I have a stack of graphic novels to get through. All of them have either been recommended to me for a long time, or worse, been languishing on my desk for ages. Pretty Deadly was one, and this it two… with Paper Girls, Pretty Deadly Vol. 2, Lucifer… with quite a few left to read. I am quite bad at reading graphic novels, it turns out. And I’ve got to admit, Sex Criminals is kinda the epitome of why. I do a lot of my reading outside of the house – on the tube, on my lunch break, when I’m waiting for things after work – and aside from the fact they’re generally awkwardly sized for such endeavours, you can’t trust that graphic novels are going to be ok if someone looks over your shoulder while you’re reading. Ody-C wouldn’t have been, with nudity everywhere, and no particular disinclination to sex. Let alone the graphic violence. Pretty Deadly wouldn’t have been. And well… this… even the cover is something I’d be a bit cagey about displaying on my tube journey, let alone while sat at my desk in the office. So they tend to stack up, for when I fancy sitting still at home and reading. Lucky me, everyone’s out right now, so sociable is out of the question (and means I can play the flute without feeling guilty about the squeaky noises being horrifically antisocial, but that’s less interesting for me to discuss here).
So I finally read Sex Criminals, which Flatmate told me I should do aaaages ago. Months and months. Normally, the stuff he recommends is totally worth it*, so it means that when I’m a bit… nyrrghh… about something, I’ll ignore it and read it anyway, because I trust him (on books, anyway). And of all the things he’s told me to read, I was most nyrrghh about this one, because it seemed emphatically not my thing. Even when several of my other friends had added their endorsements… eh. But I am sensible, so I did give in and read it. Which was, I think, the right decision.
I don’t love it. It’s no Ody-C or Lucifer. I’m not going to be evangelise to everyone I pass that they absolutely need this in their life right this second because it is too amazing for words. But it did do something that I don’t tend to find happening in a lot of graphic novels, but I do in books I enjoy – it made me switch my brain off and immerse myself fully in the story. Normally, I find myself reading graphic novels at a step removed, appreciating them more than being fully… in the story, like I am with novels. The feeling where your brain has gone somewhere else until you stop reading again. A lot of the time, I’m ok with this, because if I’m fully brain-in-standby-mode, I’m not looking at the pictures or really taking anything from the book except the story. And I want to look at the art in Ody-C and Pretty Deadly. So much. But here… I don’t know if it was the structure or the really backgrounded art or just that I’m in a funny mood today, but brain was off and story was engaged. And that was really really enjoyable.
Because although the art is perfectly fine (she says, flicking back through the book to remind herself), it’s not what I’m really here for with this. It’s not epic and glorious. I’d never look at the original art sale of it covetously, wishing I had several hundred pounds to spare. It’s serviceable, and the muted colours skewed to a specific couple of shades really work well. There’s an atmosphere. But it’s not the point. The story is the point. And the story is pretty great.
It’s got a non-chronological structure going on, with really absent or unhelpful cues, and the confusion that creates is great too. It flicks back and forward so quickly you actually have to pay attention to what’s going on, and the choices of when to flick back and forward are so spot on. Just long enough that you’ve got your teeth into the story, but just short enough that you’re not ready to move on, so every break is a cliffhanger and it’s frustrating but in a good way. I think maybe this is what forced me to engage so much with it. Because I really couldn’t drift away even for a second, or I might lose the thread of what was going on.
Also, because we’ve only really got two characters, it’s very easy to have built up an empathy with them, so you really do. Suzie seems like the better person of the two, but I find myself liking Jonathan rather more, in spite of this. They’re both real people who have grim lives in very mundane ways, and well, it’s relatable. Not gonna lie. You empathise with their struggles in the present, and however much is or isn’t actually transferable life experience, it is oh so easy to feel sorry for the kids they were and what they went through. Not just the plot. Because the book is kind of about sex and growing up too, just with some SFF weirdness thrown in on top.
And then… it gets a bit weird. And you don’t really get resolution for the weird by the end of volume one, which is probably a cunning ruse to make me read volume two (spoilers, it worked, I want to read it right now). Like every little shift in chronology, it’s cliffhanger done well. Because the antagonists are a complete puzzle, but with just enough information to make you go “buh… wuh?“.
Basically, it’s a book that’s mostly about characters, but also about sex and growing up, that happens to have a great plot and some SFF weird thrown in on top to make it more exciting. I doubt I’d have read it without the SFF, but I don’t think that’s what I’ll be staying for. And while I don’t love it just yet, and it still isn’t entirely my sort of thing, I think I might grow to, in time. It is well plotted, incredibly well written and… well… you have to give it “original”.
Just so you know, writing this post was an exercise in questioning every single phrase I used and whether it could be construed as innuendo. I don’t know what even is innuendo anymore. So if there are some really obvious ones, I apologise. As far as I’m concerned now, everything I have written here today is a horrible innuendo and if I read it back to myself tomorrow I’ll be giggling like an idiot. This has been your overthinking analysis for the day.
*Yes, hello. I know you’re going to be smug, but on this one thing, fine, you’re allowed. You do tend to lend me good books. Now sod off.