On occasion I will watch a movie or read a book and think, “I can not wait to share this with my readers”. More often than not I will allow a few days for whatever entertainment I delved into to gel and ferment a bit in my brain… try to root out some hidden meaning I missed, or maybe go over it again to make sure I still enjoy it beyond my immediate excitement… I was about six pages into Sex Criminals, a new comic series from Image by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky, when I realized I needed no time… I needed no further input to realize that this is an incredible book. Today I wish to share this with you.
I should get one thing out of the way immediately… as the title of the series suggests, this is for mature readers only. The subject matter is sexual, very frank, and extremely explicit. If you decide to take my advice to pick up a copy immediately (because that is exactly what my advice shall be), do so with an open mind and understand that if you are prudish in any way, shape, or form… turn away. If you appreciate the more ribald aspects of life… read on.
The first page of the first issue (shown on the left) shows the series protagonists, Suzie and Jon, having sex in a bathroom while colors and lights swirl around them… and a mysterious voice ballooned in black with white type (as Fraction mentions in the 2nd issue, very much like The Sandman), yelling at them through a bullhorn to come out. The only part of what I read and saw that made any sense to me was the image of two people going at it… by the end of the first issue, most aspects of these pages were answered… but not all.
From this image the story shifts gears and we go back to the point in Suzie’s life when she has her first sexual awakening… not her first sexual experience with another person… but with herself. At this point, Suzie breaks the fourth wall and is talking directly with the reader… but instead of having a running narrative over the images of the past, the adult Suzie joins young Suzie in each panel and talks about her past as though she were an observer looking in. A very clever technique that gives the story a certain intimacy and humor that I was not expecting.
There is an honesty and awareness present within the story than lends a very different feel to what essentially becomes a science fiction based pulp novel (I know… nothing I have said so far would lead you to believe that this is where the narrative heads). Although the subject matter is quite different, I was reminded of Raina Telgemeier (author of the young teen graphic novels Drama and Smile) and how deftly she is able to write about the experience of being a young girl transitioning into becoming a young woman. Somehow Matt Fraction (and I did check that it was a man who wrote this, and was surprised) is able to tap into something very real and very human in his presentation of Suzie’s growth over the years… then she meets Jon.
I like that what I thought was little more than artistic license when it came to the colors and lights as a metaphor for an orgasm turned out to be some sort of metaphysical state that she and Jon share. I didn’t catch on earlier that when Suzie mentions time standing still when she reached climax, when she mentioned seeing the lights and swirly bits, she was not being poetic, she was being precise… and it’s quite a surprise when she and Jon discover that when they both reach that point… time stops for everyone and everything but them.
And just when you think you are getting your head around what this book is really about, the final panel of the first issue throws a massive wrench into your grey matter and will leave you slack jawed and gaping at the page. I dare you to complete this first issue and not immediately grab the second. Go on… try. You will fail. It’s that good.
As great as the story is, I have to give a great deal of credit to Zdarsky’s art and how effective it is in conveying emotion and feeling while also being very easy on the eyes. I believe many of the images he is creating could have easily been drawn as camp or with tongue in cheek… instead, there is a tenderness and eroticism present throughout. The characters are rendered beautifully which helps make our protagonists that much more accessible and down right likable. In this age of the anti-hero, it’s rather pleasant to have a main character that you simply like. Suzie is fantastic is so many ways… hell, she’s a librarian who is trying to save her library! What’s not to love about that? Plus… you know… attractive people having sex.
Have I mentioned how funny it is? It is.
I’m doing my best not to spoil any aspect of Sex Criminals… even saying what the lights are is a bit of a spoiler, but some bait is needed to hook a fish… and hopefully I have intrigued you enough to pick up a copy. I believe the fourth printing of the first issue and the second printing of the subsequent two issues were released along with the fourth issue yesterday. I haven’t caught up completely, I have only read the first three… which means this review may be a bit premature (it happens to everyone, right?)… but I am confident that this will be a comic worth keeping up with.
Intelligent, erotic, hilarious, and honest… Matt Fraction has created something genuinely unique with Sex Criminals, and I could not recommend this more highly. It would be a crime to miss out on this one.
For “Mature” *snicker* readers only,
Cornelius J. Blahg