They say there is just so much carnage that you can pack into one film. Director Quentin Tarantino doesn’t agree as he plans to release an uncut version of Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair.
Many fans of Tarantino’s Kill Bill already know that the two volumes of the film were meant, by its creator’s conception, to be one movie. What’s more is that there were quite a few deleted scenes: including the animated sequence in the film with O-Ren Ishii killing both the crime boss and the assassin that murdered her parents. That particular animation was supposed to be thirty minutes long: making the film in its entirety roughly four hours.
What is also fascinating to consider is that what would be called The Whole Bloody Affair was, in fact, shown to audiences before. It was shown at the New Beverly Cinema as the original print which, in turn had been shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 2003 complete with its French subtitles still intact. It even has a musical intermission between parts. The only difference is that the original print doesn’t have the extended animation sequence that Ghost in the Shell animators I.G. didn’t completely finish in time for the original release of the film. Germain Lussier’s /Film article ‘Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair’ Has Small Changes That Produce Big Results goes into some considerable detail as to what the original print was like compared to the two volumes that we all know now.
And it was during this past weekend’s San Diego Comic-Con and in an interview with Collider that Tarantino himself not only announced that he would be adding the whole animated sequence by I.G. into his film, but that The Whole Bloody Affair will be released “with limited theatrical engagement” by 2015.
But while fans are probably elated by this news, a “limited engagement” seems to entail that it will only have a select few movie theatre showings: at least initially. And I’m sure there are many more fans that look forward to a DVD release of this film: myself included.
Either way, Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair is definitely some unfinished business that many will look forward to seeing.
It is easy to say that horror is a moralistic genre. After all, we all know what happens when adolescent characters have sex — or at least once upon a time — in a horror film. But over time, and under the guidance of particular writers and directors, horror can also become something that observes certain moralities: even creating commentary on them. Likewise, superhero comics have also been historically seen as vessels of “good” and “good laws” triumphing over “evil and immorality”: while nowadays they can be used to look at human nature in a very sophisticated and literary fashion.
Superhero comics and horror both use relatively iconic characters to represent particular ideas and tell stories with them. Of course, many of these stories are exaggerated, dramatic, and over-the-top. Body horror — a sub-genre of horror itself — utilizes bodily functions, dysfunctions, sexuality, mutilation, torture, infection, death, and the mind’s alienation from the flesh to add spectacle and say something about the human condition. And women’s bodies add a whole other context to this dynamic when you consider how they are often depicted as objects for the desires of others, belonging to others, in conflict and contrast to the idea they belong to women with their own thoughts and feelings.
So what happens when you take a female superhero, whose primary superpower is an accelerated healing factor that does nothing to cancel out the pain of her injuries, and allow her to make the acquaintance of two female directors with film backgrounds in body horror?
It might sound strange, at first, to know that the directors of Dead Hooker in a Trunk and American Mary are involved in creating a superhero film until you consider their backgrounds and that of Painkiller Jane herself. The Soska sisters have been vocal about the rights and issues of women and LGBTQIA individuals both in and out of their films: while possessing a fascination with body modification, grindhouse gore, and pain. And Jane Vasko — created by Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Quesada in 1995 — was a sarcastic and brusque undercover police officer, markswoman, and bisexual woman who, after a failed mob infiltration was left critically injured until she realized her power. However, even though her healing power is the only superhuman ability that she has, the fact that Vasko can — and is willing — to use it to her advantage despite feeling all the pain of her injuries — to maintain agency of her body after another character alters it against her knowledge and will, and in the middle of violent situations — says something about her strength of will and her drive for justice or vengeance.
Unfortunately, I have not read the Painkiller Jane comics, or watched the videos or television series already based on the character: so I know there are a few iterations of her origin story. I haven’t even had the opportunity to see the work of the Soska sisters themselves. Nevertheless, I’m interested to see how they will use their background and experience in fleshing out the pain and drive of this character. The Soska sisters talk a little bit about the aesthetics and the antagonist of Painkiller Janein their interview with William Bibbiani of CraveOnline.
As for the rest, I’m intrigued to see how they choose to retell her story, how close they stay with the original source material, and how they might critique and subvert certain audience and reader expectations. And in case any of you comics fans might have any doubts as to what they might do with Jane Vasko, consider this: the Soska sisters are also comics and superhero fans.
On June 15, just a few days ago as of this article, the Kickstarter campaign for Will Brooker’s comics series My So-Called Identity was successfully funded at 10,306 pounds: well over its original goal of 8,500. Just a day after GeekPr0n’s exclusive interview with Dr. Brooker, it was announced that Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and the artist Babs Tarr would be re-innovating Batgirl: revising her as a young college student living among peers her own age and creating a more pragmatic and customized costume. It is only fitting that the origins for Will Brooker’s own work, and its protagonist Cat, were based off of a similar re-imagining and hypothetical pitch for Batgirl: complete with an element of fashion and a focus on intelligent female superheroes in comics.
In such a relatively short period of time, we are seeing examples of a potentially great development in the comics industry: and we have ourselves — as fans — to thank for it. Heidi MacDonald says as much in her article The secret of comics history that people on the internet don’t want you to know! She explains that while a majority of female comics readers existed before in the 1950s and 60s, this changed in the 70s and particularly 80s as male fans — who primarily focused on the superhero genre — took over direct distribution of comics from the newspaper stands.
Yet slowly, over time, through the demands of a vocal fan readership this trend may be changing. It’s true that there are fans that think it is all “a gimmick”: particularly with regards to Batgirl and Thor. After all, the comics industry generally makes decisions to make more money for itself. Yet it is considerable that not even a few months ago, the main contention discussed between Paul Dini and Kevin Smith on Smodcast was that the comics industry focused solely on perpetuating a “boys market” in order to make toys and continue their “sure thing” of a profit: at the price of female characters and more diverse story lines.
So, clearly, there is an audience and a demand for characters that can be related to by female fans: one picked up on, to some extent, by DC and Marvel. Perhaps now is a changing spirit of the times. And while this is a trend that might well be reversed — certainly there has been a female Thor beforehand, and Barbara Gordon has undergone a few revisions in her own time — I would like to remain cautiously optimistic. We are, by no means, at the stage where women in superhero comics are fully represented as three-dimensional characters but, perhaps, these recent developments can function as symbols — as the stepping stones — in telling sophisticated stories and introducing differing perspectives through familiar forms and faces.
After all, it’s only smart… and smart is a superpower!
I won’t lie to you. I am really tired. It’s that kind of tired where everything has been happening on a time limit to the point of it all blurring together and becoming something of a singularity.
One of the major things I’d been working on for over a week, and in email correspondence, was My So-Called Secret Identity: An Interview with Will Brooker. I was on Twitter a while ago and, one day, Will Brooker asked me if I wanted to ask him some “difficult questions.” And that was how I gave my first interview.
My So-Called Secret Identity operates on the premise that superheroes, villains, and anti-heroes are celebrities that engage in an act called “the theater” in which they fight and capture each other: with average citizens suffering collateral damage as a result. This “theater” takes place in Gloria City where one young woman, a university student named Cat, has decided she has had enough and uses her considerable intelligence to attempt to actually save people and dismantle “the theater” from the inside.
It is a nice subversion of the superhero genre and trope. I can only think of Neil Gaiman’s Black Orchid series as another example, but I’m sure and I hope that there is more from that branch and fruit out there. It is definitely worth reading and supporting.
In other news, I’d also like to plug the fact that Klarissa Kocsis’ Klarissa Dreams has finally come out in paperback and on Kindle. A while ago I mentioned that I actually have a poem in there inspired from one of Klarissa’s paintings called “In Her Hand.” A few friends of mine, including some fellow Hellions, have some poems, short story and excerpts in this book. All proceeds from the anthology will go to charities for cancer and lupus research. So if you have the time, or the inclination, please check it out.
So an interview and a published print poem later, along with my Heroes in Hell story also released, I find myself pretty exhausted: so much so that I really don’t want to move. But I need to. I am going to be away from social media for a while: mainly this entire weekend. I consider it the beginning of my vacation.
It will be a challenge. I have always had Internet and writing to do along with a certain set way of things. It’s a weekend getaway outside in the sun and I am not sure if I will be used to that. I’m going to attempt to get out of my solitary workaholic shell a bit, socialize, network, and do things aside from work. It’s true: I will be bringing writing stuff and books. I am never that far away from those. But maybe this time I won’t need them.
I’ve done a lot of good work lately: so much so I think I leveled-up at least two times. I think it’s time to relax: at least for a little while. In any case, thank you for reading this far and I hope to see you all next week. Have an excellent weekend.
(Ed’s Note: This is part 1 of our interview with Will Brooker. To read part 2, click here.)
GEEKPR0N: In addition to being a Batman, Star Wars, and popular culture scholar, Dr. Will Brooker, along with his artistic collaborators Suze Shore and Dr. Sarah Zaidan, is the creator of the ongoing comics series My So-Called Secret Identity. I’ve had the opportunity to cover his work for GEEKPR0N, but after an offer to let me ask him some “difficult questions,” I found it too much an opportunity to resist. So here we are now: talking about the story of a woman, a city, and an entire comics world.
My So-Called Secret Identityfeatures Cat, a young university student whose only power as you put it is that she is, “really, really goddamned smart.” She also exists in a really fascinating place known as Gloria City: where celebrity “superheroes, villains, and anti-heroes” seem to battle for prestige, money, and maintaining appearances. It’s, as you and Cat herself put it, become a “theater” for them: a play with a lot of collateral damage for its citizens. What and/or who was the inspiration behind the character of Cat? And how did you come up with the concept of Gloria City?
Will Brooker: I think there were various inspirations for Cat, which I’d have to think back and tease out now, as it’s two and a half years since the project’s inception.
The underlying premise, at one point, was ‘what if there had been a Vertigo title about Batgirl in the 1990s’, so in that respect, Cat is very much inspired by Barbara Gordon and the women of comics like Shade, Sandman and Doom Patrol.
In real life terms, I’d just started teaching a student called Babs, who — because it’s not a common name in my experience — made me start thinking what Babs Gordon might be like in real life, as an undergraduate; and I’d also just met a red-haired PhD student, Claire, which was no doubt also a factor. Again, one of the main ideas behind MSCSI was that Barbara Gordon had always been a PhD student, but her life never really seemed to resemble the lives of the students I knew.
So I wanted to try to bring the two ideas closer together, combining the concept of Batgirl with the largely female students I work with and am friends with.
Jennie Gyllblad recently painted us a lovely portrait of Batgirl with Cat, which demonstrates just how different they are and how they diverged: Barbara Gordon is really athletic and armored, and Cat is just averagely fit if that, wearing clothes she’s bought from regular stores. Although Batgirl was the original inspiration, Cat came to resemble much more a character from the Beano comic story ‘Billy the Cat and Katie’, who was the inspiration for Tammy (of ‘Tiger Tom and Tammy) in Grant Morrison’s series Zenith Phase III.
In terms of the name Gloria City, I was looking for something a bit like the city called Vanity in the short-lived comic book Aztek (Morrison again!) I liked the idea of Cat thinking of it as a friend or big sister, and the place having a woman’s name, like the city of Charlotte (and arguably, Sydney).
There is actually some Christian iconography in the Gloria University logo, and I like that the name captures a sense of joy, promise and becoming, even though clearly it’s a city with problems. As such, it is, like most comic book cities, somewhere between Metropolis and Gotham, which are themselves of course versions of New York City.
The map of Gloria is loosely based on NYC. The various districts are pretty much where you would find them in NYC — the bohemian Village, the theaters, the largely African American community, and so on. If you follow Cat’s routes in the comic, you can tell that she’s walking through areas which very much approximate Manhattan in their relation to each other.
In terms of the look, I think a lot of the detail, such as the hanging baskets and the streetlights, came from Suze. As she’s Canadian, it may well have a particular cultural angle to it. I think I suggested to Suze that it should be a bit like Vancouver in its atmosphere, with a music and cultural scene like Austin, TX. But as with a lot of things in MSCSI, it’s hard to be sure exactly who decided what.
GP: I definitely get the feeling that Cat thinks of herself as part of Gloria City as opposed to being above it, or her if you’d like to personify Gloria with a gender. I am really fascinated with your creation of Cat’s mind maps and how they fit into her sense of relation to Gloria. It’s kind of like an intersection of geography, her educational background, mnemonic devices (memory prompts and aids), and her own innate sense of exploration and a need for understanding. Is this partially what motivated you to create Cat’s mind maps? You mentioned in your interview with Julian Darius that Sarah Zaidan drew them, but was there anything in particular that inspired either of you to make these?
WB: Sarah created the MindMaps visually, from my directions in the script. All the details are there in the script, and a fair amount of information and suggestion about how the MindMap should look, and how the different elements should relate.
Again, a few different ideas prompted the MindMaps. I wanted to do something like Alias, where most of the story is told in a particular comic book narrative style, but there are sections where we dip out of the story into pastiche flashbacks, scrapbooks and magazine extracts, in an entirely different visual mode. (In a way,Watchmen did this with its endpapers, back in 1986).
MSCSI was always informed by the idea of scrapbooks. Ironically, it’s Jim Gordon, not Babs, who is working on a scrapbook when Joker arrives in The Killing Joke, but I felt that scrapbooking was more of a conventionally-female art form — Pinterest is the digital version — and part of the aim behind MSCSI was to foreground and celebrate alternative (again, conventionally-female) forms of art, craft and labour.
The scrapbook aesthetic works with our idea of collaboration and community, involving different, diverse versions of the cast members and a collective approach to their appearance and costumes. It embraces various art styles and encourages an approach to art as a process and work in progress, rather than just a finished page. It fits with our sense of workshopping.
Cat’s MindMaps are very much like an essay plan, I think, although they include everything in her life rather than just her academic work. They are meant to show how she makes sense of things and connects things. I imagine it’s a specifically arts and humanities way of reading the world: one reviewer compared it to Michel de Certeau’s notion of walking in the city. Her understanding of herself and her environment is visual and tactile, as well as just linguistic: it involves fabric, colours, scraps of paper, scrawled links.
One of the key ideas here was that while Batgirl is very, very clever, I didn’t think we often saw that in stories about her. How do you show thought processes, in comics? You can have someone piece a mystery together, but that requires a certain kind of detective plot, and Cat wasn’t going to be in that situation from the start: she’s just living a fairly normal life. So the MindMaps give us access to the way she thinks, even before she starts trying to investigate the enigmas surrounding Urbanite and Misper.
GP: That is very fascinating. I mean, in most detective comics — whether they are based on the Dark Knight or earlier and alternative stories — you have the characters telling other characters or, really, the reader the analytic and synthetic process by which they came to their deduction. It makes sense in that police forces are depicting as utilizing maps, newspaper clippings and notes on bulletin boards in order to link clues together and come to some kind of conclusion about a crime. And as for the comics medium itself, you can attempt to show processes through a thought-bubble or even some captioned flashbacks. But these maps really are the closest thing in comics to how a human mind really works: as we all think in a mixture of sounds, images, words and other senses.
The maps remind me of the concept ofpsycho-geography: of places being linked with past events and emotions. Speaking of Alan Moore’s work, he has drawn on this concept through Sir William Gull’s twisted personal paradigm inFrom Hell, while I also know that Grant Morrison and Daniel Vallely used the model in a flat-out collage aesthetic inBible John: A Forensic Meditation. When I say that now, I realize that these comics also deal with crime, but from very masculine perspectives — from a killer and potential investigators — and with regards to violence and murder against women. But you use the MindMap andthe multimedia (I am thinking of Watchmen) of the scrapbook differently with regards to Cat and even her relation to the time and place of Gloria City.
WB: It’s true that the MSCSI MindMaps are actually strikingly similar to the bulletin boards of images and links we see in crime drama — The Wire, for instance, or more recently True Detective andFargo— where a main character is trying to connect the dots of a murder or a conspiracy. I didn’t explicitly think of that, but it’s probably the most obvious visual echo. I’d have to check the script to see exactly what I specified and what Sarah added to the concept.
The MindMaps do recall Bible John and From Hell in a way. I didn’t have them explicitly in mind, but I’ve read and enjoyed them both. I was asked last year to write MSCSI as a script treatment for a movie, by an agency that ultimately didn’t take the project on, and in adapting the MindMaps for a new medium, I came up with an idea that’s again quite similar to the pentagram across the city in From Hell, and also the Riddler’s use of the city in Batman: Zero Year.
In fact, a lot of Zero Year reminds me strongly of MSCSI now — the dispersed power of the Red Hood gang, the grim joke about demolishing buildings as ‘dominoes’ — which I think demonstrates how these ideas just float around in the creative consciousness, recurring in different forms and different texts. It’s obviously a complete coincidence that aspects of Zero Year recall MSCSI, but it probably says something about the links between MSCSI and From Hell too — that echoes aren’t always deliberate.
It would be interesting to consider whether the MindMaps are any different from the other texts because of their female perspective. On a really superficial level, I doubt Batman would have swatches of material in his head, as he plans his outfit while also trying to remember where terrorist attacks took place. But someone like Tony Stark, who seems to take more genuine pleasure in his wardrobe and social life, might do.
The videos produced by Rebecca for our Kickstarter and Sound & Vision page probably come closest to showing what the MindMaps would ‘really’ look like, as they’re animated and include sound and music.
GP: I had no idea that you were asked to write a film treatment for MSCSI, but that said I can see through the videos that Rebecca created some of the MindMap material unfolding and animated. I do hope that, eventually, MSCSI and Cat get their chance to go from “the theater” to the theatre screen.
I’d like to focus a little bit on the theatre metaphor for MSCSI. There was a black and white scene in Issue #4 depicting a children’s show. This happened thirty years before the events of MSCSI. When a reader really looks at those MindMaps, they can get a hint of not only what will happen, but how things possibly relate to each other. And Carnival is mentioned in reference to this show. Did the theatre truly originate from that show? Do all the heroes, villains, and anti-heroes relate to Gloria City only through the metaphor of the theatre (aside from Carnival who, at best, thinks of it all as some kind of interactive game)?
WB: The theatre, as in the whole superhero culture of MSCSI, began in either 1945 or 1954. Nobody in Gloria City can easily remember exactly when it was — they just have those key historical dates in their head, from school or magazines, or it’s just something ‘everyone knows’, but when they try to pin it down they’re not quite sure where they heard it.
Anyway, there were some significant events that again, ‘everyone knows’ in the same way that we know JFK died and people landed on the moon, and after that, there were costumed figures who seemed to do things better, stronger, faster than normal folk, and it all progressed from there.
This is all my exploration of comic book continuity, and the fact that characters in comics have to deal with history being rewritten, rebooted and revised at regular intervals. We’ve already seen instances of this, where Dahlia can remember details about the Fleet and the female Misper that Cat’s forgotten. (Because Dahlia’s a little older and has a different sense of history). There’s further suggestion of the past in the newspaper page that recurs through Issue 3. I want to spell this out a lot more explicitly in Volume 2.
Carnival and Cat are, I’d say, the only ones who really recognise and admit that this whole superhero dynamic is a kind of theater or game. Carnival embraces and plays with the idea. Cat has really only just realised it, and to her that makes everything even more unethical and sickening — that other people are being damaged in a power-play between half a dozen larger-than-life figures.
Kyla, Connie and Miss Sparkle would accept that it’s all business, a staged conflict to sell product. Urbanite would stubbornly resist that idea. He needs to believe it’s a never-ending war on crime, and that it’s all entirely legitimate — that he is genuinely locked into battle with people like Carnival. Even if he might believe the truth deep down, he’d be reluctant to admit it even to himself, and would never say so out loud.
The ‘It’s Your Lucky Day’ show was Carnival’s TV series, back in more innocent times, when he was a cartoonish, avuncular persona. If we saw Urbanite guest star on that TV show, he’d be a figure like Adam West’s Batman (this would, of course, be another person in the Urbanite costume, as it all took place a generation ago). It would be pretty good to revisit that idea, in fact, and see what Urbanite was like in the 1960s.
GP: An Adam West-like Urbanite would be entertaining, to put it mildly. The theatre of Gloria City and its characters can say other things about our world behind the comics culture as well. Cat herself represents something new or at least seen less often in superhero comics. After seeing Cat working with her friends Kit and Kay on her costume and reading the Extras section of MSCSI’s website, it just reminds me of the fact that many comics fans become involved in the industry in some way themselves: either becoming a part of the structure or making their own fandoms. Not only can you become a creator, you can also be like or be your own hero. Could you interpret Cat as an in-universe representation of that idea? As that counterpoint to the corporate capes and crusaders: that line between a Do-It-Yourself movement of cosplaying fans and more independent and relatable heroes?
WB: I didn’t really have that interpretation at the front of my mind, but it definitely fits. It could be seen as exploring the kind of career path from fan to creator; a path many people have taken, within comics, novels and TV. Of course, a creator can still be (and should be) a fan, and still be critical. And in a way, Cat is engaging in a form of fan practice, or perhaps anti-fan practice: her logo is adapted directly from a commercially-bought Urbanite stencil kit. So she’s subverting official materials and making her own brand, and costume, from available materials. It’s exactly what fan scholars call ‘transformative works.’
One of the questions raised there is whether, by moving further ‘inside’ the structures, you lose some edge, distance and critical perspective. That is certainly an angle that could be applied to Cat’s position in Volume 2, which begins some months later, when her role as a kind of ‘hero’ is more established. She’s gained a certain degree of celebrity and respect from other costumed figures, and is on the level where she can actually talk to Kyla Flyte.
So if you apply that interpretation, MSCSI offers a commentary on the compromise and negotiation between becoming more popular and successful, and ‘selling out’.
GP: That has definitely been a question on my mind as I’ve been following the series so far: as to how far Cat will play in the theatre and if she will change the system, or become a part of it. I can definitely see her bringing some kind of unique innovation to the theatre, and Gloria City: perhaps starting a trend in empowering its citizens — particularly its female citizens — through fandom and example and showing them that ordinary people can be heroes because, in MSCSI’s promotional words, “Smart is a superpower.”
In your interview with Nick Ford, you mentioned that your agreements with your collaborators and sponsorships for MSCSI are based off of something called “gift economy”: which you said was something prevalent in female fan communities and is a model with less emphasis on contracts and business deals and more about hand-shake agreements, networking, and exposure. Are there any examples of female fan community “gift economy” that influenced your MSCSI collaboration and, tying it back to fandom and culture, could this concept play some part in Cat’s own potential influence on Gloria City society?
WB: The question of how Cat will function within and change the nature of Gloria’s costumed community will be a key issue in Volume 2. She becomes a more prominent media figure and a role model to an extent, and feels she has new responsibilities.
However, the whole community will change during Volume 2 anyway, as one of the underlying plot points is that all the big hitters, who are male, have been lured away on another ‘mission’, so the people left in the city who qualify as ‘superheroes’ are second-stringers and predominantly female, of various generations from 18 to retirement age.
So because of that change, Cat finds she has an even more decisive role, as the newest and most prominent young female ‘costume’ on the scene.
I’ve just written a short chapter for a new book about crowdfunding, which says a little more about my debt to the notion of gift economies. Here’s an extract.
My approach was informed by what I knew about fan communities; specifically female fan communities, and even more specifically, the communities discussed by Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse in their book Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet. They explained the process of ‘gift economy’, where one fan does something for another – writes a story, creates an avatar – in a system of informal, friendly trade, without any fixed arrangement or desire for financial reward. The items exchanged, gestures of time and skill, ‘have no value outside their fannish context […] Gifting is the goal. Money is presented less as a payment than as a token of enjoyment.’
Every week brings new examples of that in practice. I have a friendly agreement with the ethical underwear company Who Made Your Pants? that we will cross-promote and support each other, during this period at least. I’ve literally been sending gifts to a few MSCSI fans across the world, not for any kind of expected return — but nevertheless, it feels indirectly like a kind of thanks for their positive reviews and their continued support. There have been very, very few contracts between me and the artists, even those I’ve never met and have only dealt with once. I don’t have any form of written agreement with Sequart or Geeked; it is just about a mutually respectful admiration and a shared set of ideas.
Again, I think we could see some of this in Volume 2 of MSCSI, where I envisage Cat as — initially at least — being a little like Man-Of-Bats, the Native American Batman of Grant Morrison’s comic, who works on a very local level. The introduction of Radhika Shere, our analogue of John Constantine, and her relationship with Cat, will play into this idea — people doing each other favours within the community and knowing it’ll be repaid somehow.
As in Volume 1, though, we start off on a nice, easy-going local level, with people just hanging out and enjoying every day dynamics, but comic book drama kicks in and Cat is caught up in another larger-scale dilemma before long.
GP: I see. “Gift economy” kind of reminds me of the concept of bartering: of trading items and goods instead money. There is definitely a major element of networking and promotion involved in this model with regards to your fans and supporters — and I can see those favours coming in real handy between Cat and other heroes that were left behind in Gloria City. I’m definitely interested in seeing how you subvert the “lower-tier hero” and “all-star superheroines” trope story arcs for the next volume.
(Ed’s Note: This is part 2 of our interview with Will Brooker. To read part 1, click here.)
GEEKPR0N: So now, moving away from what forces Cat can represent, here is the question on my mind with regards to a core part of MSCSI. In your interview with Julian Darius you mentioned that you had a considerable number of female beta-readers. One thing I have always been told as a writer is that the best way to write women is to actually interact with women you know, ask them about their experiences, and listen. What kinds of advice did you get from them, and was there anything suggested to you in particular that really stood out for you in some way?
Will Brooker: A ‘considerable number’ might have been a vague response. To be more precise, three female fan-academics read and gave me feedback on the whole script, around Autumn 2011, before it was even drawn. They were Kate Roddy, Suzanne Scott and Carlen Lavigne, who then put together a scholarly interview-essay about MSCSI — again, this took place while Issue 1 was still in progress. It’s published here http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/476/362c
I also talked online with YA author Karen Healey while I was developing the ideas for MSCSI, and I specifically asked my friend Prof Bambi Haggins to read the script for Issue 3, and comment critically on the way I’d written the African American woman, Connie Carmichael.
And of course, Sarah Zaidan and Suze Shore read the scripts very carefully, and often gave me feedback and suggestions.
It’s hard to recall precisely what I was given by each person, but I remember Karen Healey steered me in a very important and valuable direction, away from a more conventional fate for Dahlia Forrester. Bambi Haggins tweaked some of Connie’s dialogue, and contributed one particular, small but vital point: she asked whether Cat was only realising now that she couldn’t inhabit Connie’s history, but could only observe it from outside. So I added two words, ‘of course’, to that caption, to indicate that this notion wasn’t suddenly occurring to Cat. Bambi also asked why Connie was let go from her role on a successful musical, which prompted me to provide a little more detail — she’d been replaced by a lighter-skinned performer, Stella Shelley — which in turn helped me to develop the backstory between Connie and Stella (who we now know is fellow costumed artist Miss Sparkle).On a similar note, Angel Kumar has written a detailed backstory for our newest character, British Asian consulting detective Radhika Shere.
At least one of the incidents of sexist micro-aggression that Cat experiences in Issue 1 comes directly from a conversation with Sarah, and is drawn from a situation in her own life. I think it’s when her college tutor accuses her of cheating, because her work is too good. I’ve had one conversation with Suze in real life (and several online) and — over a few bottles of wine — we worked out loads of cool ideas for future MSCSI scenes and images, which fortunately I wrote down next day. Inevitably, the artists contribute a great deal — they are essentially co-creating the world and the characters, and their authorship of MSCSI is hard to quantify. That goes also for the guest artists. It was Rachael Smith who first drew Radhika Shere, for instance, and Laura Callaghan is currently drawing a portrait of her with Cat for the deluxe edition.
More generally, though, a lot of what happens in MSCSI is constructed from conversations with women, and just broadly, experiences with women — living with and listening to women. I’ve named the most specific and direct examples above, but if Cat and the other female characters in MSCSI are convincing and speak to people — if my writing shows any understanding of women’s identity and relationships, and experience in society — then that is thanks to the women in my life, from my mother to my students.
GP: I can imagine what Dahlia’s fate might have been and as a fan I, for one, am glad that Karen Healey helped her avoid it: whatever else might happen. Thank you for the link to the interview-essay with your colleagues and for pointing out that in addition to your artistic collaborators such as Suze Shore and Sarah Zaidan, that the women in your life have had other roles in addition to beta-reading for MSCSI.
Here is a more plot and character-related question: something I actually wondered about in my own review of MSCSI Issue #4. Getting back to Cat, just what were her intentions when she approached Carnival’s agents? Did she realize that, sooner or later, he was just going to bring her to him anyway and wanted to pre-empt it: to find some kind of advantage and perhaps disrupt a planned part of the theatre?
WB: When Cat approached Carnival’s people, it was out of a sense of inevitability. She spends that issue, essentially, touring everyone she can think of who might help her (not Sekhmet because I think she’s fairly clear of Connie’s position, just as she is about Urbanite’s) and realising, ultimately, that nobody’s going to do this but her.
As for what she intends to do: essentially Cat just hopes she can have some effect by showing Carnival she knows what’s going on, and confronting him to ask what exactly he wants. She’s solved his newspaper puzzle. It’s as if they were already having a conversation, which she realises he began, with a public message directed specifically at her. She knows he wants to connect with her. She hopes that by engaging, she can satisfy his curiosity and match him intellectually, and, by putting herself into the system as an obstacle and new, unknown element, stop him from carrying out his next move. She knows she’s the wild card, and she knows, or hopes, that she can throw off this course of events, this ‘domino’ game that otherwise is just going to play out as it usually does, with Urbanite making a lot of empty noise and thousands of people getting hurt.
She knows Carnival fascinated by her intelligence, so it’s not as if she’s planning on a big boss physical fight: she can handle herself against one or two half-hearted thugs, as we see, but she’s no match for his gang. Basically it’s like Batman with Joker in The Dark Knight: ‘you wanted me… here I am.’ She can’t see any other move to make, and nobody else is going to help her.
Coincidentally, there’s a very similar dynamic at work between Batman and Riddler in the current Zero Year,by Scott Snyder: Riddler setting challenges, and Batman solving them, then (as is Batman’s nature) roaring furiously ‘what do you want now, I played your game, I found the answer..this is the end, it’s over.’ Riddler then, at the end of the penultimate episode of Zero Year, simply shows that he still holds the cards and that the game ends when he decides it. It’s the same thing with Carnival. He doesn’t want the game to end. He’s enjoying this new development very much.
GP: It seems this game began a while ago: even when you get back to the creative aspect behind your series. In your article From Killer Moth to Killing Joke: Batgirl, a life in pictures on Mindless Ones, you pitched a hypothetical comics series for Batgirl that ended up evolving into your own original My So-Called Secret Identity. Since then, you have also mentioned how fashion magazine aesthetics inform your comic and the site that hosts it. How did your method of writing scripts evolve from that point and how does this inform the creative collaboration between your artistic partners? Do you write down general ideas or paneled scenes? Or do they panel it out and add details of their own? And to what degree does fashion inform your aesthetics, your creative process(es), Cat’s life and Gloria City?
WB: I think of my method of writing comics as moving from macro to micro. For Volume 3, for instance, I have a central idea and a visual in my head of a few key scenes, which I see as comic book pages of completed art. That’s it, in terms of the third volume.
For Volume 2, I have a plotted out set of issues (1-5) with a description of what happens in those issues. Some of the description is far more detailed, some of it is sketchy. For instance, one page might actually be written in terms of panel breakdowns and captions, and another few pages might be something far more shorthand, like ‘Cat goes home — tells others what’s happened — domestic interaction here, quarrel, “you’re meant to be my clone”.’
So, first there’s a central idea of what’s going to happen, and some glimpses of the key moments; then I’d break down that plot into 5 episodes, and then I’d break down the episodes into pages. The final step is breaking down the pages into panels.
All of volume 1, of course, is written in full. I have a clear sense of how each page looks in my head, which I’m then simply trying to convey to the artists through direction and description, sometimes with links and visual references, and sometimes just in terms of prose and ‘shot’ instructions, like a film script.
Here’s an example, from issue 4.
My So-Called Secret Identity
Part Four: Anti-Life
CAPTION [and these should be DISTINCT and different FONT from ‘CAT CAPTIONS’]: NOW.
Close-up of Cat’s face. She’s frightened but frozen, not wanting to move an inch. There’s a knife-point resting against her eye, the blade held in an old man’s hand. There are traces of smoke and purple blossoms in the air.
This page is all about Cat’s expression – stiff, rigid, staring at the man holding the knife, but thinking, thinking, thinking: how did I get into this, how can I get out of it?
Voice off: Oh, CAT. You were such a PRETTY little thing.
CAPTION: 30 YEARS AGO.
Four panels, with TV-screen rounded corners
1. We are seeing black and white, grainy footage of ‘Your Lucky Day’/’La Vida es un Carnaval’ (both logos are visible in the studio set), a TV show from the 1960s starring Feliciano Bonifacio Carnival as the presenter, making kids’ dreams come true.
Carnival is around 50 years old here, slightly bizarre and eccentric but not sinister.
Perhaps a leopard-skin coat, a big cigar, trademark glasses, flamboyant hand gestures.
Carnival is sitting in an elaborate, baroque throne, with kids around him – like a strange fairytale king (could even be wearing a kind of crown) or a fantasy school-teacher. One little boy is sitting on his knee, in a ‘talking to Santa’ pose.
CARNIVAL: OK, OK. Órale, chaparritos! Who do we have here, it’s BILLY BENSON from CENTRAL CITY, isn’t that right Billy? And what do you want most in the world, BILLY?
BILLY [small voice] Run fast, like MR SWIFT.
2. CLOSER on CARNIVAL and BILLY.
CARNIVAL: OK, OK, well is that so, well between you and me, Billy, I’ve got a little SECRET, if you can KEEP it, oh-ho. Would you like to guess who’s HERE to HELP me.
BILLY: … yes.
3. Now onto the stage springs Carnival’s sidekick, a teenage boy in a ridiculous uniform reminiscent of Burt Ward as Robin, or a pantomime Peter Pan:
No cape, but a tight top and little hotpants, pixie boots, predominantly red, yellow and green. His name is SONNY JIM.
SONNY JIM: I heard someone wants to run FAST, like JACK SWIFT, the FIRST OF THE FLEET?
CARNIVAL: Yes, yes, do you know who this is, BILLY and all the boys and girls here and at home?
BILLY [QUIET] Sonny Jim
KIDS: IT’S SONNY JIM!
4. All three together, looking at camera, as kids around go wild. Carnival is performing jazz hands
CARNIVAL: OK, OK, I’ve got something to tell you, Billy, this is SONNY JIM and you know what, it’s YOUR LUCKY DAY!
SIX PANEL GRID
CAPTION: ONE WEEK AGO.
1. We’re in Castor’s café, from issue 2, back with Cat and Enrique. There are strong echoes of their earlier scene, in the framing and rhythm. Differences between then and now will only come across subtly. [She is in the Hanie Mohd-designed Fall sweater outfit – skirt could be longer, though]
Cat has clearly just asked Enrique something, and he is replying absolutely firmly:
2. CAT: It’s the ONLY –
ENRIQUE: No way. And YOU should forget about it too. If my BOSS sees you again, he’s going to put you in BEDLAM.
3. In the background now, behind them, we start to sense what’s different about the café this week. The front windows are half-covered in flyers and posters that we can read, backwards: they say ‘LOST’, ‘MISSING’, ‘LAST SEEN’, with text and photographs of people underneath.
CAT’s anger is now sparked: she’s not going to take this.
CAT: Your BOSS is quite literally a TOOL. And what does that make you?
ENRIQUE is silent.
4. In this frame we get a better sense of the posters, see a newspaper being read by another patron – ‘MAJOR DECLARES MARTIAL LAW’.
ENRIQUE: Anyway, you have NO chance, the way things are now, after DEMOS. The CURFEWS, the POLICE BLOCKS, you wouldn’t even be able to GET to him.
5. CAT stands up, leaving her coffee on the table. We can see the door (and the plate windows with their posters and flyers) in the background here. Enrique looks up at her, seeming helpless, slightly miserable.
CAT: Well, SOMEONE’s got to do it, Enrique. SOMEONE’S got to at least TRY.
CAT: I guess I’ll SEE you.
6. Same framing as #5. She walks briskly out of the door. Enrique stares at the table.
In terms of fashion and design, I would say the artists add a great deal. I give a sense of what I’d like and they furnish the details. I had a great experience working with Stylist magazine, as their fashion editors actually sent me links, at my request, of current items that the characters could wear — an outfit for Dahlia, for instance, a t-shirt for Cat, various choices of shoes — and I picked my recommendations to send them to Rachael Smith, who drew that strip.
Most of the artists seem to have a very keen sense of clothes and design though, and enjoy the opportunity to provide our characters with convincing, real-world outfits, with a lot of plausible detail.
GP: Now, just for fun, what do you think would happen if a superhero like Batman or Superman found themselves in MSCSI? Or if Cat found herself in the Marvel or DC Universe?
WB: Batman would basically stomp, in the MSCSI universe. He would destroy pretty much anyone we’ve encountered so far. The Major and Urbanite are a joke compared to Batman. The Major is like Donald Trump with a cloak. He’d have private security but he’s no more threatening to Batman than the Penguin, at best. Urbanite is (as far as we’ve seen, at least) a really rich hobbyist, who can just about intimidate Cat if he swoops up on her with no warning, but really would be no match for Batman on any level. Sekhmet going up against Batman is like Solange Knowles going up against Batman.
As for Cat — I think she would intrigue him if he saw evidence of the way her mind works. I can imagine them developing a relationship something like Batman and Carrie Kelly or Harper Row — he begrudgingly learns to admire and respect her, and warns her to stay out of his dangerous business but probably tries to find a role for her — either in the ‘Batman Family’ or Batman Incorporated, depending what continuity we are in. Cat has nowhere near the strength, martial arts ability, athleticism or equipment of any of the Batgirls, so she would never work in that precise role, but she could be a kind of Oracle figure, a researcher and thinker. Maybe Batman could use an academically-trained theorist on his team. I think Cat would get along really well with Barbara in her Oracle role.
I don’t think Superman would be especially bothered by anyone in Gloria, including Cat. She’s very clever but he’s a Kryptonian and can presumably think at a speed, and on a dimension, beyond any human being. She doesn’t have the low cunning of Batman — or the wealth, or the science and technological abilities — so she wouldn’t pose that kind of risk to him; she’s not going to manufacture a Kryptonite ring. Yes, she no doubt notices things he doesn’t, and connects things in ways he doesn’t, and interprets the world in ways he doesn’t, but if we assume Superman can tap into a consciousness on the level of Dr Manhattan, I think the same rule would apply that she’s about as remarkable to him as a really clever small mammal. Granted, this is not always how Superman is written, but that’s how I personally feel Superman would operate — as a near-omniscient, near-omnipotent being who must have to scale down a lot to engage with human beings at all. Alan Moore’s Superman from the 1980s Swamp Thing series comes closest to this depiction, I think, though Morrison’s All-Star Superman also captures that benevolent, generous godliness.
However, we have seen instances (again, written by Alan Moore) where Superman and Batman face off against Swamp Thing, and it’s clear that they both have a healthy respect for plant elementals. So, given that there are characters of that nature in the MSCSI universe, they would, I think, be the only ones to present Superman or Batman with a genuine challenge.
GP: Now, here is the most important question. My So-Called Secret Identity has a Kickstarter Campaign that is going to end in about six days. In addition to funding, how else can fans support your Kickstarter and make more people aware of it? What can current and potential fans hope to expect from MSCSI? And what are some of your plans for the future?
In terms of the Kickstarter, I’d ask people simply to circulate our campaign on social media as much as they can, and also to spread the word by whatever methods they can — including just telling friends, family and colleagues. We get a lot of signal boost from generous celebrities and big-name professionals on twitter, so if our fans can put the link in front of people with a high follower count and profile, and ask for a retweet, that’s really helpful.
With about £1000 to go and one week until deadline, I do now feel we’re going to hit target; and I’m going to release details of our stretch goal very soon. But we do still have to reach that target, or MSCSI simply isn’t going to happen.
If and when we do hit the magic £8.5k, I’ll be sending the script to the art team and they’re going to start work on it immediately. We’re planning to have Issue 5 completed by September-October, and send the printed books out around November. The deluxe edition really will be very special, with full-colour art from an incredible range of guest creators, and we have a number of limited, signed prints of selected portraits and pin-ups.
In 2015, I’m hoping to develop MSCSI Volume 2, possibly as a single graphic novel of about 100-120 pages. But really, everything now depends on people pledging that final £1000.
GP: You can find Issues 1-4 of My So-Called Secret Identity, along with other goodies, on its website, but in order to see Issue #5 please support the Kickstarter Campaign. I’ve asked my questions. Now perhaps you have some of your own … along with a map to place where you can begin to have them answered.
This post contains horror, disturbing images and, worst of all, *spoilers.* Reader’s discretion is advised.
When Dream created the Corinthian a long time ago in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, his original aim was to construct a sentient dream that represented humanity’s fear of its own darkness. In the end, of course, he became more like a simple serial killer than anything as grand as a being that could make dreamers face the worst parts of themselves.
The Corinthian’s initial failure as a dark mirror in which humanity could see the other part of its soul is a fitting metaphor when you hear discussions about the horror genre: particularly how gore and spectacle can take precedence over slow, creeping, uncanny elements out of the corner of your eye and the fear of the unknown or the forgotten.
And then you have creepypastas.
Kris Straub is already doing a web series called Scared Yet in which he looks at and dissects creepypastas: examining how they work, and how they don’t. He said once, in his now defunct Ichor Falls Blog, that many creepypastas fall into a formula or a series of tropes. You know: Jeff the Killer that is the result of bullying and acid being thrown on his face becoming ala the Joker analogue, a whole series of cursed video games bought from a creepy old man who may or may not vanish after a purchase, every story about Disney symbolizing institutionalized and secretive evil, and all the rest of it.
Many beginning writers can do this: they find stories that appeal to that part of them and they imitate them. Even so, many of these pastas have somehow become viral memes as they tap — sometimes even in a shallow manner — into that sense of universal horror and dread in humanity.
But then there are others …
There. Are. Others.
I have talked about Candle Cove before: created by the aforementioned Kris Straub. But a few days ago this little gem manifested itself:
First of all, like Candle Cove, it uses its medium to effect. But while Candle Cove emulates a Message Board, complete with user typos and all that loveliness, My Dead Girlfriend is already on a subreddit: a forum that functions as a series of comments stacked up on each other in a grey background with faded white fonts.
But goes further than that. My Dead Girlfriend also has links to what seem to be screen captures of Facebook Private and Public Chats. It utilizes Tags in empty spaces. And then there is the writing style to consider. While Kris Straub utilizes typos in Candle Cove, natesw or Nathan — which I suspect are personas — writes this from the first-person in something of a epistolary format: a series of journals or reports of the phenomenon occurring. Moreover, the writing from natesw’s persona on r/nosleep is clear, with no typos whatever, and possesses proper sentence structure, spelling, and grammar.
Yet the Facebook Chats he has “screen-captured” have the typos and fragmented sentences. And the dialogue between him and his dead girlfriend gets juxtaposed and played with like a twisted form of poetry. These two modes, the first-person of the subreddit text and the third-person and visual aids of the Facebook images complement each other. Unfortunately, if you go by the subreddit the ending could be lost: if it is indeed the ending.
Read the second, cleaner tickld version though: and look at the very last image that it shows you.
Remember, you have to find Candle Cove. My Dead Girlfriend finds you.
It’s still finding us. When Candle Cove was first sent to me, it had been around for a few years. Right now, though, My Dead Girlfriend is still spreading.
And the story had me before that image too. My friend and I were talking about this into the wee hours of Sunday and she told me that it had her at “FRE-EZING.” This was the only original word that “Emily” was able to construct, or revealed. You see, we never know whether Nathan’s torment is the result of a sick hacker, Nathan’s own subconscious mind projecting the grief of his trauma into messages from Emily, or … the fragments of Emily’s traumatized essence not completely realizing that she is dead and going to the place and person that she knows more than herself: perhaps even trying to make up for the reluctant displays of affection that she showed Nathan in life before she died on her way to their apartment.
Basically, the story is left open-ended. And there is the challenge in the recipe right there. You have to basically know that balance between detail and that open-endedness. If you have too much detail, people will question the specifics and your creepypasta will deflate into skepticism. On the other hand, if you are too grandiose and you try to encompass everything your structure will either never grow or will fall apart at the seams.
I think one element to know what medium you want to use and how you want to structure it. At the same time, you need to know what story you want to tell. Images, photoshopped or otherwise, help too. Another advantage that My Dead Girlfriend has is the fact that it has many commenters either playing along (being the poster’s friends or general fans of the subreddit) or are so taken by the Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds Effect that they are genuinely giving the poster natesw advice. But this story also manages to tap into the general and the specific. The characters and personas have names. There are dates. The accident that took Emily is revealed in slow and painful detail. The uncanny is tapped.
And that is the difference right there: that last ingredient. You can study the remnants of a miracle, but you can’t really reconstruct its soul from what is left. Or, in my case and in the case of other writers, you can’t create an original soul of a new story by purely examining leftovers alone.
I can tell you how these stories work, but it’s like deconstructing a joke. It’s just not funny after. It’s just not horrifying. And anything that I make from this, as it has been a long-term goal of mine to create a viral horror meme after my girlfriend had showed me Candle Cove, would just be a shallow or empty form.
I have many ideas for a creepypasta. It was the very aim of my Project: Dark-Seed. But after that conversation with my friend last night, I realized something. I realized just why the Corinthian was such a failure to Dream.
Dream even admitted that the fault was his own. Dream created the Corinthian to embody humanity’s fear of its own darkness, but despite the fact that Dream is an embodiment of the sentient impulse of imagination and dreaming, he isn’t human. Until his imprisonment in Preludes and Nocturnes, and slowly before with his human friend Hob he never tried to get close enough to humans to actually understand their perspective.
Dream could observe human darkness, but he didn’t really know how they experienced it. He couldn’t relate to his audience. The Corinthian, who was intended to be a classic horror tale became a gory spectacle because he only engaged humans on that superficial level. Unlike Dream’s other stories, other dreams and nightmares, the Corinthian wasn’t made from a pre-existing concept or a sentient being made into something more. He was Dream’s attempt at original creation and imitation of life and he failed.
He was an empty shell that tried to fill himself with gore and eyeballs and attention. As Dream’s creepypasta to humanity, the Corinthian falls short. That is the same reason why some creepypastas and horrors stories fail because the creator doesn’t try to relate to their audience. In terms of comedy, the joke doesn’t amuse them.
The story doesn’t scare them.
But what would have happened if the Corinthian scared Dream? What would have happened if Dream thought about what scared him and made the Corinthian in that image? What happens when a horror writer creates a monster that scares them, that makes them feel goose flesh at the mere thought of it: of that thing at the corner of their consciousness that they logically know can’t happen or exist, but deep down knows?
Who knows. Perhaps Dream’s re-creation of the Corinthian after his own imprisonment and exile changed the model. Perhaps he just needed a catalyst to tap him into that deep black pool of universal horror and white noise, take a piece of it, and fashion from its substance a soul to fill the emptiness.
Perhaps a creator only needs to find something to be scared of in order to create a nightmare that can be shared with the world.
Now if that isn’t the beginning of a story of one’s descent into creative damnation, I don’t know what is. The powers help me. I think I have been writing too much in hell. But the moral of this story is that some people like their pastas filled with gore or emptiness.
I like my pastas to be filled with darkness: from the heart.