Over the past year, Shade, the Changing Girl has carved out a distinctive space for itself in the comics landscape. The standout book of DC Comics’ Young Animal imprint, Shade tells the story of a young Avian woman named Loma who tires of life on her home planet, Meta. A youthful obsession with Earth and the poet Rac Shade inspires Loma to steal Rac’s Madness Coat, an item of apparel with huge but mysterious power, and use it to possess the body of a comatose teenage Earth girl who did terrible things prior to an accident that left her unconscious and vulnerable to Loma’s schemes.
What follows is a fascinating story about identity, puberty, and what means to feel like an outsider in your home. It’s an incredibly nuanced read thanks to writer Cecil Castellucci as well as a gorgeously psychedelic trip thanks to artist Marley Zarcone, colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick, and letterer Saida Temafonte.
During San Diego Comic-Con, Castellucci and Zarcone sat down with the Beat to discuss Shade’s journey as she learns to adapt to her new body and her new world. We also discuss the future of Shade, as the series is going on hiatus later this year to prepare for a crossover with the DC universe at large, and learn about what might happen to Loma in 2018…
Alex Lu: I’m surprised that this is the first time you’ve met each other because you two have seemed so in sync throughout your work on Shade, the Changing Girl so far.
Marley Zarcone: Yeah. Well, we get along! Even the first time we Skyped, I knew—I was like, “we’re gonna get on along pretty good when we meet in person.” Then, when we just saw each other, she was like, “Let’s hug!”
Cecil Castelucci: I mean, like I’ve always said the way … I think I’ve said this before too but every script I write…it’s like I’m just writing it for Marley. She’s the only person that I want to impress.
Lu: It shows! Your team is producing one of the most tonally distinct books in the DC lineup so far and all your talents blend fantastically together. How have you found the response to Shade so far?
Zarcone: It’s been interesting. I feel it’s a little different too. I love our fans. They’ve been fantastic. There’s lots of incredible fan art. I think the response has been great because people have been catching on to what we’ve been trying to communicate a lot of times. There’s been some really on-target observations where we’re just like “yeah, that was what we were trying to say!”
Castelucci: And it’s also really interesting when you’re making a comic that isn’t a superhero comic but also kind of is one, but is also totally different. It’s a little bit scary. But it’s just been so great that the people who get it really get it.
I always say that you should write the book that you longed for or needed at some point in your life. I feel like that’s what we’re doing with Shade.
Lu: It’s interesting that you can still read Shade as a superhero book in some ways. I see what you’re getting at, but when I think of superheroes I think of lots fistfights and high-flying action over rooftops.
Zarcone: Yeah, totally, but I mean, the Madness Coat is definitely an object of power in the DC Universe. It’s this really, really powerful thing and in Shade #10, she definitely showed off what that coat can potentially do.
Castelucci: Yeah. Madness is a pretty potent power to have and she’s still figuring it out, you know?
Zarcone: I like how the climactic scene in Shade #10 was oddly in sync with a recent Twin Peaks episode, too. I showed her the clip from it. All I know is that I saw it on the screen and I was like, “We just did this!” I was like, “What to do?! It’s the same location!”
Lu: It was definitely an explosive moment! But looking beyond that, the second arc as a whole has had a lot more bombast than the first—it’s dramatically widened the scope of the story. The first arc was very localized, focusing on Shade’s new sense of self. Now Shade is learning about her world. What informed your decision to move the story out of town onto the road?
Castelucci: I think that Shade wanted to come to earth to explore it and to experience it. You can’t experience it if you’re just in one place. You really have to branch out. I think it’s part of the evolution of this character. She first started crawling and now she’s taking the baby steps. It’s like she’s sort of evolving and growing as she figures out how Earth and the Madness work.
Zarcone: Plus, Shade is becoming more comfortable with her body. You’ll start to notice that she’s starting to identify more internally as her human form. She’s still got a bit of a bird form, but she’s kind of becoming a mesh of the two because she’s been a human for so long.
The more I draw the book, the more I’ve been trying to tone down how she’s been freaked out about her human eyes, tongue, and all the other physical body parts because she’s become more comfortable with them. Now, things are becoming more external and the coat is amplifying the way she sees the world around her because she’s more comfortable with her body. Now, she’s going after everything else.
Castelucci: My challenge now as the writer is figuring out what the madness really is and who Shade is with the madness. Because even though she’s more comfortable with her human body, she’s still got a ways to go. She’s a total mess.
Zarcone: A flighty mess.
Castelucci: She’s always going to be 100% bird. That’s just her nature.
Lu: There’s a pretty big debate raging in the pages of this title about whether or not people can change. Loma decides to become someone else because she’s bored by life on her world. Shade has to try and change the way people perceive Megan when she takes her body. Shade, when she’s humiliated by Teacup, whom she considered a friend, decides to ditch her life as Megan and craft a new one for herself. At the end of issue 10, she finds herself in a dark place, pulled back towards being Loma and nesting as a bird. How do you two feel about the notion that, no matter how much we pull away from who we are, we somehow always get sucked back in?
Castelucci: Well, I always have grand hopes for all of humanity and humans. I hope that we can remain who we are but also grow a little bit. And so I think that’s where I land on that. I think it’s fun to explore questions like “how do we grow?” and “how do we find our own humanity?” I think having an alien who’s a bird and doesn’t understand people trying to find her humanity is kind of interesting.
Zarcone: In general, exploring changes you as a person. So the fact that she’s getting out there and she’s having new experiences and meeting new people and having new upsets…it’s changing her.
Castelucci: As a bird on Meta, I don’t think Loma Shade ever really thought about the consequences of her actions. Then, when she came to Earth, she landed in a body where there were consequences for how horrible the previous owner of that body was to other people. Because she’s had to deal with that, she’s realizing that her actions on Meta did have consequences.
Zarcone: Yeah, she’s learning that she has to stop being so selfish.
Lu: I want to talk a little about the future of Shade. Early next year, the series will have a big crossover with the main DC Universe, correct?
Castelucci: There’s a crossover annual that’s happening with the Young Animal books and there will be some spillage of the DCU in there. All we can say for now though is that we have ideas and we have a future for Shade. We know where she’s going.
Zarcone: Well, she’s still taking baby steps right now, but she is definitely emerging and growing. It’s just the beginning for her, really. She’s just starting to explore.
Lu: Is there anyone that you hope that she’ll meeting up with in the DCU?
Castelucci: Well, I mean, I know who she is meeting, but we can’t say that.
Zarcone: Yeah. But, I think it would be horrifying if she ran into John Constantine.
Castelucci: I think it would be really interesting if Shade and Sandman had a beer together. Or if she and Delirium had a beer together. That would be super interesting!
Lu: I know Shade is going on hiatus later this year to prepare for the DCU crossover at the start of 2018, so where do you all hope to take Shade when the series returns in full force?
Zarcone: Oh, we have ideas.
Castelucci: Oh, we have plans, but we can’t really talk about that. That said, I think that the thing about Shade is we’re really carefully crafting a story together. We’re really trying to create a story that you can read on one level but can also read on many others based upon what’s there on the page. Everything you need to know is there on the page.
Zarcone: And there are mysteries that will all be revealed to you in the future!
Shade, the Changing Girl #11 is on stands now.
Alex is the New Media Editor of the Comics Beat. He is also a freelance comics editor with previous credits at First Second, Top Cow, and Papercutz. He primarily covers DC Comics and Magic: the Gathering.