My Life As A Hypersigil, Part One; The Val D’Orazio Story

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The hypersigil is a sigil extended through the fourth dimension. My own comic book series The Invisibles was a six-year long sigil in the form of an occult adventure story which consumed and recreated my life during the period of its composition and execution. The hypersigil is an immensely powerful and sometimes dangerous method for actually altering reality in accordance with intent. Results can be remarkable and shocking.
–Grant Morrison, “POP MAGIC!”

I used to be a comic book character…and I don’t think I’ve ever fully explained that to you before.

My first appearance in “comic book form” was in the mid-1990s, when I worked as an assistant at the publisher Acclaim. I was drawn in the “corner box” for an ad; I couldn’t have been much more than twenty at the time, literally straight out of college.

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I was a HUGE comic fan when I had gotten this job & was super-psyched to be working at Acclaim. I think the artist, working from a snapshot of me, really captured that vibe:

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Flashforward ten years later—past four years at DC as an assistant (where I was pretty much invisible)—and out the “other side” I created a “character” for my blog in 2007: “Occasional Superheroine”:

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It was designed by artist Dan Parent, who would very shortly later become very well-known for his work on the “Archie” line of comic books.

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The blog reached a certain notoriety, and I got approached by ComicMix to co-write a short Munden’s Bar story with Dakota North creator Martha Thomases…as well as appear in the issue as myself. Or rather: appear in the story as Occasional Superheroine.

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And so it began.

This story was illustrated by the late great Batman artist Norm Breyfogle, with whom I had worked at DC. To be honest, I didn’t have a lot of input in the story; and that was on me, not Martha or ComicMix. I just figured that me being in the story physically as “myself” would suffice, so I just didn’t assert myself on it.

There was an…”idea” of who I was and what I stood for. I was a character. I’d try, in my blog, to put in a more “rounded” version of “all of me,” but it often ended in online bullshit and drama; because I was “betraying” the character.

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In the Munden’s Bar story, the two women visualize what it would be like to have these more “feminist” superheroes. But the truth was—I just really wanted to write Wolverine or the Punisher or the Joker, and I didn’t really care if they were “feminist” or not. The problem, of course, was that writing those characters was not “in-character” for me.

I had presented myself to the world as a sort of specific character—what Grant Morrison might call a “hypersigil”—but I was not self-aware enough to know how to use that hypersigil to my advantage.

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Now, from a metaphysical standpoint this was actually a little bit of a dangerous situation, one I didn’t quite understand until I was about shin-deep in s**t. I had only briefly read Morrison’s “POP MAGIC!” before all this went down, but its relevance to my specific situation only came into focus years later.

I was approached by Marvel Comics at this time, and asked to pitch comic ideas. And so: I pitched my Wolverine stuff, my Spider-Man stuff, all this stuff. But that wasn’t going to fly: because it wasn’t “true” to my character, my hypersigil. Finally, I got a go-ahead on a theoretical “women’s” comic—a miniseries based on a rebooted version of the characters Cloak & Dagger, illustrated by Irene Flores.

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I enjoyed writing Cloak & Dagger…but it wasn’t “me.” It wasn’t what I really wanted to do. I tried to add some unique “bits”…Cloak was now not a man but a woman, and she had some identity confusion just based on the transformation. Sort of like: she was a regular woman, but now she’s had this strange power sort of foisted on her. How does she deal with that? What does she do? Who is she really? Is she “Cloak,” or is she herself?

As with rebooted versions of “cult” characters, there was a lot of public hostility directed towards this book before it even came out. Before the term “SJW” even existed, it was pretty much applied to the entire project; I had committed a heresy.

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Meanwhile, all I wanted to do was write a short story maybe on the Thing or something. But I felt shoehorned into this larger…ideological conflict among geeks. And others were profiting on it while I fought off the trolls. And I wasn’t smart enough to know how to profit off of it for myself. I kept “pushing back” on my own “character”—which then got the other side of the debate angry at me. So: everyone seemed to be angry with me.

Marvel pulled the plug on Cloak & Dagger before it came out. As a literal “consolation prize,” I was offered a Punisher one-shot.

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This seemed like a dream come true—the best of all possible outcomes. There was just one catch…OK, there were several catches:

  1. It couldn’t star the Punisher, but rather a new female character.
  2. The character would be based on my life.
  3. The character had to be dead by the end of the book.

I was now entering extremely unsafe metatextual waters—working with a huge entertainment company with a large reach, presenting a “version” of myself who would ultimately end in self-destruction and death. It was a TERRIBLE fucking idea, especially at this shaky point in my life.

The book and the character was called “Butterfly”—about a hitwoman with a troubled past who is seemingly being chased down by the Punisher.

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INTERLUDE: PUNISHERMAX BUTTERFLY (a.k.a. PUNISHER: THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT)

art by Laurence Campbell

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My luck took a very serious negative turn after this comic, PunisherMAX: Butterfly, was published.

It is my belief that this “syncretizing” of my Self—my persona (“character”)—and this unfortunate character in the comic book was, from an esoteric standpoint, a huge disaster for my life.

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I had become what Morrison refers to in “POP MAGIC!” as some sort of “hypersigil,” in a story specifically crafted to render this “character” degraded and murdered.

And so in my next—and last—comic for Marvel, I decided to “take control,” as it were.

In X-Men Origins: Emma Frost, I decided to write a story where the protagonist actually wins, succeeds, and indeed goddamn flourishes by the end. By that point, I had finally absorbed Morrison’s “hypersigil” concept, and knew what I had to do. If you’re going to find yourself in such a goddamned weird fucking position as the one I did, you might as well “own” it and make sure it all works for you.

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In discussions with the editor about the plot of the book, I insisted that Emma end up fabulously successful at the end of the story. That was not under debate.

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INTERLUDE: X-MEN ORIGINS: EMMA FROST

Art by Karl Moline

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X-Men Origins: Emma Frost was somewhat controversial, in that it was somewhat sadomasochistic, and seemed to insinuate that the only way a woman could “make it” was to adopt the strategies of a “man’s world.” And yet most of what I saw in the comics industry was sadomasochism ( of a metaphorical sort) and forcing women to “fit in” (either as an unthreatening “sister/mom” figure or as a “whore”). If I was guilty of anything, it was holding up a mirror to all of it.

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Not surprisingly, there were people who hated my Punisher one-shot who loved my Emma Frost one. Because I gave them what they wanted. I justified their entire culture.

In the time that followed that comic, my luck got a lot better. I was offered a lucrative job at MTV, and so on and so on. I had started to master the idea of hypersigils— if only in the broadest, and most common-sense of terms (don’t syncretize your own image with that of something of misfortune).

In the middle of all of this I wrote a short story for a Marvel “women’s anthology” called Girl Comics. It also starred the…

Well, you can read the most popular page from the story, illustrated by Nikki Cooke:

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I’ve been told that this one page could have been the entire story—I think that’s true.

At any rate, after those comics for Marvel my hypersigil was becoming somewhat of a problem…and so I’d have to change it. More on that in Part Two!