I was really excited by a tweet I saw from the Women Write About Comics account saying that the site would be spending the month of April focusing on the topic of sex. I’m definitely a casual reader of comics and a casual fan of sex, so I figured it was a match made in heaven.
The tweet also reminded me of my feelings on the wildly popular book Sex Criminals. I’m not good at reading things monthly, so in an odd display of patience (something I’m not the best at), I waited for the first hardcover collection to come out. Big Hard Sex Criminals collects the first ten issues of the series, and it is exactly as it sounds—a big, hard book full of issues of Sex Criminals.
I can’t emphasize how quickly I read all ten issues, because it’s such an entertaining read. There’s a lot to like about Sex Criminals, but as with a lot of the things I enjoy, once I finished what was in front of me, I was left with some strong feelings about representation.
All of the characters are people that look just like everyone else in every other book. And I’m just left wondering one thing: Why?
As you reach the end of the first ten issues, a black man is added to the cast. To me, it felt very much like there may have been an “oh, shit” realization that this fantasy world crafted from the ground up was entirely white—there was a sudden need to shoehorn in diversity. We end up with the totally original and never overdone diversity trifecta of white man, white woman, black man. Additionally, we find out a little about his backstory and see one of the few, if only, instances of a black woman speaking in the entire first ten issues of the book. It’s a wholly negative interaction between the black man’s younger self and his older brother’s girlfriend.
It’s frustrating, in a comic about sex, to only read about white people fucking. It’s equally frustrating to get a caveat of “here’s black men and white women fucking.” Those aren’t new or novel pairings in popular culture, and it’s frustrating how men and women of color, and especially black women, are left out of a book where sexual desirability is such a focus.
I am a fat black woman. And I’m frequently disappointed by how infrequently I’m represented in a lot of the media I consume, especially comics. I am aware in this case that the cast of characters in the ten issues I read wasn’t a large one, but I couldn’t figure out a single good reason why the characters in the book had to exist in the specific identities and bodies that they did. There wasn’t anything in the story (at least not in the first ten issues) that required the vast majority of the characters to be (or present as) white, thin, straight, cis-gendered, or visibly able-bodied (just like pretty much almost every other character in comics).
If you’re going to craft an entire world from the ground up with zero creative boundaries and then populate it in the most unoriginal and not diverse way, I need you to justify your reasoning for that immediately. And what justification could one possibly even provide? Most societies in real life aren’t even as homogeneous as people like to pretend.
I need to read things where people having sex look more like me and the actual world around me, not what a writer THINKS is going on in their own immediate community (I promise, if you look out your own window and only see white people and black men, you’re deliberately ignoring reality).
When you’re creating a comic, you have this medium where building a total fantasy around the premise that an orgasm brings time to a halt just works, and you can expect your readers to suspend disbelief for that. But you won’t challenge yourself or your readers on who deserves to exist in these stories? I deserve to exist in your story.