the tension, but there are times when it is a bit much. I just felt like it could have used a touch more editing, in that regard. Also, the dialogue of Suzie’s boyfriend is almost a carbon copy of her own sarcasm & wisecracking style. Thus, I find Jon’s character a bit flat. Although, the authors eventually introduce that he suffers from oppositional defiant disorder. Flawed characters are much more interesting to read about than perfect heroes because they are more realistic. This is probably why so many people prefer Batman over the indestructible boy scout that is Superman.
I enjoy the art, the lettering and I especially love the color in Sex Criminals. Yet, I have to pick on Suzie’s boyfriend, Jon, once more. Was it just me or was his nose constantly changing shape? At times he looked like a Muppet. Does it grow when he’s excited? Is this some sort of penis joke? Anyway, those are minor quibbles that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.
RICHARD: My criticism of the first volume of this series comes from a very personal place. As I get older, I realize more and more the lack of diversity in all of our visual entertainment. As a gay man I rarely see a character I can really relate to. Though the characters briefly mention same-sex exploration, I didn’t get much more than that. The creators did a fantastic job with building this world, and maybe there is more diversity in the issues that follow volume one, but what I was given was not enough to pull me in. If this series isn’t offering me much of a difference from what I already consume, why should I continue? I will say that I recommend it for anyone curious about the series. Read the first volume and decide for yourself if you will continue.
Where can I get it?
CHRIS: Support your local comic book store! Seriously, is there such a thing as a franchise comic book shop? I think they’re all local, mom and pop stores. Walk in and ask for Sex Criminals without the shame of buying condoms. It’s okay, really. It was Time Magazine’s comic of the year.
If you enjoy collecting, I would recommend going to a comic book store. They will usually have back issues of many series. You can also try ebay.com for physical copies. I enjoy the trade paperbacks, which are a collection of a number of issues from the series. If you don’t care about that sort of thing, you can try subscribing to comixology’s unlimited service. This allows you to “borrow” digital copies from a number of publishers. Or you can purchase the issues as you see fit.