By Marian Schembari, Contributing Editor, Digital Book World
“No one can say for certain where Eleanor Wakefield’s opinion ends and Joseph Illidge’s opinion begins.”
–Joseph Phillip Illidge
Joseph Phillip Illidge is a co-partner at Verge Entertainment and was one of the panelists at Digital Book World’s Digitize Your Career: Marketing & Editorial Forum two weeks ago. He first caught my attention during a discussion about the challenges of establishing an online identity without getting fired from your day job, when he said: “I can have my cake and eat it, too.”
Illidge has the ability to blog about whatever he wants without getting in trouble for his public views because he is lucky enough to have an outlet that actually requires him to spew all sorts of opinions, albeit not necessarily under his own byline.
He writes for ExpoWeekly, an online gossip site that is a cross between The Huffington Post and TMZ. Not that we need another site like either of those, but ExpoWeekly is somewhat unique as its staff consists entirely of, well, fake people.
ExpoWeekly came about when Illidge’s partner at Verge, Shawn Martinbrough, came up with the idea for an entertainment website slash “digital intellectual property.” Because traditional journalism is shifting into the digital space and its seasoned writers are fast becoming the new generation of bloggers, Illidge, Martinbrough, and Expo co-owner Kevin McCarthy brainstormed their way into the fictional universe behind the site.
As the company’s head writer, Illidge developed most of the characters and their origins, and his three avatars are Editor-in-chief Keisha Parks; Creative Director Cassidy Chase; and Global Affairs Reporter Eleanor Wakefield.
Interestingly, during the Forum he spoke often about having an “authentic voice” when using social media, but he writes from the perspective of three different fictional female characters. That’s kind of awesome because he can let different aspects of his personality take over in order to really get into a character; so if you think about it, fictional universe aside, there’s nothing more authentic than that!
“Relating to the three ladies is easy because they’re all extensions of various facets of my personality,” he said.
As a former editor of the Batman comic books for DC Comics, Illidge connects with Parks’ “multitasking mind and advocacy for quality work”. Chase is relatable due to her smarts and chutzpah, and I think Illidge really enjoys the fact that she’s “opinionated as hell.” As for Wakefield, he “admires the hell out of New York Times columnist and author Maureen Dowd,” and figured he could show his political side “while portraying older women with the respect that’s due them.”
Illidge had complete say on the characters he wanted to portray, and after the team put together the basic archetypes, he was able to flesh all three out to full realization. “It’s crazy, because I can tell you the histories of all three women, from the death of Keisha’s mother to Cassidy’s college affair with her professor to Eleanor being a co-novelist with her ex-husband. And the fact that all three are women means I get to show my feminine side!”
Getting into each character isn’t hard because he knows all three so well, but the “Expo Bible” helps, with a breakdown of each character’s history, created by himself and his Verge partners.
- Keisha is a crusader for good writing, story and language, to the point where she’s anachronistic to a lot of people, and texts in perfect English. She’s my cultural pride and writer/editor persona, along with a sprinkle of self-assuredness.
- Cassidy always refers to herself in the third person as “The Chaser” and is in her early twenties, so when I wrote the tribute to Corey Haim, I knew Cass didn’t see The Lost Boys when it was in the theaters. She is my intolerance of stupidity, mixed with the fearlessness and self-righteousness I had when I was her age.
- Eleanor has high standards, marched in opposition to the Vietnam War, and wants to force people to think instead of just act and consume. We’re both good dressers, don’t care about reality TV, and would watch Mad Men before ever paying to see any Transformers movies.
“What is crazy, though,” Illidge explained, “is that I’ve been affected by the opinions of the characters. I gained a whole new level of respect for Mario Lopez after Cassidy Chase wrote ‘The Nine Lives of Mario Lopez’, because he adapts to any and all challenges with determination and a smile.”
So far, the response to the site has been good and Illidge says they see pretty hefty traffic spikes when AintItCoolNews mentions them, or he spreads a gossip rumor (eg: Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are going to be in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Superman film). Their fictional characters have even interviewed industry professionals like film producer Reginald Hudlin and novelist L.A. Banks, with more to come.
At the Forum, Illidge said, “Being able to express myself under fictional guises allows me to comment on anything I want to, but the face isn’t me. I can have my cake and eat it, too.” When I asked him to elaborate a few days later, he told me, “Suffice it to say, the bigwigs at my Clark Kent job can’t give me guff because of what I write as Superman, because the lines between me and the fiction cannot be clearly identified.”
Illidge has it pretty good, both as a writer and publishing professional [the Clark Kent job], able to express himself creatively without any bureaucratic obstacles.
“The worst part is loving it so much that I want to write three Keisha columns in one day, but then my girlfriend reminds me that I could spend some time with her instead.”
Hard life, man. I want his job!
Joseph Phillip Illidge has been an editor and writer of comic books, graphic novels, and columns for over a decade. He’s worked on DC Comics’ Dark Knight, THE BATMAN, and the WB television series, Birds of Prey; Milestone’s STATIC; and most recently as the co-creator, co-writer and editor of the Ayre Force graphic novel and animated webisodes for digital entertainment giant, Bodog.
Marian Schembari digs social media and books. Usually at the same time.