The most romantic comic book being published right now is called Sex Criminals.
A lot of folks have gone on at length about the Eisner-winning series by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. Their book is a triumph for creator-owned comics and creativity in comics – I mean, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by editors that “comedy doesn’t sell in comics.” Sex Criminals, or, as the rabid fans (Brimpers – hi!) call it on the internet, SexCrims, is about Suzie and Jon, two strangers who can stop time when they reach the… er, Pleasure Moment, as Anya Jenkins from Buffy called it. These two find each other, and hilarity, drama, and feelings ensue. Also? Crime.
Even with the emotional connection we feel to the characters, it’s very much a comedy, with more laugh out loud moments per page than any comic I’ve ever read. The narrative pulls us into Suzie and Jon’s lives, ensuring that we’re emotionally invested in them as people and later as a couple, and then pulls stuff like the scene where “the biggest ho-bag in Eastview Middle School history” teaches a young Suzie about sex, beginning with standard fare and then delving into butt stuff and brimping, which involves the most creative use of hair I’ve seen in a comic. It’s so, so dirty but it never feels raunchy or illicit – it’s sex positive and body positive in a way that allows the sex to be funny without being exploitative. First and foremost, even before the copious humor, Suzie and Jon are people you care about.
It’s pretty well known that Matt and Chip are surprised by the success the book has enjoyed. They’ve spoken a lot about how it’s a concept that doesn’t seem to scream smash hit, so they began to restructure and recalibrate the story when they realized that they’d be able to tell these stories basically however they want. The second arc, which is coming out in trade next week, feels some of those growing pains… but not in a way that many series finding their way do. The pain of Sex Criminals is that we’re exploring the world beyond where we would leave Suzie and Jon if the series had to be wrapped up. The book has become a realistic, sad, but yet still funny and zany (the amount of dildos seen per issue alone is stunning) examination of what happens to a couple when something huge brings them together, and then life brings them back down.
The direction of the second arc shocked me, but not like many comics do – certainly not how many successful comics do. When I’m reading Sex Criminals, as insane as it can get and even with the supernatural premise, it feels more real – truer to life, somehow – than almost any other story I’ve read. When something happens in Sex Criminals, I feel less like something has happened to the characters I’m reading about, and more like it’s happening to me.
I hope Sex Criminals goes on for a long, long time. I want to read this story for years to come. Because this is the only independent comic book series that will… I’m gonna go with ever publish a spin-off guide of sex advice (Just the Tips) with a foreword by… well… “President Obama”?
I’d put Sex Criminals right up there with Saga and The Wicked + The Divine as a book that’s changing what it means to be a comic book creator. It seems the role of creator is becoming valued like never before as independent comics become more and more coveted, and if that can lead to a book about people who boink in order to stop time in order to rob banks in order to save a library… well, then I think the industry is headed in the right direction.