Matt Fraction on drama of ‘Satellite Sam,’ comedy of ‘Sex Criminals’

Aug. 02, 2013 | 6:00 a.m.

Matt Fraction’s creator-owned Image Comics series “Satellite Sam” and “Sex Criminals” both have sex appeal — but in wildly different ways.

In the former, sex is scandalous. In the latter, it’s hilarious.

Fraction, a 2009 Eisner Award winner who was nominated for three this year, teams with iconoclastic artist (and idol-turned-friend) Howard Chaykin on “Satellite Sam,” which debuted last month. Set in the profane, behind-the-scenes world of 1950s television, the black-and-white series starts with the mysterious death of children’s sci-fi show star Carlyle White, whose apartment holds a large collection of photos of women in various states of undress. His son Mikey, a production crew worker, is thrust in front of the camera during the live broadcast with a last-minute script change after his father doesn’t show for work.

The mature-readers series’ second issue lands Wednesday, as does the second printing of No. 1, which sold out its first run.

“Satellite Sam” No. 2: Page 5 | Page 7 | Page 8

The writer, who also scripts the acclaimed “Hawkeye,” “Fantastic Four” and “FF” at Marvel, is working with artist Chip Zdarsky on the R-rated “Sex Criminals,” which kicks off Sept. 4. Now, about that title — don’t think “SVU,” think sci-fi screwball caper comedy. When Suzie has sex, time literally stops for her. And when she meets Jon, who experiences the same phenomenon, they embark on romance and robbery.

No. 1 follows Suzie’s awkward, funny journey of discovery leading up to that chance encounter, and along the way features a, um, unique manual drawn on a bathroom stall.

Fraction sat down with Hero Complex at Image Expo in July to discuss his partnership with Chaykin, what’s next in “Satellite Sam,” and making a sex comedy just for comics.

HC: You’ve worked with Howard Chaykin on some things with Marvel. How did the two of you develop this series?

MF: I pitched it to him. We worked together and got along quite well and became friends outside of work. I’ve been a fan of his as long as I could read. I wanted him in my life, and I wanted to make like the ultimate Howard Chaykin book — and that I got to do it with Howard Chaykin seemed a logical extension of that desire, you know what I mean? One day the setup occurred to me, and I pitched it at him, and he was into it, so away we went.

HC: The lurid side of celebrity is something with a long tradition and certainly these days some people become famous for being lurid. What is it about setting such a tale in the 1950s that’s interesting, and how do you make that sort of story fresh?

MF: I think any time TMZ exists, the sexual scandal, especially among famous people, never fails to titillate or excite. There’s something dynamic about the live production of anything, but live television especially. So the idea of setting something in that kind of world — there’s a reason why Aaron Sorkin keeps writing about TV shows: It’s an incredibly exciting environment. It’s incredibly tense and fraught, and anything can happen. It’s a great backdrop to put this story in. And sort of being a fan of the age and the era, we sort of allow the “Ozzie and Harriet”-ing of our memories to, you know … Grandma and Grandpa like to have sex too. You can read “Hey Kids, What Time Is It?” … or any of these great books, these amazing kind of tell-all stories and you realize, “Oh, people were just as neurotic and messed up and horned up as they are now,” which is easy to replace the imposed reality of that era. It wasn’t something I had seen before, it wasn’t something I could think of, and it was a world I wanted to visit and spend time in.

"Satellite Sam" No. 2, Page 8. (Howard Chaykin / Image Comics)

“Satellite Sam” No. 2, Page 8. (Howard Chaykin / Image Comics)

HC: Mikey would seem to have lived in his father’s shadow. Now, in this first issue, he appears to have a chance at stardom, though that would seem to be almost immediately eclipsed. Can you talk a little about that father-son dynamic in life, and  will we see some of that unfold in flashback?

MF: We’ll get a taste of it. Mikey’s dad was one of these early visionaries of television, these guys that understood what it was and what it could do long before other people did. His antecedents aren’t fictional…. We’re going to be seeing him in flashback and getting to know him and his ideas and thoughts on things and how he saw the industry and the medium developing as the story goes on. And Mike is stuck in the middle of it all. We’re going to start to see that Mike is clearly shellshocked from the Second World War and can’t stop drinking…. He’s got to pull himself up and transcend the guy who his father was — and his father casts an awful big shadow.

HC: Did you watch any episodes or footage from “Space Patrol”  …

MF: Yeah, lots. “Space Patrol,” “Captain Video” kinescopes, lots of TV from the era, all kinds of stuff, whatever I could find.

HC: Can you talk about the choice to go black and white?

MF: Howard’s work looks so good in black and white. He’s a designer at heart, which I’m sure will infuriate him to read me say. But he has such an eye for design, and black and white brings that out in him…. Aside from setting the period tone quite well, his work just looks so good in black and white. He started to work on it and was like, “Yeah, I think I’m going to do this in black and white” and I was not going to say no because I love to look at it that way. I would tell him at Marvel that I loved his black and white stuff, and he would come in and say, “Oh, so you hate my color work.” That’s Howard.

HC: Other than the profane or unusual things you tweet, how would you characterize your working relationship with Chaykin?

MF: I think “profane and unusual” expresses it perfectly. We are very, very similar in a lot of ways. And I love to just listen to him talk and tell stories — he’s got a million of them. He’s a raconteur in the grandest of traditions. He’s a guy who knows where the bodies are buried…. So it’s great to hang out with him and get these tales from him. And he has no compunction or sense of propriety, he’s just outrageous and hilarious and one of the warmest and most generous guys I’ve ever met.

HC: What was your first exposure to his work?

MF: The first thing that penetrated my membrane — I know I saw his “Star Wars” stuff, but “American Flagg” was the thing that grabbed me by the neck and to this day has not let go. The sense of design, the fact that it was the first time I’d read a comic that didn’t think I was a dumb kid. It was a comic that refused to slow down and explain itself to me. And it was a comic that refused to pander to the lowest common denominator and relied on an innate belief of its audience’s intelligence and willingness to engage the work. It was complicated and complex and rich. I remember puzzling over it and trying to figure it all out, and finding his rhythms and his patterns and just literally losing myself page after page and losing time staring at the work and trying to understand it and learn it. I can still hear his rhythm. I know when I’m doing Chaykin bits even when I don’t try to. It’s just in my DNA on that level. And big asses and stockings never hurts matters when you’re a young man coming up in the world. Howard does the best naughty in comics.

HC: What’s coming up in Issue 2?

MF: We get to hear Carlyle. We get to see and meet Carlyle in a flashback. We get to dig a little bit into this collection of photographs that he has. We get to see what happens when the good doctor runs around trying to shore up his foundation as the star of his flagship show on his network has turned up dead. And we meet one of the girls from the photographs.

"Sex Criminals" No. 1, Page 27. (Chip Zdarsky / Image Comics)

“Sex Criminals” No. 1, Page 27. (Chip Zdarsky / Image Comics)

“Sex Criminals” No. 1: Page 26 | Page 27Part of Page 31

HC: Turning to “Sex Criminals,” how did you arrive at time-stopping sex partner bank robbers?

MF: It just felt right. There’s never been, that I can think of, like a sex comedy for comics the way that we go see sex comedies in the movies or on TV. It just seemed like a genre that was totally virgin — pardon the pun. And I love that stuff, whether it’s like Billy Wilder or “Superbad” or any of that stuff. It’s a genre I enjoy; it makes me laugh. And if you’re going to do a comic, it should be a comic. It shouldn’t be a screenplay that you just give up and convert to the page. So I wanted something that looked visually spectacular and kind of play with the form. Comics does time on the page very well. It’s a chance to make a piece of cartooning and a piece of comic bookery that ordinarily wouldn’t be possible.

HC: The unorthodox manual on the bathroom stall — is that something you and Zdarsky arrived at together, or did he freak when you sent that over?

MF: I’ve never scandalized Chip — that’s impossible. I made a list of move names and trusted he could determine what they were. A couple of those names might have been his…. We put together a giant list, and then Chip just kind of — out spewed this filth. That’s collaboration — when you understand your partner’s strength and can just get out of the way and let them be a genius, then later you claim all the credit.

– Blake Hennon | @BlakeHennon

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