I have fond memories of the first time I read issue #10 of Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. I just gotten off the T at Mass Ave in Boston and hopped on the 1 Bus towards Cambridge, where I had a job at MIT. There was one scene in particular that moved me to tears — a shockingly relatable exploration of mental health that was parallel to something I'd been going through myself. Something I'd never seen portrayed in any sort of media before.
I was still crying when I reached the next scene in the book, where a male gynecologist explaining his career path to his girlfriend. Every other panel on the page showed a(n illustrated) close-up of a vaginal examination. I was still crying. I kept reading. Two pages later, the gynecologist's girlfriend explained Dick Pics to him. The visual layout followed a similar pattern, but instead of vaginas, every other panel was occupied by a random dick pic.
And there I was, still riding along Massachusetts Avenues with tears streaming down my face as I looked at cartoonish illustrations of Dick Pics on my iPad.
Humiliating though this may have been, I think it was pretty perfect meta-moment to encapsulate the wonders of the comic book series Sex Criminals, which concluded this week with issue #69. (The previous issue had been #30, but obviously, it had to jump ahead in the timeline, because, ya know, sex jokes.)
When Sex Criminals launched in 2013, writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky had a simple but delightful premise: two lovers meet when they discover that they can freeze time when they orgasm, and they use this ability to rob banks to save a local library. Hilarity ensues. Eventually, there are Sex Police who also freeze time when they come, and of course, greedy corporate conspiracies (what?).
The first 5 or so issues were a huge success, thanks in no small part to their relatably ribald humor. Delightful dick jokes abounded in subtle puns hidden in the backgrounds of every scene—a recurring motif throughout the series. But after that first story arc, the series took a turn: suddenly, it became a deeply humanistic, and deeply personal, exploration of identity, mental health, relationships, trauma, and a wide spectrum of sexuality.
I had a lot of friends who rolled their eyes at the series' seemingly-abrupt shift away from the blitzkrieg of dick jokes that had propelled it in the first place. And look, everyone has a right to their opinion. But I was also the guy still crying over the unprecedented psychological resonance of a god damn comic book called Sex Criminals, while I rode the fucking bus reading pages strewn with dick pics and vagina close-up on my iPad. Even the letters page — appropriately titled "Letter Daddies," featuring "Just The Tips" —moved me to tears more than once with its raw, empathetic conversations about what it means to exist as a human being who possesses both sexuality, and a neurodivergent brain.
That's a tragically rare Venn overlap of subject matter to find in stories. But Sex Criminals tackled it constantly, with hard, passionate lovemaking.
This week's Sex Criminals #69 gives a mostly-wholesome happy ending to that 7-year journey (though only like 32 issues, which is really not that hard to get through). Part-and-parcel to that journey is the personal journeys of the creators — a meta-text that finds its way into the pages of the story, too. Without ever losing touch of that naked empathy, or the Dick Jokes.
I wouldn't recommend starting at #69; it's more of a denouement than anything else. There are 6 trade paperback collections (plus the oversized hardcover versions, appropriately called Big Hard Sex Criminals). You can also buy the individual issues on Comixology, which I might actually recommend over the collections, since they include the hilarious and touching (not that kind of touching) (okay a little bit of that kind of touching) letters pages, which are a wonderful companion to the book.