Cracking open Young Animal's colorfully phantasmagoric Shade, the Changing Girl means diving headfirst into Cecil Castellucci's and Marley Zarcone's enveloping sea of madness. The DC imprint helmed by My Chemical Romance's Gerard Way is known for its ravishing and off-kilter comic storytelling and this spin-off of Shade, the Changing Man rumbles with idiosyncratic energy.
The birdlike Loma Shade stars as an Earth-obsessed alien who makes her way to the planet by inhabiting the body of a comatose high school bully named Meg through the epically powerful madness coat. Over two volumes, Castellucci's bracing storytelling and Zarcone's kaleidoscopic, transmogrified visuals portray the nuanced character as she slowly learns of Meg's abusive past, the events leading up to her coma, and the physiological and emotional ingredients that make up the human experience.
Following an exciting crossover with Wonder Woman, SYFY WIRE caught up with the energetic creators behind the graphic novel to discuss its virtuosic art, how idyllic themes of travel inform the character's identity, and how the creators used sound in a visual medium.
Shade's latest appearance was alongside Wonder Woman for Young Animal's Milk Wars event. What was your reaction to learning that you'd be writing a Shade, the Changing Girl/Wonder Woman crossover?
Cecil Castellucci: Well, I was really excited and it was also a little bit surprising. We had this big Young Animal's summit and I'd actually been given direction for a different superhero that I was to be crossing over with so I'd prepared for that. Then I got to the summit and it was like, "oh just so you know you're doing Wonder Woman."
Castellucci: I know! But it's even better because it's like, "oh my gosh, Wonder Woman, that's incredible." When they came up with the trinity thing, Batman, Milkman and Wonder Wife, it gave me a real opportunity to explore something deeper with Shade about emotions. And then also deal with a lot of the stuff that's going on with feminism right now — the women's movement — really digging into that in a positive way. Like pro-feminism. And just making a commentary on it.
I thought it was fascinating how the marriage of domestication and the socializations we have around emotions beat women down to a certain extent. The Wonder-Wife alternative world seemed so stifling.
Castellucci: For me, what I'm most proud is doing the math of what makes a Wonder Woman. It's like every woman plus every woman makes a Wonder Woman. Like, to me, that's a fundamental truth.
This is your first ongoing series, Cecil
And for you, Marley?
Marley Zarcone: Actually no, I did Effigy first at Vertigo and then got on to Shade, so this'll be my second.
You've mentioned in other interviews that it really took you up until the 17th page of the first issue to figure out what the world was going to be. What was it about that page that convinced you, like, "I got it now. I know how I'm going to do this"?
Zarcone: 17 was the first page that I really got down a pure madness page. A real focus on how that power is going to alter the landscape; how I can change the pacing and draw something that is completely insane. So it was like, 'okay, she sees her family as kinda mutated, they're skeletons still at the dinner table.' It still makes sense but it's definitely not what's supposed to be on the page. So it felt like, 'alright I'm stepping in' — it's making sense to me now. Yeah, I always hold that page. No one can take it away from me now.
There's a cool character to the hallucinations. And it makes me think about the physics of how the world works—
Zarcone: Oh like, the little paisleys?
Yeah! It feels like anything could happen but it's still very focused. There are rules. What was the thought behind parameters of that world? Who or what influenced those choices?
Zarcone: I definitely took a lot of influence from the Milligan run on Shade. All those artists were big influences on me, personally. They kinda took it from the jacket and had it mutate the landscape. Loma, in the first stages of the book, she's really internally-focused. So the tongue, the eyes, all the weird body systems and organic matter creations are popping up everywhere are really just manifesting this weird new body externally.
So the madness is challenging in how uncomfortable she is with her own body because, you know, she was a bird.
In the second volume, we kinda changed it because she's channeling things internally. She's used to being in a human form now. Her interactions with people, her new travels, she's picking up on their energies or, y'know, finding dinosaurs and animating them. The new arc that's coming up is definitely changing tone and the physics are changing with her.
In the second volume, Loma is traveling to Gotham and Hollywood. But, Cecil, the traveling theme is also central to your character Soupy in Soupy Leaves Home as well. What is it about travel that helps to unlock the identity of your characters?
Castellucci: Well, y'know, I've always wanted to walk across America [laughs]. Like, all those post-apocalyptic books like The Walking Dead or whatever, like we're just walking, traveling on empty roads — that always captured my imagination.
I love the idea of movement; of growth through movement. And that happens when we travel. We see new things, we learn, we reframe how we view our own homes. For Loma, she's a bird, and birds migrate, so it seemed like a natural thing for her to wander. She talks about that, how the Avians wander. But there's something dreamy about hitting the road and traveling. I used to be in a band, we'd go on tour and I just love it. I loved movement.
There's definitely a sound element to the novels. Loma is again a bird. So she's always chirping and tweeting at other birds. But there's also that poetry element that adds a kind of flow to the storytelling. Was that your first try at poetry?
Castellucci: You know, I wrote some bad poetry in high school. I did write one poem that I did have published, just one, so this was basically my first time writing poetry. I met a cool London slam poet at the Vancouver Book Festival named Dean Atta. I was telling him about the comic book and he was like, “You should make a chapbook!” So now I have this back-of-my-mind idea that I could make a tiny chapbook of the poetry from Shade.
You should try it out!
Castellucci: Okay, sure [laughs].
So, Marley, how does the behind the scenes creative process lend itself to visually playing off the poetry within the comic?
Zarcone: It's really collaborative. We go back and forth. I get the initial script from Cecil and sometimes I'll interpret things differently, then I'll bring it to Cecil and we can work it out. It really comes together; it's worked out fantastically. I think we're a really good team.
Zarcone: I spend most of my time in the layout stage where I'm just planning out how the page is going to look altogether. I work small at first, scan everything, pump it up, and then trace it onto the original art source. I like to work in the planning stages.
The last volume had this strange sense of placelessness in terms of pacing, geographic changes, and Loma inhabiting this unknown body. Can we expect that same level of airy, sorta floatiness in the next volume or might it be a little more grounded?
Zarcone: I feel like this new installment is a little heavier. It's a little more feral because she's dealing with pure madness now that everything's coming together. And she's physically manifested on earth with the coat. I think it's heavier, actually, like the tone is dark.
Castellucci: Yeah, I'd agree with Marley. This one is heavier, more grounded. She's attached to earth now; she doesn't have a body back home. She has this body and that's it.
Other things are happening: time has moved — a few years have gone by. Her friends River and Teacup are still around but moving forward with their lives and there are consequences with that. The world is moving forward, too, and things are sorta rushing toward the center. The little episodes, the Life with Honey back-ups, enhance the main story of the particular issue. You didn't have to read them but I'd encourage readers to check out those as well because they explain how things emerge into the main story.
Zarcone: It's like the asterisk in an issue when it says, 'see issue blah blah blah.'
Castellucci: Yeah, so just imagine an asterisk at the head of every issue for whenever something is emerging. It's in the backup!
That probably saves folks a lot of confusion!
Castellucci: Right, every part of the story matters.