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The Orange Won’t Peel | In Miami, where the made-up live (and die)

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It starts with a podcast by Comic Geek Speak. Episode 256. The one guest starring Matt Fraction, Geoff Klock and the comic book Casanova.

A younger Fraction, on the interview block, tries his best to tow a line. He won’t cop to either writing a carefree spy exploit or an autobiographical tour of pop culture. He insists it’s both, if not a few other undisclosed angles, allowing his work to speak while he bites his tongue. Like any writer should. The panel can’t handle that, though.

Geoff Klock, cultural critic and fan, steers the conversation toward analysis and comparison, without a break, pulling on Kill Bill and hyperventilating under the pressure of saying “there’s more.” He’s the super mind. The Ivy League school professor with academic texts to his name, and he wants a definite answer as if he’ll cite it later. The CGS hosts – Peter, Murd, Deemer, etc., etc. – go with it, interacting at a touch, though still caught in the raw power of decision making, trying to decide what the fuck they’ve actually just read.

At 15 years of age, mowing my grandparent’s lawn and hearing that, comic books suddenly felt dangerous. The conversation, so rushed and indecisive, made it seem like the medium may have outsmarted us. To a point that the creator and critic could only stammer over one another, and leave others silent. There was, at least in my awareness, something complicated, now. Something rooted within something else, and the world opened up, if only a bit more.

– – –

Sex Criminals is an internet meme, understood at a glance and alive beyond its source. This t-shirt – of Sexual Gary – is a prime example, though it’s certainly a late development. We’ve already had Chip Zdarsky’s Applebee’s bit, iTunes, the prom photo cover and Fraction’s Twitter handle of BUTT STUFF WEREWOLF. Not to say I haven’t enjoyed these things (that photo is amazing). It’s just something I’ve noticed about this comic – way before I read it. The reputation feels more alive, more complete, than the book, which really reads like something drawn out for no other purpose than to keep cracking jokes. And what’s the point? That’s what Twitter is for, right?

Greg Hunter, a critic at The Comics Journal, has already written about some of this, as well as the thought that Fraction’s clever concepts outweigh his stories, and I’m in agreement with this example. I find that Sex Criminals, while anchored by a fairly well-written, interesting protagonist, tends to meander and indulge itself on a scale where the ratio of payoff to indifference is sorely off balance. The playful filthiness (which is way more cute than filth. what the fuck, iTunes?) supplanted in the series’ hook puts something in the heads of these creators that they can run free, ignoring whatever obligation they made to structuring something which rolls forward or adopts numerous angles. Instead, there’s too much space for cum jokes. And while those can be funny, you find quickly, at least in my case, that cum jokes last longer with a range of other thoughts accompanying them.  Or with a system which keeps these jokes short, concise and on the move. Or if they’re funny. But they stretch across this thing, glazing, like the computer color affect often in use, the entire page count – to a point that it’s no longer cute, but rather snide and annoying.

That, and the character stuff burns out. The authors have the space to slow things and write dialogue scenes, what with it being an ongoing series, but I feel like once Suzie and White Dude in Glasses are established, there’s little else to tell us about them. Instead, the authors should show us who these people are by way of their actions, yet the comic becomes too concerned with montage-like dates and flashbacks, placing the reader in a loop.  It’s called Sex Criminals, and the crime barely appears. Sure, the relationship is important. So are the characters’ backgrounds. But it’s arguable it’d be more interesting, if not more exciting, to discover these things while watching these characters commit their crimes and live the lives the title would have us believe they inhabit. Fraction and Zdarsky go the Bendis route, though. Narrating something we already know as to have happened, slowly bringing us to a conclusion that the comic book should start with.

And the center of it isn’t always strong enough, like a Memento, to feed us properly, either. Unlike Fraction’s writing on CasanovaSex Criminals operates as something drunk and sloppy, but more importantly it’s not a comic that’s cranking every possible gear to run its little world. You read Cas, and things feel at stake. Like they may break from all the push and pressure. That’s a comic book written by a guy who has no idea if he’ll even write another comic book after it, so the concept is explored. Something happens in every panel.

Much of that came from a few things. 1.) The early Image format of the title, allowing it only 16 pages per issue. 2.) Its low sales ever-threatening its lifespan. 3.) Seven-issue story arcs providing a cutoff for the narrative. I don’t know. I like the idea of those obstacles. They forced Fraction into the role of editor, cutting through some of his own bullshit. The artists, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, took on larger roles, as well. He needed them, even more, as effective storytellers in order to utilize every inch he had. Obstacles, man. That shit makes art because it’s all about overcoming them.

It’s a decent enough read, but Sex Criminals  is an occasion where, I think, the meme of it managed to push aside the actual case and distract everybody, tricking the readership into thinking they’re in love. Or, hey, maybe they actually fucking enjoyed it, and I’m just a shit, but go with me, here. This could be a lot better. We’ve seen it before from Fraction. I hate to always compare his work to Cas, but when something that strong came from the guy, it’s tough not to expect more. I’ve been waiting for more since the age of 15. That moment led me to believe in this guy, for some reason. Maybe you did too. Like believe in something big, well-rounded and of attitude. Instead, it’s all just a fucking hashtag, lacking any bite.

11 Comments

You’re not gonna make a lot of friends with this one, I think. Good for you for stating your opinions, I guess!

Yes, I find the whole Brimper movement cute and I like Fraction and Zdarsky’s public personas, but I would start indiscriminately murdering my fellow fans if it meant that I could get the actual /comic/ in my hands. Sex Criminals is what’s good about Sex Criminals.

I had hoped that this kind of “too slow” criticism would only come from readers of Fraction’s superhero comics, who’ve been conditioned to expect a fight scene every issue.

Why does everything have to be about stakes? There’s the Sex crimes and the Sex police with the Kegelface woman as a plot structure, but the meat–the heart– of Sex Criminals is about Susie and John, separately and together. They’re people who felt fundamentally isolated by their abilities, found each other in what appeared to be a romantic miracle, and are finding that being in a relationship can be more isolating than being alone. They find out new things about each other, they look back on their histories with a different perspective than they had when experiencing them, and they find that their lives may be richer with each other, but are also much more complicated. This is how life usually progresses for people who don’t live on battlefields, in little bits with awkward mixes of emotions, rather than big sweeping life-or-death situations. (It’s also why the filthiness is more cutesy than filthy– neither character really knows what the hell they’re doing, and are just trying to put on a Mature Adult face in an endearingly awkward way).

Travis Pelkie

June 12, 2014 at 3:02 am

Well, I’ve been saying the emperor has no clothes for a while (Burgas can attest to that) — I even go so far as to say that Fraction’s Hawkeye is also overwhelmed by how in love it is with its own concept, to the detriment of anything actually interesting. I have the first 5 issues of Sex Criminals, found the first 3 blah, and haven’t yet read beyond that. Maybe it gets interesting after that, but what you wrote here is pretty much what I thought about it from the start.

Although I will disagree with Burgas when he thought that the bit when White Dude with Glasses (I forgot his name too!) said something about when Susie was doing the Queen song being the moment he fell in love with her (the song bit, though, was ANOTHER bit that was too in love with itself to mean anything — those fuckin’ post-it notes! And music doesn’t work in comics, dammit!)

I think like you I’ve wanted Fraction to be so much more awesome because of Casanova. I’m almost afraid to go back and re-read that book. (Also, I don’t think I quite HAVE all of it yet….)

He hooked me by being a New Pornographers fan, and putting Jackie Dressed in Cobras in there. Dammit!

You were 15 when Casanova was coming out? You’re so damn young! I feel like hitting you with my walker ;)

elbichoemboscado

June 12, 2014 at 5:02 am

“You’re not gonna make a lot of friends with this one”

You just made one in, of all places, Barcelona. “Mi casa es tu casa”.

I agree with everything you just said. Well, I don’t think you’re shit… but I don’t know you too well…

re: Sex Criminals. Everyone has an opinion and yours is an asshole. Wait, is that how it goes? Either way, fuck you, you’re wrong.

liked the opinion, I do not understand how the title ties in with the article… maybe I need more coffee…

Mike Loughlin

June 13, 2014 at 7:18 am

I agree completely. Casanova is one of my favorite comics (although I still haven’t read the most recent volume) but nothing Fraction’s written since has come close. I liked The Order and Iron Fist and theThor specials he wrote prior to writing the regular series. None of his other mainstream super-hero comics have riasen to those heights and some have been terrible (Fear Itself, Thor).

Hawkeye’s pretty good. I think it’s overpraised, but it’s not bad. The art has been a plus, maybe THE plus. Honestly, I remember almost nothing about the stories. Compared to the best Marvel titles I’ve read, Daredevil and Superior Foes of Spider-Man, it’s not quiteon their level.

brian the brain

June 13, 2014 at 8:26 am

I think the matter it’s simply you don’t get the book. I see this book as a sci–fi sex–based comedy . The concept is cool, the lead characters well depicted but in the end is something intended to be funny and personal, not an action comic. It’s about sex, love, idiosyncrasies, relations seen with a funny eye. These characters are not criminals, criminals don’t plan to rob a bank to save a library and get a little revenge on an irksome boss. The title itself it’s just a play on words (the real sex criminal vs. our funny ones), you can’t say you expect crime stories because of the title neither you can demand action in a comic that doesn’t want to be about action (otherwise you would see action, it’s not like the creators are forbidden to insert action scenes).

Or we get the book, title, and concept just fine, but think that the execution of said things is not well done and doesn’t deserve all the praise it gets. Like all the blurbs from people like Brubaker and Patton Oswalt saying it’s the best comic ever. Really?

Although I do admit to not understanding the one central concept. No, not the orgasm time freeze, the part where somehow a bank is foreclosing on a public library. Huh? How is that possible?

“I think the matter it’s simply you don’t get the book.”

Honestly, has this *ever* worked?

Have you ever said “I disagree with your opinion not because opinions and people are different, but because you actually just don’t understand the book,” and then gone through it point by point and had the person at the end of the day say “Now I not only understand but do in fact like it.” ??

I mean, even putting aside the arrogance of the “If you were as smart as me, you would understand it” tone, if the book can’t convey what you say it’s about without you saying it’s about it, it isn’t an effective work. If it can, then you wouldn’t have to explain it.

Travis Pelkie

June 17, 2014 at 5:36 pm

Just re-read 1-3 and finally read 4-5, and it didn’t really change my mind about the series. One thing that I think hinders the series is the jumping back and forth between different scenes and time periods — it’s too fractured, and tends to deflate the tension of any scene. And in issues 4 and 5, it really seemed like “oh shit, we better wrap up the heist stuff!” and we end up zipping through the resolution of the sex police after the 2 leads, which has already been deflated by how incompetent those people seem to be. And the scenes of Kegelface staking out Suzie and Jon are also devoid of tension since we already know she’s after them.

But the letter column title is a great pun, and that column is often the highlight of each issue. And the story seemed to read a little better all at once.

The library thing still puzzles me, though. How? And like a letter writer said about the panel in issue 1 where Suzie apologizes about the amount of books in the apartment — that shelf and box of books seems like a perfectly reasonable amount of books to have in a home.

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