With the popularity of erotic fiction, especially the runaway success of Fifty Shades of Grey, it’s strange to think that sex can still be a taboo topic. Comics have dealt with all kinds of mature themes but it’s telling that a comic like Sex Criminals gets banned from iTunes for content but ultra-violent comics like The Walking Dead are just fine. One of the great things about graphic novels is that they can challenge boundaries and taboos and Sex Criminals has done both in a fun yet also impressive manner. Sex Criminals is a raunchy comedy/drama series written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky. The series seems to be far from over and as they have only made thirteen issues so far, that’s what I’ll be covering for the review.
As you might have guessed, Sex Criminals covers mature themes (mostly sex) so if you can’t handle that, don’t read on.
Sex Criminals is a series that asks a simple question: what if orgasms gave you super powers? The story follows two twenty-somethings, Suzie and Jon, who have found out that their orgasms are a little different from most people: they can stop time. Through the timeless exploration of sexuality during puberty, both Jon and Suzie have discovered their unique abilities but it was not until they met that they found out they weren’t the only ones. And when Suzie’s library is in danger of being closed, the two team up to put their abilities to a Robin Hood style quest of stealing enough money to save the library. In the process, the two find out that there are a number of others like them and not all of them are friendly.
Sex Criminals is one part raunchy comedy and one part a serious, frank discussion of sex and relationships. It’s pretty obvious why Sex Criminals got banned when you start reading it. This is not a story that shies away from any aspect of sex. There are sex jokes galore (both written and in the artwork), explorations of what sexuality means to a number of different people and as little judgement of it as possible. One of the greatest things that Sex Criminals does is make it clear that sex should really be to each their own. From asexuality to Japanese anime tentacles to S&M and a number of other preferences in between, Sex Criminals embraces them all. When vanilla sex still dominates other stories, it’s refreshing and wonderful to have a series that says that it doesn’t matter what you’re into, as long as it’s consensual and safe, you’re good to go.
And it’s damned refreshing to have a love story like Jon and Suzie’s that feels real. This isn’t just one of those romantic comedies where they have their meet cute, hit a rough patch based on a misunderstanding and then inevitably tie the knot in a happy ending. Jon deals with a number of issues tied into ADHD and OCD that he needs therapy for and his struggle to deal with either medication or therapy or both made him a believable, compelling character. Once they pass the honeymoon stage of their relationship, Jon and Suzie fight and their interest in sex comes and goes as daily life gets in the way. No relationship is smooth sailing all the time and the ups and downs of their relationship felt so realistic that I was never sure it was going to work out for them and that’s a good thing.
In past reviews, I’ve mentioned writer/artist pairings that seemed to mesh well, where the art reflected the mood of the writing and really brought the two halves together. But I don’t think I have ever seen a duo like Fraction and Zdarsky. From issue one, it’s clear that these guys are best friends and know each other inside and out. That kind of partnership makes for some pretty hilarious moments throughout the series and it’s clear that they feed off of one another. That connection makes the comic that much greater and really makes Sex Criminals a masterpiece.
Sex Criminals is one of those series that I just want to force everyone I know to read. It has fantastic messages about not judging people for the relationships they form with people and the ways in which they choose to find pleasure. It’s also just a hilarious, ridiculously fun story to read with characters who feel so three dimensional that you want to reach into the pages and hug them when things don’t go their way. I expected to laugh reading this series (and I did) but it’s so much more than just that. It’s a must-read series for anyone who can get past whatever taboos they have about sex and just enjoy the hell out of it.