My Not-So-Secret Interview with Will Brooker–Part TWO

Posted By on February 19, 2013

In PART ONE of my interview with Will Brooker, creator of the buzz-worthy My So-Called Secret Identity, he discussed his experiences leading up to beginning his own comic endeavor and began introducing us to Cat Adams, its remarkable superheroine-to-be.  Since that interview appeared over the weekend, the first issue was published online (you can find it HERE).

Now, back to the interview…

FH:  What sort of creative influences do you see informing Cat, Gloria City, and the inhabitants populating this new world?

WB:  It’s kind of a new world, and it’s kind of not. Like the best fictional worlds, in my opinion, it’s an alternate universe. It’s our world nudged slightly to the side. So Gloria City is laid out much like New York, but with a cultural feel more like Austin TX, or Vancouver.

It’s a city dominated by costumed heroes and villains, but they’re not really like anything we’ve seen before in superhero comics – or not anything I’ve seen, anyway. They are more like celebrities and reality TV stars than crime-fighters. We very rarely see them doing anything that constitutes fighting crime. It’s not made clear at this stage whether any of them have any actual ‘metahuman’ powers, or whether their abilities are just cleverly staged stunts with hydraulics, lights and dry ice. It’s about theatre and performance, not actually changing things socially or improving the community. In fact, their performance is geared towards keeping things exactly as they are, and maintaining the status quo. A ‘villain’ will pull off a big, showy explosion, and a ‘hero’ will swoop in and declare war on crime. The villain will get captured and put away, then escape immediately. They leave clues for each other in public newspapers. It’s all a big game.

Imagine it this way: rather than Batman and Joker, we have The Situation and Britney Spears as Gotham’s larger-than-life cultural icons. Situation says he’s going to commit a crime that will blow Britney’s mind; his team sets it up, rigs the explosions, he turns up in a Vegas-style outfit and declares victory. Then Britney’s team arrives and films her flying in on a wire to kick Situation in the chest. They all go backstage, shake hands and head home. Later, the clip is shown as part of the advertising campaign for Situation’s new cologne, and Britney’s new tour.

That’s what we are dealing with here. Except that the explosions are real, and people like Cat get caught up in the crossfire. And that’s what Cat gets sick of. That’s what pushes her over the line.

Creatively, I’ve directed the artists to capture something of the look of the Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb books Superman for All Seasons, Spider-Man Blue and Daredevil: Yellow – a nostalgic, watercolour feel – combined with the collage, patchwork aesthetic of early-1990s Vertigo comics.

Interior-MSCSI

FH:  What can you tell us about the creative team behind My So-Called Secret Identity? 

WB:  I can tell you a few things about them. There are a lot of them, if we include everyone who contributed sketches, costume designs, consultancy or ideas within the broader Team Cat. In that sense, about 23 people have work shopped this project over the last fifteen  months.

I have hardly met any of them. I’ve worked closely with Sarah Zaidan (colours and painted covers, plus mind-maps) for a few years, as I supervised her PhD on comics and masculinity, then partnered with her on further research projects.

I’ve never met Suze Shore, who I found online through a shared frustration with Poison Ivy’s skimpy outfits; I’ve never met web designer Lindsay Searles (though Suze has). I’ve never met Clay Rodery or Jen Vaiano, who did such important work with the characters and costumes. I’ve never even met Riven Alyx Buckley, our social media manager, who lives in the UK.

And as far as I know (not having met most of them) they are almost all women. I think four people involved with the project identify as male – that’s not a great deal, out of 23.

They are also absolutely awesome.

I have been so lucky with this team. We have been on the same page from day 1, and it’s a great pleasure to work with them by email, over Facebook, twitter and chat. I am going to give Suze Shore such a massive high-five when I finally see her face to face.

Uncolored panel from "MSCSI"

Uncolored panel from “MSCSI”

FH:  What platform will you be using to launch My So-Called Secret Identity?  Where and when can readers get a copy of the first issue? 

WB:  MSCSI will be launched to the public on Monday 18 February, on www.mysocalledsecretidentity.com. The first issue is entirely free – that’s 22 pages of full-colour original art, plus two painted covers and a Lookbook of character sketches and costume designs, with notes from the artists.

We are raising donations directly through the website to support the production of issue 2. If people like this first episode and want to read more, we ask them to pay $5 towards it. That $5 will get you a new sketch of Cat, previewing a costume from the second issue.

(If you’re feeling generous or adventurous and want to make a bigger donation, there are some exciting rewards at the upper levels, from exclusive pin-ups and deleted scenes to the opportunity to have your name, or even your face, appear in a future episode).

I take no personal profit from this project. Sarah Zaidan, Suze Shore and Lindsay Searles are paid for their time and work as professional artists and designers. The rest of the money goes to a women’s outreach charity – we are currently partnered with and making regular donations to  www.awayout.co.uk  , and the more successful we are, the more I want to give to appropriate charitable foundations and organisations.

I have fully scripted five episodes in the first volume of Cat’s story, and once we finish telling that story through our website, we want to move forward to getting it published in traditional print form.

At the same time, we will be moving on to tell the second volume – another five episodes, which I’ve already plotted out and partly-written – and once we finish that, I hope we’ll publish that as a book while we go on to tell the third and (for now) final volume in the Cat Daniels trilogy.

I have this trilogy very clearly mapped out in note form, and it fits together like Nolan’s Dark Knight movies. It’s the story of Cat’s journey from one place to another, a key time in her life and a period of change and evolution and finding out who she really is, and at the end, it will feel pretty much wrapped up.

We will no doubt return to Cat, if people like her and want to read more about her, and there are many more tales to tell about Gloria City and its supporting cast.

So, MSCSI is available online first. We took that decision for several reasons.

Firstly, the creation of this project was inspired partly by my experience of walking into a comics store [see above] , feeling really unwelcome, and realising it was very unlikely that any women or girls who weren’t previously into comics would ever visit that store or find something they connected with on the shelves.

So we wanted to make the story available immediately and easily, in a form that doesn’t involve walking into a place that feels like a teenage boy’s bedroom.

We designed the website explicitly so it didn’t look like other comics – we wanted it to look clean and stylish like a fashion blog, complete with the unique Lookbook, which some readers have felt is a highlight.

FH:  This is one of the first elements from the artwork that caught my eye as well, so it’s funny you mention this.

WB:  The online format also allows us to experiment with form in a way that would be difficult in traditional print comics. We can certainly try to reproduce this in the hard copy of MSCSI, but the central ‘mind-map’ pages where we dive into Cat’s head and see the world through her intellect, in a vast and detailed montage, would be hard to convey in a normal-sized comic book unless we were able to fold out the pages into a bigger poster.

We’re also making the most of our online platform  in terms of social media – our Facebook community page currently has 700 followers, all attracted within a week – and we have both an official Twitter account under @cat_abi_daniels, and a rogue, viral account under @UrbaniteRLS. That account is not run by me, and it is not under my control. It is something I created and then set free on the internet, to evolve and interact with celebrities and cultural events.

FH:  The last word is yours: What else would you like readers to know about this project?

WB:  My So-Called Secret Identity has one big take-home message, and it’s this:

SMART IS A SUPERPOWER.

Brooker-FB Image

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Will Brooker earned the title ‘Dr. Batman’ for his PhD on the cultural history of the caped crusader. He is the author/editor of nine books, including Batman Unmasked (2000) and Hunting the Dark Knight (2012), and is acknowledged as an international academic expert, public speaker and media consultant on popular narratives and their audiences. In January 2013, he was appointed to Cinema Journal, the major publication in the discipline of film, television and media, as its first British Editor.

For more information about My So-Called Secret Identity, please visit the official Facebook Page or follow its lead character on twitter @cat_abi_daniels.

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About the Author

Forrest C. Helvie
Dr. Forrest C. Helvie recently completed his doctoral dissertation, which is focused on the relationship between American literature and comic book superheroes, and he is now preparing the book for publication. He served as a panelist at a number of conferences discussing his research in comics, most notably the New York Comic Con. Additionally, Forrest writes for Newsarama and Sequart; additionally, he has recently been working on writing some comic short stories in collaboration with other up-and-coming artists. In addition to his work in comics scholarship, Forrest is an assistant professor of developmental English at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. Twitter: https://twitter.com/fhelvie