Joe Sergi is a life-long comic fan who lives outside of Washington, DC with his wife and daughter. Joe writes on the history of comics and censorship for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Joe is an attorney and a Haller Award winning author who has written articles, novels, short stories, and comic books in the horror, sci-fi, and young adult genres. His first novel, Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy was selected Best of 2010 by the New PODler Review. The second book in the series, Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures, was released this year from Martin Sisters Publishing. Joe has also edited a comic anthology, Great Zombies in History through McFarland Press. Look for his next project, Comic Book Law for the Comics Creator, should be released early next year from McFarland Press. A complete list of Joe’s titles is available at his website, www.JoeSergi.net.
When he doesn’t write about zombies, aliens, and superheroes, Joe work as a Senior Litigation Counsel in an unnamed government agency and is also a member of the adjunct faculty at George Mason University School of Law where he taught Unincorporated Entities.
Thank you for joining us today, Joe. Can you please start off by telling us a bit about yourself?
I have written articles, novels, short stories, and comic books in the horror, sci-fi, and young adult genres. My first novel, Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy was selected Best of 2010 by the New PODler Review. That same year, I won the Haller for Best Writer from the Comic Book Artists Guild at New York Comic Con. In addition to appearing a few comics anthologies (Indie Horror Magazine, Aliens Among Us, and Don’t be Afraid), this year I released the sequel to Sky Girl (Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures) through Martin Sisters Publishing and edited a comic anthology, Great Zombies in History through McFarland Press. I also write a regular column on the history of comics and censorship for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF.org).
When I don’t write about zombies, superheroes, and aliens, I work as a Senior Litigation Counsel in an unnamed government agency and am also a member of the adjunct faculty at George Mason University School of Law where I teach Unincorporated Entities.
When did you first get bit by the writing bug?
There really wasn’t a light bulb moment. I have always been a story teller (much to my parents’ and teachers’ chagrin). I always smile when people ask me how long I’ve been writing. I think the real answer is forever. Some of my earliest memories including laying in the back seat of my parents’ car during long road trips creating comic books based on my favorite Saturday morning cartoons or writing the screenplay for a Star Wars inspired opus, complete with the marriage of Luke and Leah (I had even cast the movie with neighborhood kids when we finally realized that none of us owned a movie camera.) In high school, I often annoyed teachers by taking the most mundane assignment and giving a unique twist. (For a career fair assignment on employment advancement, I outlined the steps that could be employed by the President to manipulate the Constitution to create a monarchy.) In college, I was once accused of plagiarism because “a business major could not possibly be this creative.” In law school, I wrote articles and edited scholarly journals and magazines. Currently, I work as a senior litigation counsel for a government agency. As a litigator, you could say I have been a professional non-fiction writer for decades (and quite frankly earn much more per word than I will probably ever make writing fiction.)
As for my career as an author, my first real fiction publication was in an issue of Trail of Indiscretion Magazine that came out in 2009. I met the publishers at the Baltimore ComicCon and was so impressed with their magazine that I wrote the first draft of Death Imitates Art on the train on the way home. Death Imitates Art is about an author, who is promoting his novel about a Cult at a science fiction convention. He meets a group of warriors who thinks that the cult is real and madness ensues. I submitted it and, although they liked the concept, a lot of rewriting was necessary. I learned a lot through that story—especially what not to do. That same year, I became a semi-finalist in the Who Wants to Create a Superheroine contest sponsored by the Shadowline Imprint of Image Comics. That experience taught me that comics have their own language. Afterwards, I enrolled in all of Andy Schmidt’s Comics Experience classes to help learn all facts of the craft.
Why did you decide to write stories for the YA market?
Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures is technically classified as young adult. However, this book more correctly fits into what is known as the superhero genre. Traditionally, the superhero genre was limited to the comic book medium. Sadly, while the superhero genre has had great success expanding into movies and television, superhero prose fiction is a hard platform to sell. I find it amazing that while comics has gained exposure as a medium and is no longer limited to the superheroes genre, the superhero genre, itself, hasn’t really been able to expand into novels or short stories. I hope that Sky Girl will help challenge the limiting misconceptions about the genre. Thus far, it has been an uphill battle. When I was first shopping the series around, so many publishers said they loved the story, but thought that I should make it a graphic novel. But, that wasn’t the point of the series. I wanted to try and capture all the magic and wonder that make superheroes awesome, but express that amazement in prose format.
What is your favorite part of writing for this group? What is the greatest challenge?
As for choosing the young adult genre, I find it is a lot more fun to write. This may be because of the streamlined plot structure. And while it is more applicable for my comic book work, I also believe that it’s important to have superhero fiction that is accessible for younger audiences because they are the future of the genre.
It’s challenging to find the right tone. On the one hand you don’t want to condescend, on the other you don’t want to write something that is way above everyone’s head. I try to take a page from the old Marvel comics that crossed age groups. Take for example, the Fantastic Four. Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic, would frequently explain what was happening using words that would send the most advanced reader to the dictionary. But, in the same panel, Ben Grimm, The Thing, would repeat the same thing Reed said, but in plain English. I try to do the same thing in some of the conversations between Boosadah (DeDe’s mentor) and DeDe or even between Jason and DeDe. (Of course DeDe actually understands everything Jason says—but she likes to yank his chain.)
Can you tell us what your latest book is all about?
Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures is the sequel to Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy. The first book introduced DeDe Christopher, an ordinary teen with an extraordinary destiny to become Sky Girl. Being a teenage girl is hard enough, but for DeDe, it is proving impossible. In addition to cliques, books, and boys, she has to worry about capes, apes, and aliens. When we last left DeDe, she had just adopted the mantle of Sky Girl at the end of her sophomore year of high school. This book opens the day before she starts her junior year, so she’s had the whole summer to practice and train with her best friend and self-professed comic geek, Jason. She’s actually gotten quite good at being a costumed adventurer—except for her banter, which still needs work. Now, DeDe must learn what it means to be a heroine as Sky Girl faces the all too real enemies and allies of SkyBoy, including the clever Quizmaster, the beautiful Penny Pound, the enigmatic Jersey Devil, and the magical MissTick. DeDe must also face personal challenges as she discovers the secrets of her late father and his connection to SkyBoy–secrets that will affect Sky Girl’s destiny.
Unlike the first book, which took place over the course of a week, this book covers the whole school year and allows for more diverse adventures. For example, Sky Girl faces off against Shadow, Jason faces off against Quizmaster, and they both have to face an angry horde of zombies. Each adventure stands on its own but is also part of a larger plot and expands on the mystery of what happened to DeDe’s father and Evil Brain’s plot for world domination.
I guess the most important thing to note is that you don’t really need to read the first book to enjoy the second. You just need to know she is Sky Girl.
I think it is fair to say that the entire Sky Girl trilogy was conceived in a comic’s podcast forum project and born out of a father’s love for his daughter.
Let me explain. The Comic Geek Speak Podcast is made up of a bunch of great guys that love comics. I have listened to them and appeared on their show for several years and am still an active member of their forums. It was on those forums that I learned about a proposed prose anthology, which would be written by the listeners of the podcast. I wrote a story called the Return of Power Boy, a story about a middle aged accountant, who may or may not be a superhero. (The anthology was never produced and the story was later featured in A Thousand Faces, the Quarterly Journal of Superhuman Fiction where it won the Haller for Best Writer in 2010.) The story was a very dark tale of what happens when a super villain wins. One of the very minor characters was the accountant’s four year-old daughter, CeeCee.
Sometimes writers don’t create their characters, they channel them and that’s what happened with CeeCee. After the story was finished, I kept coming back to that little girl. What kind of life would she live, would she develop her father’s powers, and what would she do if she did? Well, CeeCee became DeDe, and the character of Sky Girl was born.
By this time, I had a daughter of my own. And I can’t help but think that this is what converted the very dark Power Boy story into the light hearted story of Sky Girl. As a proud geek daddy, I wanted to share my hobby with my daughter and looked for characters to inspire her. Sadly, I found very few. With a couple of exceptions, most of the female characters from early comics were merely eye candy fawning with unrequited love over the male protagonist or were relegated to the role of guest star (or even hostage) in their own books. Even the few that started as everywoman characters (like Kitty Pryde or Cassie Sandsmark) rapidly developed into über pin-up babes in the 1990s and 2000s. Thankfully, things have gotten a lot better for the modern female comics character, but the industry still has a long way to go. Female characters should have the same chance to grow, develop, and overcome adversity as male characters do. DeDe is a strong teenager and not defined by the men in her life. The series is really about DeDe’s journey to find herself and become Sky Girl. She makes a lot of good decisions, but she also makes some bad and selfish ones. But, at the end of the day she hopefully ends up in the right place. I hope she inspires my daughter to make good decisions.
At the end of the day, Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures, and the character of Sky Girl is the culmination of reading far too many great comics, finding far too few strong female characters, and loving my daughter just enough.
Where can readers purchase a copy?
Sky Girl is available at all online booksellers and can be ordered in brick and mortar shops and chains. It is also available directly from the publisher at www.martinsisterspublishing.com. I will also have copies and be signing the book at some upcoming show appearances, some of which include: Baltimore ComicCon (September 7-8); The Collingswood Book Festival (October 5), New York ComicCon (October 10-13), and the Festival of the Book (October 19). These shows are great fun and a wonderful place to connect with readers. I’ve even had a few old and young cosplayers come up to my booth to show me their Sky Girl costumes, which was extremely flattering.
I should also mention that Martin Sisters Publishing will be rereleasing the now out-of-print first book, Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy later this year. The final book in the series, Sky Girl and the Superheroic Return, should be out next year.
What is up next for you?
In addition, to the Sky Girl book, this year I edited a comic anthology called Great Zombies in History through McFarland Press. I also write regular articles on the history of comics and censorship for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF.org).
Great Zombies in History is a new graphic novel anthology released from McFarland Press. I met a talented group of writers through Andy Schmidt’s Comics Experience writing classes and we decided to form an independent comic imprint called Elevator Pitch Press to showcase our work. We have released several anthologies that have ranged from horror (Don’t Be Afraid) to grind house (Girls with Guns) to science fiction (Aliens Among Us). Great Zombies in History is an anthology of historically accurate stories, but written to include zombies. For example, I wrote The Zombie War of 1812, which features the real reason that Washington, DC was burned during the war. Rob Anderson, writer of the best selling BDI book, Rex: Zombie Killer and who acted as editor on the original project, did a story about how zombies helped King Leonidas and his army of 300 Spartans hold their own against immeasurable odds.
I should also mention that I write a regular column for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF.org) on the history of censorship in comics. It takes a lot of work to do those columns, but I believe the CBLDF is an important organization and am glad to help them in their mission to protect comic creators against censorship. I recently did articles on the rise and fall of romance comics, a before and after analysis of the comics code on reprinted books, and detailed histories of Sheena, Superman, and Wonder Woman. People with an interest in discovering the history of comics or censorship should check them out.
Next up for me, is my first non-fiction book, Comic Book Law, Cautionary Tales for the Comic Creator, from McFarland Press. It’s not a secret that I am an attorney and I find that when I appear at shows, I am often asked about the legal side of the business. People are always asking about the latest case or the history of a certain character. My upcoming book came up as a result of some my guest appearances on Comic Geek Speak and articles I’ve written for Ape Entertainment’s now defunct Comics Now! Magazine. Basically, Comic Law features the stories behind the cases. For example, most people know that DC Comics was sued over Superman by his original creators, but they probably don’t realize that the case was a roller coaster ride that took almost 70 years to resolve. In addition, the book provide guidance, but not legal advice, to comics creators who want to understand the basics behind concepts like copyright, trademark, contracts, and censorship and how they have relate to the comics industry. And while Comic Book Law is certainly not meant to be a “how to” book, there are a lot of good and bad examples of what creators can do to protect themselves. In addition, these behind the scenes stories should also be entertaining to non-creator comic book fans as a peek behind the curtain of the industry they love. For example, the book discusses the original inspiration for Josie and the Pussycats, explains why Captain Marvel became Shazam, and discusses how the Comics Book Code nearly killed the industry and resurrected the superhero.
Do you have anything else to add?
Just to say “thank you.” To the people who have tried the book. Readers are awesomely dedicated to books. I mean sure, as a writer, I have to be dedicated to creating the story and provide entertainment. But at the end of the day, I write for me—because I have a story to tell. I would write if no one ever read it. (For evidence of this, you should look at the sales figures for some of my earlier work). Readers on the other hand, have no such compulsion. They spend their valuable time and money on someone else’s work. There are a lot of great books out there by some amazing authors (living and dead). As a result, these people don’t need to take a chance on me (or any other unknown), but they do. I really appreciate that. And nothing is more rewarding than someone coming up to me at a show and telling me that they really loved my book, or that it is their daughter’s favorite book, or that they made (or had someone make them) a Sky Girl costume for Halloween or a ComicCon. If you want to know a secret, book festivals and comic conventions aren’t that lucrative for me (I rarely ever make my table cost). But, writing is pretty solitary, so the chance to meet people is priceless.
To these people, I say “Thank you!”
My author site is www.joesergi.net; Sky Girl can be found at www.SkyGirlNovel.com, and the official site for Great Zombies in History is www.GreatZombiesinHistory.com; my monthly column can be found at www.cbldf.org.
Thank you for spending time with us today, Joe. We wish you much success.