Book Club / They Aren’t Just a String of Pussy Jokes

Sex CriminalsSex Criminals Vol 1: One Weird Trick
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Chip Zdarsky


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

Sex Criminals sure seems like a comic that was a lot of fun to make.

It’s that perfect combination of light and heavy mixed with a conversational tone so that it feels less like reading a comic and more sitting across from a friend as they tell you a story – no wait: it’s even closer than that: because you just see exactly what it is they’re describing so it’s almost as if you’re inside their head. I mean – I know pretty much everyone is a fan of Fight Club: but I bet Matt Fraction is a big fan of Fight Club. I mean – the whole talking-to-camera in the flashback type thing / mixed with pitch black sense of humour (“I’m the little girl whose dad just died”) / and the whole “anything is possible” feeling – like the whole medium is just a big lump of putty just sitting there to be moulded and stretched and twisted into any shape Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky want… Especially in the first volume everything just feels so free and alive you know? I think my first thought when I first read it was: oh my god – why can’t all comics be like this? (Yeah I’m predictable I know I know).

Right then I knew.png

Those four little panels above are a pretty good encapsulation of the *chef kissing fingers* of what this comic can do. The way in the first panel that adult Suzie is looking towards the door because she knows what’s coming: which gives the whole thing a feeling of depth (or whatever) because it’s like she’s actually half in the scene and then (in the second panel when she’s looking out from the page right at us) half outside it too. The shadow across the guy in the doorway so you know something bad is happening. Then “right then I knew” which is almost like a thought balloon because adult Suzie is narrating the thoughts of child Suzie: so there’s a connection there – but a whole world between them… Then the third panel where child Suzie looks towards the door exactly mirroring adult Suzie’s look in the first panel – and then the way in panel 3 and panel 4 all three of the characters in the past are holding the exact same pose so that you can feel the silence and the stillness and then the flip offhand “I was the first kid in my school to join the Dead Dad Club” in a way that…. you can just feel sadness and the defense built up around in – calcified by the intervening years… And yeah in the third panel: the way that adult Suzie is blurry and out of focus and in the dark: it’s like a visual representation of that “someone just walked over my grave” feeling.

And all of this takes about 10 seconds to read: but it’s all going on – and every bit of it is: oh wow: this is obviously made with so much care and attention – that I almost feel bad because I’m just reading like I’m eating sweets and every part of me is going “yum. yum. yum.”

Yeah and the whole sex-freezing-time thing: I mean – what is there to say about that? Like: part of me gets that it’s almost kind of a metaphor for when you’re with someone you dig and you’re having a great time and it “stands still” etc (although also actually maybe the opposite? Because sometime you just spend what you think is a few hours in bed and then you check the clock and you’re like: “oh wait – where did the day go?”) but then it’s such a weirdly specific idea that it kinda makes me think: oh maybe it was a thing that was meant as a joke and then it just stuck? And then I guess also it’s about intimacy and stuff too right? You have a connection with someone and then you kinda build a whole little tiny world with them – and well: I guess Suzie and Jon / Matt and Chip – just worked out a way to weaponize it? (LOL) But then part of me just thinks: maybe I should just stop trying to figure it out and just go with it because – oh my god – just in terms of the Close Encounters of the Third Kind kinda lights: it’s gotta be the most beautiful special effects kinda thing in comics no?

How are you here

There’s the treatment that Grant Morrison wrote for The Invisibles (it’s at the end of the big collected Book 2 but I don’t have it to hand at the moment so this is from memory) and his idea was basically: comics and superheroes are such a good match because comics are at their best when they’re about one big idea communicated in a big and ostentatious kinda way – and yeah Sex Criminals certainly ticks that box: Suzie and Jon both have their realistic normal sides (and all of what that entails) but they’re also kinda fucked up Rated-R superheroes – kinda like something Garth Ennis would include in Section 8 no? A one-joke idea stretched out to feature length: which I don’t know – might also be a good way for us to think about all of our lives? LOL.

Also yeah: the whole plot revolves around trying to save a Library. So you know: that’s cool too. (and also: sadly quite relevant).

So. Yes. Sex Criminals. Two thumbs up. Fat Bottomed Girls make the rockin’ world go ’round etc etc.

What do you think?

I mentioned Sex Criminals at the last Barbican Comic Forum (third Thursday of every month everyone!) just to see what the general take on it was. My expectation was that everyone was going to be like “oh yeah Sex Criminals is great – best thing ever” but actually it seemed as if the general consenus was a lot more ambivalent with most people being like (I think this is right) well yeah – it started off really strong but then it kinda lost it’s way… In particular it seems most people didn’t like the way that Volume 3 starts with a whole issue with some guy that they hadn’t even seen before (or wait: is one of the Sex Police guys? It’s kinda hard to tell actually… surely I wasn’t the only one kinda confused by that? I mean all middle aged slight balding and out of shape white guys kinda look the same right?).

Although yeah – surprise surprise – the whole semi-kinda meandering nature of Sex Criminals is one of the things I like so much about it… Although yeah I’ll admit it’s not one of those comics that I feel particularly hungry to grab the next copy of. I think after I finished Volume 2 I was like: “oh yeah – well that was good I guess” but wasn’t waiting with bated breath for the next one… In fact I think when I library got Volume 3 I just kinda let it sit on the shelf for a few months before I bothered to pick it up… I mean: it’s kinda in the middle of that Venn Diagram whether on one side it’s “Things That I Think Are Good” and the other side is “Things Where I’m Not Really Dying To Find Out What Happens Next” – I mean I guess with all their meta-textual playfulness and actually kinda insightful probing (pun intended?) into the nature of sex and all of the many multifarious neurosises that come along with it (the speech with the artist formally known as Jasmine St. Cocaine) is particularly good – and surely I can’t be the only one that read that psychiatrist’s advice (what was his name again?) when he’s all like: you need to make sure you exercise if you don’t want to feel bad and was like “huh” – that seems like a good idea…

And well yeah – I think this was kinda mentioned when we were doing Promethea Vol 2 but hey: maybe there should be more comics about sex and sex-related stuff?

Brimping

Like – apparently back in 2015 there were plans to make a Sex Criminals TV Show. But my immediate response to that is: why would you even want to? I mean: a big part of the beauty of the comic is the matter of fact way it shows you all sorts of things that you’d never be able to get away with on TV and the pleasure and unrestricted nature of what you can do / get away with in a comic book that just makes me think that Sex Criminals: The TV Show would most probably just end up like something like this.

Oh behave etc.


RAT
Lofi Space

Yeah, I was the same – I enjoyed it, but didn’t really care about where it went next. I think most of the interest is in the premise (orgasms that stop time!) and once that’s done you’ve just got a fairly generic secret police plot.


RAMSEY
Twitter

It reads more like a sassy (& sexy) TV show to me than a comic (the letters pages are really fun & a shame they didn’t include them in the book).

Strong start but it does sadly lose it’s way later on.


LOZ
Peckham Library Graphic Novel Book Group
Barbican Comic Forum

Other comics are committed, they aren’t just a string of pussy jokes.


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

Oh. Is it just me? I actually kinda thought that Sex Criminals is actually kinda pretty equal-opportunities when it comes to the kinda jokes it makes. So yeah – pussy jokes. But also cum jokes, dick jokes, wanking jokes (Jon’s dick glows which is pretty nifty) and of course the long-running “butt stuff” motif…

But yeah that’s not the stuff that I found the most interesting.

Nah the thing that got into my head and kept my brain fizzling for days was this bit in issue #14:

but i think it makes for shitty writing

Basically Ana and Suzie are supposed to have this big argument that’s been building and building ever since they first met (in fact: even before that – when Jon first mentions “Jasmine St. Cocaine” and I think Suzie makes a joke about her probably being molested as a child? Anyway…).

Anyway: it seems like it’s going to be a big thing and it seems like it’s going to be an actually interesting thing. Two characters that you both relate to having an argument over their perspectives and issues of each other and you know – more generally – how people treat women and sex workers and the patriarchy and all the rest of it. Seems like fertile ground for good drama right? And hell who knows – maybe we’ll even learn something new?

And instead what happens is… erm… it cuts to creators Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky talking on the phone about how Matt can’t really write the scene and Chip suggesting that they go meta and just do the phone call instead which yeah ok – ha ha – very cute and funny but also: what the fuck? I mean: I couldn’t help reading that (and a conversation I had at the Shoe Lane Comic Forum kinda underlined it) as a kinda indirect comment / consequence of the our current hellscape of media consumption / commentary /etc / whatever because altho Fraction is all like “I think it makes for shitty writing?” (which hell – could be true I dunno) one of the ways it comes across is as a form of… how do I say this?… cowardice? I mean: shit – two women arguing against each other is the kinda thing that if it goes wrong and someone says something too harsh or gets misinterpreted or doesn’t ring true or whatever could end up going all Twitterstorm you know? “HOW DARE THESE TWO WHITE GUYS PRETEND THAT THEY CAN WRITE ABOUT WOMEN” or whatever. Which actually – ha – seems like a good shout maybe? At the aforementioned Shoe Lane Comic Forum discussion a woman I talked to said something to the effect of that she actually liked that these men weren’t putting words into the mouths of women and they were checking their privilege etc etc: but that just makes my face go “huh?” as erm – isn’t one of the point of where we’re trying to get to have more women talking which other being represented in the media / Bechdel Test etc etc and erm – isn’t totally lol ironic that the pressure now seems to be such that instead of having a comic about two women talking (I think the issue is even called “Ladies Please” we have erm…. two white guys talking instead?

Ladies Please

(Pictured: false advertising).

And also well yeah – isn’t one of the points of writing (and reading) to inhabit and understand people who are different to you? And using your imagination and empathy and all the rest of it to go inside other people’s heads and culture and points of view? And yeah ok – maybe I’m just using this as a stick to beat the dumbass modern idea of “wokeness” in the head to point out it’s self-defeating nature and the fact that it’s actually pretty antithetical to art that’s actually good and interesting (as opposed to art that just seems like it’s good because it’s checking the right boxes and/or whatever).

So erm yeah. I would have preferred to see Ana and Suzie having it out. And I think it’s pretty bullshit (but also pretty interesting!) that they don’t.

Oh well.


LOZ
Peckham Library Graphic Novel Book Group
Barbican Comic Forum

And it was about this point that I finally gave up on Sex Criminals. It didn’t read to me as Matt and Chip being clever and meta and ironic but them admitting that there isn’t really that far to go with a story about feckless bland people who find that weird things happen when they orgasm.


RAT
Lofi Space

Wow, I didn’t get that far in, that is such horseshit! “Oh hey, we know you bought our comic, but we couldn’t actually write it”. If they were that worried about not being able to write the damn scene, edit the script so it doesn’t lead to that scene. Fuck me, it’s not rocket science.

Or maybe write it, and put a note at the back or something. I think you’re right, Joel, about fear of getting it wrong – it feels like the legit anger at a lot of the deeply fucked-up parts of society have become a witchhunt that’s stifling a lot of creativity. You’d think a tabboo-challenging comic might have a bit more spine, be willing to stick their necks out, but apparently not.

I’ve been noticing a thing recently where lazy writers will point out how stupid something is while doing that thing, as if just saying ‘yeah I know it’s dumb’ gets you a pass. This is pretty much the perfect example of that.


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

I think that’s called “Lampshading

Lampshade Hanging (or, more informally, “Lampshading”) is the writers’ trick of dealing with any element of the story that threatens the audience’s Willing Suspension of Disbelief, whether a very implausible plot development, or a particularly blatant use of a trope, by calling attention to it and simply moving on. The reason for this counter-intuitive strategy is two-fold. First, it assures the audience that the author is aware of the implausible plot development that just happened, and that they aren’t trying to slip something past the audience. Second, it assures the audience that the world of the story is like Real Life: what’s implausible for you or me is just as implausible for these characters, and just as likely to provoke an incredulous response.

I don’t think that I would agree with the idea that it’s just something that lazy writers will do tho – as with pretty everything I think it all depends on how you do it you know? (Am trying to think of some good examples of lampshading from comics past but my mind is coming up blank – so erm: anyone else?).

Also: well yeah – even tho maybe I seem like I’m being kinda harsh to Matt and Chip I kinda don’t really blame them too much? Realise that maybe this could be perceived as an overreaction but it definitely feels like the current climate being what it is any writer or creators that try to write something outside of their “identity” or whatever and mess it up can risk the wrath of the internet and get into all sorts of hot water so erm – maybe it’s not worth it? Just stay in your lane.

this is such bullshit

But yeah it does make me sad. I’ve often found the stuff that makes people uncomfortable is often where the most enriching experiences are. Like: the Ana and Suzie argument wouldn’t have left either character covered in glory and they both would also definitely have said reprehensible and problematic things but erm: maybe fiction is one of the best places to have those kinds of conversations? And a place to kinda help uncover the fact that erm – no one’s really a good guy through-and-through and we all have fucked up assumptions and beliefs that could be better but yeah: the only way to work them through is by bringing them into the light and having tough conversations or whatever?

I’m currently reading Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman (RIP dude) – it’s not a comic book but that’s not my fault. And there’s this bit where it talks about the fact that movie stars will never play a character that’s unlikable / does something that will make the audience dislike them which yeah you know makes perfect sense of course you don’t wanna see Tom Cruise being racist or Jennifer Lawrence saying that she hates trans people or whatever but erm – it kinda has the unfortunate effect of meaning that we all end up idealizing these people who never have any real flaws which you sets up this incredibly high standards you know? Which feels kinda – unhealthy maybe? And well yeah: maybe it would be better if we could allow people to make more mistakes and etc blah.

And so in conclusion: that’s why I love Kanye West. LOL


RAT
Lofi Space

That’s kind of it, but the authors-on-the-phone scene goes beyond that, it deliberately completely breaks immersion. Like I said, I’ve not read that far in, so it’s hard to really comment too much more on it. Do the characters act as if they had the argument and resolved stuff, or just pretend the issues never came up, or what?


ILIA
The Gap between Panels
Barbican Comic Forum
Twitter / The Hot-Doll Pages

We shouldn’t forget when we talk about this meta turn is that it’s also supposed to be a joke. As in, Fraction isn’t glorifying the fact that he’s having a crisis about the hole he’s written himself into. He has Chip deflate the pretensions of the writer at every turn, so you get the sense that while on the one hand the problem is heartfelt, on the other the creators understand how ridiculous this is. There’s a more general point here about how if you think too much like a critic as you’re creating to the point where you can only think about the problems in the work, you’ll never write another word or draw another line. I kinda agree that a more courageous writer will just dive in anyway rather than make a big deal out of it. But on the other hand this was a left-turn I wasn’t expecting. And it was quite funny.


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

I agree that it’s supposed to be a joke. And well yeah it is kinda funny. And I do have a soft-spot for meta-level humour. And who doesn’t love a doughnut gun? But well you know: like Skunk Anansie once said: everything is political. Jokes even more so. I won’t deny that it’s a cute moment – but it’s one with a lot of underlying issues and well the question that bugs me is: I wonder how aware of those issues Matt was? Representation and negative representation in particular being a hot issue at the moment (understatement of the fucking century here) makes it seem like a covering up of something that could have got ugly for all concerned or you know: maybe that’s just me? 🙂

This post was created by our Book Club email list.
If you’d like to join the conversation send an email marked “Book Club” to here.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s