Over the past week or so, as some of you know, I’ve been involved in promoting a new comic created by media studies academic, Will Brooker. Will is best known for his work on Batman but he’s also a staunch proponent of feminism and has criticised gender imbalances in popular culture, specifically in comics. With My So-Called Secret Identity Will’s working with a predominantly female team to find a new, better way of representing women in superhero comics. The site opened for previews yesterday and I got to take my first proper look at issue one.
I’ll admit I spent my first
two or three read throughs squeeing, and that wasn’t just because I’ve been waiting to read the comic since I found out about it. The artwork (by the amazingly talented Suze Shore and Sarah Zaidan) is gorgeous and the depiction of Cat, our main character, is spot on. This isn’t some latex-clad superheroine in boots that would make any normal girl (or, y’know, me) fall over and break their neck; this is a young woman you’d pass in the street and say hi to – the best friend you’d catch up with over coffee and cupcakes.
That on its own is refreshing, but the thing I like about Cat most of all? She’s “really, really goddamn smart.” She reminds me of me, in a way, though before you think I’m getting grandiose delusions of myself as some Valleys Vigilante (though that does have a nice ring to it…) let me explain.
At school I was the smart one. I did well in English, had lunchtime debates on epistemology with my RE teacher, was published at fourteen, scored 100% on my history exams, got four A-Levels when that just wasn’t done… And my school was a rough one. It was the school that you got sent to when you’d been expelled from the other schools in the valley. Being smart didn’t meant that you were special. It meant that you were different. It was something bad. And I was lonely because of it. I had a small group of friends, but I wasn’t one of the ‘popular’ kids. I was the geek that the popular kids picked on. And they did for the seven years I was at comprehensive school.
I’m a PhD student now, but I still feel the same, sometimes, as I did at school. I feel like I shouldn’t show people that I’m smart and capable, that I should pretend I’m not all that intelligent so I don’t put people off me, make them feel stupid. When Cat gets told, in issue #1, that she’s “just a PhD student” who doesn’t know it all, it’s something I can relate to. And when she realises that she’s been lying to herself, that being smart is her superpower, it’s like she’s telling me the same thing.
I haven’t read many comics featuring a female character who’s not wearing a ridiculous skin-tight costume and high heels to fight crime; with a young women who’s not relegated to love interest or victim; where I have to decide how much misogyny I’m willing to overlook to get to the story. I’ve got one now though, and I can’t wait to share more of my life with Cat.
My So-Called Secret Identity launches on 18th February at www.mysocalledsecretidentity.com. The first issue is available for free, and the website contains a whole host of behind the scenes sketches and character information. Subsequent issues will be funded by donations through the site (suggested $5 minimum, with original art and other rewards – including a chance to be included in the comic as a supporting character – for larger gifts). The money pays for the artists’ fees and a proportion is also 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.
My So-Called Secret Identity is also on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/MySoCalledSecretIdentity) and Twitter (@cat_abi_daniels), and the Facebook page offers more teasers and artwork as well as fan competitions.