Sex Criminals Vol. 1: One Weird Trick
Sex Criminals #1-5
Writer - Matt Fraction
Artist - Chip Zdarsky
Colorists - Becka Kinzie and Christopher Sebela
Editor - Thomas K
Creators - Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
Just a note: seriously you guys, this book is called Sex Criminals. The subject material may not be safe for work, and it is definitely not safe for our younger readers to read about. Usually at Geek Say What?, we try and build an atmosphere that’s both fun and appropriate for most (if not all) ages, but as a critic I will need to delve into some of the less family-friendly books at times. Please check in with my next article (tomorrow’s Post Pwnage) for a family-friendly critique on The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Another collected trade on the Eisner Awards, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals was a breakout hit from its first printing in September of 2013. Following Suzie, a young librarian looking to save the library that she grew up in, meeting Jon, an aspiring actor, they discover that they have the same strange ability. Now, being familiar with Fraction’s work, readers would be led to believe that their ability is “super” in some sense, or an ability to take care of pizza-eating pets, but this is far from the case: whenever Suzie or Jon experience an orgasm, time literally stops around them. Produced and distributed by Image Comics, this came highly recommended at both the critical and personal level.
Level of Artwork and Craft
A standard for effective artwork can be seen in the ability to create a tone for the story, without bludgeoning the reader through text. Zdarsky understood from the story's conception that this was supposed to be thought-provoking and inappropriately enjoyable; because of this, ink and color was handled at an incredibly subtle level. Using ideas like warm colors in bedroom scenes or the contrast between the Sex Police uniforms and the real world lent a twisted blur between idealism and realism, which lent well to the narrative as a whole. A prime example of this is when anybody travels into The Quiet, the time between orgasm and refractory period where time stands still. The swirl of digital colors alongside the muted and frozen tones gives the reader a sense of peace and solitude, while also affording a glimpse into the character's world and emotions. This time in between desire work just as effectively as an inner monologue, if not more so, since the reader is never explicitly told how to feel. Not only is the reader along for the story's ride, but we are lent a glimpse into the character's psyche without words to guide us.
Story Pacing, Movement and Cohesion
What stood out the most about the narrative in terms of telling a cohesive story was the incredible blend of first-person and third-person storytelling. It's difficult enough to try and tell a story in one perspective; it's almost transcendent to blur the line between two perspectives effectively. This is always experienced through the character of Suzie, who is not only experiencing the story with the reader, but also leads the reader through flashbacks and exposition. The adult Suzie even goes as far as appearing in the flashbacks, Taking jabs at her old fashion and assuring the reader of her emotional state at the same time. This is pretty indicative of Fraction-trademarked writing, being able to crochet a narrative in and out of different writing ideals in a way that would make your grandmother proud.
I'm convinced that Fraction and Zdarsky are somehow watching my own life, using their perverse voyeurism to benefit their work. I say this because every character feels as if they exist in my personal world, and not because time stops every time it's Tissue Time. Any of these characters could exist in your circle of friends; people like Jon and Suzie feel over-the-top enough to be some of your drinking friends, yet believably relatable to the point that you probably had dinner with them last week. Fraction specializes in the "déjà vu"of characterization; factually, you know you have never met these people before, but intuitively you feel like you've been around these characters for a while. The combination of inviting and outrageous works perfectly in this science-fiction sex-comedy crime-drama; because of this common motif of genre-fusing, we'll have to put the dash on the endangered species list soon, for fear of it going extinct.
Depth of Theme and Thematic Reach
A piece dealing with such mature material should definitely have a relatable and troubling theme, and Sex Criminals delivers in a way that invokes both contemplation and personal worry. Suzie, being a young adult with little professional and personal direction, has been finding herself through sexual identities and tastes since her first sexual experience, and even through the first five issues we know that this will idea will be addressed with every character. This is a wonderfully mature topic to tackle, and I do not recommend this sort of theme to our readers of the teenage variety. Equating sex and desire with a passion for life (like Jon alludes to when talking about his medication)
may be DEFINITELY IS a dangerous subject to touch on with the younger comics audience, and parents should be wary when purchasing this for your children. Parents, though, are in the clear for this one. You should be reading this when the young ones aren’t around.
Utilization of Sequential Art Medium
The interesting use of narrative would have undoubtedly been lost in novel or film forms, lending to the personal quirks and touches that both characters and creators talk about in the story. This sense of narration would have suffered at the employ of, say, a voiceover sequence in film, because the combination of static images and panel closure involve the reader in the story, instead of merely viewing it. The most creative example of this would be the scene where Suzie sings Queen’s “Fat-Bottomed Girls” to Jon as they are playing billiards. The text bubbles should be showing Suzie belting out the verses, but yellow Post-It notes are places precariously on top of the speech bubbles; Fraction then breaks the fourth wall and comments on how they’re not able to show the lyrics, since the rights were too expensive. Through this breaking of the fourth wall, readers receive a more cohesive sense of the universe: namely, that anything and everything is able to happen in this space, and to roll with the (at times) off-putting sexual humor and ridiculously charming premises.
This book is a sex-fueled ride from beginning to end, and while most comics with heavy sexual themes miss their intended literary mark, Fraction and Zdarsky hit theirs, making this a comic that I will personally be following now. It’s inventive use of narrative alongside it’s ensemble cast makes the fact that it’s a bi-monthly book even more disappointing, and I cannot wait to follow the antics of Suzie and Jon in the future. Although I cannot recommend this for our younger readers, our more mature readers will be able to relate to the themes and storytelling, no matter what your sexual maturity may be. Suzie is a character that I was absolutely enamored with; her style of speech, her crass and inviting attitude, and willingness to go above and beyond for what she cares about is weirdly inspiring, which you wouldn’t think of finding in a book about stopping time with orgasms. I highly recommend this if the person currently reading this is an adult; if not, did you even read the bolded text at the top? If you didn’t, I bet you’re the kind of person who lies on video game trailers about your age. You are the worst.