Category: Best Graphic Story
Every sensible person likes good comics. Everybody, sensible or not, likes sex. As a result, it’s baffling how few good comics about sex there are.
Plenty of comics do feature sex, sure, but I’ve had difficulties enjoying most of them. Much of the underground era depictions by Robert Crumb and others, for example, can hardly be described as very nuanced or insightful — leaving aside the insights into middle-class values, the Comics Code (which did a pretty good job at keeping sex out of the American overground comics scene for decades) and such. In continental Europe, comics have of course been more free to explore sexual themes, but the tone of the revered erotic works of Milo Manara et al has always stricken me as at least slightly sexist.
In addition, very few comics dealing with sex are SFF. There’s Heavy Metal Magazine, of course, and I have tried to enjoy their material but there’s a sexploitative edge to some of it that I feel is hard to ignore.
Sex Criminals, written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky, is something completely different. It may be the best sexual SFF comic I have ever read, possibly rivaled only by some of Alan Moore’s work (like Lost Girls, or the “Rite of Spring” issue of Swamp Thing, or the “Sex, Stars and Serpents” issue of Promethea) and possibly this thoughtful and intelligent sex scene.
Sex Criminals is about people who stop the time at the moment of orgasm and can therefore pull off all kinds of things right after the sexual climax — such as shitting on their boss’s pot plant and robbing banks in order to save an endangered library. That’s what every sensible person would do if they had this superpower, right?
These superpowered people can also have this experience together if they manage to have orgasm at the same time. And there are sex police who roam this frozen orgasm-space (armed with vibrators) and collect information on anybody who goes there. Very little of this makes any sense, but what the hell. It’s fun and weird.
Sex Criminals tells a story that is actually difficult to deliver in the comics form. How to show time stopping and everything (except the protagonists) freezing during orgasm in a medium in which narrative is made up of frozen images? Fraction and Zdarsky have chosen to tackle the problem with shining lines that tell which panels are in the Cumworld mode (ehhh) and there are also meta-level narrators visible in the panels to explain what’s happening.
It sounds complicated, but it all works tremendously well. The story is good. The sex is interesting. The combination of tongue-in-cheek SFF ideas (especially the dumbass sex police) and poignant accounts of sexuality pushed my buttons. The only thing I wasn’t so keen on was Zdarsky’s slick and sterile style. Combined with the meta-level narration, the comic was a little off-putting at first, but Sex Criminals sucked me in after the first 15 pages.