When you live a double life, those lives inevitably collide. Alex Segura has been omnipresent in the comics business for more than 15 years—he’s currently the Senior VP of Sales and Marketing at Oni Press, and he’s written comics including Archie Meets KISS and The Black Ghost. But he’s also a crime novelist, the author of the Pete Fernandez mystery series that ended with 2020’s Miami Midnight and the co-creator of the Lethal Lit podcast.

With Segura’s new novel, Secret Identity (Flatiron Books, March 15), his passions for noir fiction and for comics’ weird history join forces. The book follows Carmen Valdez, an editorial assistant at the third-tier Triumph Comics, in the New York City of 1975, when both comics and punk rock were low-rent subcultures that were bubbling with possibilities. What seems at first to be Carmen’s big break—writing a new superheroine, the Lynx, at a time when the women creating mainstream comics could be counted on the fingers of one hand—becomes a nightmare when Carmen’s collaborator is murdered, her name disappears from her work, and the secrets of her own past begin to reemerge. We spoke with Segura, who lives in New York, via Zoom; the conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How did the idea of setting a crime novel in the comics and music scenes of mid-’70s NYC come about?

As I was finishing the Pete Fernandez series, and before I started my Star Wars novel [Poe Dameron: Free Fall], I was thinking: The books that really speak to me in terms of crime are the books that take you somewhere else—not just a place, but an industry or a world. Megan Abbott, for instance, is really good at bringing the elements of noir into other spaces, like gymnastics or ballet. There’s room to do that with comics: They’re so colorful, and I love the contrast between that and the dark and danger of crime.

The book I found myself going back to for research was Will Hermes’ Love Goes To Buildings on Fire [about the New York music scene in the ’70s]. I love that era of music, and I wanted to show a New York with a palpable sense of danger. Comics as an industry was at a particularly low point then. Comics shops were starting very slowly to come to life, and comic-cons weren’t really a thing—they were these tiny little shows in hotel ballrooms where people traded issues. The industry was at a turning point, where people were wondering if it would even continue. That’s a hallmark of comics. Every 15 years or so, there’s an outcry of will comics survive this seismic shift? And it always does, because it’s a storytelling medium.

“The comics industry: going out of business since 1938.”

Yeah, exactly. The makeup of the industry at the time of Secret Identity was people who just loved comics—fans who grew up on the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby stuff and wanted to be doing it themselves—and journeymen creators who were just treating it as a means to an end until they could find something else to do. Carmen very much fell into that first category, someone who was so passionate about the medium that she’d go to any end to work in it.

When you were researching the book, you got to talk to people who were working in comics in the ’70s, like Linda Fite.

Carmen had introduced herself to me in my mind, but I really wanted to talk to some women who had worked in comics at the time. Linda was particularly interesting because she wrote The Cat, which was the first new superhero at Marvel written by a woman, and she’d really loved the experience. It was very much a positive story—I think you go into these things expecting something else, but she just felt very proud.

How fully formed was Carmen when she “introduced herself” to you?

I wanted a character in stark contrast to my previous series’ character, Pete, who was...kind of problematic and not given to accepting his destiny. Carmen appeared to me pretty close to who she was. I knew she was driven, I knew she had this connection to comics as a fan, and I knew it wasn’t just something she did, but something that would bring her closer to her father—her fandom propels her through the book.

Patricia Highsmith is a phantom presence in this book—she’s in the epigraph, and her books turn up within the story a few times.

She’s one of my favorite writers. She doesn’t shy away from the darkness in her characters—even her protagonists are not necessarily heroic. I love the Ripley books, but they’re not my favorite Highsmith books. I prefer her stand-alone stuff: Deep Water, The Price of Salt. But her prose is so evocative, and she’s great at setting a mood. I found myself rereading a lot of her books and marveling at the tone and the complexities of character and the kind of gray, not-definitive plot resolution.

You’ve also got some comics sequences in the book, drawn by Sandy Jarrell—excerpts from the Legendary Lynx stories that Carmen writes.

I’ve always loved Sandy’s style. He’s a fantastic storyteller and a great artist, and he understands comics history—on Twitter he posts these great mock covers from the golden age or silver age. We did those pages “Marvel style”: I didn’t write a full script! I told him, “This’ll be two or three pages, I want the anchor shot to be this, let’s go for a Frank Miller/’70s Daredevil vibe,” or “This looks like Gene Colan’s Tomb of Dracula.” Then I scripted over it, and we went back to make sure it evoked the time.

What comics of your own have you been working on?

I partnered with Planet Money, the NPR podcast, to create a comic book. They picked out this public domain character called Micro-Face, who was a golden-age crime fighter who had a helmet that can blast you with sound or throw his voice, and they asked if I wanted to write a new version of him—and so here we are. It’s the original Micro-Face’s grandson, who’s a legacy hero, a Cuban American NPR reporter. It’s very much like Planet Money—the villain’s name is the Corporal Raider! There’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek stuff, but it’s also kind of a heartfelt story about legacy and living up to what your chosen parents want you to be.

You read more than any five other people I know. What prose and comics have you been into lately?

Sara Gran’s The Book of the Most Precious Substance! It’s labeled as an erotic thriller, but it’s really a bonkers, genre-bending story about discovery and sex magic. Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister is a nice, sharp, funny psychological suspense book. In terms of comics, Human Target—I just love Greg Smallwood’s art, and I think it’s one of Tom King’s tighter plots. The new Matt Rosenberg/Tyler Boss series, What’s the Furthest Place From Here?, has been a lot of fun. And Al Ewing and Javier Rodriguez’s Defenders—that book is magnificent.

Douglas Wolk is the author of All of the Marvels: A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever Told.