Read Alex Grand’s Understanding Superhero Comic Books published by McFarland Books in 2023 with Foreword by Jim Steranko with editorial reviews by comic book professionals, Jim Shooter, Tom Palmer, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Alex Segura, Carl Potts, Guy Dorian Sr. and more.
In the meantime enjoy the show:
Alex Grand sits down with crime and science fiction writer, Alex Segura who discusses his new book, Secret Identity, a noir mystery thriller based in the 1975 New York Comic Book Industry as well as his personal history in comics starting as a reader as a Cuban American child in Miami of the 1980s, joining Wizard as an associate editor, DC as Director of Publicity, Co-President of Archie Comics and now Senior VP at Oni Press. He also discusses his career in writing comic books including a Halloween special at DC, editor of the Dark Circle line at Archie Comics, writing Archie Meets the Ramones, Archie Meets Kiss and The Archies while also editing publications such as Archie Meets Batman ’66 and Katy Keene. We also discuss his Anthony Award-nominated Peter Fernandez mystery series, his co-creation of the Lethal Lit Podcast mystery, contributing to Image Comics’ Where We Live, co-writing the Black Ghost, and writing the novel, Poe Dameron: Free Fall.
📜 Video Chapters
00:00:00 Welcoming Alex Segura
00:00:28 Secret Identity Novel
00:01:09 Background of Alex Segura
00:02:41 Childhood comics
00:08:35 Started working as journalist & editor
00:09:40 First comic book gig interview
00:10:32 Cultural climax of the 90’s comics
00:11:22 Full-time job working on comics
00:12:36 As Publicity Manager at DC, 2006 | Wizard
00:16:39 Interacting with two different generations of creators
00:18:09 Exploring the crime genre
00:19:49 Started Pete Fernandez Mystery
00:21:09 From DC to Archie Comics | Halloween special at DC | Mike Martz
00:22:35 Archie Meets Kiss, Silent City
00:24:07 Implementing music into comics
00:26:41 As editor at Archie | Dark Circle, Black Hood
00:29:50 Was there any synergy between Archie and The River-dale show?
00:30:50 Continuity at Archie Comics
00:32:22 As Co-president of Archie Comics, 2017
00:33:42 When you edit classic Archie, do you have to keep target demographics in mind?
00:34:57 Pete Fernandez part-3 | What is your feeling toward Fidel Castro & How did that affect depiction of pro-Castro killers?
00:37:34 Co-creation of Lethal Lit podcast, 2018
00:41:53 Image Comics’ Where We Live, 2018
00:44:06 Co-writing of The Black Ghost, 2019 | Monica Gallagher
00:47:57 Exploring the genre totally
00:48:45 Poe Dameron: Free Fall, 2020 | Lucasfilm, Starwars
00:53:19 Senior Vice-President at Oni Press, 2020
00:54:40 Writing short stories – Red Zone, 90 Miles
00:57:26 Scarface movie 1983 | Desi Arnaz
00:59:06 Secret Identity novel | Why 1975?
01:05:12 Hey Kids comics – Characters are at least 51% of a real person
01:07:00 Big picture of Secret Identity
01:10:43 Two emotions of betrayal and empathy existing in the same space
01:12:09 Mark Maynard character
01:14:43 Elyane Berger character
01:17:12 Reference of the creator not getting credit for writing a story
01:18:42 Pop culture reference | Jim Steranko, Walter Gibson
01:21:02 I’m not gonna spoil the scene but…
01:22:08 Was it challenging writing flashbacks?
01:24:20 Some 70s NYC pub culture references
01:27:06 Pedro Fernandez references
01:27:47 Tell about the comic pages
01:32:40 The book translates a lot of the comic stuff to the mainstream audience
01:35:30 What were other interviews had some influence on the book?
01:37:23 “Another creator coming in” concept
01:38:54 The book is a meta look at intellectual property
01:40:28 Few words about the book
01:41:18 Wrapping Up
#AlexSegura #PoeDameron #StarWars #Archie #Ramones #Kiss
#SecretIdentity #RedCircle #Veronica #PeterFernandez #LethalLit
#BlackGhost #Superhero #ComicBook
Transcript (editing in progress):
Alex: Welcome back to the Comic Book Historians Podcast. I’m Alex Grand. Today, I’m joined by mystery and science fiction novelist and writer Alex Segura. We’re here to discuss his own personal history in comics, as well as his new release, Secret Identity: A Novel. Alex, thanks so much for joining us today.
Segura: It’s a pleasure. Like I’ve told you many times, I’m a fan of the podcast and it’s a real treat to be a guest.
Alex: Oh, well, thank you… Now, a lot of people don’t know, you currently live in New York, you’re a senior vice president at Oni Press, and you just released this book Secret Identity, which I loved. Thank you for mentioning the podcast in your acknowledgments, that was super kind.
And I just kind of want to mention a little something about it, before we get started on your own history in comics. It’s an interesting concept with this almost unintentional ghost writer and all that ensues in the 1975 comic book industry. It’s a genius concept. The interesting thing is the idea of an unintentional ghostwriter, and their secret identity as the actual writer. I just love the title. I love the concept.
But before we go into that, let’s talk about your own history, if that’s okay.
Segura: Sure. Yeah.
Alex: You’re Cuban-American, right? That comes up in a lot of your writings. You’re born in 1980 in Miami, Florida. Tell us about growing up as a kid in 1980. The political situation of Cuba, how did that affect your growing up? Your parents? Tell us about that.
Segura: Yeah, that’s a great question. My parents came over from Cuba, shortly after 1960. They hadn’t met yet. But after the Castro takeover in 1960, my mom was born in… Her birthday is January 1st, so she has vivid memories of her birthday party being interrupted by the news of Castro taking over.
So, they came over. I was born in 1980. There was always this kind of sense of other; like of another place that was home, but we’d never see. Like this idea that my family, like many other Cuban families, have been uprooted and taken away. It’s always top of the news in Miami as I’m sure it continues to be.
What was happening in Cuba, it was very much the sense of detachment. Like we were here in Miami and everything else is going… Other stuff was going on in Cuba that we just weren’t part of because of this man. A lot of the blame was laid out on Castro and his takeover.
It was an interesting way to grow up, because I think it was fairly unique… I don’t know. It just did feel very unique to me in that home was Miami but there was also another home that I had never get to see.
I grew up a comic reader. My first comic was an Archie comic. I remember my mom picking it up for me at the grocery store at Publix. I think we were in the checkout aisle and I was about five or six.
And I just remember the Archie stuff presented this Americana that I wasn’t really familiar with. Like in Miami, you don’t have season, it’s always great weather. It’s culturally a melting pot. And just so different from the Archie Americana. It was very appealing because everyone was friends. It was just this happy go lucky scenario.
It was a great introduction to comics because the stories were sitcom-ish, in terms of format. There was no continuity, there was no overarching. There were some dramatic stories, I remember those particularly, like usually drawn by Stan Goldberg or … Those were fun, like with a lot of Archie stories.
But I really was drawn to the sitcom and the clean art style like (Dan) DeCarlo and Harry Lucey, and things like that. I obviously didn’t know those creator names until much later.
And then, my first superhero comic was a reprint of… You probably remember this, the Spectacular Spider-Man magazine; those two issues that Stan (Lee) and (John) Romita did. I think the first issue was black and white, but the second issue was in color.
Alex: That’s right.
Segura: And it’s still one of, I think, the best Green Goblin stories ever, in terms of…
Alex: Oh, yeah.
Segura: Norman Osborn is still around. He still has amnesia. It’s funny, in retrospect, but they open the story with somebody… J. Jonah Jameson showing a film on the Green Goblin. [chuckle]
Segura: And so, Norman Osborn, of course, then goes into like a cold sweat and becomes the Green Goblin but …
Alex: And that wasn’t J. Jonah Jameson, but that was Captain Stacy, right? That was coming out…
Segura: Oh, you’re right. You’re right. Yeah. You’re right.
Alex: I love that issue. You’re right. It’s a great issue.
Segura: It’s so good. And Romita drew everyone beautifully. But when drew terror or like sheer anger, he was… He’s so gifted. He was so gifted. And he’s so gifted.
And I read that around the same time I picked up the Archie Comics and that opened the door to superhero stuff. And I became interested and I was obsessed. And then I became a regular visitor to my newsstands… And then when I discovered there was a comic shop down the street from my grandparents’ house, the dearly departed Frank’s Comics and Cards, I would make myself known there whenever I had a couple of dollars to rub together.
Alex: And that’s an interesting transition from Archie, having the Romita-Lee Spider-Man be the gateway to the superheroes. That totally makes sense, because a lot of people actually say that when (Steve) Ditko left and Romita came in, that they turned it into Archie basically. With Peter Parker as Archie and I think Mary Jane would be Veronica, and Gwen was like Betty. And then Harry Osborn was like Reggie. Right?
So, this is interesting that that would be your gateway to superheroes. That makes total sense, actually.
Segura: Yeah, I mean, Romita… Steve Ditko had this amazing, quirky, isolated style… Pete got a lot more handsome; all the characters became beautiful. And so yeah, the through lines from Dan DeCarlo to John Romita was very close.
After that, I was hooked and I started buying stuff that was more current, like Erik Larsen on Spider-Man, Jim Lee on the X-Men, some Batman stuff. And once you’re in a comic shop, the floodgates open and you can start picking up back issues. And I was really into Justice League International and Daredevil, things like that. I became obsessed with Chris Claremont’s X-Men. I started reading the Classic X-Men, as it kind of…
The cool thing about Marvel at the time is there was no real expansive book trade presence. There were a few trades here and there, so a lot of publishers reprinted classic stories through monthly periodicals. Like something that Archie still does today through the Digest, but… So, you have Classic X-Men, which reprinted from the beginning of Giant Size, then you had Marvel Tales, which started reprinting Classic Spider-Man stuff.
So, that was my education, kind of reading old back issues through reprints and then keeping up with the current issues. I was a big Spider-Man guy, X-Men. Batman was my guy at DC. I did appreciate Superman but I wasn’t as into like the cosmic stories. I liked the Avengers, but I was much more into the outcast and the mutants, and things like that.
And then some indie stuff like Steve Rude and Mike Baron’s Nexus.
Alex: Oh, yeah.
Segura: Love and Rockets is great.
Alex: We’re close to the same age, so you really saying like… I grew up on that stuff, that Classic X-Men reprint, to me, that was awesome. I don’t even think I knew they were reprints when I was picking them up from the store, until I found out later.
Segura: Yeah, I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand, till my dad, we went out to one… He was kind of my doorway to comics. We would buy comics together. When I’d go over to his house on the weekend, he’d take me to the shop or to the newsstand and then we’d pick up a few books.
He had been a comics reader as a kid too. So, he explained to me he was like, “No, those are comics that came out when I was a kid. You’re reading the books I read as a kid.” And that was… And I just loved it because I was getting this backstory that I didn’t really have when I was reading the current stuff so that was so… There were thousands of characters running through….
Alex: I think Marc Silvestri’s X-Men was coming out, at the same time, as some of that Classic X-Men. And I don’t even think I even understood…
Segura: What was going on [chuckle]…
Alex: At the time… Yeah. I just knew I liked them a lot. Yeah.
Segura: Yeah, and the X-Men seemed cooler. They were kind of outcasts and defiant. The Avengers were the All Stars, which was fine. But I was definitely into the outcasts like Peter Parker/ Spider-Man.
Daredevil was always like, even though he had these great creative runs, was considered sometimes a B-lister, and I was reading Ann Nocenti stuff. I remember being really drawn to Lee Weeks on Daredevil when he did that Last Rites story with D.G. Chichester. That was great stuff. But, yeah, I was a fan of comics as I was coming in and I stayed a fan.
And I went to college, I started working in journalism. I was a reporting intern and an editor at different places. I think it was early on in college when I had just come off a reporting internship. And I was realizing that the internship was not going to become a job, that I reached out to Mike Doran at Newsarama, who is still the editor at Newsarama. And Matt Brady, who is not the editor, but was there for a very long time.
Totally, like a cold AOL instant message. I just messaged them, and that dates the conversation as well… But I messaged them and I was like, “Hey, I’m a journalist. I’m a reporter and an editor. And I am a huge comic book fan, and I’d love to like…”
I mean, like you, I wasn’t just a fan of comics, I was a fan of the history of comics. So as a kid, I would even do my own like fantasy football style pairings like, “What if John Byrne drew Spider-Man?” And this was before he did. But things like that, when you’re like, kind of moving the pieces around to figure out what a great match would be.
And I’d always read books about comics and the history of comics. So, that was my first kind of comic book gig, interviewing creators. I interviewed Peter David about Young Justice.
Alex: Oh, that’s great.
Segura: Yeah, and it was an email; the early days of email interviews. Ed Brubaker was one of my first interviews, for Point Blank, which was kind of the book that set up Sleeper in the Wildstorm Universe.
They were giving me a lot of the kind of entry interviews like, “Let’s see if this kid could do it.” I stuck around for a couple years, and eventually, I saw Wizard Magazine had an opening for an associate editor.
And I grew up on Wizard. I didn’t have a ton of money, as a kid, of my own. So, if I only had like five or six bucks, I would buy Wizard because then I at least know what was going on in comics, and read the interviews. And that was really my gateway to behind the curtain as opposed to just reading the comics and enjoying the stories.
I got to meet the creators and kind of get a sense of their personalities which was right around the time of the image revolution, which was so exciting. And Valiant was huge at the time, and DC and Marvel were doing Death of Superman and Knightfall, and Heroes Reborn a few years later. So, it was a very intense and epic time to be a comic reader.
Alex: There was definitely like a cultural climax of the `90s that almost seem to signal like the end of the old way. But you had to be there to feel that.
Segura: Yeah. It was really a seismic moment in comics, I think. There was also business news like Marvel buying Heroes World (Distribution Co.) and companies being born or Marvel buying Malibu (Comics Entertainment, Inc). I remember that was a huge story. These stories that are now have become footnotes but like, only referenced by insiders, but it was an interesting time to watch the industry grow, and contract and then grow again.
And so, I reached out to Wizard, I applied. I spoke to Joe Annarella, who is now at Bleacher Report. He’s like a bigwig at Bleacher Report.
I flew up to Congress, New York, which I thought, “Oh, I’m going to the big city.” Rockland County, New York is suburban; it’s suburbia. It’s not Manhattan by any stretch. But it was my first exposure to snow and the Northeast, and I got the job which was amazing. I was there for a couple years. That was really a crash course in working in comics full time.
So, I went to conventions. I got to meet a lot of… I got to put faces to names. People I would email or talk to on the phone, I got to connect with in person, which is really exciting.
And then after that, I moved back to Miami…
Alex: What year was that? Just so we’re all on the same page.
Segura: Early 2000. So, I think 2002 to 2003…
Alex: Yeah. There you go.
Segura: And then after that, I moved back to Miami and worked at the Miami Herald again. And I started reviewing graphic novels for the newspaper, in addition to just my job as an editor and working on the website. And that was fun because I got a ton of free books. I got to review a bunch of cool stuff, like the Dave Gibbons The Originals and the Watchmen Reissue and stuff like that, a lot of indie stuff.
I emailed my contact at DC David Hyde. I said, “I’m going to be in New York on vacation. I’d love to just visit the offices and say hello. I’d never gotten a tour of the DC New York offices. I’d never… It’d just felt like a dream.”
And David said, “Sure, I’d love to see you. Would you want to apply for this job?” And they had a job as a publicity manager at DC and I said, “Okay”. I hadn’t even considered moving back to New York. I thought it was just going to be what it was going to be and I was going to be in Miami, and that would be…
Not to sound resigned, I just didn’t think I’d come back to New York so quickly. And I ended up… All these conversations happened as I was already on vacation in New York. So, I had to kind of scramble and buy a suit and prep for an interview.
I spoke to David. I spoke to the marketing people. I got to sit with Paul Levitz for the first time and chat with him for the interview, and I got the gig. Then I was back in New York and I was working at DC in publicity. Really, that was a great…
I always knew I wanted to write, so I always knew I was going to eventually write my own stories, whether they were comic…
Alex: This was 2012. The official job title was Executive Director of Publicity, right?
Segura: Actually, I had two stints at DC.
Alex: There you go.
Segura: The first one was publicity manager and it started in 2006 to about 2009.
Alex: There you go. Okay.
Segura: Yeah. Yeah.
Alex: So that’s where that started. Okay.
Segura: It’s a great opportunity, as a journalist to shift over to publicity and learn how to be a publicist. But also, as someone who wanted to write and write stories, to just see how it was done, and just soak up what these people were doing.
People like Brad Meltzer, who I’d met when I was at Wizard, but I got to meet him and kind of see how he worked. Scott Snyder, Gail Simone, Greg Rucka, so many huge, huge talents. And just seeing not only how they behaved as professionals, but also how they work. I got to see the scripts and to see the process.
I was probably the publicist that just loved hanging out in the editorial offices… Hearing what was coming up. Sitting in different editors’ offices and seeing what they had tacked on to the wall.
Alex: Then as publicity managers, so then what would you do with that information?
Segura: You’d figure out a way to promote it. You’d figure out the timeline, like where do we announce this? Where do we show preview? Or you create a timeline for announcing the work and promoting the work.
And this was an era where Wizard was still around, but kind of not as powerful as Wizard back then. They weren’t the tastemaker and I think the challenge there was because Wizard had a web presence, but their web presence never really broke out, timed… You had Newsarama, you had Comic Book Resources, you had a bunch of other online outlets that…
And I was partially guilty of this. When I left Wizard and I came back, I did some freelancing for Newsarama. I’d get my subscriber copy of Wizard and then I’d run to Newsarama and we’d post the story by saying, “Hey, Wizard is reprinting so and so…”
The exclusivity… When you’re a print magazine, your exclusivity is only as long as somebody looking at it and retyping the story.
Alex: That’s right. [chuckle]
Segura: So, we’d credit Wizard but they no longer, I guess, had that same power. I’m not taking credit for that alone. I was one of many reporters doing that.
So anyway, as a publicist, you had to pitch around the story, you dealt with the comic book trade… I was mainly the comic book trade person. So, I would interact with Newsarama, and Wizard and CBR, and all those places.
And that was a lot of fun because I came to like the comic book trade, so I’d felt like I was really just chatting with the people that I was contemporaries with. I got to hang out and talk to the creators, but also see what the editors were doing. People like Steve Wacker, and Pete Tomasi, and Joan Hilty, and Mike Marts, and Dan DiDio had just set up shop there at DC as the head of editorial. Also, a lot of the Vertigo editors like Karen Berger, Shelly Bond, Will Dennis.
So, it was an education every day just kind of seeing… My eyes were starry eyed most the time but I tried to kind of keep it together. But it was a great education and it was a really cool experience.
Alex: And that’s an interesting time because there’s a lot of like older people in comics and the newer people coming in. So, you’re kind of at that in between point where you’re like interacting with like two different generations of creators. It sounds like.
Segura: Yeah, you got to see a new wave of talent, people that are huge names now were starting out then, and especially through Vertigo. Like you had Jason Aaron do something. He did The Other Side at Vertigo and that was his big launch. Then he did Scalped and then he started to really get some heat… Or Scott Snyder who started with American Vampire and then took over Batman and became a huge. G. Willow Wilson did a book called Cairo and then Air; maybe not in that order. But then she went on to do Amazing Things.
So yeah, it was interesting because you had the old guys and you had the up and comers coming in and really establishing themselves. It was just fun to see, to be part of kind of the publishing machinery.
But at the same time, I had just moved to New York so it was very… it was a whole different world a whole different experience for me coming from Miami. And comics was now my day job, not just writing about comics or being a fan of comics, but like the machinery of comics.
I’d get a stack of the DC releases every week, which was amazing. And I was like, “Wow, this is heaven. I’m getting free comics like every week… But it was your job.” I had to read them. I had to see what are the publicity hooks here, like what’s important? What did we miss? Like what made it through to the comics that we weren’t able to maximize in the press?
And so, I started thinking about other things creatively, and I was reading a lot of noir novels. I’d always liked true crime. I’d always like crime novels as a kid. I mean stuff like, I read The Godfather, probably, too young an age; the novel, which is really pulpy and dark. And a lot of like Sherlock Holmes and stuff like that.
I always loved mysteries, but I got turned on to a lot of newer crime or other icons like Jim Thompson, and Patricia Highsmith, and Ross Macdonald. And then more current writers like Straczynski, Laura Lippman, and Megan Abbott.
Alex: You were going back. You’re exploring the genre… On a literary level, it sounds like.
Segura: Yeah, I was really going to… It was like a buffet table. I was getting a little bit of this, a little bit of that.
Alex: Did you like (Raymond) Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and all that stuff too?
Segura: Yeah, I was more of a… Yeah, Chandler was a sweet spot. It was just like, he set the tone for PI fiction forever. Like whenever you write a PI novel, you owe some debt to Raymond Chandler, whether you’re flipping what he did, or you’re just honoring what he did.
But a lot of the mysteries I was reading were really steeped in setting. So you read a Baltimore novel by… Not a Baltimore… You read a Boston novel by Dennis Lehane, and you felt like you were touring the seedier sides of Boston or Baltimore (Blues) by Laura Lippman.
And I think I was really homesick at the time. New York is amazing. You’re full of people; there’s people everywhere. You’re surrounded all the time, but it can be a little lonely, especially if you’re coming from a different place and it just feels you’re isolated.
So, I started to get really homesick and I thought, “Well, what if I, just for fun, I started writing my own PI novel?” And I created this character Pete Fernandez, who was like me, Cuban-American and had similar backgrounds.
Alex: And what year did you conceive of Peter Fernandez?
Segura: It’s funny because the first edition of the book came out in 2013. And by then, I had left DC gone to Archie, and come back to DC. But I was thinking about the Pete novels long before then. I was thinking about it towards the end of my time, at the first time at DC.
And I was pecking away at this book and thinking about it, and I had a draft. I had a draft. And I just remember sharing it with John Cunningham, who was the VP of Sales and Marketing then. And I had never really shown it to anyone.
I printed it out at the work computer and I was like, “Here… Just rip it apart. If it’s terrible, don’t tell me.” He read it and he was like, “Those first few pages got me hooked.” And that’s the first victory.
I think people don’t really recognize those early reviews or those early notes of encouragement like, writers don’t forget that because it’s do or die at that point. Like you’re so fragile at that point that you don’t even think about… Like if someone says, “Oh, this is terrible.” It just could sink your momentum.
Alex: Yeah. For sure.
Segura: And you’d just say, “It’s not for me.
Alex: Even as an interviewer, that’s true. I think, Neal Adams and Jim Steranko, when I interviewed them, they complimented me a lot after like, “You really did this right.” Now, that totally… Without that, I don’t know if I would even continued.
Segura: Yeah, it might kill your momentum.
And so, at that time, I was still writing my draft and I moved from DC to Archie. And then at Archie, I oversaw all publicity efforts as opposed to being just part of the …
Alex: That was 2009 when this happened?
Segura: Yeah. But I did get… My first comic book credit came at DC. I wrote a short story for a Halloween special that Mike Marts was editing… Which I really owe him, because at the time it was kind of frowned upon for DC staff to write at DC, which for good reason.
I mean, remember Marvel in the `90s, when editors were writing all the comics, and it became this issue… But Mike knew that I wanted to write. And so, it was a throwaway Flash and Frankenstein story, but it was a lot of fun. It got me kind of thinking about the conventions of comics and the structure of a script and things like that. And that was my first credit.
And then, when I got to Archie, I was obviously doing publicity, but I had made it known that I wanted to write. And Mike Pellerito, who was the president then, threw me a few classic Archie stories.
So, I wrote one, where they went to a comic convention. Then I wrote one where Archie had like, four dates on the same night. And that kind of opened the door to Archie Meets KISS, which was my first big project.
Our CEO Jon Goldwater said, “Gene Simmons wants to do Archie, an Archie crossover”. And then I don’t know what possessed me in the moment, but I said, “I’d love to write it.” I knew KISS. I knew of KISS, and I’ve obviously, listened to the greatest hits but I was by no means a KISS obsessive.
Alex: Because that’s kind of before our generation, I think.
Segura: Yeah. I was more like… I mean, I love the Beatles. I love the `70s music but for whatever reason KISS was a little bit of a blind spot, but I knew enough to be able to write a story about them.
And so, with Archie Meets KISS, we brought in Francesco Francavilla to do the covers, and I think that helped recalibrate how people looked at the character. So, it wasn’t just like this classic style, he could be interpreted in different ways. And that was a big game changer.
And on at the same time, a few years after that, I moved back to DC and that’s when Silent City was ready to come out. And then it came out from a very, very small publisher, Codorus Press. It was like a boutique publisher. And eventually, it got picked up by Polis Books and they reprinted Silent City and then published the rest of the Pete series.
Alex: Yeah. And just some of the people don’t know yet, that Silent City is the first of the Peter Fernandez series. There’s five of them, from what I understand. And then, they’re an Anthony Award nominated series – Silent City. Down the Darkest Street, Dangerous Ends, Blackout and Miami Midnight.
I love the covers. I love the neon of the covers.
Segura: Oh, yeah.
Alex: I think that’s just so much fun. But that being said, you touched upon it, is you have a long history of implementing music into comics. And what’s interesting about that is that that’s not easy to do to converge an auditory medium into a visual medium like comic books.
But all the samples I’ve seen, which we’ll talk about some also, like Archie Meets the Ramones. and The Archies and… There’s something about the way those are presented that I feel like I’m feeling the music as I’m reading those. How did music make its way in?
And I noticed that with Secret Identity there’s references to the Velvet Underground, things like that. How did music kind of get involved in what you do?
Segura: Yeah. I mean, music’s always been a passion of mine. I was in bands in college, and early on when I first moved to New York.
Alex: So, you’re in a band. Okay. There you go.
Segura: I was, yeah. Not anymore. I don’t have time. I mean, I wish I still kind of… I can mess around on the guitar, and be okay, but I barely have time for that. It’s just one of those things you give up.
Yeah, musics always been a big part of it. And when Matt Rosenberg and I were writing the Ramones and B52s, and things like that, he’s a music guy too, so we would always think about it. How do we evoke the feeling of listening to music through comics? Which is so hard, because there’s no audio element to it. It’s not like you can play some chords.
But I think we knew enough about the lingo of being in bands, and touring, and things like that, that we tried to give it the sense of authenticity. Like the Archie books drawn by Joe Eisma, it was an ongoing series, that was my first ongoing book. We had cameos each issue, but we needed to have one overarching story.
So, it was like the story of The Archies on tour, and they met all these bands like Chvrches, and Tegan and Sara. They had a dream sequence where they met The Monkees, Blondie in the modern day.
Alex: Yeah, I love that. And I love how the art kind of changed on the one that takes place in the 60s. It’s so well done. Yeah.
Segura: Oh, cool. Yeah, Joe was great. He’s like so underrated. I think he deserves all the praise. He was able to draw it in the classic style… Archie gets bonked on the head by a guitar and he has this dream sequence where he’s playing with The Monkees, and then Joe did it in the classic style. And then Archie wakes up, and there’s a knowing wink in the end… But yeah, that was a lot of fun.
Really, we wanted to write a story about friendship, and it sounds depressing, but about failure. Sometimes, you don’t succeed, but you still… It’s about the journey and the friends you make on the way and the personal relationships. And so, that was a big thing.
I was bummed that the series ended, but sales numbers dictate what things do, what continues, yeah.
Alex: I love pop culture references, pop culture history, so it spoke to me when I read it.
Segura: Oh, good.
Alex: Now, you’re also an editor of the Dark Circle series of comic books at Archie. So, you were editing The Black Hood in 2015. Can you tell us about that? Because you also edited some work by Mark Waid. How was it like kind of editing these creators? Tell us about that stint with Archie with the Dark Circle titles?
Segura: Yeah, that was fun. When I came back, I was at DC for a couple of years from my first stint at Archie. And then, DC decided to move to Burbank and I couldn’t make that move. So, I started talking to Archie and they said, “We’d love to have you run our PR Department.”
And I asked if I could also do some editing because that was something I was interested in. And they said that they wanted to relaunch their superheroes. That was really it. So, I was intrigued by that. They’ve done some stuff. They did the Fox. The first Fox miniseries by Mark Waid and Dean Haspiel.
I came in with a pitch and my idea was to really treat it more like a network as opposed to a big overarching continuity that you needed to really understand to get any of the books. And so, I treated it more as like a genre exercise. So, The Black Hood, which was Duane Swierczynski and Michael Gaydos, who obviously co-created Jessica Jones, that was our crime book. And The Shield by Chuck Wendig, and Adam Christopher, and Drew Johnson was your espionage spy book. And something like The Hangman by Frank Tieri and Felix Ruiz was the horror book and so on.
We didn’t get past that. We had that first wave of titles. We had the Fox also, which was the second arc of the Waid-Haspiel book and that was much more like superhero high jinks and comedy and adventure.
It was great. I mean, it was I learned on the job, which was challenging, but Paul Kaminski, who’s now a group editor at DC, was extremely helpful in giving advice and helping me kind of learn the ropes. And I credit him with showing me just how, the mechanics of editorial as opposed to the overarch style.
But it was really interesting. It was really, the passion for those characters is so strong, but I think the response was pretty good to those iterations and it didn’t take anything away from what you’ve read before. So, there was previous Black Hoods, but the new Black Hood was a different person and the new Shield was a different person. So, it’s interesting to see those characters kind of live on in their own way, but it was a learning experience and it was pretty invaluable, I think.
Alex: There’s also a history, that a lot of companies do, where just to kind of renew their trademark, they use it. They might be totally different secret identities of those characters, like the Vision at Marvel. There’s another Vision before.
Alex: So, this kind of sounds like an exercise of that in the sense too, but in a good creative way that it’s awesome. And it sounds like you really kind of cut your teeth, even further, on the creative aspects of comics rather than the public relations of the company. So, that’s great. And that sounds like then that leads into a lot of more comics as far as editing and writing.
So, I want to kind of ask you about The Archies because we’ve mentioned it, but was there any supposed synergy of any kind between that and the Riverdale show? Was there ever intended anything like that? Or were there any things you had to stay conscious of?
Segura: Not so much. I think the benefit of being at a smaller company was we were always in contact. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who is the showrunner of Riverdale is the chief creative officer of Archie. We had a direct line to the company, and there was good communication. So, it was more like how do we capitalize off this awareness and remind people of the connective tissue so that people that are watching Riverdale realize, “Oh, this is Archie the comic book.” And then they go to the comic book and kind of engage with that.
Alex: I see.
Segura: So, it was much more about like, how do we help each other as opposed to like, we can’t do this because it’s on the show.
Alex: Right. There you go.
Segura: Yeah. It was also like, I think at that point, which was a testament to the flexibility of the character, people understood that this was an iteration of Archie as opposed to the only version, and so people were flexible on how the character was interpreted, which was cool.
Alex: Yeah, and I notice that that seems to be a theme at Archie the company. That there can be different interpretations of these characters. They don’t all have to be in the same continuity and think of it as a multiverse and this is Archie Meets Zombies or Archie Meets the Punisher.
Alex: It’s a fun exercise because I think those characters are so almost elemental now to pop culture that you can do stuff like that, and consumers will just have fun with it. I think that’s a real unique kind of thing.
Whereas, I think in superheroes, people get upset. They’re like, “That’s not how it’s supposed to be.” Right?
Segura: Yeah, “That doesn’t count”, and there’s never really been continuity at Archie. There’s consistency like Jughead likes to eat burgers, and if you change that you’re probably changing his intrinsic characteristics, or Veronica is rich, and if you change that, it might not be Veronica. Unless, you do it in a way that gets her back to her status quo. So there’s consistency, but there’s no continuity.
And so I think, when John Goldwater took over the company, there was a sense that Archie as an IP was heading into the space of like Popeye or Betty Boop, which is not a bad space, but more like a retro style brand. He really stem that tide and pivoted and made it a much more fluid brand and something that could change and adapt for the times, which is amazing. Like now, you see so many different iterations of the characters, which is cool.
Alex: Yeah, I remember when I was watching that first Riverdale episode, him and his teacher in that car. I was like, “Wow, this is not the same Archie. I’m intrigued. I want to see more.”
Segura: …Yeah, it’s different… A whole new different ballgame… Yeah, exactly…
Alex: So now, and I see this a lot, because I’ve researched your other interviews. You were co-president of Archie Comics in 2017. I think from what I understand you oversaw the company’s editorial and communications. What is a co-president? How does that work?
Segura: Yeah. The title in itself doesn’t define itself. When you say like, SVP of Sales and Marketing, you kind of know what the job entails. But co-president was a way of saying like, a lot of a little bit of everything. Like I touched new biz like new business development, like partnerships, editorial oversight of the new stuff.
But it was all done in a team setting. So, obviously, John decided the big picture stuff has a CEO and Mike Pellerito, the other president had a big say on things… It was such a small shop and it continues to be a very tight knit group that a lot of stuff was just done together, which was great. It was a nice way to work.
Alex: It sounds like co-publisher? Would that also be a way to describe that?
Segura: Yeah, I guess so. Yeah, it’s really just having a voice in the room, which is important and just growing the brand and trying to make… Whether it’s a business thing or a creative thing, like having input on those decisions, and it was a blast. I mean, I’ve grew up on those characters that to have had any influence on what happened with them is an honor.
Alex: Yeah, absolutely. That’s great. So then, and you also edited titles like Archie Meets Batman 1966. Those Mike Allred covers are awesome. Dan Parent’s art, awesome. You edited Archie, Katy Keene, Betty and Veronica. Now, with these different titles, although they’re all Archie characters or Archie style characters, when you edit, do you have to keep like target demographics in mind? Are they different between those books?
Segura: Yeah, they vary. I mean, I think the big shift is when you’re doing classic Archie, you’re obviously doing something that’s family friendly and for all ages. You have to keep that in mind. Whereas you’re doing something…
The shorthand we use was New Riverdale. But that was… We phased that out. But the idea is like Archie stories that evoked Riverdale, that actually predated Riverdale. Like the Mark Waid-Fiona Staples Archie stuff was in many ways what spurred people to understand Riverdale and came out first.
But in that world, the short-hand we used was New Riverdale, but that’s a little bit more YA leaning, it never veers into adult. But then you have stuff like Dark Circle, which was much more like our HBO content. There was some adult language. The violence was more intense. But it was also a different imprint. So we were okay with that.
So yeah, you always have to kind of know what your audience is. And you obviously want to hopefully expand your audience but we tried to keep those things in mind.
Alex: A little more on Peter Fernandez and then we kind of go to kind of off comics into your writing in other media. Some of the themes in your part three, Peter Fernandez – first it’s about an ex-newspaperman. So you’re an ex-newspaperman. Right?
Alex: Cuban also, right? I mean, Peter Fernandez.
Segura: Uh-hmm… Yeah.
Alex: But then he turns into a PI, he wants to redeem himself by helping people. He’s alcoholic and he’s got baggage. So there’s a bit of a redemption arc to the character, which I find interesting.
But it’s also some of the themes like I think part three, there was pro-Castro killers mentioned in it, right? So living, as you said, in exile; as a Cuban exile, what is your feeling toward Fidel Castro? And how did that affect your depiction of those pro-Castro killers in part three of Peter Fernandez?
Segura: I should zoom out and say that each of those books is whatever I was obsessing over at the time. Like I never wanted the series to feel just episodic, where the character doesn’t change. I wanted the Pete that you met at the beginning of whatever book to be very different from the Pete at the end… The books’ been out for a while, so I won’t spoil it too much… But at the end of Dangerous Ends, he’s on the run, stuff has happened.
In terms of the Castro stuff, I’d read a lot of books about Cuba and the Cuba-Miami dynamic and the opposition between Cuba’s government and the Cuban exile community. It’s all things are complicated. Nothing is ever black and white and obviously…
Alex: There you go.
Segura: So, I wanted to show some of that, but obviously also note that, Castro was not a good guy, and what he did was not a good thing. Whether he did it under the auspices of being a revolutionary, and I’m sure he has supporters like any authoritarian has, but that doesn’t mean that you’re right just because you have some people behind you.
I wanted to show some of that historical texture in that book. I wanted to show that Pete’s background touched on things that went deeper; the roots went deeper and went back to Cuba. And I wanted to show that and not make it a typical PI novel.
So, I had flashbacks to Pete’s grandfather in Cuba, escaping Cuba during the takeover. I had flashbacks to Pete’s dad who is a presence throughout the series, even though he’s never alive in the series. From page one, he’s passed away.
Alex: And that was a great answer, and I appreciate that.
Segura: Oh, thanks.
Alex: Part four is about like a cult leader… Just really fun things that are kind of spooky that you bring up in the Pete Fernandez series, and it’s cool that there’s the dynamic and the variety of them.
In 2018. You co-created and co-wrote the Lethal Lit Podcast; six episodes for iHeartRadio about Tig Torres, a woman dealing with the Lit Killer in the city of Hollow Falls. And the murders are based on classic literature. Tell us about that experience, and how… It sounds like, it’d be different writing for a podcast. Is that right? It’s a different medium.
Segura: Yeah, it’s totally different and there was a learning curve there. I mean, I’d written scripts obviously, for comics, but comics are a visual medium. So, you’re writing to the artists and you’re deferring to the artist to create the imagery.
With audio, you can’t say, you can’t show anything visually, it’s obviously audio. So, even the cues have to be audio based, so when someone enters the room, you have to make a note like, “Sound effects: door creaking”. And then the conversation has to be a little bit perfunctory. You have to say, “Hey, Alex, how are you?” “I’m fine, Bill.” Like you have to kind of explain…
Alex: [chuckle] … It’s like writing for radio, right? I mean that’s a lot like…
Segura: Yeah. You’re writing for radio, basically. And that’s just like kind of the nuts and bolts of it. But I was also, that was one of the first times I was writing pure YA. It’s YA podcasts. Whereas the Archie stuff was YA, but not defined is YA and so…
Alex: Wait, what’s YA?
Segura: Young adult and the idea being like, you’re kind of experiencing a character’s coming of age in some ways, not necessarily… Whether it be professionally or personally or some kind of moment of truth. And emotions are ramped up because you have a younger cast. And when we’re younger we’re, I guess, much more… Not as jaded as we are now.
But I really looked back at shows that I had a fondness for, that kind of touched on that high school mentality. Mainly, it was stuff like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Like this idea of… A little bit of the Scooby Doo stuff like you have this crew of young teenagers trying to do what the adults couldn’t accomplish.
I got to co-write the series with Monica Gallagher who I went on to co-create The Black Ghosts with. And that was a lot of fun because Monica has a great knack for dialogue and character quirks, and I’m much more of a plotter and just like the mystery person. So, I wanted to make sure that the big reveal at the end, caught everyone off guard and you had enough red herrings and you had enough clues.
A lot of the fun was like digging up clues from literature and dropping those into the story like Dracula, or The Crucible, or things like that. I went back to my own English Lit roots as a kid in high school, like what were the books we had to read in high school? And that was a lot of fun because I got to revisit some of the classics and some of the books that were defining to me as a writer, but…
Alex: People had to read them in school… That many more people then could relate to the podcast as well.
Segura: Yeah, I think there was an awareness for those books, because they were part of the curriculum. I think across the country, like especially for people our age; the books we had to read, and that were perpetually continued to be read by high schoolers. So that I think, was the touchstone for a lot of stuff. And it was a lot of fun. The response was great.
And I think there’s a point in audio writing where you kind of hand it off, we handed it off to the showrunner this guy, J.B. Blunk, who is also an actor. And it was just so interesting because, as a novelist, you control everything. As a comic book writer, you’re basically the screenwriter and the director is the artists, so you kind of hand the script off and hope that they kind of adapt what you do and add to it.
Then in audio, it’s very similar. You’re handing it off to the recording engineer or the director and he or she manages that part of it. And we got to be in the room; we got to see a table read which was wild, to see actors reading your script and then watch them record their parts. And listening to the final product was really, it was just a treat. It was just a unique experience for me.
Alex: Yeah, that’s fun… And you would actually write the sound effect in the script, is that right?
Segura: Yeah, kind of. You would note. You would note it.
Alex: And then the producer would do whatever with that.
Alex: That’s fun.
Segura: In comics, you have to specify like literally, “Zoom!” or “Crack”.
Segura: Whereas in audio, you just note, “Okay, SFX: door opening” or “SFX: hand slamming on to table.” And they can always tinker with that and do what they want, but at least you’re kind of giving them a guide.
And it’s interesting because the audio book of Secret Identity has those comic book sequences, but they’re done in an almost audio drama way. It was just really neat… We can get to that, I guess, when we touch on that.
Alex: Yeah, which I’m excited to talk about, because I noticed the red herring, and I’m not going to say what it is in Secret Identity, that I actually, myself, going up the red herring tree for a while.
Alex: Now, in 2018, you wrote a story in Where We Live by Image Comics, about the eyewitness account of Leala Tyree about the Las Vegas shooting. Tell us about us first about how that shooting affected you, and how you got involved writing that short story.
Segura: Gun violence is such a prevalent problem in our country. It’s insane and it’s costing so many lives. It continues to be a problem, and we’ve moved far beyond, not to get too political, but “thoughts and prayer solving” anything. We need some serious legislations. What happened in Vegas was catastrophic, even in comparison to other mass shootings; not to compare and contrast, but I was such a terrible situation.
And then, JH Williams, the amazing artist, was editing this book with Will Dennis, who I knew from my days at DC, and they reached out and said, “We have some eyewitness stories. We’d love a writer who has a journalistic background to talk to these people or at least read their stories, and put them into comic book form.”
I got to work with Marco Finnigan, who’s a great artist, and do one of those… I did two of them. It’s so intense to read these stories of people, literally, running for their lives or watching people to be gunned down. It was so heart wrenching. I felt it was a huge responsibility to have to craft those stories and then relay them and do justice to their stories, but also, have a message and a theme.
It was hard and it’s also, it’s hard to be succinct in any medium. With the novel, you can write it as long as you want. With the short story, it’s much harder. You have a couple thousand words to create a vignette. By vignette, I mean an emotional response as opposed to a like a three-act structure.
So, it was a challenge. It was such an all-star crew of creators in that book. It was really an honor to be part of it. And that was the first time, anything I’d written was in an Image publication, so that was cool to see as well.
Alex: 2019, this is a fun one. I enjoyed flipping through it. This was the Black Ghost for New Wave Comics.
Segura: Oh, cool.
Alex: 2019, it’s about reporter Laura Dominguez, also from Miami; investigating, becoming the vigilante the Black Ghost. So, there’s definitely a theme of these Miami based investigators…
Segura: [chuckle] Yeah.
Alex: Kind of transplanted into a new place, but in this case, becoming a vigilante. And almost like the Lethal Lit, in a sense.
So, can you tell us first, about writing in the perspective of a female vigilante or female investigator? I know that you share roots, as far as the Cuban heritage, being from Miami, being able to speak from that perspective. But how do you then also, go into another gender? And tell us about that in context of co-writing the Black Ghost.
Segura: The Black Ghost sprung out of Lethal Lit in many ways. Monica Gallagher and I became fast friends and our collaboration was so painless. That’s really hard, to find collaborators that you not only like them as people but also enjoy working together.
And you feel like the final product, the union of your work, is greater than you could’ve done by yourself. And so I think working with Monica is that kind of collaboration, where she adds so much and I add so much, and the final thing is greater than the sum of its parts.
And so, we went back and forth. We finished Lethal Lit and I said, “Do you want to work on comic stuff?” Because Monica is a comic book writer and artist, and she’s done so many amazing things for different places. And we came up with this idea, Black Ghost, and we wanted to…
In the same way the Pete Fernandez books honors the PI genre, but also flips the script on a lot of stuff. Pete, like many private I’s, is a hard drinker, but he’s also kind of in recovery. And he’s dealing with that in a way that I didn’t see a lot of other PI’s do it.
We kind of flipped a few of the tropes. I wanted to reapproach the idea of the street level kind of crime fighter, especially the legacy aspect of it. A lot of times you see… Not to criticize anyone, but I wanted to really look at it in a closer way, like what pushes someone to take on this costume and decide to become a superhero.
I’m pretty proud of the twist at the end of the first issue. Because you go into the first issue, you think it’s a story about a reporter chasing the hero. You don’t assume that the reporter is going to then become the hero.
It’s about Lara Dominguez, who’s this obsessive journalism, with her own personal problems in the City of Creighton, which was our love letter to kind of Gotham City, and Hub City, and places like that.
And so, in terms of writing outside of my experience, since I’m a straight man and Lara Dominguez is a woman… Obviously, Monica was a great resource. She could speak to a lot of things I didn’t know and we kept a great dialog going there, so I think was the main thing there. She had so much…
Alex: And it sounds like she kind of helped provide insight into things that you may not have considered on your own.
Segura: Totally, yeah. And so, the idea there was to really catch people off guard by the end of the first issue. And so, you read the first issue, you think it’s going to be about Lara chasing around this Creighton vigilante and then he dies at the end of the first issue. And that first arc is about her journey, deciding to become the next Black Ghost.
That was kind of a little nod to the DC heroes I loved as a kid, like the legacy heroes, like Hourman and things like that where there’s another iteration of the hero in a generational story. So, that was a lot of fun and really, writing a vigilante crime fighter story as crime fiction. Kind of blending my favorite stuff about crime fiction with superhero stories. And I really leaned into stuff like The Question, the Deny O’Neil run, Ms. Tree by Max Collins and Terry Beatty, and things like that.
Alex: So, it sounds like whenever you explore a genre in a specific medium, you check out previous works in that, to see about styles and things. That tunes you in more, in that sense, to comic history moments as well, which is awesome.
Segura: I try to immerse myself in what’s happening in that space. If I’m going to be part of that space or add to it, I want to be additive. I don’t want to do something that’s been done before. Like I wanted to definitely evoke crime fiction and superhero crime fighters in a different way.
I’m not saying it’s totally ground breaking but it was something that felt new to me. And look, at the end of the day, I think this is the truism of any kind of creative stuff, is that you have to write the story that only you can write, but that you want to read, that you’re obsessed with.
Alex: Yeah. That’s true… That way, it’s actually fun also, to do it.
Segura: Yeah, exactly.
Alex: Now, this is a whole different kind of direction but Poe Dameron: Free Fall, 2020, you wrote the origin of Poe Dameron, in a Star Wars novel. He was partially orphaned, seeking adventure with the Spice Runners. How did that come about with Lucasfilm? How were those discussions? Were you given an outline? What technical things you just needed to have in there? How did that happen?
Segura: The Poe Dameron book… It’s funny. I got an email from Lucasfilm and it was very general. It was, “Would you ever want to do something with Star Wars? And that, for someone like me who wears a ton of hats could’ve meant anything, like editing, writing, publicity, and so I just said, “Yes, whatever you guys want.”
And then, it became, as we drilled down, they explained that they wanted to do a post origin story; a YA novel set between Return of the Jedi and the first of the new trilogy. And they wanted it to basically be the connective tissue between Rise of Skywalker and post origin story. Kind of setting up a lot for the things that you see in the film.
So, I was never a traditional outliner with my novels. I would outline a little bit and write, and outline again. It was not an ideal process, it made rewriting intense. But when you’re doing work for hire stuff, you have to present the outline.
We had a conference call, which was great and kind of brainstormed. And really, what I wanted to do is write a crime novel in space…
Alex: Yeah. There you go.
Segura: I wanted it to feel like a gritty noir adventure, obviously a YA adventure, but in space in the world of Star Wars. And really explore what the underworld was like in the Star Wars universe, which to me is one of the most interesting parts of Star Wars.
They were cool with that and so I outlined it in detail, about a 10 to 15-page outline, where I literally broke it out by chapter. And I was really pleasantly surprised by how much creative leeway I had. You never know, going in, dealing with someone else’s IP, how much wiggle room you’re going to have.
But they really wanted unique voices. They wanted those unique voices to create characters and add to the mythos as opposed to just play the greatest hits which was refreshing for me. So, a lot of those characters were things that were created in the novel like the Spice Runners that Poe gets pulled away from.
And to me, it’s not just about Poe it’s about Zorii Bliss, who you see for maybe five minutes in the movie, played by Keri Russell. And she’s this mysterious masked figure, a lot like Boba Fett was in the original trilogy, such visually so cool and obviously important, but this book also gave you the weight and the reason why she was so important.
Alex: There you go.
Segura: The back story with Poe, what the relationship was like. And I like that it was subverted and it wasn’t just romance. It was more, it was about a friendship, that sometimes became romantic but it wasn’t just purely like a spurned lover. Because I felt that that was too easy.
For me, it was just as much as a Zorii Bliss novel as it was a Poe Dameron novel. And it was a lot of fun to immerse myself in Star Wars. It was such a nice like sea change from the very gritty reality-based PI novels I was writing, to doing something that was literally, in another galaxy, dealing with different planets, space ships… Because I’m a sci-fi kid too. I love Star Wars.
Alex: There you go.
Segura: I love Star Trek. I love science fiction and so it was a lot of to kind of stretch those muscles. I think the only drag was that it came out during… It was like the pandemic had just started when it came out and I think the pandemic… Officially, stuff started to shut down in March of 2020, and it came out that August, so I didn’t really get to go to…
Obviously, these are trivial problems compared to the major issues happening…
Alex: But there wasn’t the big tour of going to a convention.
Alex: And talking to people about it… Yeah. I totally get it.
Segura: Yeah, but maybe someday… But it was a thrill. And it was really… The author community of Star Wars, authors were so welcoming, and friendly, and positive.
And the fans were really great. I think they appreciated the nuance that came from the book that it wasn’t just like, “Oh, Poe is a Spice Runner.” Like there’s a reason why he got swept away by the Spice Runners. It ties into his origin. It ties into his parents.
I just had a lot of fun creating those new characters, like the Spice Runners that he teams with, a lot of the villains, there was this… Sela Trune is this officer who’s like tasked with chasing down Poe. It was just cool.
I’m doing a short story for an upcoming Star Wars anthology that doesn’t play with any of those characters. But it’s just fun to be in that and be able to kind of do stuff in that space now and again.
Alex: Two more questions and then we’re talking about Secret Identity.
Alex: [chuckle] So now, 2020 you left Archie and you became a senior vice president at Oni Press. What led to that transition?
Segura: Yeah. So, it was last May when I signed up with Oni. I had just been with Archie for about a decade, on or off. All good relationships there. There was no acrimony or anything like that. It was, it just felt like it was time to kind of try something else.
And it was a good opportunity to be part of a publisher that has a great reputation with creators, a great reputation in terms of the kind of books it publishes. It’s just a gear shift from doing traditional like IP based publishing to something where you’re much more in conversation with the talent. Where it’s really, “How do I help you as a creator actualize your vision for a book?” as opposed to “These are the characters, this is the assignment. Please do that.”
It’s not that one is better than the other but it was more, “Okay, let me try something else and see how this works for me.” Especially, as my own creative career was kind of burgeoning and becoming bigger and more important, it just felt like it was the right move at the time and it was kind of nice to refocus my day to day as opposed to… At Archie, you get to wear a thousand hats, which was fun. But here at Oni, it’s like I have a kind of a clear, clear path, I guess.
Alex: Now then, there is two short stories, more recent, more 2020, 2021… Red Zone about Raul Alvarez, and 90 Miles about Joaquin Carmona. Are those kind of like exercises in the genre as you’re working on a bigger item? Tell us about those.
Segura: In terms of short stories, I go when I’m … I’m like a vampire. If I’m invited, I will go. I will write a short story. I don’t write them as part of my creative journey. I don’t sit back and say, “Oh, this’ll make a good short story. Let me do that.”
It’s if someone invites me and says, “I’m doing this anthology, can you come up with something?”
Alex: There you go.
Segura: I usually have a few ideas that are like percolating that aren’t novels on their own. So, Angel (Luis) Colon who is a crime writer and editor was putting together an anthology called “Pa’ Que Tu Lo Sepas!” which was to benefit Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
It was pretty close to the deadline and I had never written a noir story in sports. I wanted to write a football noir about a kid in college, like a backup quarter back who’s thrust in to the role of starting quarterback, and the challenges he faces, not only as the guy stepping in for the hero, but also as the Cuban-American kid in a predominantly white school.
And so, I wanted to do that, but also do it succinctly. It’s a short story, so I couldn’t touch into the nuance of it. But I was blown away that it won The Anthony Award for Best Short Story. And the Anthony’s are like The People’s Choice Awards basically for crime fiction. And it’s valuable because it’s readers that are voting, as opposed to a panel of judges. It’s the readers who’ve actually read the story and liked it. And so it was a thrill.
And 90 Miles, was part of an anthology that’s called Both Sides edited by Gabino Iglesias, who’s also a great crime writer. And the idea was to write a border noir story. Borders are… They can be water. They can be land. They can be manufactured or they can be spiritual borders.
But I had never written, just about the immigrant crisis from Cuba to Miami. The idea that so many people took this perilous journey, and not as many survived. Many died in the waters. Many died before they got off the island. Many made it and thrived, which is fantastic.
But I think a lot of people, you can get lost in the numbers. Like kind of in the same way that a lot of people lose focus with the pandemic because they just see a number. But they’re humans, like those numbers are people. The people that didn’t make it across the Florida Straits to the Keys from Cuba are real stories.
And so, I wanted to craft one story that evoke that. It really resonated. It won the Anthony Award the next year’s and it was also included in The Best American Mystery Stories of 2021, which was a huge honor.
Alex: It is… Now, we’re going to start talking about Secret Identity, but I want to bring up two pop culture Cuban figures in America – Desi Arnaz, and the movie Scarface.
Segura: I mean, I Love Lucy. Yeah.
Alex: Yeah. So, what’s your impression of those two entities in pop culture?
Segura: I watched Scarface a lot as a kid. Probably not ideal. But even as a kid, I was like, “Yeah. That does not look like the Miami I know.” Even the Miami of when I was younger. But I think it’s an interesting movie. I love Brian De Palma; I think he has made some great films.
I’m not going to rewatch it because I don’t think it gets better every time I watch it.
Just like (Al) Pacino is like chewing up the scenery. It’s got some great performances. I think Michelle Pfeiffer is amazing in that movie. Steven Bauer is… It’s not the greatest crime film, but it’s entertaining in its audacity.
Alex: Yeah. There you go.
Segura: And I guess, like how in your face it is. I can admire it for that, but it’s definitely not on par with something like Goodfellas or The Godfather or that kind of like epic saga… It’s a gangster movie. It’s a fun gangster movie. Like if you take it too seriously, you’re going to be disappointed.
And Desi Arnaz is amazing. I grew up on I Love Lucy when I was a kid; just watching the black and white re-runs. It was just so cool to see… My grandparents were like, “Oh, he’s Cuban.” And that was so amazing to see, someone like us, even back then was a force. Yeah.
Alex: Yeah. No, that’s cool. He did a lot of production on that show too.
Alex: So, he was a bigger deal than a lot of people even knew. Even then he was already a big deal.
Let’s talk about Secret Identity. It has released this month. So, it’s about Carmen Valdez. She’s a writer from Miami who lives in New York. Very much in a similar pattern as you, also, being Cuban from Miami, living in New York, and working in the publishing world.
What I love is, the scenery of the way you describe New York, but it’s also New York of 1975. Tell us what went into that and why 1975? Why did you write this story?
Segura: That’s a great question… 1975 to me is a point in the comic book industry’s history that is in stark contrast to today. Today, as you know or as anyone listening probably knows, comics are everywhere. The source material is what it is, but the awareness of comics is insanely high, or at least the awareness of the characters.
So you have stuff like Green Arrow TV show, that’s been running forever, or Peacemaker TV show, or Ant Man movie, or Guardians of the Galaxy. Like IP that when maybe when you and I were kids, were interesting but were not front list or A-list’s characters.
Alex: Yeah. It was more of a subculture back then.
Segura: Yeah. Exactly. So in 1975 too, you’re not really in the full swing of… The secondary market hasn’t started. So, you have maybe some comic shops, but they’re not as prevalent. The secondary market and conventions aren’t as big a thing. Like Phil Seuling is starting his shows.
You’re starting to see people buy and deal in back issues, but it hadn’t become a part of the industry as a default setting. Like DC would later create comics just for the direct market and Marvel would do the same, Dazzler, or New Titans…
Alex: And that stuff wasn’t happening in 1975, yeah.
Segura: Yeah, it hadn’t started in `75. And I don’t think the editorial infrastructure was in place to kind of treat these characters as IP. In the sense of, well you can’t do that to Spider-Man because he’s going to be a movie, or you can’t have that happen to Robin because we’re going to have a TV show. Even though there had been a Batman show and there had been some stuff, it wasn’t as prevalent or as big a part.
So, I really wanted to show an industry that was not only, didn’t have the same structure, but also was kind of at a low point in terms of success. The newsstand wasn’t really thriving. I think you had stuff like DC implosion, and or things that were ….
The newsstand, you have to print… That’s as having known the newsstand because of my time in Archie, like you have to overprint to sell a fraction, basically. You have to print like…
Alex: That’s right. There’s a print run and there’s a sell-through rate. And that sell-through rate determines the success of that print run. Yeah.
Segura: Yeah. But then at the same time, so while the business itself might not be doing as well and while maybe onlookers think, “Well, comics are dying.” Creatively, it’s probably one of the more fertile times for traditional company owned characters. Because unlike now, they didn’t have the option of going to Image, or going to Oni, or going to Dark Horse, and creating their own IP and selling it, and making it their own thing.
So, kind of the creators had to pour themselves into these buckets, like these existing characters and make them their own. And really give them quirks and personality traits that were unique to the time. And it wasn’t like editors would stop them because there was other stuff happening, other exploitation happening.
It was pre-Shooter. I think when (Jim) Shooter came in at Marvel, he really laid down the law and kind of teed up the company to become what it became.
Alex: Yeah. He is the one that made IP aware really.
Segura: Yeah. And the same thing was happening at DC, but I think there was this period in the mid-70s where it was a little bit like the wild west…
Alex: It was.
Segura: In terms of what was happening with the characters. It was pretty trippy stuff.
I remember early on, before I started putting… I was in the research phase of the book, I got to… Sean Howe was very kind; Sean Howe the author of Marvel (Comics): The Untold Story, very kindly gave me his time.
I was still trying to figure out when to set the book. I knew what the mystery was, but I was trying to figure out when to do it. And I said, “It seems like you’re really keen on the `70s”, and he basically confirmed what I thought that it was just such a vibrant period. And so…
Alex: And there’s a certain darkness of it, like there’s a lot of shadows that every people could hide in and still make comics…
Segura: And that’s what’s interesting about… And that’s how the `80s was not that way. There was no shadow. There’s a lot of oversight. I think in `75, it was like Marv Wolfman and Len Wein as editors in chief, and there’s this whole thing with… I remember, I talked to Mark Wolfman, he was like, “We were just trying to like figure out.”
There was so many books at that point because the new distribution through Curtis Circulation (Company)… Way more books than what one editor in chief couldn’t really even look at every day.
Segura: Yeah. There was no… Shooter always said, “Oh I’ve read every book”, but I think back then there was just… Not only were Marv and Len writing a ton of stuff, they had to manage the whole process.
Segura: So, you saw a lot of fiefdoms like writer-editors, who had control of their own little worlds and that was interesting.
Alex: Yes. And it was very unregulated and it was pure, in a way, as far as a creator intent standpoint.
Alex: But for maybe not uniform as far as the corporate house style of writing styles.
Segura: Yeah, definitely. And also, I was really curious about not only what was happening in Marvel and DC, but what was happening at these other publishers that were a little bit smaller that were trying to compete with Marvel and DC. Places like Atlas/Seaboard, Harvey (Comics) to some degree, obviously with the kids comics, Charlton, Quality, the list goes on.
And so, I was really fascinated by the idea of setting the book not only in 1975 but not… Legally, I couldn’t have set it at Marvel or DC. I guess I could have, it would have just taken a lot more nuance than I had the patience for.
So, I wanted to evoke the era and I wanted to give the reader a sense of verisimilitude that, you could imagine that this did happen. In the same way that (Michael) Chabon did it so well with Kavalier & Clay. He weaves through history and you think well, maybe there could have been The Escapist and maybe Kavalier and Clay did exist. And those are my favorite kind of historical fiction books.
Alex: Did you read the Hey Kids! Comics! Howard Chaykin stuff?
Segura: Yeah… And there’s, Bad Weekend by (Ed) Brubaker and (Sean) Phillips which kind of…
Alex: Something I find in those is that there’s always a character in those books, they’re always at least 51% in, and that’s how I kind of look at it. There’s at least 51%, a guy, they had in mind when they put that role down.
Segura: Yeah. You know, I get that question a lot. There’s an artist that Carmen works with that draws the first few link stories. Like oh, it was Doug Detmer like, Jack Cole or Alex Toth.
Alex: You know who I imagined him as? I thought of him more as like a fusion character, but he’s definitely a fusion character as far as the way I saw it. But there’s definitely like a Wally Wood-alcoholism aspect to him that I really got, that I really connected with. Because it reminded me a lot of the way Jim Shooter described his last interaction with Wally Wood in 1980, and how gaunt and awful and just self-destroyed he became.
Alex: And I felt that with Detmer, but he sounded like a fusion character.
Segura: I think if you want to do it right, you never want it to feel like… You don’t want it to feel like comic book trivia, where someone’s just trying to figure out who they are. You want to hit the archetype. Like obviously, the Detmer character is an archetype but you also want to make him feel unique. You want to amalgamate the things you find interesting from history and research…
Alex: Yeah. The guy that played the cyborg and aliens, I kept imagining Detmer looking like that guy. [chuckle]
Segura: Oh, I could see that, yeah. I cast him as kind of like Anthony Edwards from ER.
Alex: There you go. Yeah, like an older, kind of beat-up version of him.
Segura: Yeah, just kind of worn out. But yeah, a lot of the characters… So, the big picture on Secret Identity – it tells the story of Carmen Valdez, who’s a Cuban-American woman who comes from Miami to New York to pursue her dream in 1975, of writing comics. And she gets a gig as a secretary to the publisher, editor in chief at this company called Triumph. And Triumph, like I said, is very much like a third-rate comic publisher…
Alex: Triumph Comics, the editor, Carlyle.
Segura: Jeffrey Carlyle, yeah. And he’s also another example of like an archetypical company head in that era, but he’s not… He’s a little bit of Stan.
Alex: To me, he felt like a mixture of “Chip” Goodman and Stan Lee, like combined, is how I kind of kept thinking of him.
Segura: Yeah, with a little bit of Jim Warren I think,
Alex: There you go. Yeah, there you go.
Segura: Yeah, but definitely not… And some new stuff, some other stuff, that I added.
Segura: Obviously, because you want to make the characters your own. So, she gets this job as a secretary to Carlyle and she’s pitching him stories. She’s saying, “You know, I want to write this character. I want to do this.” And he basically tells her, “It’s not going to happen. I have a line of freelancers out the door of my friends that I have to keep fed. And you know, maybe someday you’ll be an editor and someday you can run this place with me.”
But that’s not what she wants. She wants to write comics…
Alex: And there was a certain sexism, maybe subconscious, that that was present there. That whole glass ceiling… It’s funny, some people say that it’s not real, but it is actually real, especially from her perspective. She’s Cuban, and she’s a female. So, there’s definitely a glass ceiling. Maybe it’s subconscious from some of these people that you mentioned, but it’s really interesting to almost be front and center to that conversation that you put in there.
Segura: Yeah, because he says it so blithely. He’s just like, “Well look, it’s just not going to work out. Here’s this other thing.” And I think he clearly underestimates how passionate she is about this opportunity.
Then, she’s approached by a colleague, Harvey Stern, who’s about a little younger than she is. He’s a junior editor at Triumph and he has sussed out that she wants to write comics because they’re friends. And he basically says, “Carlyle’s given me this assignment to launch a new female superhero. He hasn’t told me anything else. I have to kind of do it whole cloth. Do you want to co-write it with me? But it has to be anonymous, because… You know, let’s see how it goes, and then eventually you’ll get your credit. But for now, let’s do it anonymously just to get it out the door, because it’s an insane deadline.”
And so, they launched this character called the Legendary Lynx drawn by Doug Detmer, who like we talked about is this beloved, but also complicated artist. Like very…
Alex: Yeah. And he’s burned a lot of bridges with publishers and…
Alex: Has a bad temperament, but super talented. Everyone just loves the stuff he does. He’s just hard to work with, usually.
Segura: Right. So then, he draws it. It becomes this huge hit, but at the same time, Harvey is murdered and Carmen finds him dead. And she is kind of painted into a corner – she can’t tell Carlyle because he will: A, will believe her and B, would be upset that she did this behind his back and she’d probably lose her job and any chance of like continuing to control the character. Because they turn in six scripts.
The problem is all the scripts have Harvey’s name and not Carmen’s name. So, no one has any idea that Carmen’s written any part of this character, and so that’s what kind of spurs her into being this amateur sleuth where she has to figure out: A, who killed her friend, because as complicated as Harvey is she still has some affection for him as a friend. And part of it too is like how could she reclaim this character, the Lynx?
It’s so tied into her, it’s such a piece of her. There’s a scene early on that I love, when they’re brainstorming the character and Harvey’s kind of coming at it at zero. He’s like, “Well, let’s do this. Let’s do this.” And she busts out like a stack of notebooks and ideas, and like, “I’ve been waiting for this…”
Alex: That she’d been writing her whole life basically, yeah.
Segura: “Been building towards this moment, my whole life, and now, now I’ve got it, so…”
Alex: Even when Harvey did what he did, there was a certain sensitivity about the guy too, that I felt…
Segura: You feel bad for him.
Alex: That I felt was interesting. He wasn’t just the straight up a-hole of the comic or of the story. There’s a sensitive side that she felt aware of, even though she was not attracted to him on any physical level. She sensed that there was a certain damage in the guy and that she almost kind of felt a certain empathy toward him. I thought that was interesting, that two emotions of betrayal and empathy could exist in the same space, which is something that I think you had discussed a little bit of.
Segura: Yeah, that’s a great point. And in these kinds of stories, you want to show the shades of grey and so obviously, she’s mad and she’s betrayed, and frustrated that someone she trusted basically took credit for her work. And then, he couldn’t control that he was killed, but now, she has no control over her ideas.
And at the same time, she feels bad not just because he’s murdered but because she knows he’s got a complicated life. He’s opportunistic, but also caring. He’s eager to climb the ladder but he’s also empathetic to her and her plight.
And so yeah, he’s not a clear-cut villain. I don’t think there is a clear-cut villain in the story. I mean, there’s a bad guy, and there’s a murderer, and there’s a crime, but it’s much more a character study, I think, than a pure like who done it?
Alex: Yeah, right. It was in the first couple of chapters that Jeffrey Carlyle wanted to one day write the great American novel, and I’m like, “Okay, I know that line.” [chuckle]
Segura: Yeah. Yeah.
Alex: And I thought that was just so cool, because it really, it starts to already… People who know about that, it kind of pulls them in already. And then you start to really pay attention… Maynard. [chuckle]
Segura: Oh, yeah.
Alex: Maynard, I like the whole bad Jim Morrison impersonator comment and then…
Segura: Cool vibes.
Alex: Yeah, and how he takes acid before writing his comics of Avatar and… It’s funny because I’m just thinking of Jim Starlin’s Warlock and things like that. When I was reading that, I was like, “Yeah, I kind of feel that.” Because I love the Starlin Warlock.
Alex: I love Starlin and all that… I think you and I like a lot of the same comics but I definitely related to a lot of these characters from the get go that I would pay attention whenever they were brought up like, “What’s going on with Maynard these days?”
Segura: Yeah. “What’s he doing?”
Alex: What’s up with Maynard, man. Let’s get more Maynard in here.
Segura: Yeah, we need more Maynard. I mean, I wanted to create these fictional characters and people that would then make me want to read those comics. Like I want to read Avatar now. Like I want to read it…
Alex: Yeah. I want to read Avatar. Yeah, what’s up with Avatar?
Segura: I want to see how… It felt to me like a blend of yeah, like Warlock but also a little bit of Omega the Unknown.
Alex: Yeah. There you go.
Segura: And you have to imagine that if you’re working on one of those like comics, at not just Marvel and DC, that you have even less editorial oversight. Like so he was doing whatever the hell he wanted. He was like just dropping acid and then writing comics scripts and sending them in.
And Carlyle is torn, because he hates it, his taste is not that. But he also sees that it’s their bestselling title, so he can’t fire the guy. He’s also profit minded.
So, that’s a lot of fun to kind of create this like lost chapter of comic book history.
Alex: I was reading this Starlin autobiography. It’s a pictorial autobiography. It’s really nice. But yeah, there was a mention that when he was doing Invincible Iron Man… Not to say it was their bestselling title, it wasn’t… But there was this note that like Stan Lee just did not like what he was doing there.
Alex: And even though people like me or you, we’re like, “This is cool stuff…” But yeah, there was this thing where the older editorial guys don’t always get what the new guys want or the good new people want to read.
Berger was an interesting character because I almost got this sense like it was like a Dick Giordano type of guy. But it wasn’t, he was definitely his own character. And I started getting a sense that he was his own character deeper into it, but in the beginning, I got a Dick Giordano vibe from the guy.
Segura: Yeah. I could see that. I think I wanted to have a comic book insider that could kind of speak to the industry a little bit, who had come to Triumph with high hopes and was a little broken by the process. Like there’s one line where he’s like, “I was hired to do my job and my boss’ job.”
I think a lot of people can sometimes relate to that; that idea you’re doing your work, but also you kind of have to make your boss look good. And so, he was doing the part of the editor in chief’s job that Carlyle just didn’t want to be bothered with.
And so, it was fun to have him there and also to craft a friendship between him and Carmen that wasn’t just like mentor-mentee. They are definitely equals. And they come together and talk about comics in a fun way.
And that scene, you’ll appreciate this… Like a big thing about the book for me was creating the sense of atmosphere of working in comics and verisimilitude. Like if you’re reading it, and you or I were big comics people, you can read it and be like, “Oh, cool. There’s a nod to this” or “There’s an Easter egg there.”
But if you’re a casual reader, maybe you’re making notes and thinking, “Oh, I need to read Steve Gerber” or “I need to read Jim Starlin”. So, I try…
Alex: Totally… You know they’re being Wikipedia-d while they’re reading…
Segura: I hope so. Yeah… But one of the things for me is, I didn’t want to default into like Wikipedia-ing these people. I didn’t want it to be like, “Well, Carmen, Jim Starlin was born in so and so… Walt Simonson said to this…”
Alex: Yeah. It’s a fictional narrative. You shouldn’t…
Segura: Yeah. But the one time I did take a little bit of a detour, and I think it worked, is when Carmen is in Berger’s office, the first time, and they’re talking. He hands her comics every now and again as… Not as an education, but more it’s like a book trade, like, “These are things that I like and I think you’ll like them too as like a comic fan.”
And he hands her the first Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ Batman comics. And obviously, we’re playing the hits there, it’s such an iconic story. But I went into a little more detail there, talking about how important that run was or not really…
Alex: And how it made Batman dark again, or something like that.
Segura: Yeah, and returned him to his roots, as like, this dark avenger. And so that was fun. I mean, I had a blast writing the book. It was really like I had no complaints during the journey. As hard as writing a novel is, you get lost in the weeds sometimes. But it was so fun, not just from comics but from New York, from a music perspective, it was really fun.
Alex: And there is some references which I found interesting. The Kurtzberg Ave., Lieber Lane, would be kind of thrown in there. And I almost… Although they were, yeah, names of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, maybe I’m reading into it, but maybe they were also references within the context of the conversation. Because you mentioned it overtly, I think later down the road of the creator not getting credit for contributing to writing a story.
And maybe those names were mentioned as a insider kind of hint toward the concept. Because later you did write that phrase that Jack Kirby didn’t get a lot of writer credit for those stories.
Segura: Yeah, I think… Look, the tragedy here is that when you read Secret Identity, you’re not feeling like Carmen is the sole person ever wronged by the comic book industry, in terms of getting credit, or controlling their IP or creation.
There are a lot of… I drew inspiration from a lot of real stories like in obviously, Kirby’s story, Bill Finger’s story was hugely influential in this idea of like creating an iconic character in secret. Bill Finger, like that saga has been chronicled in many different ways. But yeah, as for like (Larry) Lieber and (Jacob) Kurtzberg, I think that was more just like a fun nod. But you probably caught the echo that was subconscious for me while writing it.
Alex: Now, it’s not just the comics, although another pop culture reference I want to bring up, I love that you mentioned that the 1975 New York Convention of Comic Art, and Walter Gibson and Jack Kirby on a panel together, you mentioned that in the in the story. Because in 1975, Walter Gibson was making rounds at comic conventions.
And that’s actually where… There are a lot of photos of Jim Steranko and Walter Gibson together at conventions in 1975, specifically.
Alex: You also set up like a shadow club, of some kind, in `75, but it’s just cool that `75 and how you brought the Walter Gibson stuff in there at the Commodore Hotel… Cockroaches, rats, or whatever was being referenced, it really did evoke the sense of being there, for me.
Segura: Oh, good. Yeah.
Alex: I’ve talked with people who were there.
Segura: It’s so funny because… And well, I’m sure we’ll get into the comic book sequences in a bit is… I sent Sandy Jarrell, the artist who did the comic sequences, the draft of the novel, so he could read and then do the interstitial parts. And he was at that show. He was at that 1975 show and he was like, also, it’s almost like he ran into Carmen as well.
But I also felt like it would have been a missed opportunity if I didn’t note something like Gibson and Kirby together because it is literally, that’s what the book is about. It’s a blend of pulp and noir, and superhero comics, and that felt like such a natural fit, and just like pure coincidence, but also the kind of coincidence you can’t ignore.
Alex: Those are founding fathers of a lot of the comic fiction that we read. Even though Walter Gibson’s foray in comics was more of like these random magician comics in the `40s and early `50s, but it was his work on The Shadow that a lot of Batman came from with Bill Finger.
Segura: And there’s a lot of echoes to like Patricia Highsmith, who’s one of my favorite crime writers, but she also wrote a lot of Golden Age comics anonymously. And so there’s echoes of that in there. At one point, without spoiling anything, Carmen uses Patricia Highsmith pseudonym Claire Morgan at one point.
So, there’s like little … Yeah.
Alex: With that fan…
Alex: Yeah. I’m not going to describe it. Okay, one thing, and I’m not going to spoil anything about that scene, but there’s something about that line that it just dance in my mind, was when he was sitting on this couch with one black cat on each side [chuckle].
Segura: It’s intense.
Alex: I was like, “What?” I mean, I’m imagining like this vampire guy that has this weird ominous knowledge and something about that sentence just… I thought it was genius.
Segura: Oh, good. [chuckle]
Alex: It really kind of established what a weird guy that is.
Segura: Yeah. I mean, and every industry has people like that. Like just people that are so passionate about the minutiae of stuff that is amazing to me. It’s yeah… And that’s the thing with all these characters is that I loved writing them, is that you want to follow even the supporting characters.
Like someone like Marion, who was supposed to just show up in the volleyball game. When I wrote her, she was just going to be this mysterious like femme fatale type of shows up to the volleyball game and never to be seen again. And then she becomes this integral part of the last act of the book.
Alex: Yeah, that’s right… Now, there’s also flashbacks in it, which I found interesting. And it’s not easy to wrap the modern moment into a flashback in novel form. Because in a movie, you clearly know that the scenery just changed. You’re using words to establish the character processing current information, while remembering past information. Was that tricky for you to kind of nuance that?
Segura: Right… It’s challenging because you don’t want it to just be a chapter break and like, “Hey, now we’re in flashback land and this is what happened.”
I like to weave it into the present. So, there’s one scene, I think when Carmen is… She’s had a few drinks, and she’s feeling dizzy and delirious, and she’s having flashbacks to Miami and her past relationship. And I wanted to weave it in, so she almost becomes like an unreliable narrator, at some point.
You’re just wondering like what is going through her mind and is she okay? She’s buttoned up and really put together for most of the book and then she just kind of breaks at that point. And I thought that was really an interesting trajectory to take her down.
I think the challenge with flashbacks is you have to make it count. Because it’s really easy to get lost in flashbacks and just like kind of pedal aimlessly. But it has to be relevant to the present-day story, otherwise, you’re just kind of spinning your wheels.
Alex: Yeah, that’s right. And I think writing a lot of long form stuff, you almost have to sacrifice some extraneous things and delete that, and keep it pertinent to keep everyone on track.
Segura: Yeah. It’s interesting because like initially, and this is a testament to my editor, Zack Wagman who is very smart about keeping it focused and keeping it in Carmen’s head, is that in addition to the comic book interludes, we had like historical interludes to the comic press.
So, the book initially opened up on an almost academic paper from something like the Comics Journal talking about the sad story of Triumph Comics, and then like a Wizard interview with Jeffrey Carlyle in the late `90s. And then, there was a scene of Carmen at a comic convention at the end where she…
There was just things that didn’t make the cut, and for good reason. But that, I’ll probably find a home for somewhere, but it was just like… Sometimes, you have to kill your darlings, the cliché is very true.
Alex: To keep people on the ride of the whole thing.
Alex: So then, some more pop culture references that are not comic related, but were important I felt, to establish the scenery of New York City. I mentioned earlier, you mentioned Velvet Underground, and that type of music. I love the Andy Warhol reference, because I think a lot of people now almost forget how important he was in pop culture, from like late `60s to like early `80s.
But `70s, and this is his post shooting era, after he got shot. He was so interrelated with what people were seeing visually in New York City, when it came to pop culture and the arts. Tell us about what kind of research you were doing into New York City of the `70s that you were bringing these kinds of elements in.
Segura: In addition to the comic book research and the interviews I had to do just to get the comic book stuff right, and the Carmen stuff right, I had to really give it… I didn’t want it to just feel like, “Hey, it’s New York 1975”, and wing it. I wanted it to really feel like you were there.
There’s a great book called Love (Goes to) is a Buildings on Fire by Will Hermes, and it chronicles his youth in the `70s in New York and the music scene. But it’s not just the CBGB stuff. It’s not just like Max’s Kansas City, which is all… Like that, to me, is great. But it’s also like Latin music and jazz, and avant-garde music.
I also read a great Lou Reed biography that really focused on that era. The tail end of the Velvet Underground and the seediness of New York, but also the `70s and Lou kind of coming out of his shell and becoming a solo artist.
And so, I used a lot of that to kind of get a sense of the music scene and also New York. Like the texture of New York that it was very different… Like comics in 1975, New York in 1975 was totally different from the New York of today. It was much more dangerous, and kind of falling apart.
It felt like a lot of people weren’t sure the city was going to survive in terms of financially, structurally… Gerald Ford told New York to go to hell, drop dead, I mean. And so, it was…
Alex: And that was also true of just the newsstand comic book industry at that time. Because there wasn’t as clear-cut method of the direct market, saving comics. People were thinking that a lot of things about New York, including comic books, were all just going to come to an end soon.
Segura: Yeah, it was falling apart. I think that is in such stark contrast to what we see today, which is great. I think the fun of a novel, for me, is when it takes you somewhere else, like to an industry, or a place, or a culture that you’re not familiar with and kind of walks you through it as best they can. And so, I wanted to feel immersive, but also not like I was rattling off facts to prove my cred, I guess.
Alex: Now, there was also mentioned of Pedro Fernandez in this story.
Segura: [chuckle] Yeah.
Alex: So, is this a shared universe then with your other stuff?
Segura: Yeah. A friend of mine joked around because there’s also mention to some other stuff like the Black Ghost and The Dusk and the Freedom Alliance is a team of characters, I’m going to be writing in another book. Yeah, like calling it like the Segura Expanded Universe…
But yeah, this all happens in the same world as like Pete Fernandez. There’s actually two Pete Fernandez references, like one referenced to his dad and then there’s another one that no one has gotten, unless I explain it to them. So, I won’t spoil it for you, but if you read Miami Midnight and you read Secret Identity, and look at the names, you’ll see some connective tissue that is not as obvious. Yeah.
Alex: The comic pages. It was interesting, because they were placed, there would be like a narrative page of comic art, and there’d be some theme that seemed to speak to what Carmen was going through at the time. Tell us about constructing those.
Segura: It kind of dates back to reading Kavalier & Clay as a kid, not a kid. I was in my 20s. But reading that book and just loving it, because for the first time, I felt like comics were woven into a novel in such an interesting way. I felt like literature and comics were blending together. And comics are, of course, literature in their own way. But I’d never read a novel that explored the industry, and so it felt like it was written just for me.
But the one thing I wanted to kind of pull out of it was I had wanted to read The Escapist comics, like you’re reading the novel, and I wanted to read those comics. Later, they eventually published them through Dark Horse which is cool, but part of me wish that they were part of the novel. So, you’re reading the novel, and then you get pulled into the comic.
And so, that idea was always in the back of my mind. So, when I knew I was going to do this comic book noir, I knew out of the gate… I told my agent, I was like, “We have to have comics in them.” He kind of was like, “Are you sure? That’s a whole like procedural thing, it’s not just a prose book, it adds a whole complication to it.”
But I also knew who I needed to draw it. Sandy Jarrell is amazing. He’s not just a great artist, he’s like a comic book history buff. He does these amazing recreations of classic covers. He showed me this Hawkman cover that he did, like a mock showcase cover. And that’s when I really knew, I was like, “He’s the guy.” Because not only does that feel like something that could have existed, it doesn’t feel like he’s imitating anyone.
I wanted an artist that was going to evoke the era but not feel like, “Oh, that’s just Sandy imitating Frank Miller” or “That Sandy imitating like any artists of the era, like Gene Colan or what have you”.
And so, I talked him through it. I sent him the outline for the novel, and a big chunk of the pages, like the prose. And the interstitials were already there, and the idea was that as you’re reading the novel, it’s going to pull you into the comics for like a break. Like you get a mental break.
Those comic sequences are definitely meant to evoke the mood of the story. Because it’s Carmen who’s creating most of them, except for one. And then…
Alex: Well, two, right? It was two issues that were by that other team. Right?
Segura: Right. Right. Right. Right. Right. Two issues, but like one page is actually shown.
Alex: But one page is shown. You’re right. Yeah.
Segura: And so the idea… I just didn’t want it to feel perfunctory. And by that, I mean, like I didn’t want someone to read it and say, “Oh, he’s just got comics in here just to have them.” Like they have no bearing on the story. It’s just like showing off.
Alex: Yeah. It has to fit with your narrative.
Segura: It has to fit the story and it has to feel like it adds to the story, so much so that if you just read the prose, you would be missing part of the heart of the story because you didn’t get the comics.
And so, Sandy and I worked Marvel method where I would give him a few sentences of the story and say, “I think this will be two or three pages. Show the Lynx jumping over some rooftops… She captures the guy, and then it closes on a close up, and she’s surprised.” And then, he would lay it out, and we’d go back and forth.
Then I would do the script and then Taylor Esposito, who was the letter, would… He figured out a font that made it look like it was hand lettering, which I was blown away by, because it just looks so of the time. And like I said, I didn’t want it to feel like someone imitating, like someone’s riffing on like a retro take, but it’s something that could have existed at that time.
Alex: Yeah, right. Yeah, it was very effective. I was also…
Segura: You’re the target audience for the authenticity of that.
Alex: Yeah. Well, yeah, and I also like the little Ben-Day, kind of approach on the dots. The thing that I kept paying attention to though, was the credits on the bottom. [chuckle]
Segura: Oh, good.
Alex: I kept looking… Hmm, who’s credited on that page? [chuckle]
Alex: And I’m like, “Damn it. It’s not her yet.” Like I was feeling that, and then, you would see like “uncredited”, I’m like, “Grrr… “
Segura: Yeah. Exactly. Yeah.
Alex: I’m just… I like how that developed along with the events in the story that I just kept… Yeah, I’d read the page. And I like what it did narratively and I like the character. I like the art and all that, and the authenticity of it… The credits, I just kept looking… “Hmm… uh… Okay”.
Segura: Yeah. I mean, I put those in there for myself. Like that’s the kind of thing I would look at, so I know that fellow fans of stuff like that would be looking at those details. Like the letter Todd Morelli, that’s a nod to like Todd Klein and Jack Morelli, two of the best letters in the industry. Like just a little hat tip there.
And then there is one sequence, we’re talking about, that is not written by Carmen, not drawn by Doug Detmer and that’s when she totally loses control of the character. They’re no longer working off her scripts. Then you just see the huge tonal shift in how it’s unlike anything she did. It lacks the heart or the passion.
Alex: Lynx at number seven…
Segura: Yeah. [chuckle]
Alex: I’ve memorized the issue…
Alex: I’ve already memorized the issue number. But the interesting thing, I remember when I was interviewing Trina Robbins that one time, we talked about…
Segura: Oh, that was a huge influence, that interview.
Alex: Oh, it was. I’m glad. Well, there was this topic that I brought up with her that really fascinated me, was the two different approaches that writers approach a female character. And there is the… I kind of break it up into the Bill Woggon-Katy Keene approach, which is like more of a positive character, pro female, pro young female, pro impressionable young female.
And then, there’s the Bill Ward-Torchy (Comics) kind of fetishized aspects to appeal to the juvenile, sexualized, sexually obsessed teenagers that would be reading it for some sort of, more of a perverse gratification.
And I’m not judging one, this versus that. I’m not saying… But I would say though, that that was an interesting example of seeing that in your book. It started out as kind of like the Katy Keene aspect and it becomes this Torchy thing for like two issues because the creators that weren’t intended to write that character, then kind of took over that character, and I thought that was really effectively demonstrated.
It almost feels like a lot of people who don’t know about comics, they’re going to learn these funny themes as they go through your book. I almost feel like you’re translating a lot of the comic stuff to like a mainstream audience through this mystery novel. And I thought that is just so, I think it’s like important, right?
It gives people this sense of the industry in a way that’s entertaining and fun. Although the primary objective is to tell a good story. But it does seem to have that that secondary function to it, right?
Segura: Yeah, for sure. I really wanted to show, with that sequence in particular, just how much a comic can change. I think a lot of people casual… People who aren’t into comics don’t understand that tonally, a whole story can change depending on who’s writing or drawing.
And that sounds silly to say on the comic book podcast, but if you’re not a comic person, you just think comics are produced and they’re just churned out and that’s how they’re born…
Alex: A lot of people don’t know that. There’s different versions of Superman for example.
Segura: Yeah. And so, something like the Lynx, that was a passion project for Carmen, a passion project for Detmer, suddenly gets handed to two hacks, for lack of a better term.
Segura: And are just cranking it out and obviously, are going for the lowest common denominator. It’s a big shift. It’s a total shift in the content and the intent. And so, I wanted to show that and really kind of get to the gut of what sometimes happens with comics.
I got to send the book to Trina Robbins and I obviously, was very indebted to her work. I’m looking at some of her books on my shelf now, but it was that interview you guys did that really added a lot of texture to the brainstorming for the book.
The podcast is thanked in the acknowledgments, but there were so many interviews that it felt like you guys were doing a lot of the work for me. But you spoke to a lot of people that I wanted to speak to already.
Alex: Oh, cool.
Segura: So, I got a lot of texture from your conversations…
Alex: What were some of the other interviews you would say were some sort of influence in this?
Segura: The Trina Robbins one obviously, the long one you did with Paul Levitz. I mean, I’ve known Paul for a long time and I consider him a good friend. But that really gave me a kind of a 101 on his career that I didn’t really know off the top of my head.
You did spotlights on some of the smaller publishers like Atlas/Seaboard, which I found fascinating. And I think there was one on Harvey Comics, where it wasn’t so much about the content, but like this idea of C level or B level publisher and how they existed during that time that I found really fascinating.
Alex: Yeah, and how they were so incompatible with the direct market of the `80s.
Segura: Yeah, that they just kind of fell apart.
Alex: Yeah, at that point, it’s not the newsstand anymore. So, it’s not about a random kid walking by. It’s about 13-year-old boys that want violence and sex at their comic shops.
Segura: Exactly. They don’t want the casual cartoon stuff.
Alex: Yeah, that’s right. Warren Magazine seems to fall apart for a similar reason.
Segura: I mean, really, just the podcast became like this assistant. Like you guys did so much research talking to so many key figures in the industry that it was really helpful to tap into that for sure.
Alex: That’s really great. Much appreciated.
Segura: Yeah. Of course.
Alex: Thanks so much for mentioning that, mentioning us in your acknowledgments that was very kind.
Segura: For sure.
Alex: Another couple of historical precedents to the concept of another creator coming in, because you even mentioned it that sales had like spiked up actually with a new…
Alex: When (John) Romita took over for (Steve) Ditko, that’s another example of maybe the intent of the author being changed. But then the sales responded positively to it. Although, I love that and that’s not fetishize, but it’s different.
Segura: Tonally, just so tonally different from what Ditko was doing.
Alex: Totally different… Yeah. And then another one was Scorpion that (Howard) Chaykin made for Atlas. How, in like the first one or two issues, it was his Dominic Fortune character. But then, when he left the book, because Martin Goodman didn’t like his stuff, it becomes this other Scorpion, which is like this bouncy guy and tights. And so, such a lame character.
It almost kind of felt like that happened with the lethal Lynx in that sense. So, there was the fetishized, but then there’s also like making it more like a bubble-gummy version of the original creator.
Segura: Yeah, and it’s such… Stuff like that is so common in comics, where the tone is so tied to the creator and if a creator is changed… Like you see it also, when Frank Miller becomes writer and artist. Like when he’s the artists with Roger McKenzie’s scripting, it still feels like a traditional superhero comic though the art is different. But then when he takes over as writer, the whole vibe is different.
And so, I wanted to definitely show how major a change that could be.
Alex: Yeah, and you did. Wonderful… And I know we’re not going to spoil the end for anybody…
Segura: No. [chuckle]
Alex: I think I read like 80% of it in a day just to like figure out who and what happened, which I thought was really interesting. You touched upon the importance of IP and characters as some sort of bankable product at some point down the line, which I thought was also an interesting take. Because I think, in the mid-70s, although they knew that…
Segura: Sort of. Yeah.
Alex: I don’t think they were really, like you said, they weren’t really in the cartoons as big of a deal and as in movies. So, I know that Stan Lee, he wanted to push comics into the magazines, and then he was the one that was really going to LA and trying to make these things into TV shows. So in a sense, he knew. Although Kirby, I think created more stuff than he did. But he was important in transferring that material to other media.
Segura: Yeah, totally. I think that yeah, without spoiling anything, the book is in many ways like a meta look at intellectual property and what happens when you lose control on what the value of a character is.
In 1975, I don’t think as many people obviously today, it’s all about like, what is the value of this IP? What can it be elsewhere? Whereas back then in comics, it was a little more intangible. So it’s… Yeah, I don’t want to give away the ending.
Alex: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Maybe in five years, we’ll give away the ending. [chuckle]
Segura: Yeah, we can have a post mortem.
Alex: Alex, any further comments you want to make about Secret Identity that people should know about?
Segura: First, at its heart, it’s a mystery. It’s a mystery novel. It’s meant to entertain. My favorite kind of mysteries are the ones that take you somewhere else and show you a world that maybe you’ve never lived in or you’re not familiar with.
So, I hope that people that love comics, get a kick out of it like you and I did, just seeing all the hat tips and the Easter eggs, and nods to the world we love. But I hope also, that people that just want to read a fun mystery in an industry that they’re not familiar with, will enjoy it and maybe come out of it wanting to pick up a stack of comics.
The big thing for me is I wanted to give this sense that maybe somewhere this Triumph Comics existed. And maybe when you’re kind of going through your back issues, you’ll find an issue of the Legendary Lynx and it won’t seem crazy.
Alex: There you go. I like it… Well, thank you, Alex. Thank you so much for giving me a…
Segura: Well, thanks for having me.
Alex: For chatting and being a guest on the podcast. Really great. I know we interact on Twitter quite a bit, and it’s nice to finally sit down and go over this and go over your career. I really appreciate it. Thanks so much for your time.
Segura: Oh, thanks so much. It’s an honor and a pleasure. You know, I’m a fan of the podcast and so it’s really cool to be a part of it. Thank you.
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