Interview with the sex criminal: Matt Fraction on Hawkeye, dirty girls and ‘brimping’

(image: Luigi Novi)

Writer Matt Fraction has been a very busy guy as of late.

After winning multiple Eisner Awards at San Diego Comic Con, he is also putting out issues for three different series in less than five weeks between July and August:  Sex Criminals, Satellite Sam and Hawkeye (the first two are published by Image Comics and the third is obviously from Marvel).  Luckily, PopMythology was able to catch him for just a few moments to talk about two of his Eisner-winning titles, Sex Criminals and Hawkeye.

(For convenience and clarity, we’ve categorized the questions under these two respective titles.)


(Image Comics)

PM: The first issue of Sex Criminals  introduced the term “brimping” but now its meaning has evolved somewhat and fans are called “brimpers.”  What is the story behind brimping as well as the strange positions that Suzie’s friend draws on the bathroom stall in issue #1?

MF:  Well, I wrote a bad scene that was there first. Or a sad scene, anyway. And it was maybe a little redundant with what had come before (and what would come later) in the book. Chip Zdarsky [artist of Sex Criminals] pointed it out to me that, hey, maybe this scene could get cut out and you could remember to put in some jokes?

So for whatever reason I thought about the archetypical dirty girl  that it seems like everyone went to school with; mine was named Rachelle. And when we were in seventh grade she had a boyfriend in high school  (or so the rumors went) and they were doing stuff. Rachelle steered into it and owned it — it was either that or be branded with a middle school A, right? [Ed. note: the “A” is a reference to The Scarlet Letter]  — and became the de facto sex expert of good ol’ Horace Mann Middle School.

It wasn’t until I’d left Horace Mann and Rachelle and seventh grade far in the past and started having sex for my own-damn-self that I realized Rachelle was pretty much full of s**t and was doing her best to make it up. We didn’t know any better so we just believed whatever it was she’d tell us.

More importantly, she knew that middle school kids are stupid a**holes and that once the SLUT TOOTHPASTE was out of the tube it would never go back in.

Anyway, since I had the “dirty girls” characters already in place it seemed like a chance to do something with that — the middle school sexpert that’s full of s**t, sharing her guesstimated sex knowledge with an eager learner.

(Image Comics)

Although Chip’s read on the scene was different — and not wholly invalid, I have to say, with what’s on the page — in that Rachelle was trying to scare Suzie, who was clearly not ready for it, away from having sex by creating the most baroque, byzantine, and weird sex positions and acts she could think of.

Okay so…  so we had the idea for the pages in place. I worked out a template for the rhythm and flow of it — 1/16 panel, 1/16 panel, 1/8th, 1/16 or whatever — for the scene.

Then Chip and I put together a list of a hundred words or phrases that sounded like they MIGHT be sex moves. I picked my favorites.

And then with no other direction than the names and the flow of pages, I left it to Chip to be Chip and out came this amazing scene that’s kind of changed our lives.

PM: How was it writing about sex from the point of view of a woman, especially as Suzie talks about orgasm and intercourse?

MF: I suppose I tend to find all writing kind of difficult. That it was a character talking honestly and explicitly about sex  wasn’t the difficult part; the difficult part was the character talking honestly and explicitly. Y’know? The rest I can intuit, I can guess, I can, uh, just make it up  but if the emotional truth, the character truth, isn’t there, it’s just dick and boob jokes.

(Image Comics)

I did rely on some of the ladies in my life to help me un-dude my language. Like, I know what slang and argot by which I think of and define my own sex experiences and equipment but not necessarily how a woman would do the same. Does that make sense? Would a woman ever think to herself about her breast and use the word “tit”? That kind of thing.

PM: You often use elements of your own life in your stories, are there any moments in Sex Criminals based on situations that you experienced?

MF: Oh, god, yes.

PM: Is it easier to base parts of your comics on the more humorous parts of your life as opposed to darker moments?

MF: No, it’s all the same pain in the ass.

PM: What inspires your answers for the “Sex Tips” section in the fan mail section of each issue?  (Also, any updates on the book Just the Tips?)

MF: You mean the stuff up on top? That is 99% of the time just Chip f**king around while the book comes together for press. I think I wrote two or three of them but usually it’s Chip getting the sections ready and just, y’know, being Chip.

(Image Comics)

Just the Tips  is being made as we speak! It’ll be coming out for the holidays in a cool little hardcover. I hope we can price it at $9.69 but we’ll see. It’s full of tips, tricks, moves, positions, best-of content from our letters, all NEW reader confessions, infographics, and dick jokes.

PM:  Apart from the “Sex Tips,” where do you draw your advice from to answer the fan mail?

Well, experience sometimes; sometimes just thinking about the question, sometimes we field questions to people like Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., or an OB-GYN friend of mine. Usually we just make up what we think is funny and/or try to speak from, uh, what, from the heart. Y’know? It’s just such an experience in empathy and honest interaction with these amazing people who are reading our book.


(Marvel Comics)

PM:  Back when issue #3 came out I sent a letter asking about Hawkeye becoming deaf in Arrow Mail. The response back then was, “Not at this time.” But in issue #15 Clint loses his hearing. What happened between the making of issues #3 and #15?

MF:  Well, I didn’t answer that personally so… either the editor that did didn’t know what I was up to, forgot what I was up to, I’d failed to TELL them what I was up to, failed to tell them/they forgot because we didn’t know how long we’d get to go at issue 3 (doing the math, issue #3 would’ve been in bed right around the time issue #1 had come out) or they were being quite literal —  the road between issue #3 and issue #15 is a whole year (assuming everything had shipped on time) so literally “at this time” was accurate.

Anyway once it became clear we’d get to go, I knew it was coming as the, uh, second act break. It was always my intention, given the space, to return Clint to that state. Even then I wouldn’t have told anyone in a letter column.

PM:  For issue #19, the “sign language issue,” how do you (and Hawkeye artist David Aja) visualize a story in sign language without being fluent?

MF:  Well, you rely on your deaf friends and an amazing ASL educator [Rachel Coleman]. I wrote a full script (usually I write HAWKEYE plot-style for David but in this instance he asked me to do it full-style) and shared it with them. It had the signing sequences blocked out crudely to indicate roughly what Clint and or Barney would be signing. Then Rachel and Leah [Rachel Coleman’s daughter] and I walked through those scenes and figured out what the ASL equivalent and grammar might be, usually in as few signs as possible, for considerations of space. It was very much like the usual lettering pass one does on a comic — “hey,  this balloon is too big and there are too many words and it covers up too much art, so how can I edit it down and retain the meaning and the rhythm and whatever poetry may or may not be present to about seventeen words” — and then I pulled the reference, double-checked it with Rachel and Leah, then sent it all to David and we just went a scene at a time. Rachel and Leah would check it out as it came in, we’d send notes, David would make tweaks, we checked again, and that usually about did it.

The heavy design lifting, the visual storytelling of it all, is and was and always will be David.

(Marvel Comics)

PM:  What has the response from the Deaf community been like in regards to issue #19?

MF:  Well, I have a very limited exposure to the Deaf community so I feel like my perspective would be anecdotal at best.

I will tell you this, though: our Deaf readers and hard-of-hearing readers always picked up on Clint’s difficulties with hearing from the first issue on. The first time a (parenthesis thing) happened, way back in a line of dialogue in the first issue, they knew.

PM:  Do you tweak your script for each issue based on Aja’s artwork or do you have a design idea in mind while writing?

MF:  Yeah, of course. We go back and forth a lot. The real story of “how to make HAWKEYE” would have to have 90 emails attached to it, y’know?

PM:  This isn’t really a question, but… I’m still not over Grills.

MF:  Aww. Thanks, man. Sorry. But thanks.

PopMythology offers our sincere congratulations to Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky for winning the Eisner for Best New Series (Sex Criminals) and to Matt and David Aja for winning Best Single Issue (or One-Shot) for Hawkeye #11. Now go read Sex Criminals, Satellite Sam  and Hawkeye!

About Clint Nowicke

Clint Nowicke
Clint is a graduate student at Eastern Kentucky University working on his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, focusing primarily on the Deaf community as well as the LGBTQ community.

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