Will Brooker on My So-Called Secret Identity Volume 2

With My So-Called Secret Identity Volume 2 now on Kickstarter, I thought it was time to talk to Dr. Will Brooker again about the series, including its innovative new Kickstarter campaign.

DARIUS: My So-Called Secret Identity has deservedly gotten an immense amount of praise and attention. Volume 1 was published as five issues. Am I right that Volume 2, now on Kickstarter, isn’t being serialized and will instead emerge as a 2016 graphic novel?

BROOKER: If we reach target, yes. The £12k goal is the minimum we need to pay for the art, the printing, distribution and rewards (plus of course the Kickstarter fees) so we really do need to hit that amount or there simply won’t be another MSCSI.

The aim is a sequel that works as a companion book– in fact, two books, as we will have a ‘standard’ and ‘extended’ version again — that will sit beautifully next to MSCSI 1 on anyone’s shelf. The design, the format and size will be the same. Even the cover images are intended to complement the first volume.

MSCSI 2 will be a 120-page, five-chapter story, the same length as Volume 1, that pretty much wraps up Cat’s narrative at this point. It finishes things for Cat, Carnival and Urbanite, and it leaves everyone in a very different place, for better or worse. Not all of them are alive at the end.

I do have more potential plans for Cat in future, but those stories will be quite different: the idea would be to have a three-parter, visiting Cat when she was 5, when she was 25 and when she was (or will be) 45. There’s also a lot of potential for other stories set in this world (Gloria, and the other cities we’ve mentioned) with the other characters — I am developing a possible spin-off title at the moment, in fact — but I’m also very open to other people writing them, and we are starting that process with our stretch goals for this volume.

My So-Called Secret Identity stand-up designs by Suze Shore.

DARIUS: Perhaps you could talk about how Volume 2 follows from Volume 1, which ends with your more feminist version of The Killing Joke. The Kickstarter video references that story, specifically Cat’s experience with the villain Carnival. It seems to imply that she has PTSD from the experience. Is that something Volume 2 is going to explore?

BROOKER: Yes. It’s not the first time the effects of trauma have been explored in comics, of course — Gail Simone did a really extensive job of it in her run on Batgirl — but I think it needs to be taken into account. I have gone through experiences of that type and it’s something you live with for a long time. Cat’s life has changed a great deal, as she’s become a kind of local celebrity and minor superhero now, but to an extent she’s putting on a brave front. One of the key themes this comic is about is being a survivor, and working through psychological and physical damage, and the type of heroism that involves. It is not usually glamorous or glorious or pretty.

DARIUS: Is Volume 2 less of a twist on the Batgirl / Batman mythos? Are you flipping our expectations here?

BROOKER: Volume 2 is broader and more ambitious in many ways. It has a much bigger cast, with many new characters. It takes on broader tropes from superhero comics in general, rather than focusing on the Batman mythos as Volume 1 tended to. And it challenges form and structure, towards the end of the book. So as well as telling a story, it’s also asking questions about comics. I can guarantee it is not an obvious retread of Volume 1 in any way. It builds on Volume 1 and gets bigger and bolder.

DARIUS: You’ve got a tremendously ambitious Kickstarter campaign. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like it. There was a viral campaign on Twitter and social media about what “e:nigma” means, with stickers and flyers seemingly being photographed everywhere, accompanied by the phrase “the word is out.” During the campaign, you’ve been revealing new rewards and kind of making the whole Kickstarter campaign something of an experience. I don’t know where you find the time. Could you talk more about this?

BROOKER: Yes, it’s ludicrously ambitious really. I have studied a lot of viral campaigns, branding techniques and and promotions as part of my academic work, and I’m almost trying to run something along the lines of the Dark Knight ‘Why So Serious’ alternate reality game, on a tiny budget with a small team.

The idea is to cross the fiction into our world, to encourage an overlap. So we currently see flyers and stickers that will appear in Volume 2, in real life locations, and then in Volume 2 we’ll encounter them in Cat’s city. It’s partly a way of enabling fans to be involved and literally spread the word, the brand and the logo, but it’s also a very extended teaser for Volume 2, through these mysterious signs that pop up in bars, bathrooms, on walls, on windows, literally around the world.

DARIUS: Let’s talk more about “e:nigma.” What is it, and how does it relate to My So-Called Secret Identity?

BROOKER: You can glimpse the e:nigma logo for the first time in Cat’s world, as part of the Kickstarter promotional video. It’s stuck to the mirror in the gym changing rooms where she’s wiping her face. It serves the same purpose in Gloria as it does to us — it’s a new brand, or campaign, or organisation, or superhero name, or warning, that suddenly starts appearing. Cat registers it of course, and logs it in her mind, and wonders about how it connects to the networks she knows.

The next reveal is in our new promo, released at midnight on 7 June [above]. Here we see a fast-paced phone-camera montage of e:nigma signs in the real world, and a glimpse of a new logo. This one is so secret we are not even giving it a name. It’s just called Title 100-17, which is a city ordinance prohibiting graffiti and defacement of public property. If you can tell what the design says, you’re step further towards deciphering what’s going on in Volume 2.

On Monday 8th, the first ten backers receive e:nigma stickers.

Next Sunday 14, the mid-point of the campaign, we drop a new live action video to launch two new rewards.

So yes, it is ridiculously ambitious. I hope some people enjoy it.

DARIUS: Volume 2 is illustrated by Jennie Gyllblad, but you’ve also got a plethora of other artists pitching in, doing pin-ups. The artists involved include a blend of lesser-known artists and big names like Steve Yeowell (who’s doing the volume cover) and John Higgins. How did you put this team together and get those big names on board? And what is the aim of mixing lesser-known creators with globally-known ones?

The Urbanite by John Higgins

BROOKER: As with Volume 1, the artists are a variety of well known and newer creators, with many of them falling in the middle, not quite so globally famous as John Higgins. They’re people whose work I have stumbled across in some cases, or seen through Twitter links, or friends of friends and recommendations; and some of them are people whose work I have admired for decades. Steve Yeowell’s work on Grant Morrison’s superhero epic ‘Zenith’ is so important to me — it is some of my favourite comic book art — and I am personally thrilled to have him doing the cover. John Higgins of course is part of the creative team on Watchmen, one of the most important comics of all time. I met Steve at a convention and followed up on our conversation later, and John was a fellow interviewee for the 2000AD documentary Future Shock, so we talked at the screening. They are astonishingly humble and generous people in my experience. And super-talented.

I think it’s a good thing overall to have names like that alongside people who are less well-known, in the guest art portfolio. They are all equally credited, and I think equally brilliant,  and I hope it’s a boost for earlier-career artists to appear in more famous company.

Art by Laura Wilson

DARIUS: You mention on the Kickstarter that you’ve got a stretch goals in mind: three short stories by previously unpublished writers, set within the world of My So-Called Secret Identity. Why use new writers? And what does this say about where My So-Called Secret Identity is going? Will there be a Volume 3 or a spin-off, perhaps written by other writers?

BROOKER: I really hope we reach these stretch goals, as it’s an important next step for MSCSI. We have five page stories from Angel Kumar, J A Micheline and Dee Emm Elms, who are writing Radhika Shere — a new character, a British Asian woman in a John Constantine role  — Connie ‘Sekhmet’ Carmichael, and Kit Farben. This will represent those authors’ first published work, so it’s significant for them, and I think it’s also important that they are all writing from a cultural experience similar to those characters, who are all in minority groups.

I have paid them all for their scripts already, whether the stretch goals are met or not, but we need the funding to pay the artists to draw and colour their 5-page stories. They are really great scripts. I couldn’t have written anything like them myself.

To produce MSCSI Volume 3, of course, we would need another Kickstarter, and that’s another huge job in itself. So you can understand I don’t want to consider that just yet.

DARIUS: Perhaps we could talk about a few specific images you’ve leaked online and what’s going on with them. First, there’s Urbanite, who’s kind of your armored Batman, in something called an “Immersion Chair.” What’s going on here?

BROOKER: The Immersion Chair was designed by Clay Rodery from my guidelines. Clay describes it as a cross between a dentist chair and Metron’s Chair in its appearance. Urbanite, as we learned from the last page of Volume 1, is currently ‘off-world’, so we can only imagine what’s happening to him there.

I should note that outside the MSCSI Facebook page, nobody has seen this Immersion Chair before, so Sequart has a unique glimpse.

DARIUS: You’ve also got a bunch of new characters: Quiver, Robert Wood, Zip Code, and more. Can you say any more about them?

Character designs by Amanda E Braxton, Jen Vaiano, and Clay Rodery.

BROOKER: We heard the name Robert Wood in Volume 1, as there’s a park named after him with a statue in his honour. He and the operative codenamed ‘Quiver’ are two guys who were at their peak in the 1970s and, it turns out, are the only two male costumed heroes who are currently in Gloria City, with the big guns like Urbanite and The Major out of the picture. So it’s a chance for them to relive some of their past glories. They’re retired, and currently working as academic professors in their mid-40s. If you know the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams social relevance comics from the 1970s, you will have an idea what these two guys were like in their prime.

With a majority-female cast in Volume 2 — there are a lot of women, of ages from about 14 to 60 — I thought it would be fun to have a little buddy-movie plot strand in there.

Zip Code is a name we’ve also heard before, as it was mentioned in the two-page strip we did for Stylist magazine last year. It’s a gang of teenage girls, in various 1990s fashion styles: Violetta the leader, Surprising Delight, Babychu, Cher and Red Riding. Their clothes were designed fabulously by Emma Vieceli, Jennifer Vaiano and Suze Shore, and we have t-shirts modelled directly on the comic book images available through the Kickstarter — another example of how we are encouraging the story-world to cross over into real life, in incredibly faithful and accurate detail.

DARIUS: Thank you for the interview. I know you’re busy! This is a great series, one I personally believe in. I wish you and your contributors all the success in the world with it.

My So-Called Secret Identity Volume 2 is on Kickstarter here. You can also order your own print copy of MSCSI Volume 1 here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

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