Unlike regular On Wednesdays We Wear Ink columnist Andy Waterfield, a person who has spent the vast majority of his life caring about comic books and the comics industry as a whole with a passion as deep as the Marianas Trench where the X-Men were made and still live today, I am very much a newcomer to the medium.

Growing up in Florida, especially pre-internet, essentially necessitated that capable kids go the fuck outside and ride their bikes, or their skateboards, or play basketball, football, or go fishing, anything that got dirt under our fingernails and kept us out of our poor parents’ hair for a few hours, anyway. The weather is absolutely beautiful there year-round; the feeling of those early morning rays of sunshine hitting my face, the way the hot wind whipped around my body when I rode my bike really fast, that refreshing coolness and unmistakable smell of the salty ocean air nearby, 80 degree Christmas mornings, goddamn, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. Having been gone from there for four years now and seeing both sides, having shoveled snow, slipped on ice and screamed WHY THE FUCK IS IT STILL SO COLD at the sky in mid-April, I can safely say those weirdos down there truly do not know how good they have it.

If you grew up with stuff like this practically in your backyard, you'd go outside instead of reading comics too.

If you grew up with stuff like this practically in your backyard, you’d go outside instead of reading comics too.

Point is, I was never much of an indoor kid (until we got the Internet and I discovered punk rock, anyway) and I always—and as it would turn out, quite incorrectly—associated comics fandom with those types. What’s odd is that I feel like I was friends with those people I stereotyped—the outcasts, you know? I rudimentarily scrawled crappy band logos all over my backpacks and Trapper Keepers; I went to the mall on weekends and shoplifted black t-shirts and lighters from Spencer Gifts; I was (am?) a poseur, but we all were back then, but I really was. I still liked sports and riding my bike and being outside and even *gulp* hanging out with my parents. One year, I was the lone longhair to make it into an “advanced” P.E. class with all the jocks. I never bought all the way into the Tortured Suburban Kid thing. My childhood was fine. I never needed comics as an escape, or even a brief diversion.

My view of comics was also extremely narrow. I had it in my mind that the only comics that truly existed were those of the drab, conservative, unrelatable superhero genre, with recycled good vs. evil stories heavy on cliché and light on nuance. This was very, very stupid of me, because I was just beginning to discover an entirely immeasurable amount of music out there that wasn’t being played on the radio, that existed outside of the sphere of popularity; surely comics, and any other artistic medium, would house similar, life-altering and worldview-shattering subcultures. (Guess what? They do.) I also loved pro wrestling, which at its very core is a morality play, good vs. evil, with larger-than-life, superhero-esque characters and dastardly villains.

These guys were my original comic book heroes.

As a 31 year-old person, my dearth of comics knowledge mostly stems from lack of time, distraction by other, more pressing things, you know, normal adulthood shit. Editing Andy’s column for the past 15 months has been a treat, not just because he’s one of my favorite writers and thinkers and humans, but because he’s made an otherwise daunting medium accessible to idiots like me, and hopefully you as well.

With that in mind, let me tell why you should read Sex Criminals, even if you’ve either haven’t picked up a comic book since you were a kid, or have never picked up one because you were too busy scoring touchdowns and smooching babes or whatever.

Sex Criminals is many things. It’s a coming-of-age tale told from a strong female perspective; a love story; a raunchy sex-comedy; an exciting action-adventure where monstrous dildos are repurposed as weapons; and a fantasy in which its protagonists possess the ability to freeze time with their especially intense orgasms. Suzie is the first person we meet with this power, and the series’ main character; she’s sharp, funny, confident, intellectual, and sex-positive, but is also endlessly confused about her abilities, what they mean, and why no one else seems to share them. The Quiet, as she calls it, is a lonely place, which is especially sad considering the inherent intimacy of consensual sex.

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Sex Criminals, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarksy

Suzie meets Jon at a party thrown to help save her favorite library from foreclosure, and, as parties sometimes tend to go, the two end up hitting it off and hooking up. One quick note about this: This plot, played so many times over in different mediums from the dominant male perspective, is shown from Suzie’s perspective instead here, and doubles as perhaps the clearest and most well-done portrayal of consent in anything I’ve ever seen or read.

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Sex Criminals, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

Sex Criminals, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

It turns out Jon experiences The Quiet, too, which scares the shit out of both of them—this discovery also yields one of Sex Criminals’ funniest sight gags, which you can probably guess what it is, or at least which body part it’s centered on, but I won’t spoil it here. The two begin dating from there, in what I can only describe as a painfully realistic depiction of a moving-too-fast relationship; they have a lot of sex, then they move in together, then they start arguing about stupid things, then they have more boring sex, and less frequent sex, and eventually, no sex at all. But they figure it out, sort of.

All the while, the bank foreclosing on the library also happens to be Jon’s place of miserable, soul-sucking employment. Naturally, he and Suzie hatch a plan to enter the Quiet, thinking no one else will be able to move, and rob the bank without harming a soul, because Sex Criminals isn’t enough things already, so it might as well be a heist comic too. Turns out there’s others watching them, though; notably, a group of authority figures whose motives aren’t yet entirely clear. It’s also not clear that they have any actual authority, so Suzie and Jon choose to fight back, sometimes with dildos. Punk rock!

dildo

Sex Criminals, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarksy

Sex Criminals, which is an ongoing series, is written by Matt Fraction. Fraction is a punk fan, based on his blog anyway, which would seem to inform a lot of the ideals he imbues into the comic. There’s a gleefully anti-authority bent to much of what Suzie and Jon have done so far in the series, taking on a bank to save books and dealing with whatever these weird Sex Police try to throw at them. And, returning to the series’ genesis, what’s more DIY than masturbation, anyway?

Fraction’s zippy, quip-heavy writing is perfectly complemented by Chip Zdarsky’s art, which is bright, inviting, contemporary, and often, quite cinematic. You could see this as a film or television show—and apparently, soon you might.

I never knew comic books could be like this, but it goes back to something Andy mentioned in a recent column: Comics are arguably, the last mass-produced, readily accessible visual medium where its creators are still largely given carte blanche to write and illustrate the most creatively batshit bonkers stories they can invent inside their fucked up heads. Daunting as their scope may be, I’m looking forward to continuing the dive once the third Sex Criminals book is out in June (I arrived to the game too late to conveniently collect single issues, and prefer the look/feel/length of the trades anyway). Films and television shows, great as many of them are, are focus-grouped, punched up, edited, re-edited and marketed to shit anymore. Comics are, indeed, the Wild West of artistic thought, where its creators run free and there’s truly something for everyone, should they decide they one day want to look.

 

Bryne Yancey does not usually write about comic books and, when writing about an unfamiliar subject, always reverts to writing about Florida. He tweets recycled jokes and bad takes at @howtobepunk.

 

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