Chip Zdarsky knows a thing or two about sex and comics. A few years ago, as research for his day job as a Toronto-based newspaper columnist, he worked a stall at an anime convention. "I didn't get a spare second to take notes or interview people because I was so busy carding 16-year-old girls who were trying to buy explicit gay erotica. With their mothers, half the time. Their moms were fans; they'd buy it for their kids. I'm like, 'OK, this is your family dynamic, who am I to judge?'"
Now his own comic, Sex Criminals (Image), has become an unexpected smash hit, hitting bestseller and end-of-year critics' lists. It's an unexpected pairing: Zdarsky is best known for his editorial cartoons and the bleakly hilarious Prison Funnies online strip, while writer Matt Fraction is one of the select band of writers that Marvel Comics calls its architects, scripting titles like Thor and Hawkeye. Yet the pair had been looking to collaborate for years, mostly failing to come up with fantasy concepts. "Matt sent an email and said, 'I've got another idea. What about two people who have sex and stop time and rob banks?' And I said, 'That sounds interesting.'"
While there is nudity, that's not what Sex Criminals is about. There's love, crime, and libraries, as Suzanne and Jonathan find out they share the ability to stop time – literally – when they orgasm. Zdarsky said, "We're smart enough to know how far we can push things, and as long as we let the story guide the sex, rather than the sex guide the story, we'll probably be safe."
The initial idea was "for a bit of a puerile, pun-filled sex comedy." Then Fraction's script turned up "and it was actually a sensitive portrayal of sex, which threw me for a loop because I'd expected to draw 30 pages of dicks." But no one, least of all Zdarsky, expected the title to make it past the first issue. After all, the pair had selected a title that can get you put on watch lists. "I'll blame Matt for that," said Zdarsky. "When issue one came out, he turned to me and said, 'This feels like the world's longest game of chicken.' ... By issue three we were like, 'OK, people like this. That's unexpected.'"
Chip Zdarsky appears at Staple! The Indie Media Expo, March 1-2, at the Marchesa Hall & Theatre (6226 Middle Fiskville). Visit www.staple-austin.org for complete details.
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