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Murder and Comic Books in Alex Segura's Secret Identity

A love letter to crime fiction and comic books.

Secret Identity Alex Segura

Anthony Award-winning Alex Segura’s latest novel is a love letter to the superhero comic book industry in 1975 New York. It stars Carmen Valdez, a young woman from Miami, who just wants to work in the industry she loves. When a coworker gives her the chance to collaborate on a comic, they work together to create the Lethal Lynx.  But when he is found dead and the scripts are turned in without acknowledging her significant contribution, she is spurred into action to figure out what happened to him and prove that she was behind the comic. Interspersed in the narrative are panels from the Lethal Lynx by artist Sandy Jarrell with lettering by Taylor Esposito. Murder & Mayhem had the chance to talk with Alex Segura about his great literary mystery.

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Murder & Mayhem: You were a fan of mysteries and comics. How did you transition from reader to writer?

I think I always wanted to tell stories; I don't think as a kid I fully understand what that meant. I would draw my own little comics.  I would write down what I wanted to happen. I had this whole season-long arc for Spider-Man that I went mapped out as a kid. I was an artist until maybe around high school, and then I realized that I could write much faster than I could draw.

Around the time I got into college was when I was like: “I'm gonna be a writer” and I pivoted into journalism. I became a reporter and an editor. I thought for a while that was going to be my writing outlet. But at the same time, I was still having these creative ideas.  I think in college, I was like: “I’m gonna write the Great American Novel.”  I had this very bad Great Gatsby-esque novel that is thankfully lost to the winds of time that I started to write in college.

It wasn't until much later that I rediscovered private investigator fiction and crime fiction. I've always loved science fiction, crime fiction, fantasy comics, pulp stuff. I realized it’s okay to lean into genre and embrace the things that entertain you. If you write about the things you love as opposed to writing your idea of what a writer is, you're gonna get more out of it.

I started to write a lot faster because I was really loving what I was doing, writing these gritty PI novels that spoke to me because they had a protagonist that was like me, a Cuban American protagonist in my hometown, which I never really saw written about accurately. There was always a Miami Vice-ification of Miami.

So why did you set it in 1975?

I was really drawn to the idea because the comic book industry you read about Secret Identity is unrecognizable. Today, comics are everywhere. Comics are such a multi-billion-dollar industry across the board.

In 1975, it was something you did work for hire, you did it as an assignment and you cranked it out. Then you went on to the next thing. I think the people working in comics were either super fans like Carmen—people who love comics so much, they just wanted to be part of it—or it was just a job.  I wanted to show how different it was through the context of what we know today. So, when you're reading it, you're experiencing this different time, but you're also aware of where things are going.

I liked the idea of a murder mystery through Intellectual Property, the idea that she has to solve this mystery, because she has to reclaim something that's so deeply a part of her. I tried to lay the foundation that for Carmen, the Lynx is not just something she came up within that moment; she was building towards that since childhood. So, when it was taken away, it was like her heart was ripped out. She needs to really figure out who killed her kinda friend but she also needs to reclaim this idea. As a creator myself, it felt like such a primal thing.

Secret Identity

Secret Identity

By Alex Segura

I read that you were influenced by Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. How do you see this book in relation to that?

I see them in conversation with each other. Kavalier & Clay definitely was on my mind but I purposely didn't reread it while writing the book. I prefer to think back to my memory of it if that makes sense. I would never put Secret Identity up there with Kavalier & Clay but it's such a huge influence.

My favorite kind of books are the ones you almost believe could happen because the author does the research and it's addictive. I didn't want it to be something where I wrote a novel, and I couldn't say that Marvel and DC existed.  I wanted it to be something that you could read and be like, “Yeah, this sounds like it could have happened.” And maybe someone will believe that they could find a Lynx comic in a comic shop or something.

Will there be a Lynx book?

We're gonna do it. It's going to be super super meta.  It'll be something like Lost Stories of the Legendary Lynx. Sandy Jarrell is going to draw it. It's going to be like a collection of a few issues from the Lynx run like one of those 80s or 90s trade paperbacks so it won't look glossy or as nice as a trade paperback from today. But it'll be something that will very much be in-world. I had a lot of extra material from the book that my editor very wisely said, let's focus on Carmen.

The extras were almost journalistic sidebars like an academic essay on whatever happened to Triumph Comics set in the 90s and a Wizard Magazine interview with Jeffrey Carlisle who was the CEO of Triumph.  I actually spoke to a comic book creator who was a huge influence on me who read the book and really liked it. He's gonna write a very tongue in cheek introduction basically saying like, “Oh, the Legendary Lynx was a huge influence.” I really want to lean into this idea that this existed.

We can’t wait to read more adventures of the Lethal Lynx! Thanks to Alex Segura for talking with us.