It's business time: "Sex Criminals" creators' CCAD talk to focus on earning a living as artists

Justin McIntosh, Columbus Alive

From the start, Chip Zdarsky had low expectations for his now runaway hit comic book series "Sex Criminals," which he co-created with writer Matt Fraction.

The title itself was problematic, and the concept wasn't an easy sell either. (The ongoing monthly series follows a librarian and actor who can stop time during orgasms. They do it because, why not, but also to rob a bank in order to save an endangered library, among other hijinks.)

"When we started working on it, it was basically a project just for Matt and I to amuse each other," Zdarsky said during a recent phone interview. "Matt warned me right after we started working on Issue #1 that we probably would only last three issues, and we'd probably have to pay for the fourth out of pocket."

Despite Zdarsky's initial reservations, though, the book's been a smash success, partly due to the pair's approach to the subject, engaging sex in a way that's playful, funny, smart, heartfelt and open. Each issue includes a letters column with well-meaning but hilariously bad sex advice, for instance, and book signings have included white-out splotches as a stand-in for inked signatures. ("It's easier to fake-sign a book as if it's semen when it's not Hawkeye or Captain America or Superman," Zdarsky said. "I mean, you could, but they'd probably want you to refund the book.")

The comic book series' success might be unexpected, but easy or overnight? Nope, not even close.

On the "Sex Criminals" series alone, Zdarsky draws the comic, inks it, letters it, does the covers, promotes it, co-writes the hilariously bad sex advice column in the back, and much more.

"Normally one of those jobs would be plenty," he said. "I've always been busy, but now I'm starting to recognize there's such a thing as too busy. For the first time in my career, I'm actually turning stuff down because it feels like if you're a freelancer you have to accept the job or they might not offer it to you next time."

It's a mentality Zdarsky honed during the previous dozen years of his career, which he defined as a constant hustle, jumping from one freelance project to the next, including writing the advice column "Extremely Bad Advice" for The National Post for the last six years. (He recently quit to focus on "Sex Criminals" full-time.)

When CCAD asked to host Zdarsky and Fraction for a talk Thursday about the business side of being an artist, the comic book creators seized the opportunity.

"It's something people don't talk about much," Zdarsky said. "They don't talk about … what your salary is, how much you make a year, or how much a job paid you. It shouldn't have that stigma to it. Shining a light on it will only increase the wages and the amounts freelancers are paid, so, yeah, I think it's important to talk about the money side of things - how to get work and how to keep work.

"People will ask us at conventions how to break into comics, which is a very simple, straightforward question with a simple, straightforward answer. But the question should be, 'How can I get into comics and create a career out of it?'"

Crafting Your Hustle with Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23


60 Cleveland Ave., Downtown

Book signings

3:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25

Laughing Ogre Comics

4258 N. High St., Clintonville