Over the last few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to talk to Will Brooker, an academic who I admire and respect, about a new project he’s involved in. Will is best known for his work on Batman – he’s the author of Batman Unmasked and more recently Hunting The Dark Knight, but he’s also written fiction and it’s this he’s returning to with My So-Called Secret Identity.
Writing about Batgirl in a Mindless Ones blogpost in November 2011, Will said “I wanted to like Barbara [Gordon]. I just wasn’t getting much to work with.” He concluded the post with the words “We are building a better Batgirl. Look out for her.” This ‘better Batgirl’ became My So-Called Secret Identity, “an experiment: a non-commercial project to prompt discussion and maybe suggest a different way of doing things, in terms of approach, aesthetic and practice” written by Will with the support of a predominantly female creative team. Around 20 artists have contributed character sketches and costume designs, including fan favourites Hanie Mohd, Lea Hernandez, Sandra Salsbury (Illustrating Reddit) and Paige Halsey Warren (Busty Girl Comics). Primary art is by Canadian illustrator Suze Shore (black and white linework) and PhD in comics studies Sarah Zaidan (painted colours and covers).
The heroine of My So-Called Secret Identity is Cat Abigail Daniels. “She’d tell you she’s nobody special, that she’s just like you. Just an average, Irish-American girl in her early twenties; a cop’s daughter, studying in the big city. Sure, she did OK at sports, she’s always got along with people pretty well, she’s happy enough with how she looks.” Cat’s also very, very clever, though she’s learned that it doesn’t get her anywhere to show her intelligence. She’s become used to hiding it – until she meets a young man called The Misper, and becomes drawn into a world of costumed heroes and villains.
Will and the team have taken everything they hated about superhero comics and flipped the script:
- No heroines running in stupid heels.
- No skimpy costumes or unrealistic proportions.
- No brainless, braless female characters or cheesecake pin-ups.
- No women as love-interest only, or victims to be rescued and revenged.
But they kept everything they loved. There are costumes, capes, secret identities and sidekicks. There’s a city full of larger-than-life characters – The Urbanite, Sekhmet, The Major, Carnival, Doll’s Eyes. There’s a conspiracy, a terror plot, a last-minute life-or-death choice; there are dual personalities and alternate earths.
My So-Called Secret Identity issue 1 will be online permanently for free, in full colour, on its dedicated website www.mysocalledsecretidentity.com, and will include sketches, designs and behind-the-scenes notes. Subsequent issues will be funded by donations through the site (suggested $5 minimum, with original art and other rewards for larger gifts). The money pays for the artists’ fees and a proportion is then donated to a women’s charity — for issue 2, the team are funding www.awayout.co.uk, an outreach charity for women and young people. Will takes no profit from the project.
MSCSI is currently on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/MySoCalledSecretIdentity) and on twitter (@cat_abi_daniels). There are interviews with the creative team coming up in the journals Participations (which I’ve co-authored) and Transformative Works and Cultures, and there’s a review up at Geeked Magazine.
Will has drawn attention to the gender imbalances in comics and culture in his academic work, and I can’t think of anyone better to head up this project. The comic goes live on 18th February and I’m really looking forward to reading the first issue in full. I hope you will too.