Publisher’s Weekly recently put out an article regarding Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s excellent comic series Sex Criminals and the trouble that has been kicked up around Apple banning the book from being available for purchase within the Comixology app. The first issue made it through with no real issue but the second and third issues were blocked followed by the first issue being retroactively pulled. According to the article over 50 issues have been rejected by Apple this year. In the same year where digital comic sales on Comixology topped 200 million for the first time, more and more books are hitting stumbling blocks due to Apple’s terms and conditions for acceptability. As many are pointing out, this is a major reason why Android has started to take over a significant portion of the market share for portable devices. Personally I much prefer my Nexus 7 tablet over my old iPad. But this article isn’t about what electronics I prefer, it’s about the very serious debate regarding digital versus physical media.
I understand the drawbacks of owning actual issues all too well. I have forty longboxes filled with comic books that I will simply be unable to store much longer. But the drawbacks of digital collecting right now are so wide and varied that I have issues giving up my issues. First and foremost, there is the big issue that with Comixology you don’t really own your issues. Think about it. They’re somewhere on Comixology’s server. You sync them to your device but you don’t have the files backed up on a hard-drive somewhere because companies are afraid you’ll just distribute the books on torrent networks and drive them out of business. Image seems to eschew this by offering DRM free copies of their books on their website. But Comixology has created a sort of popularized monopoly on digital comics and having a single app to read ALL your favorite comics is so simple and convenient that they have become the online equivalent of Diamond Comics Distributors, for all intents and purposes. This may not be a major issue for some folks. Some people just want to read the books and forget about them afterward. But I enjoy re-reading books, it’s why I have so many boxes filled with issues and so many shelves lined with trade paperbacks. One day there may come a time when Comixology finds itself in financial trouble and you may no longer be able to access your comics. Is it a remote possibility? Yes, but it is a possibility.
Digital comics should not be this hard to make work. Image Comics direct model seems to be the best way to go about it. Download the issues at a fair price, DRM free in the format of your choosing. Marvel seems to be making a move to do something in-house with their digital comics that could be a step away from Comixology but, again, it seems to be based on a proprietary model where you do not actually own your comics. Until a system comes a long where I can safely feel as if i have ownership of my digital issues, I will not be able to switch completely. The convenience just isn’t as convenient as a regular pull list for me.
I gushed like hell over issue 1 and issue 2 of Sex Criminals. I thought they were some of the best comic book work to come out this year. The book is different and unique without being a book that insists upon its own cleverness. No, the book is unique by virtue of how honest it is. Sex Criminals is a book about two people who can stop time with their orgasms but at the same time it is a book about people. People discovering what it means to be vulnerable and learning what it means to discover each other slowly throughout the course of a relationship. There is a palpable sense of energy to our lead characters as well as a transcendent level of honesty in the storytelling. These characters feel like people and the story feels stronger for it. The moment in issue three where Jon watches as Suzie belts out “Fat Bottomed Girls” by Queen (in one of the most unintentionally funny bits of licensing snafus I’ve ever seen) is as honest a moment as I have ever seen on a page. I know I can point to the exact moment where I looked at my girl and knew that she was special and unique in a way nobody else could be and I felt that for Jon with Suzie here in issue three. Chip Zdarsky’s artwork makes the scene explode with dynamic intensity and every element of the moment is perfectly captured on panel.
Speaking of Zdarsky’s art, he can draw the hell out of a dude getting nailed in the face with a dildo.
And that boys and girls is why this book is so good. The back and forth of real human emotion and character worked mixed with the absurdity of a man getting a green rubber wiener thrown in his face. This is a book where these two people use their powers to rob a bank and yet it is that element of the story that takes a back seat to the character work. We want to know why they’re choosing to use their powers in this way. All of it feels believable and you invest yourself in their story this way. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky have done something wonderful here. I really cannot wait until this comes out in trade so I can buy ten copies and distribute it to people who ask me what comics they should be reading.
I spent a good part of my time as a comic book fanatic turning Image Comics into a punchline. We all remember the nineties. Now it has the nostalgic place in our memories the way that previous decades did. You can use the nineties as a period piece now. We’re far enough removed from it to work. The way Scorsese made us look at the seventies and eighties when he made Goodfellas, I can imagine someone doing for the nineties; distilling the time period down to its elements and showing us what we were all too caught up to see. I look at the Image comics output of that era and, generally speaking, it was nonsensical man-child crap that was disposable then and outright embarrassing in hindsight. So of course as a know-it-all nerd I would joke about how Image was a garbage imprint and that they could never put out anything worth reading. I feel like the last ten years have been a veritable challenge to every notion anyone ever had of Image. Kirkman’s Walking Dead and Invincible were revolutionary. Bendis cut his teeth on Powers there. It has become the creator-owned slice of heaven that the founders of the company intended it to be. Books like Morning Glories, Saga, Lazurus, and Thief of Thieves are the sort of thing that prove creator owned comics can be done to perfection and reinvent ideas associated around a single company. The last ten years have been a controlled burn in making me eat my words about Image as a company.
Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals is going to be another one of those books from Image that makes everyone sit up and take notice. While DC comics relies on gimmick covers to sell books with characters that nobody recognizes and Marvel works harder on mining their character catalog out for TV and Film adaptations, real visual storytelling is taking comics in the direction it needs to go and the one company publishing those books right now is Image. Fraction and Zdarsky give us a book that is unlike anything else on the stands. Visually or narratively, I dare you to find something that compares. The voice of our lead character recounts the story of her oddball sexual education in comedic and dramatic flashbacks that give us a good sense of who she is as a fully realized concept before ever getting to the crux of the book’s premise. We learn that she finds herself stuck in time, a swirling mass of colors and euphoria enveloping her as she reaches sexual climax. This is obviously a frightening and unnerving experience for her, one for which there is no context or assistance readily available. Suzanne is mysterious, and a mystery herself, but she is also fully fleshed out and her quirks and tics seem like logical and organic reactions to stimulus from the character’s background. The dialog that spews forth from her may seem hyper-realistic in the style of a Diablo Cody screenplay at times, but while Juno was just some quirky teenager, Suzanne’s sensibilities and personality traits can be traced back to her childhood trauma. What we see of her is a mix of the shield she puts up to cover her pain and frustration as well as the resigned true self that she tries not to let slip. This is a well written, character-driven book. Matt Fraction has really outdone himself here.
Chip Zdarsky’s artwork makes the book sing though. His artwork is unlike anything you will see at DC or Marvel. His line-work is crisp and doesn’t fall into the overly realistic post-Hitch style that we see so much of nowadays but instead presents us with clean artwork that flows from panel to panel effortlessly. He has a mastery of body language and facial expression that this book requires to truly work. Suzanne emotes more than a little bit with her body and a look in her eyes or the sloop of her shoulders holds as much meaning as any of her dialog. This is a book about sex, after all, and how important are the little details like the positioning of a hand or the angle of someone’s face when trying to convey a sense of intimacy? Zdarsky seems to understand this and peppers the book with expressive, emotive artwork that may not be everybody’s cup of tea but serves this book better than any artist out there right now.
In all seriousness, this is a compelling book. If you like truly well written characters and intriguing stories I suggest you buy this issue. My shop ordered a metric ton of them. Because myself and the store manager believe that the market for good, outside-the-box comics is only growing and we want people to have the opportunity to read something like this at its debut. Don’t kick yourself like you do for not getting in on Walking Dead, Invincible, or Saga at the ground floor. Pick this one up and remember just how engaging comic books can be.