A few months ago, I announced that my friends at Pandora’s Fox were launching their weird and whimsical urban fantasy card game Anklebiters: Pixies Verses Gremlins. Unfortunately, at the time, they ended up having to cancel their Kickstarter Campaign.
However, they promised to relaunch their Campaign with a few new additions, which they have already done. A lot of the information in this Reblog is still relevant and accurate to Anklebiters, save for the Kickstarter Campaign, whose link you can find here:
In addition, I’ve done some writing for the game and even helped create two of the new Hero characters as part of this Project’s stretch goals. As I said before, if you like card games please consider taking a look and/or backing it.
Hello all. It has been a while since I’ve written here: something that I find I’ve been saying a lot. I have a few things going on, including some original creative work that I finally have formulating in my mind. And I can’t wait to see where I go with that.
It might be a while before I say anything about some of the other things I have planned. However, I would like to take the time to plug a card game in here. It’s not just any card game. Imagine a world, our world, where small creatures unnoticed by the rest of us dwell in the corners of the detritus we create everyday and wage wars for sacred leylines and land to summon a powerful being that will make them dominant over their fellows. Pixies use misdirection and magic to get their way, their whimsy just a mask for…
Perhaps it isn’t fair to compare Lilith Limited’s Allison Road to Hideo Kojima’s P.T. and the Silent Hills game that could have been, but the parallels are there. From vengeful white-clad ghost onryōwomen, locked doors, a ruined sense of domesticity, a slow building of dread and suspense, eerie radio broadcasts, to even so far as referencing “Dad was such a drag” there is definitely some overlap between Allison Road‘s prototype gameplay and the late and lamented Silent Hills demo.
Credit: Playthrough by TacticVisionz.
However, the comparison ends there. Whereas P.T. was a demo with a closed reality of cyclical torment that slowly reveals its gruesome and surreal nature, Allison Road is an upcoming game with a house filled with a first-person voice-over perspective, some Christian iconography, odd noises becoming more frequent, a property you can survey from the outside, and eventually mysteries you can explore during the day … if the horrors of the night do not destroy you first.
But while Allison Road might have started off as a small fan project by Chris Kesler and eventually the endeavour of the expanded team Lilith Limited, its prototype gameplay has taken the YouTube Let’s Play community by storm and become a green-lit phenomenon on Steam.
And now Allison Road‘s path has branched out into a Kickstarter Campaign. While Silent Hills would have been on the PlayStation 4, Allison Road is planned to be on PlayStation, XboxOne, Mac, Linux, and PC: while having an Occulus Rift interface. Kickstarter rewards include designing a scare for the game, and a standalone Lucid Dream PC game set in the Allison Road universe.
Currently the Kickstarter Campaign is receiving a massive amount of support and rewards are disappearing fast. It is hoped by Lilith Limited that their nightmare will commence in 2016.
Last year Will Brooker, along with his creative collaborators Sarah Zaidan and Susan Shore, published volume one of My So-Called Secret Identity through a successful Kickstarter campaign. Now they are doing it again.
My So-Called Secret Identity Volume Two takes place in the aftermath of Catherine Abigail Daniels’ — or Cat’s — encounter with the villain Carnival. Cat has gone from being a Do-It-Yourself amateur superhero that invited herself into “the theater” — the dynamic between heroes and villains of vast social means and damages done towards innocent bystanders — to becoming a celebrity and power in her own right.
But what does this ultimately mean for Gloria City, her rivals, her peers, the people who admire her, and Cat herself?
Then, to complicate matters further, the theater changes: or at least enters another Act. Most of the important top-tier male superheroes such as the Urbanite and the Major go off-world: leaving the majority of female superheroes and lower-tier heroes to their own devices in Gloria City. Carnival, Gloria City’s Joker analogue, is now in custody and at their mercy. Perhaps at any other time, Carnival would have “Joker immunity”: that no matter what atrocity he commits or incident he finds himself caught in, he will always survive and be captured only to escape yet again.
Yet now the superhero women of Gloria City are wondering the same thing: after everything he has done, should they kill Carnival? And Cat, one of his former victims and his recent jailer, ponders this and more. She came into the superhero scene to dismantle “the theater” from the inside, or not play by its rules altogether and save lives. Will she help make new rules, break old ones, or become a part of the system of violence, retribution, and collateral damage that she once wanted to destroy?
Smart is a superpower, but will it still be enough?
My So-Called Secret Identity Volume Two will explore these thoughts and themes and more. My only regret is that Will Brooker says that this will be the end of Cat’s story. As a fan, I feel there are many more stories that can still be told in this influential series. And they can be.
Among other goodies, such as pin-ups, sketches, exclusive T-shirts, and even personalized water-colours if the Kickstarter Campaign’s stretch goal of 12,000 pounds is exceeded, you’ll not only be paying artists for their work but also the inclusion of three extra short stories that will expand on the backgrounds of key characters.
My So-Called Secret Identity is important: in the way it looks at power dynamics, the superhero mythos, the mentality of practical DIY costumes branching into cosplay, and how it treats female superheroes. With accolades from comics artists such as Mary Talbot, Pat Mills, Trina Robbins and others, I hope you will consider backing this Kickstarter Campaign.
As the end of The WalkingDead‘s fifth season approaches, the Kickstarter campaign MANKILLER also nears a crucial point.
Mankiller is a documentary about Wilma Mankiller: the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. While Mankiller itself is partially funded by Vision Maker Media for PBS, the purpose of the Kickstarter campaign is to raise funds to complete production and post production on the project that already contains over twenty hours of interviews. In addition to Valerie Red-Horse being its director and producer, the film’s other producer is none other than Gale Anne Hurd: producer of the Terminator trilogy, Aliens, and of course, The Walking Dead.
As such, potential backers of Gale Anne Hurd and Valarie Red-Horse’s Kickstarter campaign be expect to receive some very impressive rewards: including Walking Dead DVD collections signed by the comics series creator Robert Kirkman and Gale Anne Hurd, lunch and coffee with Gale herself, signed blue-ray copies of The Terminator and Aliens by Gale and James Cameron, a Terminator 30th Anniversary Poster signed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and company, a regular VIP pass to the sold-out Walker Con Event, a ten minute call with Steven Yeun — Glenn from The Walking Dead, and interactions with Norman Reedus (Daryl), Michael Rooker (Merle), and Melissa McBride (Carol).
And for those of you who are fascinated with activism, and aspects of aboriginal or First Nations history and culture, there are other rewards to consider as well: including art, interaction with Valarie Red-Horse (who has created other documentaries with Gale Anne Hurd such as True Whispers and Navajo Code Talkers), and conversation with Wilma Mankiller’s husband Charlie Soap and their daughter Gina Olaya. And none of this is, by any means, an exhaustive list of what you might find if you back this campaign.
So please: take this opportunity and support Mankiller or go on Twitter and Facebook and let people know this is happening through its hashtag #Mankiller.
Larry Wilson is the co-writer and co-producer of Beetlejuice, co-writer of The Addams Family, and writer and director for six seasons of Tales From The Crypt. Many of these shows informed our childhoods as geeks. Certainly, they did mine. Larry is working on a new Kickstarter Project. It is a web series called CINDY: a quirky dark fantasy and comic twenty-first century retelling of Cinderella. Larry has been good enough to take the time to tell us more about his current work and some details about his crowdfunding campaign.
GEEKPR0N: So Larry, what is it about the story of Cinderella that motivates you to use it as the basis of your show?
Larry Wilson: Once I had a “body of work” and enough years to look back on it, I realized that almost everything I write has this dysfunctional family at the center of it. (I’ll let you figure out what that means about how I grew up!) For me that what’s Cinderella is really about. If you watch the CINDY preview you see that Cindy’s first line is “I’m an orphan with no friends.” Family doesn’t get more dysfunctional than that!
GP: What inspired you to include elements from the Reality TV medium in CINDY?
LW: Well, Reality TV is the Zeitgeist, right? And a certain amount of it makes me cringe! So I thought it would be fun to satirize and I think we’ve done a really good job!
GP: Why have you chosen a web series as your show’s medium?
LW: I chose a web series because of the flexibility and creative freedom and also because I am HONESTLY BORED with pitching things in Hollywood the way it’s always been done. Thanks to DIY & the Digital Age the “put your hat in your hand and go beg for money” pitch is slowly becoming archaic. Hurray to that!
GP: To what extent do you think that your previous projects, your work with “the strange and unusual” might influence the spirit of CINDY?
LW: CINDY is full of “the strange and unusual”. It’s the creative world I inhabit. Again, looking back, the couple of times I’ve written “straight” comedy or drama, it’s not been bad, but it’s not been particularly good either. So I’ve typecast myself and embraced my weirdness. Guess what? I like it!
GP: Let’s talk about a reward on your Kickstarter for CINDY. Is it true that not only will you sign some of posters for your previous films, but Caroline Thompson — writer of Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas — is going to sign some movie posters of her work as well?
LW: Yes. It’s very true. Caroline is not only my sometimes writing partner but my all the time good friend. She wants to help CINDY succeed, God love her!
GP: Two of CINDY‘s Kickstarter pledge tiers revolve around screenwriting: one a screenplay development consultation and a personal development session with you. Basically you are offering to help donors for those tiers look over their script ideas and drafts. Many of us, including myself, are writers. Can you give us more information on what both of these rewards entail?
LW: I’ve taught screenwriting, in various classes, for over 25 years now. I teach when my writing career is hot, cold and every temperature in between. I’m not a screenwriter who staggered into teaching after an epic screenwriting career fail! I teach because I love it and I think my methods are unique & inspirational. It’s a bit of hype but not much to say I think the CINDY screenwriting consultation premiums are the biggest bargains on our list of goodies.
GP: What can fans do to help in funding your Kickstarter and making CINDY possible?
LW: JUST SEND MONEY AND SPREAD THE WORD, PLEASE, PRETTY PLEASE!
GP: These are some very impressive incentives to back CINDY. You can find more information about CINDY on its Kickstarter Campaign page as well as some actor, staff, and character interview snippets on its Youtube channel the Cindy Series. At the moment this show is still trying to fit into some glass slippers. You still have time to donate more than a pair … along with a little bit of Dust: for fairy motivation.
(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.
My So-Called Secret Identity, the comic series in which a young woman named Cat takes on the terrorism and false superheroes of Gloria City with merely the power of her intelligence, ended last issue on a cliffhanger. According to Will Brooker and his co-creators Suze Shore and Sarah Zaidan, Issue #5 will be the final part of the story that completes MSCSI Volume One which we won’t be seeing online until 2015. Talk about one very long “to be continued …”
It seems as though “smart” isn’t solely limited to Cat. If you back My So-Called Secret Identity, not only do you — at the bare minimum — get access to the next issue far sooner than 2015 (around October 2014), but in addition you have the potential to gain deluxe copies of Volume One, unique art work, your own name listed as a sponsor and even the signed and unreleased script for Issue #6.
Think about that: not only do you get the next issue of MSCSI in advance, but you can be listed as one of those people who aided a work that represents women in comics as three-dimensional individuals, promotes the inclusion of more diversity into the medium and, in your own way, become part of comics history. From all this, you can obviously see the minds from which Cat gets her intelligence.
I also want to make one other thing very clear. While I had criticisms with regards to some of MSCSI’s pacing, you also have to consider this. What we are looking at right here, right now, is the development of a story from its early stages all the way until the saga’s very end. As a creator in my own right, I can tell you that you can plan out everything and even follow it, but you will develop and change over time. And not only does My So-Called Secret Identity continue to have great characters, concepts and potential, it is also my opinion that it is — and other works with strong and realistic female characters are — important.
It is very important.
And understand this. You all have a superpower. It is called being intelligent. It is called being smart.
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.
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.
It has been an interesting experience watching this particular Kickstarter development, while also being involved in at least some of that growth. I got to watch as NIGORO and Playism Games added their own unique animated sprites and adjusted their stretch goal tiers accordingly with input from their fans. Even as they took the time to give their page its own unique pixilated aesthetics, I’ve seen them re-organize their campaign page’s information and the order of their Updates. But I think what really struck me is the tremendous sense of community that I gleaned from, and to some extent even experienced, from being involved in this particular Kickstarter.
I mean, just look at both of these Fan Art Updates. This is one other very unique element of the La-Mulana 2 Kickstarter: the fact that the creators and their supporters actually encourage and utilize a Fan Art Update to promote their world and the game that they want to create. NIGORO and Playism have also encouraged fans to make their own memes and advertisements for the game. And when there were some concerns expressed by fans in the comments section of with regards to the appropriateness of some of Lumisa Kosugi’s unlockable and otherwise stunning costumes on the grounds of potential gender and cultural stereotyping, the creators responded and seemed more than willing to look into the matter. Basically, it seems to be the fans that get to determine many of the directions in which La-Mulana 2 will go: as is, and should be the case with crowdfunded projects. It also shouldn’t be too surprising.
After all, NIGORO itself began as GR3 Project which, in turn was and still is, an indie or independent video game development team. The very first La-Mulana, before its remake on Windows, WiiWare and Steam, was an 8-bit freeware game dedicated to the spirit of hard but rewarding vintage era games: especially those made for the MSX. The team has always wanted to see how far they can push the boundaries of the 2D game-scrolling medium. As such, it has always relied on a strong fan-base of even stronger-minded and enthusiastic fans to bring it to the point where it is now. In fact, one point that the Kickstarter itself has made in one of its updates is that while they could easily get sponsorship from other companies to meet their Kickstarter goals, gaining money directly from their fans will allow for NIGORO to maintain the degree of creative control over its work that it so desires.
One thing that has always struck me about La-Mulana is how rich its world truly is and how many stories can be told in it. So the good news is that they have met their baseline goal in what has proven to be their experiment and learning experience with Kickstarter and getting us fans involved. The bad news is that, with Kickstarter, they only have three days to fund the rest of their stretch goals. And what are some of these stretch goals?
If they receive $230,000, they will include a game mode called “Father’s Diary” in which further story is added to the game: to a point where the events between La-Mulana 1 and 2 are filled. And if they receive $350,000 they will add “Character Stories”: in which every time you complete the game you will get to start over again with a new character, interact with a whole new story and even switch between characters. And while these are definitely my favourite stretch goals, there are many more if you check out the Kickstarter.
Yet while the bad news is that it seems very unlikely that they will meet all of their stretch goals with Kickstarter, especially in three days, the good news is that they are already opening up a Pledge Through PayPal option in order to keep reaching for those heights of game development. So please, if you haven’t already, please check out this Kickstarter and follow the adventures of Lumisa Kosugi as she treks her own path through the ancient, terrifying and wondrous world of La-Mulana.
In fact, you can do more that simply look through a Kickstarter or even pass it along to others. As the following new Big Update has revealed, you can watch a video of the La-Mulana 2 game demo above and even download and play it for free. How cool is that?