Comics, Comics, Comics…

A while back, I announced that alternative comics creator C. Tyler was coming to USC to give a talk about her life and work. Tyler was part of the group of women who contributed to the important Twisted Sisters anthology series; she worked closely with Aline Kominsky-Crumb (not to mention Aline’s husband, Robert) and has been married to Justin Green (another key figure in the underground comics movement) for several decades. She has always produced bracingly honest, beautifully crafted, autobiographical stories, often centering around her experiences of low-paying jobs and the challenges of motherhood, but deeply embedded in a sense of family and gender politics. Tyler has justly gotten new acclaim and interest as a result of You’ll Never Know, a three volume series of graphic novels focused on her father and mother, who were World War II veterans, and what they passed down to subsequent generations.

People who attended her talk at USC found it a remarkable experience: she was so fresh and authentic and down to earth about herself and her art; she shared enormous insights into her tools, her raw materials, and her process, and she was so generous in engaging with our students, many of whom were young women who want to make their own creative contributions to the world. The program flew by with never a dull moment. So, I am very proud to finally be able to share the video of this event with my readers.

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On other fronts, I’ve wanted for a while to do a shout-out to the wonderful work being done on a new web comic series, My So-Called Secret Identity.

Here’s some of the background about the project they provide online:

My So-Called Secret Identity is what happened when internationally-acclaimed Batman scholar and popular culture expert, Dr Will Brooker, decided to stop criticising mainstream comics for their representation of women, and show how it could be done differently; how it could be done better. Working with professional illustrator Susan Shore and PhD in superhero art, Dr Sarah Zaidan, Brooker assembled a team to build a new universe, close enough to the familiar capes-and-cowls mythos to offer critical comment, but distinct enough to strike out in a whole new direction and offer a story unlike any other superhero title. The costume designs and character sketches for My So-Called Secret Identity were created by established names and fan favourites, from Lea Hernandez to Hanie Mohd. These very different artists offered very different takes on the characters and their styles, but they had one thing in common. In a deliberate reversal of mainstream industry conventions, almost all the creative team behind MSCSI are female.

And here’s a bit about the series’ main character:

All her life, Cat’s been taught to be little, learned to keep herself small, tried to avoid attention. Don’t be too full of yourself. Don’t show off. And most of all, don’t let people know how smart you are, because they don’t like it. But Cat really is someone special. Cat is the smartest person in Gloria City. She remembers everything she reads; she knows how everything connects. And she’s getting tired of pretending, of hiding, of acting dumb to save other people’s feelings.

My So-Called Secret Identity is, to put it in technical terms, wonderful. You can tell from the first page how much thought has gone into this story, the development of its protagonist, the visual treatment of the material, and the way to share this tale with readers. Brooker brings to this project a life-time of thinking deeply about the genre conventions of the superhero comic, but he also brings with it a sensitivity to the many different ways where the world strips young women of their self-esteem and teaches them that they should not be so “confident” in the ways they speak about themselves and their work.

Cat, she of many names and many identities, she of great power and intelligence, is struggling to figure out who she is and where she belongs. She is working to piece together her mission and to come to grips with her power.

Susan Shore and Sarah Zaidan’s visual style is warm and soft, standing in contrast with the garish look we associate with superhero comics, and there is a strong sense of place here as Cat shares with us some of her favorite nooks and crannies in Gloria City. This is one of the strongest first books in a new comics series I have read in a while and I can’t wait to see more. The creators are raising funds as they go,so if you like what you see, make a contribution.

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I also wanted to give a shout-out to a new blog, started by William Proctor, a comics scholar at the Center for Research in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Sunderland, who was nice enough to play host to me this summer when I was visiting his city. His blog, Infinite Earths, intends to bring together a community of academics, fans, and artists, who want to talk seriously about comics, especially British comics, and so far, it has lived up to any expectations. So far, he has published an autobiographical essay by the above-mentioned Will Brooker discussing his childhood fascination with some of the ground-breaking Vertico titles and the first part of an extended rumination by Bryan Talbot, one of my favorite British comics creators, about the thinking that went into his now classic A Tale of One Bad Rat, as well as Proctor’s own notes about a recent Talbot lecture on the history of anthropomorphic animals in comics. I have already promised Procotor an interview about my own current comics research, but regardless, I plan to keep close eye on this blog in the months ahead.