Friday, 7 August 2015

Deep Sequencing: Sex Talk

Or a look at some of the interesting dialogue choices in Sex Criminals: Vol. 2
by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky; Image Comics

Sex Criminals is a fun comic. I mean, it's a comic about people who stop time with their orgasms and rob banks for charity. So it's pretty great. As you might expect, the comic is filled with a pretty delightful amount of sexy hijinks, sex acts, and hilarious crimes. But Sex Criminals is also a heartfelt examination of relationships and grown up sexuality and life in general. So for all the boner jokes and sexy adventures there is also a lot of introspection and meaningful conversation happening on panel. Fortunately, Sex Criminals does a really, really great job presenting narration and dialogue in visually interesting and dynamic ways.

So I thought I'd maybe try and showcase some of the smart comics happening in Sex Criminals Vol. 2

There will be *SPOILERS* below.

Sex Criminals is a characterization machine. As much as I love all of the boner jokes (and who doesn't love boner jokes?), the real motor of the comic for me is the amazing character work in the comic. A big part of this is the quality of the character acting: Sex Criminals is filled with the tiny nuances of body language and facial expression really bring the characters to life. Add in a great ear for dialogue and an amazing sense of pacing that gives everything a moment to breathe and there is a consistent foundation to make every moment of narration or conversation highly immersive. 

This page here is a perfect example of what makes Sex Criminals such an effective comic. The story of the page is that Suzie is discussing her semi-breakup with Jon while laying on an examination table before a pelvic exam. It's a pretty great sequence that plays with the juxtaposition of the awkwardness of gynaecology with the breezy narration of Suzy to create a comic absurdity and then contrasts this humour with the pretty serious situation of relationship problems. It's a pretty fun and engrossing page.

The effectiveness of this sequence is all compositional comics magic. The foundation is, of course, the solid character acting and pacing which lends every word the necessary emotional weight and personality to give the words meaning. But upon this foundation is a page that flows really well in a deceptively simple way built on a really structured layout. The most obvious and clever choice is to intersperse upside down Suzie with the flashback panels. This creates the juxtaposition that drives the humour of the page and provides the first visual signifier to split present narration from flashbacks. This present/flashback divide is also built into the layout in panel size, with flashback panels being double wide, predominantly brown (as opposed to the present panels' green), and do not contain dialogue. It's a combination of small choices that makes a fairly complicated page and gag seem effortless and funny and interesting. Which is pretty great comics.

This sequence is another great example of why dialogue is so interesting and well done in Sex Criminals. In this sequence Suzie and Jon have a fight and say awful terrible things to each other while a omniscient-type narrator comments on their words. What I love about this sequence is how well it captures the truth of a certain kind of fight. Most fights are based on some underlying truth or hurt. Sometimes this hurt comes out in a way that is deeply petty and deeply hurtful while still adhering to the most toxic version of the truth. These fights are the worst. Part of why these fights are the worst is that when looked at rationally, outside the heat of the moment, the participants are kind of being total assholes and usually not even saying what they mean or what they want. That viewed from a cooler position there is a voice of de-escalation that just wants to defuse the situation and let people say what they need to in an empathetic way. This sequence builds that voice into the page and it instantly turns the shitty fight in the other panels into a *really* shitty fight. It's such an emotionally charged and effective choice.

Which is all just great evidence of the way Team Sex Criminals turn what could be simple, visually dull dialogue sections into emotionally evocative and visually interesting narratives. Which makes Sex Criminals great boner jokes comics.

So I Read Sex Criminals Vol. 1
So I Read Sex Criminals Vol. 2
Just The Tips Is A Good Book

Sex Criminals Party Flow
Deep Sequencing: Grown Up Sex Portrayals
A Scientific Look At Just The Tips

Sound Advice: Sex Criminals

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