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Comic Book Day: Talking SEX with Joe Casey

This isn’t the first time I’ve talked to a guy named Joe Casey about sex. Much like the Man of Action Studios co-founder and veteran comic book writer, my father is also named Joe Casey and we have talked about the birds, the bees, and superheroes before. Wait, don’t get the wrong idea – that wasn’t the same talk. I did talk about all three with Joe Casey the writer though, primarily because Summer of Hard, the first collection of his creator-owned Image Comics series Sex, is out today.

The series follows billionaire Simon Cooke who, once upon a time, cavorted around Saturn City as the masked vigilante, the Armored Saint. Now, he’s put that all behind him and is trying to readjust to the comparative mundanity of civilian life. Casey isn’t the first author to tackle the subjects of sex or what superheroes do after they hang up the mask, but in Sex he explores the nature of repression and sexuality, both in and out of the mask, in a novelistic, thoughtful manner set against the backdrop of a city sorely in need of a hero, brought to life by Piotr Kowalski’s breathtaking artwork.

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Nerdist: My father’s name is also Joe Casey, so it seems fitting that I should talk about Sex with you too. Where did the inspiration for this project come from? What excited you about the story?

Joe Casey: As with most things that I do in comic books, what gets me off most is exploring some new territory. And, in this case, that new territory — for me and my own work, anyway — was this character, Simon Cooke. He’s a post-superhero character living in a post-superhero world. To really explore that without falling back on the typical clichés is something I was interested in doing.

N: Were you at all worried about the Google searches when people try to find the title? It could be worse – Fraction and Zdarsky have Sex Criminals to deal with.

JC: I’m sure our book’s been banned from comiXology or wherever else has certain S&P rules. I don’t pay that close attention, I guess. But, y’know, no big deal.  That’s just part of the game. This is not a book for everybody and I’m perfectly cool with that. It has a specific point of view… and when you have a specific point of view, you’re going to alienate people. Nothing wrong with that.

N: Speaking of, it seems like there’s a bit of a resurgence in comics that are dealing with sex and sexuality in a mature, thoughtful way right now. Why do you think that’s the case? Why is now the time and comics the medium?

JC: I think comics have always dealt with sexuality, in ways that run the gamut as far as one can measure “maturity” in this day and age.  And I’m not making any claims that what we’re doing is the most mature thing you’re gonna find out there.  Or the most thoughtful.  But I do think we’re ready to look at certain superhero tropes in a new way, a different way than the mainstream publishers always seem to present them.

N: Superheroism, to a degree, is all about repression. You have to keep your identity a secret for an example, or repress your baser instincts to just use your powers for evil. What was it about this repression duality between sex and superheroism that fascinated you?

JC: Hey, I think any healthy person understands some degree of sexual repression. That’s just part of growing up.  But however it shows up in the comics, I think superhero comic readers probably respond to that repression as much as they do the inherent power fantasy.  Not to mention, I think there’s an unspoken uncertainty on the part of a lot of older readers where they’re wondering to themselves, “Why am I still reading Green Lantern comics?” It’s like trying to convince yourself you’re still in love with someone you were close to as a kid, even though that someone has clearly moved on.  We’ve held onto our childhood obsessions maybe a little longer — or at least a little tighter — than was reasonable to do.  In Sex, Simon Cooke is doing his best to move on.  It’s not easy for any of us.  But it’s interesting to write about in this context.

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N: Simon Cooke isn’t your typical playboy billionaire. He has big bucks to spend, but he seems to be suffering vigilante justice PTSD; he can’t readjust to civilian life. What’s the biggest challenge in writing him?

JC: I don’t know how much of a challenge it is for me… but I think some of the readers are challenged by the decided lack of melodrama he experiences on a moment-by-moment basis.  Other superhero characters, even in their simpler, civilian identities, tend to go through a lot of heavy shit… probably stemming from a writer or artist’s desire to make their non-costumed exploits just as gripping as their full-on superhero exploits, fearful that the reader might get bored if they’re not getting their spandex fix.  In Simon’s case, I don’t know if I’d agree that he’s “suffering” from anything other than the realignment of his own perceptions.  That can often take a heavy toll, but most of the time it’s simply a process of evolution. Granted, that’s not the most kinetic stuff one could choose to depict on a comic book page, but some of my favorite moments in Love & Rockets (to give an example of a comic book that’s light years beyond anything I will ever do) are the most subtle, quiet moments I’ve ever seen in the medium.

N: Some of your other fare from Man of Action is decidedly more family friendly. Do you prefer being able to go as blue as you like or do you like the challenge of doing all-ages fare too?

JC: I like to say that I counter-program my own work, every chance I get. The challenge of all-ages fare isn’t much of a challenge, creatively.  It’s more of a challenge to come up with an idea that really speaks to kids.  Once you’ve done that, the mechanics of it are fairly simple.  For my own, more adult gigs in comic books, the challenge is much more personal.  How deeply can I dig into my own psyche and make it entertaining — or at least engaging for a reader at the same time?

N: One thing I quite enjoy about the book is that it doesn’t really follow a traditional “arc” format that’s endemic to so many monthly books; rather, it’s more novelistic in its approach. What motivated that choice over the “arc” structure?

JC: The novelistic approach, giving room and space for a story to truly unfold, is really the only way I know how to approach writing a long form series. Writing in arcs is much more akin to modern television writing, and if I’m going to borrow an approach and apply it to comic books, I’m more inclined to borrow from something more on the literary side, y’know?

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N: The book is quite visually striking. Saturn City almost gives off a retro futurist Gotham vibe. How closely did you work with Piotr Kowalski to craft the visual tone of Sex? What design influences inspired you?

JC: Well, I sent Piotr some reference early on, photos of dense cityscapes from all over the world, all of which got thrown into the mix. But, beyond that, it was more about nailing the geography of the city.  It’s right there in the first issue, why it’s called “Saturn City” in the first place. The Galileo River circles Centerland Isle and the other boroughs are arranged in a rough “ring” pattern further out. Hopefully, the city has its own character, and we’ll explore different sections as the series rolls on.

N: Apart from Sex, what other projects are you working on now that you’d like to share with us?

JC: To all you Sex readers out there — watch Ben 10 on Cartoon Network!

N: What comics are you reading and enjoying right now?

JC: Not a lot of new comics at the moment.  At least, not in terms of monthly titles.  I tend to catch up on things in trade.  But I have been buying Howard Chaykin’s Buck Rogers comic.  I bought the first issue of The Fox by Haspiel and Waid.  COPRA by Michel Fiffe is a favorite.  I dug Paul Pope’s Battling Boy a lot.  But I’ve also been in this weird mindset of scouring back issue bargain boxes (if and when I can even find them… they’re few and far between these days).  Recently I found an issue of Luke Cage, Power Man written by Don McGregor and drawn by Frank Robbins for two bucks in Australia.  That was pretty damned exciting.

I also grabbed a few issues of the 70’s Ms. Marvel, written by Chris Claremont.  I never read them when they were new, and I’m a little curious about them now.  I couldn’t tell you why, but I get a kick out of these weird archeological digs.  Y’know, I get excited when I find all five issues of Mike Baron’s Butcher series or all four issues of the Cosmic Boy mini-series, both of which I did buy when they were new, but I couldn’t tell you what happened to my original copies.  I love comics, maybe to an unhealthy degree, but it takes a lot for a new comic series to really grab my attention and make me a loyal reader.

Sex, Vol. 1: Summer of Hard is out today. Are you a Sex addict? What do you think of the book? Let us know in the comments below or talk dirty to me on Twitter.

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