Interview: SEX CRIMINALS – Brimpin’ Ain’t Easy with Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarksy

SexCriminals06_CoverA

This is usually the part where I would write a really plucky introduction about Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s creator-owned hit Sex Criminals, published by Image Comics, but no time can be wasted diving into this interview. Sirs Fraction and Zdarsky were kind enough to submit themselves to an interview in advance of Heroes Con. What follows is a slightly abridged transcription of that 40-minute interview, which involved talk of tension-quenchin’, Tilda Swinton, and Fraction’s unused Inhumans pitch. It was the most fun I have ever had doing an interview. Brimpin’ ain’t easy.

Alison Baker: Did you realize the path to literary greatness lay in dick jokes and vagina sleeping bags? Because now you have a New York Times Bestseller.

Matt Fraction: I don’t know about literary greatness, but surely some kind of dividend would be (Great?)

Chip Zdarsky: I always knew it would be literary greatness.

MF: That’s the thing, Chip said ‘I’ve never worked with another writer before, so if you’re gonna do something, it better be great.’

CZ: (Laughs)

MF: No, absolutely not. I think we thought we were gonna do three issues, and have to pay for a fourth out of our own pockets, beg Image to publish a collection, and then have a funny book that made me and my buddy Chip laugh.

CZ: That’s legitimate too, he’s not even joking. Like our first few conversations were basically saying “this will last maybe 3 issues.”

MF: And I think you can see in the actual writing and the storytelling, we’re suddenly ‘Oh god, we’re gonna get to do this for a while.’ We were maybe 3 issues in before we realized what we had on our hands.

photoAB: What has surprised you most in the response to the first arc?

MF: Literally everything.

CZ: All the interviews we gave beforehand kinda made it seem like it was just gonna be a filthy book, and that’s it; like Matt and Chip telling dick jokes and it would just be completely surface, and if you wanna read dick jokes, here’s your book. But then it turned into something more through Matt’s script, which absolutely resonated with people – which I didn’t expect.

MF: Well you’re right, but don’t go deflecting, you son of a bitch. You’re great at what you do.

CZ: I’m garbage.

MF: Well, you’re garbage at everything else… I think [Suzie and Jon] are real people, so I think people are falling in love with these two people falling in love. And that’s really cool. That’s kind of amazing.

CZ: Yeah.

AB: Matt, in the initial one-line email pitch to Chip, you wrote “What if we did a sex comedy about a guy who, every time he ejaculates, stops time?” What caused you guys to shift the focus from being about a guy to about a girl instead? Suzie’s perspective in the story seems to dominate.

MF: Oh, yeah – when we got into building the world, it felt – it was really unsatisfying. It felt like it was just dick jokes, and while there’s definitely lots of mileage there, I think Chip and I were both like “Oh. Hmm.” It wasn’t working, it wasn’t fitting, it wasn’t playing. Then we started to think about, if it was Suzie’s story, and the whole thing opened up, and it became this book we wanted to do. It gave us the best of both worlds. We can do our dumb dick jokes, we can do vagina sleeping bags, but at the same time we can do the love story.

CZ: And when we originally had it as Jon, it felt kind of easy, like it was the easy way out. Like a couple of white dudes, telling a story about a white dude, with a bunch of dick jokes.

MF: And then the one special lady who fixes everything!

CZ: Yeah, you fall into the manic pixie dream girl trap. So it became, I’m sure more challenging for Matt, and definitely became more challenging for me. I’m not really known for my portrayals of women. I think one of my early comics makes a joke about it, about a woman walking into a scene, and the caption is “She had manly qualities, as if drawn by someone who only drew men.” Because everything I drew just looked like me in drag.

MF: (cracks up)

AB: How have the models for Jon and Suzie reacted to everything?

CZ: They didn’t know each other until basically the first night that we got together to do a model shoot. I had them pose the first scene, which was them having sex on the bathroom counter. So they kinda quickly got to know each other. They’ve become good friends, I’ve become better friends with both of them, and they’ve received a small amount of celebrity through their modeling, which is weird. I never expected that kind of side effect.

MF: And Tiffy [the model for Suzie] got made in a comic shop, right?

CZ: Yeah! She and her fiancé went to a comic shop in London to pick up an issue, and she was recognized! The owner flipped out – he got her to sign copies, posed for pictures with her, wrote about it on his blog. It’s pretty crazy.

MF: And now she’s starting to give you notes, right Chip? About what Suzie would and wouldn’t do?

CZ: Well I learned a lesson with Issue 3, which is to not get my models drunk, because that was the only time that I gave them booze before I gave them food – we usually make a night of it – and Tiffy, she was drunk and she was a little belligerent, and she kept saying stuff like (drunk voice) “I don’t think Suzie would do this, I don’t think Suzie would say that, Suzie would do this,” all slurred and flustered. (laughs) ‘It’s nice that you have this ownership, but this is the script and we’re gonna change it this way.’ I think with the next issue, she apologized.

MF: Awww!

CZ: She was like “Oh, that, uh, actually worked, I’m sorry.”

AB: The fandom around this book – The Brimpers – is incredibly unique. Were you guys ready for so many personal sex confessions? Also Matt, I forgot we were friends on Tumblr, so thanks for reblogging my virginity-music story to like 700 people.

MF: Well, thanks for sharing.

CZ: Yes, thank you.

Interior art from Sex Criminals #6

Interior art from Sex Criminals #6

MF: No, we were seriously thinking this was gonna sell 1200 copies – to retailers, not readers. It’s amazing how equalizing it is and how there’s some kind of subtextual thing that’s bubbled up to the surface in the writing and the making of this book that ‘We’re all alone together,’ you know? The stories everybody’s sharing – and everybody’s story can be different, happening at different times and different places and for different reasons, and the punchline to all of them is that ‘I thought I was the only one.’ Even in all of us just having these divergent, weird stories, even THAT unites us. Everybody’s story is different and I love so much how hilarious and honest our readership is, because there’s nothing more funny than hilarious honesty.

CZ: I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but it’s been such a great thing that there’s so many female readers of the book, who are writing letters.

MF: And now cosplayers!

CZ: Yeah! It’s mindblowing in such a good way.

AB: What are you most and least desired Sex Criminals cosplays?

CZ: I wanna see Kegelface. I’m pretty desperate to see that. My least-desired would be someone cosplaying as me.

MF: I think Kegelface would be both most wanted and least wanted.

CZ: (laughs)

MF: And I’m realizing as the story goes on that I genuinely dislike her. We’re making readers genuinely loathe some awful people; nothing to do with their sex lives at all. The more I write, the more I know where we’re going, the more I fucking hate these people. I would be fascinated and amazed and impressed by the work involved. The suit is so – like the little red zipper that you put on, Chip, and the whole…what did we call it? The Tilda Swinton suburban sex dynamo? There’s so much work involved in the design of it, and yet seeing all the sex negatives personified in the face would be like…I don’t know what to do right now. I’m having a very complicated reaction to this.

AB: Will there be a Sexual Gary concert issue special?

MF: There’s going to be a Sexual Gary issue.

CZ: Yep.

MF: It may be more than that, but we’re trying to figure out…it will very likely happen between arcs 2 and 3. We wanna start doing one-off standalone issues that focus on different Brimpers. Which I’ve now begun to use like “mutants” or “inhumans.” It’s my way to describe people who live in this world.

CZ: Are you just using your Inhumans pitch?

MF: Yeah, is that weird? Just think Inhuman, only LOTS of cum.

AB: Can I please keep this in the interview?

MF: Oh sure. Why do you think I was fired? ‘Whoa, Matt, there’s WAY too many dicks in this. You’re done.’

CZ: SINhuman.

MF: (Dumb-guy voice) What if every time Black Bolt spoke, he came? FIRED.

CZ: What if every time Black Bolt went to speak a dick went in his mouth? Like some weird mutant power?

MF: (Laughs)

CZ: Just a THOUSAND dicks in his mouth. And oh God, Medusa, the ultimate Brimper.

MF: Imagine him pulling long red strands of hair out of his teeth.

CZ: (Laughs)

MF: So yeah we want to start doing stand-alone issues that kind of look at the Brimpers. Once we get the Jon and Suzie story…stabilized? Up and running? I think we’ll be able to start cutting away from the two of them from time to time. Whether we start doing that as short story backups or stand-alone issues we’re still – well I’m going around and around with it, Chip, I don’t know where you’re at. But we can’t wait to tell the story of Sexual Gary. And all praise be unto you, Chip; this was entirely Chip’s thing. It just showed up in the background of her bedroom, it was not in the script, it was ALL from him.

CZ: It was in the script in the sense that you said ‘decorate a girl’s room.’

MF: Yeah, that’s not good writing.

CZ: (laughs) That’s not trusting your instincts.

MF: “With, I don’t know, vagina stuff. Ovary art!”

Interior Art from Sex Criminals #6

Interior Art from Sex Criminals #6

CZ: But then, you know, it was still issue #1 when you spotted the Sexual Gary stuff and you made me put Sexual Gary on her hospital gown, when she’s at the gynecologist.

MF: Oh yeah, the Sexual Gary hospital smock.

CZ: I think that really cemented it, like ‘this is a thing.’

MF: I remember describing the device the OB-GYN was holding up, like it should look like one of Jim Woodring’s drawings of souls. And then you put like a smiley face on it!

CZ: Yeah.

MF: This is how you make comics, kids.

AB: Chip, what is the weirdest thing Matt has ever asked you to draw, and Matt, what is the weirdest thing Chip has ever drawn without being asked?

CZ: The weirdest thing Matt ever asked me to draw was human beings showing emotion, which I wasn’t prepared for.

MF: I think the weirdest thing Chip ever drew was half a tit, why not? Which was just as much of a ‘I’m done.’ (laughs)

CZ: I think that actually came about because I actually just drew half of a tit and I was gonna draw the other half but I was like eh, fuck it, why not. That’s the origin.

MF: Something we both kind of picked up, well I can’t speak for you Chip, but one of the things I loved about Planetary or something like Breaking Bad is there comes a point when they stop growing the world, and just start zig-zagging around inside the world they’ve already made. And so we’ve become very hyper-conscious of looking for characters and connections – can the guy from this come over here, can we see this person again, the janitor who has to clean up the poop in the plant is suddenly a real guy. Me poring over your art, and finding little details you put in, just to entertain yourself, to get through a page, kind of turns into an adventure in how can we invest all these people with lives who function in our story.

CZ: GOD, it’s so much fun.

Cover Art for Sex Criminals #7

Cover Art for Sex Criminals #7

AB: It really shows that you guys are having a blast on this book.

CZ: Oh yeah.

AB: Why did you guys decide to make the Sex Tips book? Were people asking you to compile them or you just felt there was something special there?

MF: I think, like everything else with this fucking book, it’s like a game of chicken and no one has blinked yet. Early on we wanted to incorporate educational – Chip and I were gonna be characters that would kind of…early on I remember we were thinking there would be cut-aways to “us,” and we’d be wearing satin robes – clearly naked but in Hugh Hefner robes – and addressing the readers and things, offering tips. Chip has a real gift with infographic design – his sense of design stretches into informational graphic design, I from his years at the newspaper. Like oh, we could use porn infographics, and use your sense of design to explain what exactly happens when you ejaculate, what happens when a woman has an orgasm, biologically it looks like this, or one of these charts of what a refractory period looks like. All this would be introduced by Chip and I appearing “on camera” as “Matt” and “Chip.” All that kind of fell away as the book became real, like the dumb dick jokes we lost. I think we both still wanted to include that stuff somehow.

CZ: it’s also partly because we know we’re cutting the letters pages and stuff from the trades, and to get those kind of jokes into readers’ hands who are trade collectors, [the Sex Tips book] seemed like the best way to do that.

MF: It’s such a cool part of the book. It wasn’t easy not including that stuff in the trades. So to do a curated collection, on top of new tips and moves and stuff – we could sit around and make ourselves laugh over a long weekend banging this book out and hopefully encourage more brimping.

CZ: When I was a teenager I loved going into bookstores and going to the humor section and flipping through these weird semi-dirty joke books. I like the idea of having something like that.

MF: McSweeney’s republished a Portuguese to English dictionary from the 30s called English As She Is Spoke” and it is gibberish. It is the most amazing – I don’t know if it was two Americans living in Brazil who didn’t speak Portuguese well, it’s just sort of bad translations writ large and it’s very very funny – but I love the idea of just a completely incompetent sex book. Much like all of the sex tips are – don’t do this, these are awful.

AB: And when is that coming out?

MF: It’ll be coming down your chimney this Christmas.

CZ: I like working with Matt because he’s an excellent sales person.

MF: It would be better if I could not giggle. Did Don Draper never giggle in his sales pitches? (Note: Matt Fraction requested I put “Flawless Don Draper impression” in here to describe what he did next. He tried.) “It’ll be coming down your chimney this Christmas.”

AB: You guys talked earlier about wanting to get Jon and Suzie’s story established. For you guys you’ve been developing them up to this point. Where are they going to be in a more fully-developed place versus where they were when they first met?

MF: I’m kind of stuck between answering the question and not wanting to say out loud “This book is about ____.”

CZ: I’d say probably the easiest non-giveaway answer to that is just to look at your own relationships and say what happens after the four-month mark. You know, that’s where they’re at.

Cover Art for Sex Criminals #8

Cover Art for Sex Criminals #8

MF: Ultimately we’re turning this particular couple’s emotional development into adulthood. Only instead of all these different people in your life that may have played a big role – your first real serious significant other, your first real serious sex significant other – they’re going to be the two for each other. The first arc they had the first three weeks as very exciting, the sexy fun rush of hormones and finding each other and kind of getting each other in a way that nobody else has gotten them before. And NOW, arc 2 is about that – I think the issue is called “Day 22.” Did I change it?

CZ: Yeah, you changed it.

MF: Well, the script is called Day 22, because it’s supposed to be about the start of the fourth week, when maybe the excitement has transmuted into something less passionate. The second arc is them figuring out, are we sticking together? Is this a hookup or are we a couple?

CZ: Wait are you talking about us?

MF: Yes.

CZ: I just wanted to make sure.

MF: In Charlotte, I want to get with you.

CZ: Finally.

AB: I’m even more excited about Heroes Con now.

MF: Come by the table every day and ask yourselves: was last night the night?

AB: Well, that was all the prepared stuff I had. We went a lot of places with this interview. One last thing – can you please give the Comicosity community their very own Sex Tip?

MF: There’s a fine line between spitting and spitting.

CZ: If you can’t be with the one you love, love the pillows you’ve formed into the person you love.

AB: That’s beautiful.

MF: Yeah, that’s really sweet.

CZ: It’s more of a romance tip, I think.

MF: Oh, I have one more: what happens in Canada, stays in Canada (CHIP).

CZ: (Legally).

I would like to thank Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarksy for taking the time to talk to me, and for making me laugh so hard I cried. Sex Criminals #6 is in stores now and available digitally from Image Comics and Comixology. Matt and Chip will also be at Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC from June 21-23, which will also feature a panel for the Brimper in your life, Sex Criminals Sunday.

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