My So-Called Secret Identity: An Interview With Will Brooker – Part 2

(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.

Cat Meets Sekhmet MSCSI
Cat Meets Sekhmet MSCSI

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why Connie was let go from her role on a successful musical, which prompted me to provide a little more detail — she’d been replaced by a lighter-skinned performer, Stella Shelley — which in turn helped me to develop the backstory between Connie and Stella (who we now know is fellow costumed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.

My So-Called Secret Identity Cat's Life
My So-Called Secret Identity Cat’s Life

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.

My So-Called Secret Identity Issue 4 Part Five

 

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?

MSCSI Cat Sketch
MSCSI Cat Sketch

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

 

PAGE 1

CAPTION [and these should be DISTINCT and different FONT from ‘CAT CAPTIONS’]: NOW.

Splash:

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.

My So-Called Secret Identity Issue  4 Part One

PAGE 2

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:

ward

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!

 

PAGE 3

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:

 

ENRIQUE: NO.

 

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.

 

Cat Talks to Misper in MSCSI
Cat Talks to Misper in MSCSI

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.

My So-Called Secret Identity Kickstarter Promotional

Emerging From Paradise Island and A Golden Age, Wonder Woman: The Complete Newspaper Strip

During what many call the Golden Age of superhero comics, newspaper comic strips were still a force to be reckoned with. After all, before superhero and other genres of comics were even thought of, or implemented, it was from these strips from which the medium actually came.

Chris Sims in his Comics Alliance article IDW To Publish First Ever Collection Of Golden Age Wonder Woman Newspaper Comic Strips acknowledges this history and the fact that while we have seen the original Superman and Batman Weekday and Sunday reprinted many a time, we had yet to see the Amazon Princess’ newspaper adventures printed until now.

Compared to Superman’s 1939-1966 span and Batman’s on again, off again paper incarnations from 1943-1946, 1953, 1966-1974, 1978-1985 and even something as recently as 1989-1991, Wonder Woman’s 1943-1944 stint is a brief run indeed. In fact, when you really look at it, the newspaper adventures of Superman made it through the Gold and Silver Ages of comics while Batman continued from Gold, to Silver, Bronze and the modern period.

Wonder Woman’s time in the newspapers, her stories written by her creator Dr. William Moulton Marston and illustrated by Harry G. Peters resides solely in the Golden Age. But whereas we know that there are different stories of Batman and Superman in their strips compared to their comics, it is uncertain just what kinds of stories Wonder Woman’s run still holds. But it is an exciting prospect.

Here we have some long-unseen Wonder Woman adventures made by her original creators to be collected into a nice hard-cover edition titled Wonder Woman: The Complete Newspaper Strip: 1943-1944 for all fans to enjoy. I myself look forward to them with the hopes that they might inspire some new adventures of their own.

My So-Called Secret Identity Or Carnival: When A Drama Becomes A Game

This is going to be a review of issue #4 of the comic My So-Called Secret Identity by Will Brooker, Suze Shore, and Sarah Zaidan. There will be spoilers and, as such, please read the series on their website first: it’s still ongoing and definitely worth the read.

When I last left off introducing My So-Called Secret Identity as Dr. Will Brooker’s response to a lack of strong female characters in mainstream comics, I talked about how its protagonist Cat just is, and she should be.

My So-Called Secret Identity Issue  4 Part One

Unfortunately and as you can see, as this latest issue of the series starts off, both of these qualities are called into question. In Issue #3 of the comic it becomes very clear that Carnival, one of the main antagonists in Gloria City’s “theatre of heroes and villains” created a public ad in a newspaper addressed specifically to Cat and her method of linking different ideas and elements together.

As personal responses go, I felt a chill go down my back as I began to wonder what this meant and if there was some link between Carnival and Cat: especially given how he seemed to know how her mind works. Feliciano Carnival, as a villain, is something of a mixture between the Joker, an old-style crime boss, and a game show host with a Spanish background. He is the direct antagonist towards two of Gloria City’s celebrity superheroes: the Major that rules the City as Mayor and the black-masked Urbanite, seemingly both Captain America and Batman analogues respectively. In my last article on My So-Called Secret Identity, I compared its heroes to those in Garth Ennis’ The Boys when, in fact, they and their antagonists also have some nice resonance with the ironic and public superhero parody team the Five Swell Guys and their nemesis the Painted Doll in Alan Moore’s Promethea series. They too play the same parts, the same hero and villain cycle over and again which Moore lampoons and subverts.

My So-Called Secret Identity Issue  4 Part Two

The situation with Cat and Carnival is different. Cat is different. Whereas Carnival’s other opponents have their agreed upon script with him, she actually wants to stop him from, presumably, blowing up the World Trade Center. The fact that this story seems to take place in a different but parallel world from our own aside, while Cat seems to disrupt the scripts of the heroes — the “theatre” that they have created for two decades — she greatly intrigues Carnival: to the point where you really begin to wonder what’s actually going on.

Where Urbanite symbolizes a rough and authoritative patriarchy that threatens citizens and spouts out empty platitudes for everyone’s “own good” — to the point of his chest monitor displaying some ridiculous words and onomatopoeia, Sekhmet represents a woman attempting to survive a male-dominated profession to the point of becoming viciously competitive with other women in addition to her status as a woman of colour, and the superheroine Kyla Flyte is more of a shallow and empty doll — a token symbol of female empowerment — Carnival is the opposite side of the coin that is patriarchy: violent, misogynist, casually racist and having no regard for human life. The only difference, of course, is that he is a lot more honest about these traits compared to his heroic counterparts.

After all, as Dahlia — Cat’s landlady and fast friend — pointed out in Issue #3, women in “the theatre” tend to become permanently injured, or die. DC’s Oracle, formerly Batgirl, is an antecedent that comes to mind along with all those who become women in refrigerators. I also admit that I almost forgot who Dahlia even was and considered her a superheroine herself when heard her name: confusing it with the historical figure of Black Dahlia. After the events that unfold in this issue of My So-Called Secret Identity, I wonder if this was intentional: and I truly hope I’m wrong.

The fact of the matter is, when it comes down to it, after Cat manages to disable Carnival it is Urbanite who takes him away — who threatened to “silence” Cat “permanently” a few times if she got in his way again and who wants to do “things by the book” and not let his organized “war descend into anarchy” — who ultimately loses Carnival on his way to the asylum of Bedlam (where he usually “escapes” from anyway).  At best, this is what happens when a lunatic is allowed to exist in, or is even created by, a world of superhero and villain culture in the place of guns with blind-spots towards their overall behaviour. At worst, it is complicity: especially when you begin to wonder just where Carnival gets his resources from and how he recruits his cell-agents. Either way, it is useful to remember that Urbanite and Carnival are ultimately two sides of the same coin.

It should also be noted, again, that Will Brooker is a Batman scholar and it does make me wonder just how much his studies and perspective on Batman have informed his creation and psychology of characters like Urbanite.

My So-Called Secret Identity Issue 4 Part Three

Cat goes back to her home only to find it in burned ruins along with Carnival, who was supposed to be in custody by the authorities, waiting for her with a knife. Dahlia even warns Cat earlier in this issue that not only does she endanger her life in participating in this “theatre,” but the lives of all those around her as well: including Dahlia’s young daughter. But it becomes very clear that this “theatre” means something very different to both Cat and Carnival.

For Carnival, the addition of Cat is just another excuse to treat the “theatre” for what it is: a game with hers and other people’s lives. In this case, he doesn’t even need to keep on script to deal with her. Her continued life isn’t necessary. It isn’t even made clear if he even meant to go for the World Trade Center or just left that threat to lure Cat to him. And as for Cat, this entire situation is her life writ large. After having spent most of her life with her intelligence and insights ignored or disparaged, she enters a world she has no other resources to draw on ruled by men who maintain power through violence and silence. If she hides, she and the people she cares for might get injured or die in this power-struggle. If she participates or speaks out, she will definitely make herself — and others around her — vulnerable.

She can’t win.

She just can’t win. This isn’t a drama. This isn’t a mythic cycle. Rather, Gloria City has become a game which — by the nature of its creators and participants — Cat cannot win. Even Urbanite’s sidekick — the Misper — warns her that his boss will take her to Bedlam, effectively gaslighting her if she gets in his way again. This is, of course, assuming that he won’t actively or passively kill her by letting Carnival do the job for him. In some ways, however, gaslighting is even worse for Cat than death: as it would be a method of making her doubt the source and question her sanity with regards to her true powers: her intelligence, her memory and her sense of agency.

In the meantime, though, Cat finds herself at the mercy of a system where patriarchal officials turn their heads and cluck their tongues as a madman holds a knife to her face: making her into another play piece, another statistic. For someone who values literature and philosophy, this is the ultimate dehumanization. This is the structure of fear and debasement — this coerced choice between becoming a symbol or death — that she wanted to save Dahlia’s young daughter Daisy from growing up and living in. And, right now, it’s iffy if Daisy will even grow up and if Cat will continue to be.

So Issue #4 of My So-Called Secret Identity leaves us with a lot of questions. I won’t lie. I do think that there are areas of this story that I feel need improvement. Pacing in comics panels can be a very tricky business and sometimes I felt that Brooker’s storytelling was rushed and condensed at times. I’m talking about the entire series so far in addition this current issue.  For instance, I wanted to see more interactions with Cat and Enrique — also known as The Misper — and see the growing relationship with her, Dahlia and her housemates.

Sometimes Brooker repeats himself as well: such as when Cat repeats the thoughts she narrates about Carnival and the other heroes. And I am really curious as to what Cat thought she was going to accomplish walking into Carnival’s lair without weapons, backup, or seemingly even a plan. Was she simply hoping to scan her surroundings for more information to use against him in a form of logical argument or manipulation? I don’t really know.  Perhaps this will be addressed in later issues.

My So-Called Secret Identity Issue 4 Part Four

But I will say that I love the characterizations and the mysteries that Brooker continues to keep in reserve. For instance, that whole flashback dating thirty years ago to that children’s show. Was that host Carnival? Why are his sclera black? Is there some kind of relation between him and the current Misper? Is there any significance to the fact that this show occurred ten years before Gloria City’s “theatre” began? Is Carnival as responsible for the Meta and Trans drugs as The Major’s family?

In the reverse of what Painted Doll turned out to be for Alan Moore’s Five Swell Guys but no less a parallel, when I saw Carnival sitting on those crates like they made up his throne, it gave me this eerie feeling — in addition to Cat’s words about him being the “King of Gloria” — that I was looking at the real power in Gloria City: with all heroes as his figureheads and all civilians his playthings.

Because make no mistake. Carnival is no longer an actor: if he ever was. But while he is not an actor, he is definitely a player.

My So-Called Secret Identity Issue 4 Part Five

There are other questions too. Are there real superpowers in this world or just more smoke and mirrors? Also, who is Doll’s Eyes? Are Cat’s friends still alive? For that matter, where is Cat’s policeman father? We know that her mother is dead, but he is left ambiguous: though the fact that she wants to avoid his old colleagues might say something about this matter.

And, more importantly, how will Cat get out of this? Will there be long-term consequences for Cat as a result of this? It’s doubtful that The Misper will save her again, or at least it would be very repetitive. Will Brooker kill her off and have someone else learn her method and continue her work years later? Like Daisy (if she has survived)? Perhaps Cat’s character arc might go the Oracle route and teach other younger women to listen to City beyond merely recognizing its dangers: to actually save it.

I have to say that I doubt that Brooker will go all G.R.R. Martin or DC Comics on us given how much work and his collaborators put into Cat and how much that would border on the refrigerator woman trope: just as much I highly doubt as Carnival will kill her right now. At the moment, she is entertaining him. Her presence is, as he put it sickeningly enough, “porn”: an object to entertain and titillate him even in a non-sexual way. Is this the point where this story truly branches into a reality not unlike Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass: where a would-be hero truly and physically suffers, and dies for trying to be a superhero in an unforgiving reality?

Or will she survive and realize that she will need help and a different way to approach this game?  Is there is another way of approaching this game? Is there a way to go beyond the mentality of losing and winning to deal with reality?

Is Cat another casualty, or has her presence changed the game?

My So-Called Secret Identity Issue 4 Part 6

Will Brooker, Suze Shore and Sarah Zaidan have some questions to answer and I look forward to finding out the answers to these questions, and more, in “Second Life.” It is a fitting title: as My So-Called Secret Identity is being launched soon on June 16. So please support it and remember to Like the series on its Facebook page.

Something Under The Bed Is Drooling As Bill Watterson Draws For Pearls Before Swine

Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, is often compared to Bigfoot: in that he is both legendary and reclusive.

But that being said, there has definitely been a “Bigfoot sighting” as of late and he has definitely left some of his prints in Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine: a syndicated comic strip running in 750 newspapers all around the world. According to Bill Watterson himself in Michael Cavna’s EXCLUSIVE: ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ creator Bill Watterson returns to the comics page — to offer a few ‘Pearls’ gems  in the Washington Post, he wanted to do a “goofy collaboration” with Pastis that could be used to help fun raise the charity Team Cul de Sac: an organization founded by Chris Sparks and the comics illustrator Richard Thompson to combat Parkinson’s disease.

The original strips with Watterson’s collaboration will be on display at HeroesCon before they get auctioned off for the Cul de Sac charity. It is fascinating to read Watterson’s perspective on the collaboration, just as it is perhaps even more intriguing to look at Pastis’ own account of how it all happened in his Blog article aptly named Ever Wished That Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson Would Return to the Comics Page? Well, He Just Did. There is so much he says about their collaborative and creative process and yet so tantalizingly little: given Watterson’s well-known love for intense privacy.

It didn’t even seem that long ago, back in December of 2013, that Mental Floss managed to facilitate an interview with the cartoonist. In one of my earliest GEEKPR0N articles, I look at the gap of time in-between different Bill Watterson interviews. Then you also have to consider the occasional other moments Watterson briefly became public again with a painting of Cul De Sac character Petey Otterloop in 2011 and a cartoon for the documentary Stripped on February 26, 2014.

And looking at all of this, right now, and realizing that Watterson had been involved in drawing three new comic strips recently without anyone being the wiser reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine about him in which we concluded that there might have been some kind of confluence, a series of events and inner workings that made Watterson realize that he might have something more to say.

But while our conversation was with regards to him actually briefly revisiting Calvin and Hobbes, it can also be applied to the rest of what he has been doing lately. If you follow Pastis you will see that a few events and needs came together to make this collaboration — and indeed this communication — happen. And indeed, it’s no secret that Bill Watterson never stopped making art, or watching the comic strip medium continue after his departure.

As for Bill Watterson’s privacy, it’s a lot like the myth of Bigfoot. He never really left.

And sometimes the best place to hide is right in plain sight.

Please tell us where you think you can find his tracks.

Why Don’t You Just Make One? My So-Called Secret Identity

“Well, if you don’t like how women are portrayed in comics, why don’t you make your own comic?”

You can substitute the subject of this knee-jerk reaction in the form of a question to other media such as film, television, or video games, but the gist of it is pretty much the same. Usually this question is “asked” in an attempt to silence critics, or to reduce their observations about pop culture into “nitpicking” or something completely non-constructive. Most critics ignore this loaded question because creative works — at least in the area of fiction — are not their focus or area of expertise.

However Dr. Will Brooker, popular culture expert and Batman scholar, decided that in addition to criticism he was going to actually answer this question: in the form of My So-Called Secret Identity.

Brooker and his fellow artistic collaborators the illustrator Suze Shore and PhD in superhero art Dr. Sarah Zaidan, realized that while it wasn’t nearly enough to criticize the portrayal of women in mainstream comics,  it would definitely be a step forward to create a comic that could represent them as three-dimensional human beings. They, along with an extensive and predominantly female creative team, are managing to accomplish this and more.

So what is My So-Called Secret Identity about? It is a comic about Cat: a student of philosophy and literature and daughter of a policeman. She is a young woman who sees and understands the links between different subjects and is sick and tired of pretending to lack the intelligence that she truly possesses: that many have underestimated or believe that she fakes.

My So-Called Secret Identity

Cat, also known as Catherine Abigail Daniels, loves her home of Gloria City and wants to do her part to save it from the terrorism of the supervillains that also dwell within it. Unfortunately, her other obstacles seem to be the self-styled “superheroes” of Gloria City: posturing and brittle celebrities not unlike those you might see in Garth Ennis’ The Boys that, along with their villainous counterparts, use the City and its citizens as “a theatre” (complete with “a backstage” metaphor reminiscent of Neil Gaiman) and props respectively in their “morality war.”

What I really like about Cat as a character are three elements. First, she is a woman that knows what and sometimes even who she wants and will pursue them with assertiveness instead of over-exaggerated aggression. Second, she will call people out on their actions and words but also be reasonable enough to forgive and recognize that same person as a human being. She is a person that cares about people and it shows. But lastly, I am very intrigued by how Brooker and his team handle her genius. Without spoiling too much of the comic, Cat seems to have a very Humanities or interdisciplinary approach to how she attempts to solve crime: linking ideas, geography, culture, history, and facts all together in the form of a “mind-map”: in a style of collage reminiscent of Dave McKean, Eddie Campbell, or even Daniel Vallely.

My So-Called Secret Identity Mind Map

It’s very psychogeographical. God, I love that word.

In a sense, Cat’s method of learning is actually through creating art: synthesizing different elements and their connections together as opposed to analyzing and taking details apart. It is, in my opinion, simply beautiful. Unfortunately, you can also see why other people — especially her teachers and bosses throughout her life — underestimate her or simply do not recognize her genius for what it is. It is frustrating to watch and understand that this stigma against her is not merely because of her unorthodox thinking: but there are unspoken gender expectations she keeps breaking because she is smart and female.

My So-Called Secret Identity Cat's Life

But Cat doesn’t let the expectations of others stop her. At this stage in her life she is determined to live her life and keep Gloria City safe: even if it means becoming an actor in the theatre of villains and heroes and especially, I suspect, when she ignores, subverts, and outright discards their rules by her very nature. I myself suspect that Cat’s story isn’t about the chic of “a secret identity” or playing the hero, but rather doing the right thing and being accepted for who she is and what she can do. Cat is not a secret. She just is, and she should be.

According to its Facebook Page, not only will My So-Called Secret Identity have a June 16th Kickstarter Campaign, the fourth issue of My So-Called Secret Identity Volume One will be coming out Sunday June 8, 2014. You can also buy hard-copies of the issues so far or read them online. So please, Like this comic on Facebook and read it. I look forward to seeing where Cat, and Gloria City’s story, goes.

David S. Goyer’s All About The Green PR0N: Starring She-Hulk

David S. Goyer seems to have an idea for a comics character reboot. And it begins with that most fundamental of tenets: going back to the basics of the character.

The very basics.

In recent a Podcast of Scriptnotes, presented and recorded before a live audience, the film director, comic book writer, screenwriter and self-professed “comic book fanatic” was given a spontaneous reboot pitch challenge by screenwriters and podcast hosts Jon August and Craig Mazin. He was not the only screenwriter presented with the reboot challenge. Andrea Berloff, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who were also part of Scriptnotes’ aptly named “The Summer Superhero Spectacular” panel also had to choose superheroes at random to make an imagined pitch and appeal to an eager audience.

Yet while they had to settle for poking fun at amplifying and ridiculing the angst of Spiderman (an oldy, but a goody), selling others on the merits of the Incontinent Hulk, keeping Ororo Munroe–or Storm– in Africa and limiting her elemental powers to an uncontrollable “Carrie-level” of temper-tantrum, and sowing some creative confusion as to whether or not Wonder Woman really should protect her ancient Greek roots in the Southern American Amazonian rainforest, Goyer took his innovation a step further.

He got the Marvel superhero Jennifer Walters–She-Hulk–to reboot. Goyer didn’t waste any time. Faster than a speeding bullet of Kryptonite, Goyer cut to the heart of the matter. He ignored all the superfluous details of continuity added to the character throughout the years: her painfully obvious intellect, the fact that she was a lawyer for Heroes for Hire and the Superhuman Law division of the New York law firm of Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg, & Holliway, her tendency to break the fourth wall in order to let the reader know that she was a character in a comic book, and the fact that her transformation through a Gamma-irradiated blood transfusion from her cousin Bruce Banner brought out her own natural assertiveness and self-confidence with an integrated personality instead of a propensity towards anger and destruction.

She-Hulk Lawyer

No, instead Goyer came right to the point of origin. He explained in some detail that She-Hulk is a female shadow of the Incredible Hulk–you know, the pre-reboot one that still has control over his basic bodily functions–who captures all the sexy musculature of the Hulk without challenging the sexuality of pre-pubescent boys. As Goyer himself put it, She-Hulk is “a giant green porn star.”

But that is just the starting point and she is much more complicated than that. Goyer goes on to explain to the audience that if all pre-pubescent boys identify with the Hulk’s strength and muscles, then the idealized, or fetishized She-Hulk is the woman “that only the Hulk could fuck.” If you are not the Hulk, however, you can’t fuck her and she will break you. You know, ignoring the fact that She-Hulk had lovers that were both superhuman and ordinary men she had varying degrees of affection for–who were not at least physically broken–this statement would be absolutely true. And after all,  fanboys would surely know that in order to have any real chance with She-Hulk, they’d have to relate to her, I mean literally to be related to her.

You know, like Bruce Banner: Jennifer’s cousin, the one who gave her that life-saving Gamma-radiated blood transfusion, and the very person who actually is the Incredible Hulk.

However, Goyer seemed to have a rather ingenious solution to this conundrum. It came after Martian Manhunter was chosen. After Goyer made sure to ask if anyone in the audience knew who the superhero was and then took some extra time to voice his concerns in asking  “How many people that raised their hands have ever been laid?” he proceeded to afford Martian Manhunter some of the same courtesies that he had gifted the character of She-Hulk.

He went right to the root of the issue: putting aside the fact that J’onn J’onzz had a whole life and family on his home world before becoming  a survivor of his entire race’s genocide, that he adopted his identity and even the idea of being a Martian through being exposed to Ray Bradbury’s stories, to shapeshifting into a human just so that he could help others and no longer feel lonely, and was a founding member of the Justice Society of America (the Justice League’s predecessor) in order to critique the Martian part of his superhero identity and his “overpowered nature” in spite of his inherent weakness to fire.

Martian Manhunter

Goyer’s reboot treatment solution was therefore two-fold. He decided to make Manhunter, as he’d like to call him, something angry and green grown out of a petri dish (perhaps with some influences from the aforementioned Hulk and Swamp Thing) with the sole purpose of, get this:

“Fucking She-Hulk.”

That’s right ladies, gentlemen and other beings throughout the universes. Apparently with his ongoing work on Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice weighing heavily on his mind, Goyer decided to kill two birds with one stone because, after all, what is a combination reboot and crossover other than an excuse for pornography?

But now let me talk about something a lot less serious than David S. Goyer’s ad hoc collaborations with the panel on Scriptnotes. I’m not a screenwriter or even a comics writer, so consider this an uneducated opinion. I do think that while it’s almost excusable for a panel of writers presumably involved in the Hollywood industry to generally not know what they’re talking about outside their own medium of film–save for the asinine manner in which they are making fun the fandom around the comics medium they clearly do not understand–I do think there is something very unprofessional in a comics writer and script writer of comics-based movies denigrating not just two franchises (including one that he’s already in the process of working with), but the people who love them.

Then again, I could be wrong. I mean I’m also not a woman so perhaps I might be wrong in thinking there is something terribly wrong with making fun of a powerful female character who might have started out from sexist origins but has attained some sense of self-agency with her love life and career, but hey: I’m not a woman. I’m also not a pre-pubescent fanboy. Or green for that matter. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, right?

I mean, I only have a few modest ideas of my own. After all, a screenplay where Jennifer Walters is shot, only to be saved by her cousin, having to struggle with her personal life, adjust to her powers, her apprehensions, and her newfound nature that’s really always been inside of her while the news media calls her She-Hulk does seem pretty amateurish. It’s just like my idea of J’onn having his own movie where he has to deal with the loss of his people and, perhaps as Goyer suggests, he is reconstructed in a military laboratory from basic building blocks of life, becomes a detective later after his escape and gets a partner that calls him the Martian Manhunter because of his zeal and his love for reading Bradbury fiction. He is, however, afraid of Fahrenheit 451 because if there’s anything that the Martian Manhunter knows, it’s definitely not a pleasure to burn.

But no. I’m probably wrong. Green crossover porn would be so much more interesting. Did I mention that I’m looking very much forward to Goyer’s work in Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice? And The Sandman movie?

For some more interesting insights into the Scriptnotes Podcast, please read Alan Kistler’s article on the matter in the Mary Sue. And if you’d like more information on She-Hulk, you might also appreciate Kistler’s Mary Sue article Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. – Gamma Ray Glamor With She-Hulk: Part 1!

And please listen to the original Scriptnotes Podcast Episode 144: The Summer Superhero Spectacular. 28: 14 on the track is where the rebooting fun begins.

Zing! Pow! The Batman and Green Hornet ’60s Crossover

Sometimes classic superhero comics are all about dynamic duos and, in this case, we have three pairs of them. Film-maker and writer Kevin Smith and comedian Ralph Garman along with the artists Ty Templeton and Alex Ross will be creating a Batman and Green Hornet ’60s crossover comic. Moreover, this Batman and Hornet ’60s crossover, entitled Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet, is going to be treated “like a missing ‘lost’ sequel to the 1967 Batman two-parter” that brought the two heroic duos together in the first place.

Even though both the 1960s Batman starring Adam West and The Green Hornet were shows that started well before I was born, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ place watching both of them: and particularly Batman. In fact, when I look back I can say I’m fairly certain that Adam West’s Batman was the first serialized exposure I had to the character before Tim Burton’s 1989 film and I was always fascinated by the strange campy assortment of villains and how I wanted to know who they all were in the comics: even though some of them were made for the show itself. I took it seriously when I was younger, but as I got older I became “serious” about it and thought the show had become irrelevant to more contemporary times. Really, Adam West’s Batman in particular is a lighthearted comedic parody of itself that isn’t afraid to make fun of itself while paying homage to its sources. And it has a powerful zany effect: so much so that sometimes I find myself saying something along the lines of a Boy Wonder-worthy “Gee Willikers Batman!”

I also only saw a few Green Hornet episodes but from what I have seen, particularly with regards to the Green Hornet and Kato climbing scenes, it made sense that they and Batman existed in the same universe. And though it has been a while, I might have even seen the crossover happen as well.

And let’s look at dynamic duos again. The thing about heroic duos is, in fact, the dynamics that play between them. Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman are the collaborating writers of this twelve issue comics series. Smith himself has written many Batman stories and inundated his films with thoughtful and zany geekery, and Ralph Garman is the host of The Joe Schmo Show, a voice actor on Family Guy and Smith’s co-host on the Hollywood Babble-On podcast.  And then there are the artists to consider as well. Alex Ross is well known for his high mythic art in Kingdom Come and he will be designing the covers for the Crossover series while the Canadian artist Ty Templeton, the creator of Stig’s Inferno and Bigg Time as well as The Batman Adventures, will be the comic’s central illustrator. I actually met Ty Templeton before in a seminar about writing and drawing comics back at the old Paradise Comicon. He and his wife Keiren Smith run the Comic Book Boot Camp in Toronto, while also helping to organize events such as the 12 and 24 Hour Comics Marathons.

So not only do I get the positive feel of visiting imaginary space from my own childhood and know of most of the players involved in its creation, but in writing this article I get to promote someone who is well known and loved in the local geek community of Toronto. There is just so much … fun in this collaboration and if Kevin Smith’s hopes come true, who knows: perhaps it will be adapted into a straight-to-DVD animated feature with Adam West taking a role as a voice actor. In doing so, it would almost be like a spiritual sequel or “second televised episode” of Batman meeting the Green Hornet. Knowing that this comes from a place where the creators finally get to play in the creative sandbox that shaped their youth is just plain full-circle and heartwarming.

You can read further on Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet on Brian Truitt’s USA Today article Batman, Green Hornet team for a ’60s crossover. Until then, see ya later. So long! Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

Forces in History, Readers of the Present: Women in Comics

Sequart’s Kickstarter Campaign She Makes Comics, a documentary on women in comics, is now complete.

In my last post, I wrote about how the original demographic of comics readers, the majority of which were female, changed from the 1950s onward due to, possibly, the advent of an enforceable Comics Code Authority. I also mentioned that there were more women reading comics from the 1930s to the late 1950s. However, in the actual She Makes Comics Kickstarter Campaign video itself, comic book editor Janelle Asselin states that not only did this female majority of readers exist in the 1950s and the 1960s, but it was due to the comics medium becoming mainstream through an emphasis on the superhero genre that this fact began to change. In fact, the very documentary itself will be focusing on women in comics specifically from the 1950s and onward.

And with even that much information, I just learned something new. Perhaps they aren’t mutually exclusive facts, but they are definitely thoughts that I want to see followed up.

In this sense, the focus on a largely female comics readership of the past is very timely as, now; something similar is being said for the audience of the present. This past weekend, at the ComicsPRO Annual Membership Meeting, Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson stated that the comics industry’s fastest growing demographic of comics readers is, once again, women. While Stephenson does emphasize that this is the case for Image Comics, he also mentions that this may also apply the comics industry itself.

Eric Stephenson mentions a lot of very interesting points, including how comics sellers can do their part in encouraging innovation and inclusivity in the industry while putting aside the tired old reprints and derivative superhero stories to appeal to a more diverse readership. For instance, I know for a fact that Toronto’s very own Comic Book Lounge and Gallery not only holds comic book launch parties, but has even hosted reading groups and Ladies Night events: and these seem to be the kind of endeavors that Stephenson encourages. Not only does Stephenson actually seem to be addressing many of the industry issues I brought up in Boys and Toys Franchising Make For Better Superhero Cartoons? but also references the superhero genre as something that needs to be innovated along with whole new kinds of stories if the comics industry is to remain fresh and original in order to make material other industries, such as film and television, can adapt accordingly. The rest of Stephenson’s fascinating speech can be read at your leisure right here.

In the meantime, you still have time to join She Makes Comics and get some interesting rewards including: The Girls’ Guide to Guys’ Stuff anthologyan autographed copy of Colleen Doran’s A Distant Soil: The Gathering graphic novel, a portrait drawn from a photo of anyone of your choosing by Miss Lasko-Gross for $200 and, finally, two poster prints of the poem Desert Wind, written by Neil Gaiman and beautifully illustrated by Molly Crabapple: both of which are autographed.

Also, now that the baseline goal of the Kickstarter has been met, She Makes Comics has a new stretch goal. If the campaign gains $50,000, She Makes Comics will film  a 10-15 minute mini-documentary on Jackie Ormes: the first African-American female cartoonist and creator of the comic strips Torchy Brown and Patty Jo ‘n’ Ginger. So please, keep that support coming. I know I will definitely enjoy She Makes Comics as both history and as reality.

She Makes Comics

It is a strangely ironic fact that in the early days of the comics medium, the majority of comics readers were women. During the period of the 1930s to the late 50s and before the Comics Code Authority inspired by the American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham came fully into effect there were many different genres of comics, such as romance comics, with some striking female protagonists and eventually works centered around superheroines.

Of course, that is only part of that past. In addition to Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne directly inspiring their mutual husband and partner William Moulton to create Wonder Woman, and Patricia Dingle, who was partially the physical inspiration for her husband Adrian’s Nelvana of the Northern Lights and ended up writing adventure stories in Triumph Comics’ works under a pseudonym, there were female creators of superheroine comics to consider such as Tarpé Mills and her Miss Fury. Even when you consider that the Golden Age of Comics wasn’t completely a “Golden Age” with regards to women and comics it is sometimes really hard to believe, after the decades-long idea of comics being an “all-boys club” permeating North American culture, along with sexism, misogyny, marginalization and violations of personal space at conventions afflicted on female comics creators and fans, that this was once a reality.

Then again, it isn’t that hard to believe. There are female voices in comics. They exist as artists, writers, editors, scholars, and above all, as fans. These are voices that need to be heard and can never be heard enough. And that is precisely what the Sequart Research & Literacy Organization intends to do by creating She Makes Comics.

She Makes Comics is a film Documentary and Kickstarter Campaign created to interview female creators and executives within the comics industry: to collect a series of oral histories and accounts from those women of various eras in comics history in order to accentuate their already considerable voices in the medium and community built around comics. Just as Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey of Nelvana Comics endeavour to make Nelvana a household name again in Canada, if not the world, so too does She Makes Comics is intend to do the same for the women that have helped make comics as a medium, industry, and community possible.

However, in order to make this possible, this Kickstarter will need your help. To those of you who know that women in and around comics are more than just stereotyped images, subordinated side-kicks, love interests or “fake geek girls,” please take a look at this Kickstarter Campaign and consider that while it cannot speak for this generation of female fans and readers, it can definitely become something to inspire them.

And to all the ladies out there that love comics and the movies and media around them: you have been supporting all of this awesomeness for a very long time and I hope that you will continue to do so as our fellow geeks, and friends, and as the creators and industry movers that we can all admire.

So, with that serious business out of the way for the moment, I would like to ask you all something. She Makes Comics is looking to interview thirty-five more people in addition to those that they already list on their page. I myself want to see some more independent figures such as Alison Bechdel, Marjane Satrapi, Hope Larson, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Melinda Gebbie, and Wendy Pini. I’d definitely like to see more interviews with more “Golden Agers” as well.

Who do you want to see interviewed for She Makes Comics?

Please follow She Makes Comics on its Kickstarter or its Twitter Profile for more updates.

Bill Willingham’s Fables Ends Happily Ever After by Issue #150

Now, if the title of this article doesn’t entail an unreliable narrator, or at least false advertising, I don’t know what will. Nevertheless, you read most of that correctly. Not only is Bill Willingham–the creator of Fables–planning to end the entire series by issue #150, but he is even partially retiring from comics writing: so that he can become more “selective” about the projects he takes on.

Fables is a series that operates on the premise that all characters from Earth’s fairytales, children’s stories, mythologies and legends–such as the Big Bad Wolf, Snow White, Prince Charming, Blue Beard, and the Frog Prince–actually existed in other worlds and dimensions collectively referred to as the Homelands before they were driven out by the monstrous Adversary and his Empire. These Fables, as they actually call themselves, are immortal beings forced to hide on Earth in a secret colony in New York known as Fabletown, while the less human and more talking animal versions of these beings must live in a place in the countryside called The Farm so as to avoid being discovered by the human Mundies. Also, depending on the popularity of their stories, some of these Fables are not only immortal, but virtually indestructible.

For a long time, I actually collected the series in their trade paperback incarnations. I remember the first story beginning like a gritty noir detective or murder mystery story, only for the next to become one of political intrigue and revolution, and then the rest expanding outward into interpersonal dynamics, secrets revealed, outright epic warfare, terror, awe, and some really satisfying personal moments. Then Willingham also made Jack of Fables: in which Jack of the Beanstalk and so many other tales are amalgamated into one man who is basically an asshole without any of the charm whose personal quest is to gain more money, prestige, and power for himself. I have to say, it was the first comic that I read with a truly unlikable protagonist whom both I–and the narrative–constantly wanted to see get screwed over.

The Fables universe has a prose novel called Peter & Max, a Cinderella miniseries made by Chris Roberson, an anthology named 1001 Nights of Snowfall, the standalone Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland, an upcoming graphic novel Fairest in All the Land, and a female Fables-centric series aptly titled Fairest. There is even a video game called The Wolf Among Us created by Telltale Games and its “Episode One” in the mythos to consider as well.

To be honest, Willingham could have easily ended the series after the Fables finally defeated the Adversary in the War and Pieces story arc, but Willingham decided to expand the universe past the war stories and look at each of the worlds in the Homelands as well as some of the more … powerful and truly terrifying forces that exist in the Fables universe. After all, fairytales came from oral folktales which were neither sanitary nor pleasant tales. Even the more modern children’s stories were built on a foundation of cautionary darkness. But that all said, to me it isn’t too much of a surprise that Willingham is going to retire the series. After destroying an Empire, he and Mark Buckingham–with the latter’s lush and vibrant illustrative style–have made and portrayed so many worlds and characters in this one creative universe.

The image below is the cover for Fables issue #137: which is apparently scheduled for January 2014, while Fables itself is projected to end in early 2015. And while I admit that I will miss my favourite characters Prince Ambrose and the Black Forest Witch, and like the dark cautionary tales from around the fire Fables may not necessarily have “a happily ever after” for everyone,  it most certainly will be a series that many comics fans will talk and ruminate about for many years to come.

You can read the original story at Comic Book Resources, from the man himself on The Online Home of Bill Willingham, and the Newsrama Interview.

Fables