I was in two minds whether to cover this comic book arc in the Comic History 101 feature, I mean 2013 is barely history right? Shouldn’t I be diving back to something from the Golden or Silver age? In short, fuck that. While we can learn some interesting things from the golden age of comic books, the comic industry is in a state of flux at the moment as it is moving towards the cultural zeitgeist. The white hot road that got us to this point is far more interesting to me and the industry as a whole than the stuff DC were publishing fifty years ago. Comics have grown up and in 2013 Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky set out to show the world what comic books really could do.
The Road To Sex Criminals.
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It’s 2013 and books like Scott Pilgrim, as well as many experimental independent presses, have started to widen the comic book market. Image comics are in their greatest boom period for a decade with the Walking Dead series consistently bringing in stacks of cash and new readers. Matt Fraction, an Eisner award winning writer is looking for his next big project. The one that will define him. He starts talking to Chip Zdarsky, real name Steven Murray, an extremely talented artist from the left field, known only for working on a handful of books. The two start to discuss a collaboration and after a lot of back and forth Matt Fraction factiously throws out the idea “what if we do a sex comedy about a guy, who every time he ejaculates, stops time?” Chip had just got in from a business trip and jokingly agrees. The next thing the pair know, Sex Criminals issue one is being written and going to be published by Image Comics.
What’s It All About?
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The book follows Suzie and John, who both had the ability to stop time when they achieve orgasms. This leads the pretty normal but super powered pair to work together to each solve their various live problems. The book also examines societies thoughts on sexuality though a comical but also thought provoking lens. We see how each character matured and developed their sexuality without the subject matter ever losing its shock or humour factor. The series speaks to something we can all relate to, as we discover our own sexualities and so it easily found publication through Image Comics.
The People Love Sex Criminals.
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The first issue saw relative success for Image publication of its profile, just missing out on the top fifty sales for September 2013. The following issues began to decline in popularity, as happens with the vast majority of such series, but then the critics dug their teeth in. Sex Criminals began to find it’s self in every top ten list of comics people had to read. IGN and Time both put out glowing reviews of the book and very quickly the series profile started to build. The views increased and instead of the sales declining of the series they began to increase, climbing the comic’s sales charts. Then Image released the graphic novel for the first five issues and changed everything.
One Weird Trick.
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At the time both Marvel and DC comics where going through a process of increasing their prices, to match the new demand for their books. Image Comics saw their chance right here. The first volume of Sex Criminals went on sale for around $10 or £7.50, almost half the price of the majority of Marvel and DC graphic novels. This small change resulted in a massive surge in sales of Sex Criminals. Now that both fans and critics were on board there was only one final group to bring onto the bandwagon. The comic book community.
There Were Issues.
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The series wasn’t perfect and many critics at the time suggested that series was attempting a high shock factor to gain sales. Given the history of super hero comic books and their sparing use of spandex I find this claim pretty weak however there were a few strong criticism of the first arc. Some critics claimed the tone of the arc was a little hard to follow as there was a clash between the humour and more serious situations that arise further into the book and there were some concerns that the comical approach upon the subject of sex might enrage or upset some readers. In both cases I see no difference between this series and any sex comedy in any medium. It poses little threat to the enjoyment of the book for me and I know I’m not alone in that. The Eisner award board agrees with me.
How Sex Criminals Left It’s Mark.
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I am not going to claim for a second that Sex Criminals is the only reason for the increase in non-super hero books, but if the book did anything it showed other comic book creators how well an Image Comic could serve them. Fraction and Zdarsky went on to win an Eisner award in 2014 for Best New Series and with this combination of fans, critics and comic book industry professionals behind them Sex Criminals was, and still is, the ultimate Image Comics success story. It’s of little surprise that the series has managed to procure TV rights and I have no doubt it will go on to be seen as a classic of the 2010’s in the comic book industry. Next week I will be covering Wolverine: Old Man Logan and how Mark Millar made Wolverine cool again.
…That’s this week’s Comic History 101!!! Check back tomorrow for a collaboration article with Jack Sutton!!!