Every generation of DC's Vertigo imprint has a handful of titles on the cutting edge of storytelling, reaching into our raw imagination to tap the vein of that perfect mesh between the literary and the visual medium of comics. There was Sandman, Preacher, Y: The Last Man, The Unwritten, Scalped and many others that you knew were pushing the medium boundaries.
Right now, that's being achieved by the Young Animal imprint (a Vertigo-esque imprint curated by Gerard Way), and via the science fiction fantasy comic Shade, The Changing Girl, written by Cecil Castellucci and drawn by Marley Zarcone. Since change is constant, it's fitting that after the first year of Shade, The Changing Girl, it's changing its name in Year Two to Shade, the Changing Woman, and the first issue is out today.
For those who are behind, Shade is the story of an avian-like alien named Loma who uses the Madness vest to escape the confines of her planet to visit Earth and possess the body of a comatose teenager who also happens to be the biggest bully in her school. When Loma awakes in her strange new surroundings, she must deal with all of Megan's ugly history and make amends as she acclimates to human life, all while the authorities in her home planet are on the hunt for the Madness vest. Loma eventually goes on the road, where she ditches her teenage host for her favorite actress, who herself is near death.
We dove deep with Cecil Castellucci about Shade, the Changing Girl transitioning into Shade, The Changing Woman and how the events of the "Milk Wars" crossover Wonder Woman / Shade, The Changing Girl #1 will affect Shade moving forward.
Before we get too deep into Shade we must revisit the the amazing "Milk Wars" story, which recently finished. You got to write the warped Wonder Wife (Wonder Woman) crossover with Shade; what was that like doing a crossover when you had been in your own universe for a year's worth of stories?
Cecil Castellucci: The idea of doing an annual or crossover never occurred to me because I felt like, especially for Shade, that I liked being in my own little bubble, but then having it be this weird Doom Patrol/Retcon storyline gave us an opportunity to come together, but when we go back to our own corner we could go back to our own bubble. The Wonder Wife-Shade story lends itself to that; it's sort of a stand-alone story but ties into the "Milk Wars," but then you could move on from it without ever referencing it.
You originally approached it that the "Milk Wars" could affect your books though, no?
I think … that was maybe our directive? [Laughs] I'm still going with that I'm still in my own bubble universe. For me, Milk Wars opened up the possibility to name-check or mention other superheroes in the DCU, the opportunity to pull in things that are useful to me, but not 100 percent be in continuity. I feel that now that Shade is a woman and not a girl, that this serves as her growth period. So I like to treat it like a dream.
Shade is in a transitional period. Issue #12 left us wondering where she's headed next. Did the "Milk Wars" come at the right time, or was it lucky timing to fill this void between the first and second year?
I can't say what it is, but I had a different superhero crossover that I was supposed to do first. Then that changed when Gerard's concept of what the "Milk Wars" was going to become changed. There are elements of my story for the original crossover that I'm keeping in Shade, The Changing Woman that are not in the "Milk Wars," and that's really fun for me. I was given Wonder Woman in the last moment, which in a way was completely freeing because I could do something crazy.
But my original plan was something that 100 percent tied into Shade, The Changing Woman, and I was the only one where that was the case. That was difficult, but freeing, so I took the opportunity to use the Wonder Wife-Shade crossover as a pause between the Girl to Woman change. Who knows what Shade is up to between the years that pass from her final moments as a girl to beginning of becoming a woman? I think having her emotions split into all those ways helped her have some growth.
We've had a lot of Wonder Woman graphic novels recently, but nothing like what we saw in "Milk Wars."
We had a Young Animal summit between myself, Gerard (Way), Steve (Orlando), Jody (Houser), and Jon (Rivera) and had a full-day whiteboard situation, which was amazing, but everyone was prepared with what they were going to do and I was given Wonder Woman. All my notes went out the window. I wondered, what am I going to do?
Then I thought, Shade was obsessed with this 1950s housewife Honey from the fictional TV show Life With Honey. I just think with where we are right now in history, something that me and Marley touch upon with Shade, with the government trying to have possession over women's bodies, Shade being about a bird in a body that's not her own, all of her stuff with Honey in the last arc, it really gave me an opportunity to hyper-focus on the moment that we're in. Especially the one thing that I did have that I had already decided was for Shade was going to split into five different emotional beings.
So when you have a character like Wonder Woman, who has forgotten who she is, why wouldn't you go to the complete opposite of what Wonder Woman would be? You could have the most fun. When she says that we're going to have a women's rally and there are posters that say, "Ask me about my feminine agenda" or "My body, your choice," that's a very deliberate commentary, and you can do that when you're seeing Wonder Woman championing this thing that is completely not her. You can see how horrible that mindset is.
But explain the breast-feeding the house appliances.
Okay, so at the summit, we're spitballing ideas. I go, "Yeah, let's have her breast-feed a dust-buster." Everybody looked at me and were like, "What is happening with Cecil?" I just thought it made sense, that Wonder Woman was really in peril if she's treating domestic objects as babies. Something has gone horribly wrong here. Or that the fact that she has a "bupperware" party. Something is wrong, and you have to have to push it that far. It wouldn't make sense to have Wonder Woman actually have a baby, but it makes sense to have these domestic objects as her babies because that's what she's been tricked into thinking is important.
What did Marley say when she found out she wasn't going to get to draw this?
Thankfully, it wasn't me who had to tell her. This is the second issue I've done a Shade story without her, the first being Issue #7 with Marguerite Sauvage, which was an amazing experience and tells a different part of the story. The same here with Mirka Adolfo, Marissa Louise, and Saida Temofonte, as it's going to add to what Marley and me are doing but I think it's really helpful to have characters have a different lens on them, and Mirka's art in this book is just extraordinary. I have to honestly say that I can't believe DC Comics let me have a splash page of a statue of Wonder Woman lactating, basically. I thought, "I'm just going to write it and someone will stop me."
Because I was thrown Wonder Woman at the last minute, I decided to just go crazy and if Gerard, editors Jamie (S. Rich) and Molly (Mahan) wanted to say to me, "Cecil, you're out of your mind, you can't do that," then that's fine. But everything I heard was, "Oh my God!" Then when I saw that splash page back, this is hands-down the best page in comics I'm ever going to write. In DC? I've never seen anything like that. They made me take out an F-word, but they didn't take out lactating boobs. Thank you, DC!
I know we've talked about this a few times before, but I really love what you're doing with Shade in having it evolve like musicians evolve with each album. We've already seen Shade go from a coming-of-age story to a road trip adventure. What is this next transformation going to be for Loma as she becomes a human woman?
I can't say too much, but I feel like Shade is more in her body and is stuck now. She's here as a human. She's in a world that has gone mad, right. We're in a world that has gone mad. Our world right now in America today is unrecognizable. So I think that Shade is coming to terms with her new adopted home.
River and Teacup and the other players are having a reckoning with that as well. It takes a few years later and there's a rapid maturity having been in Honey's body and recognizing a preciousness of being human and what it means is a big factor.
I'm really excited about it, and this arc, and I can't tell very many things, but Shade has been a political book from arc one and arc two. The Third arc is pushing that further.
Are we going to see a new or an evolving cast, or will you continue to build on what you've established?
We're building on what we've established. This is a few years later, so the same players are there but they're in a much, much different state. They've grown as well. They have different relationships with each other and with Shade. I think that's really important, because when you think about (Peter) Milligan's run on Shade, he had Lenny and Kathy (pictured above), who were very instrumental and very important to Shade's growth and evolution during that very long run. I've always felt that River and Teacup were me and Marley's Lenny and Kathy. They're definitely a big part of the book as well, but things change – ha, that's my pun – when you grow up.
Do we pull back the element of Rac (the previous Shade) then as someone she looks up to?
No, I would say we f***ing go more forward with Rac. Rac joins the cast.
There was this weird inspiration of real science working its way into the book when pictures of dark matter surfaced and they looked very similar to the madness dots. Are you looking out for more connections like that?
I'm a firm believer that madness and dark matter are integral. So one thing that I didn't want to do in this new arc was depend on the same tricks I did in the previous arcs. I want there to be growth and development in the way that I am telling the story as well. So I'm trying to minimize the amount of poetry and maximize the amount of heart, if that makes any sense. Marley feels the same way in the way she's drawing Shade. I just saw proofs for Shade, The Changing Woman #1, and I can't even believe how beautiful it is. It's so gorgeous. Marley is on fire, I want to work with her forever! We're trying to push, once again, off the page but off the page in a new way.
I would imagine it's hard not to be fueled by current events. Since you deal with Madness, how much madness in our world gets filtered into Shade?
You can't be an American human writing a book about madness right now and not be constantly commenting on what's happening. Absolutely everything that happens every day seeps in. You can't help it, I feel like me and Marley are crying with everyone, and I don't think this is a spoiler because it's on the cover, she's floating on a barge of garbage, in a garbage world, there's garbage everywhere.
You can't write a book -- it's not just about Madness or Shade -- I don't think you can be an artist in America right now and not be commenting on what's happening and making a decision on where you land. I'm sure I would've written that Shade/Wonder Woman story something like that, but I'm directly commenting about Women's Marches, because that's important to me. I march. I don't know if I would've done that if it weren't as dire and desperate a time as it is right now.
Are you thankful to have a book like Shade to dip into that in a creative way?
I think for me and Marley as artists, it is a relief to have a place where you can have a voice, because obviously not everybody does. I don't honestly know that I would wish this time on anyone. I would much rather be writing this in a time where we didn't have to deal with United States madness. I would prefer to write about madness in a time where I felt safe. Now you write something with everything around you is serious, everything is scary and you're almost afraid of pulling something into reality, which is mad.
When I did Issue #10 where Shade is in Los Alamos with a nuclear bomb and we're having a pissing match with North Korea, I was like "Oh, crap! Why did I bring this into the story?" I didn't want to – and I know it's not my fault, I didn't do it, but it's almost naming the demon, naming the beast you're frightened of, and that's very scary.
What else do you have going on? You have a new Plain Janes comic on the way, right?
The new Plain Janes is coming out in fall 2019, and Jim Rugg is drawing it again. Originally it was published through the DC Comics YA imprint, Minx. Little, Brown and Company acquired the rights to publish it and is re-issuing the first two stories with the new one as an omnibus all together as one book as a hardcover and a paperback simultaneously. Nate Powell (March) and I are working on a middle-gradish graphic novel that we're going to do at some point.
Shade, The Changing Woman #1 is out now at your local comic shop and digitally where DC Comics are sold.