If you haven't checked out the My So-Called Secret Identity graphic novel, you're missing out on a smart and unique take on women in comic books.
The story takes us through the life of Cat, a smart, normal young woman who lives in a world of superheroes. Cat herself has no superpowers, but proves that our brains are sometimes the best superpower we can have.
The first issue of My So-Called Secret Identity launched online in 2013, with the following issues funded entirely by fans of the series. These issues are now available as a graphic novel from Geeked Magazine.
The series has been well-received not just by comic fans, but also by critics, and it paved the way for female-led comic book series, as well as provided the necessary push for diversity (as well as practical costumes) in other female-led titles.
Now, My So-Called Secret Identity is gearing up for its second graphic novel and will launch an ambitious Kickstarter project in June to fund it. We talked with creator Will Brooker about that second volume, as well as the current status of female-led comic books.
You can learn more about My So-Called Secret Identity on its official website.
Q: A lot has changed since you started My So-Called Secret Identity (MSCSI). Do you feel the tide is finally turning in comics about how women are portrayed in them?
A: I feel there have been some significant changes and time will tell whether those are superficial changes. There's been a shift in terms of superheroine outfits (Spider-Woman, Spider-Gwen, Batgirl of Burnside - my friend and colleague Samantha LeBas provided some great examples and illos in this piece for the London School of Economics) and some other character decisions we could see as positive, such as the introduction of a female Thor. As we know, though, changes in comics can be short-term - characters regularly die, return to life, are replaced and adopt new outfits - so I would be cautious about saying the tide has turned.
We should also remember that this is all market-driven. I would suggest that the major publishers are belatedly recognizing the potential of a female readership and fanbase, and responding to that. If those new designs, approaches and stories don't sell, the titles will fold or revert to an earlier form.
At the same time, we still see covers and sketches of Spider-Woman, Spider-Gwen and Harley Quinn in soft pornographic poses, and images of Batgirl weeping as she's terrorized by the Joker (the variant cover that was pulled, but still circulates as Twitter and Facebook avatars) and has recently been adopted in relation to the Calgary Expo "Honey Badgers" controversy. So in many ways, the more things change, the more things stay the same.
I would like to think that MSCSI has played a small part in the shift over the last few years, in terms of how superheroines are portrayed, what they wear and who they appeal to.
Q: In February, you released the full print edition of the first five issues of MSCSI. What was the response to the full-color graphic novel and what do you hope to achieve with its release?
A: I've spent the last few months sending out hundreds of copies of that graphic novel - in standard and extended form - so I know it's been read by a lot of people. Fans have tweeted pictures of the book in their hands and in their rooms, and it's great to see it reaching so many different real-world contexts, as a concrete physical object. In a way this is what we always wanted when we started the project: something people could hold and flick through. It's a lovely, high-quality production in terms of its design and feel, thanks to everyone involved.
We've also sold steadily through comic stores like Orbital, Gosh and Piranha, and through the Geeked Magazine website, and had two major launches at The Feminist Library and at Kingston University where we signed and sold more copies. I've given a number of talks about MSCSI in various venues this spring. So I feel it's doing well. I think we have achieved what we aimed for with this first volume.
Q: You're gearing up for a second volume in the series. What challenges do you face this time around?
A: We are planning another Kickstarter [first campaign updates] in June or July of this year, and this one will have to have a higher financial target as rather than simply paying for a final chapter, we need to fund an entire second book, of 110 pages. So we'll be asking for more. On the other hand, we made £10K (about $15,000 USD) last time and I think we now have a more secure, proven profile, and a great deal of support from our friends and partners. If a Kickstarter doesn't feel like a risk, it's not exciting and doesn't force you to bring your A-game. This feels like enough of a risk to make me want to improve on the first campaign.
Volume 2 is much more complex and ambitious, formally, in terms of its cast, its story and its themes. I've never re-written anything so much to get it into shape. It's going to be a challenging book - not just a continuation of volume 1, but an escalation.
We also have a stretch goal that involves three short stories, written by three new authors (Dee Em Elms, J. A. Micheline and Angel Kumar), exploring supporting characters from the MSCSI universe. So that will be the first step into making this more of a world that other people can occupy and extend, rather than just "my"' universe.
Q: What artists are you hoping to team up with in volume 2?
A: I'm hoping to have Ursula Dorada, who drew part of issue 5 and the cover to the standard edition, on art for the entire volume. Her style is very clean and clear, and I think we would benefit from consistency across the whole story.
For guest art, costume design and covers, I already have a range of incredible images in hand from people like Jen Vaiano, Suze Shore, Jennie Gyllblad and Amanda Braxton - all of whom worked on Volume 1, and big names like John Higgins (Watchmen) and Steve Yeowell (Zenith), and professional female artists like Arielle Jovellanos (Fresh Romance), Emma Vieceli (Young Avengers, Dead Boy Detectives) and Marguerite Sauvage (Wonder Woman). I've also commissioned some really diverse styles from newer female creators like Laura Wilson (Geeked Magazine) and Jocie Juritz (a recent fine arts and animation graduate).
So the artwork is already stunning and there's going to be a portfolio of pin-ups and prints to order through the Kickstarter.
Q: Can you give us a hint on where Cat's story will take her in volume 2?
A: She thinks she's fine at the start of volume 2. She's fitter, she's better-known, she has a role in the community as a minor celebrity. But she's not fine. She can't forget what happened with Carnival and it's eating her up.
There comes a week in summer, six months after the events of volume 1, when big male superheroes are out of action and out of the way, and in their absence, Sekhmet decides to cut through the usual crap and just capture Carnival. And she proposes they just execute him. He's a criminal. He's a mass murderer. He's abused and violated many of them personally. So a group of costumed women, young and old, get together and decide the rights and wrong of killing a killer.
That is the premise. It's like asking what would happen if Batman was out of Gotham and Batgirl and Catwoman decided to team up and kill the Joker, for everything he's done and everything he's going to do in future. What would happen?
That is the initial concept. And believe me, it does not play out the way anyone is going to expect.
[Photo Credit: My So-Called Secret Identity]