Joe Sergi is an attorney by day and an award-winning author by night. He is the creator of the Sky Girl series, a young adult superhero fantasy series, featuring DeDe Christopher. He is also the editor of Great Zombies in History.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I have written articles, novels, short stories, and comic books in the horror, scifi, 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 ComicBook Artists Guild at New York Comic Con. In addition to writing stories for 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 series of articles 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 taught Unincorporated Entities.
What made you first decide to become a writer?
There really wasn’t a light bulb moment. I have always been a storyteller (much to my parents’ and teachers’ chagrin). In high school, I wrote plays and short stories. In College and Law School, I did standup comedy. I also love books, movies, television, and comics. As an adult, I frequently found myself rewriting my favorite stories (regardless of the medium) and had so many ideas floating around in my head that it was inevitable that I would want to write them down. Thankfully, I have the encouragement from fans and fellow creators, as well as talented teachers like Andy Schmidt from Comics Experience to help me on my way.
What make you take that leap from “wanting” to be a writer, as opposed to “becoming” a writer?
Many (myself included, lol) talk of being a writer and dip our toes in, but it seems there is often a sort of “push” to bring one over that wall.
Some people define that moment as the first ‘real’ story; others, as your first publication. So, I will quickly address both. My first story, and perhaps my fiction writing career, can be traced to the Comic Geek Speak podcast or, more specifically, it was the forum associated with the show. Comic Geek Speak is a group of comic fans that do a podcast about comics. They are all great guys. On top of that, their forum is a friendly, welcoming place where people (creators and fans) can express ideas and be encouraged to try new things. The forum members had planned on doing a prose project. With some encouragement, I wrote The Return of Power Boy, my first story, in a few hours. And while the project eventually fizzled, I had actually taken a step towards becoming an author (The Return of Power Boy was eventually included in A Thousand Faces, a Quarterly Journal of Superhuman Fiction, Issue 10 and won the Haller Award for Best Writer). There are a few inside references/jokes related to the Comic Geek Speak guys in Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures. I hope they enjoy them.
I remember the details of my first publication as if it were yesterday. Although I had published a few articles in high school and college, as well as some law review articles, my first fiction publication was in Trail of Indiscretion Magazine. I met the publishers at the Baltimore ComicCon. I 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.
Can you tell us about your latest book?
This book is the sequel to Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy, which introduced DeDe Christopher. DeDe is an ordinary teen with the extraordinary destiny to become Sky Girl. In the first book, DeDe discovered that she possessed fantastic abilities that were strangely similar to those of a comic book character named SkyBoy. With the help of her best friend Jason, a self-professed comic geek, DeDe accepted her legacy and became 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 heroine — except for her banter, which still needs work.
Unlike the first book, which took place over the course of a week, this book covers the whole school year, which allows for more 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. In addition to cliques, books, and boys, she has to worry about capes, apes, and aliens. 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 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. 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.
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. I previously mentioned that 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 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. In keeping with this trend, I tend to get a lot of Sky Girl sketches from fans and professional comic book artists that are far too suggestive for a 16-year-old heroine. I try to address this phenomenon in subtle ways — like having DeDe dress down Jason when he makes a sexist joke — or with Sky Girl’s refusal to put a symbol on her chest or wear skimpy clothing.
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. At the end of the day she hopefully ends up in the right place. I hope she inspires my daughter to make good decisions.
What is one thing you hope readers will take away from this book?
Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures is a fun story that I hope entertains. At a deeper level, it is about taking responsibility and growing up. I hope DeDe will serve as a role model. She is independent and strong and knows what she wants. But, she is also responsible and knows what she has to do. How she handles that, tells a lot about her character.
As I’ve mentioned, my intention was to have Sky Girl represent a strong female character who always tries to do the right thing. She isn’t perfect. She makes mistakes. But, she learns from her mistakes and, most importantly, she never gives up. In Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures, Sky Girl has to deal with some heavy emotional things like the death of her father, the fact that her mother is moving on with another man, and the ever-changing relationships around her. But, just because she allows herself to be emotionally open and vulnerable, that doesn’t mean she is weak. Dealing with adversity makes her that much stronger when she triumphs over it.
Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?
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 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.
If you could meet any writer (living or dead) who would it be?
This is a hard one. I’ve met so many great authors and comic book creators over the years and learned from them (a short conversation with Ray Bradbury at San Diego ComicCon was life altering), yet there are so many that have been lost to time. I’ll focus on the comic book front and it’s still a tie for three. I would love to sit down with a young Jerry Siegel, right around the time he was creating Superman to the predecessor of DC Comics. I can only imagine how excited he was seeing the character brought to life. With all that has happened since, I think the story of those early initial feelings of elation have been lost to time. Similarly, I would love to chat with Jack Kirby and Will Eisner. Both have given so much to the craft and to generate respect for comics as art among the general public. Just the chance to say, “thank you” to them would be priceless.
What is one fact about yourself you wish to share with our readers?
I am a huge Disney fan. In fact, I got married in Disney World thirteen years ago in the shadow of Cinderella’s Castle. Wedding guests included Belle and the Beast, Lumiere, and, of course, Mickey and Minnie. When I need to recharge, I go to the Disney parks, or take a Disney Cruise. When traveling to California for work, I have annual passes and try to visit the Disneyland Park at least once (although I also admit to owning season passes to Universal Studios Hollywood and Kings Dominion as well). Now, I love experiencing Disney movies and parks through my daughter’s eight-year-old eyes. There is a lot of magic in the world. Kids see it and, if they are not paying attention, adults miss it. There is a magical escapism that Disney creates that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. (Although Universal Studio Island of Adventures comes really close). Plus, the Disney customer service is the best on the planet. As a matter of fact, I am writing this on a plane back from a one week vacation to Disneyland and I am ready to head back, if only for an hour.
What is up next for you?
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’m often asked about the legal side of the business. People are always asking about the latest case or the history of ownership of a certain character. 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 (if it’s resolved). In addition, the book provides cautionary tales, 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.
I will say, from a craft point of view, writing nonfiction is much more difficult for me than writing fiction and Comic Book Law took a lot longer to complete than I originally thought. The reason for this comes down to one word: research. I spent countless hours in the Library of Congress and various Court Houses across the country reading transcripts and exhibits. In short, I have found it’s much easier to invent an alien des ex machina than to research how to build one in the library.
Is there anything you would like to add?
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 articles can be found at www.cbldf.org. I can also be found in the usual places like Facebook and Twitter.