Gail Simone & Cat Staggs' Crosswind is an Ode to Body Swaps & Body Counts

Comics Features Gail Simone
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Gail Simone & Cat Staggs' <i>Crosswind</i> is an Ode to Body Swaps & Body Counts

The twist of two disparate souls swapping bodies has a long pop-cultural lineage. Multiple film iterations of Freaky Friday and 2011’s The Change-Up explored the jocular ramifications of bodily displacement, and most narratives with this trope have veered comedic. But writer Gail Simone and artist Cat Staggs’ new comic series, Crosswind, provides a much more harrowing slant on the idea. The debut issue balances Juniper, a woman unhappy with her life and marriage, with Cason, a Chicago-based hitman with daddy issues. As ominous, supernatural figures indulge in some bodyswapping, it’s a safe bet that hilarity will not ensue.

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Simone has written an array of rich comics from grandiose superhero fare including Wonder Woman and Secret Six to the surreal thriller Clean Room, while Staggs’ photorealistic approach has graced titles ranging from Adventures of Supergirl and Orphan Black. The creative team straddles a litany of genres, an appropriate approach given the subject. Paste chatted with Simone and Staggs about the origin of Crosswind and some of the challenges of bringing this surreal story to the page. We’re also debuting an exclusive track from singer/songwriter Rachel Miller, who translates the comic’s churning quest for identity into the rollicking, introspective track below.

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Paste: Crosswind incorporates a host of elements: it’s a body-swap fantasy, a crime story, a chamber drama of a marriage falling apart and more. What have you found is the best way of keeping these different elements in balance?

Gail Simone: I seem to be a little back-to-front as a writer, really. Many writers hate team books, because they can’t focus on a single character, or they hate crossovers, because they have to juggle so many characters. But I love those things. I love trying to make the pieces fit in surprising ways. I love taking advantage of disparate elements being smashed up against each other. To me, the best tool in the box is surprise, it’s just a matter of trying to make it work organically and not, you know, like a banana/razor blade milkshake.

Cat Staggs: For me, it is all about being as true to Gail’s script as possible. She’s an amazing writer and none of this feels like multiple elements, it feels like one cohesive, amazing story…or rather two people’s stories, amazingly intertwined. My job is to try to do that justice on the page, and to give the story life using the color palette and drawing the “acting” I feel best represents what I visualize when I read it.

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Crosswind #1 Interior Art by Cat Staggs

Paste: Much of the first issue tracks a day in the lives of Cason and Juniper. How much of each of their lives did you want to show before the change happens?

Simone: That is a great question, and the first series concludes having covered a relatively short period of time. I like the immediacy of it. We don’t want to give the story time for people to learn to adjust, it’s all falling down the escalator to them.

Paste: Gail, did one or the other of the two main characters come to you first?

Simone: Huh. You know, I don’t recall. I believe they sort of jumped into my head like a two-person bobsled team. Which is a little odd, now that you mention it!

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Crosswind #1 Interior Art by Cat Staggs

Paste: Cat, what are some of the challenges of translating the body language of one character into a different character inhabiting that body?

Staggs: This has been one of the most fun and most challenging aspects of this book. It is so important that it feels like they’ve really swapped bodies, so for me, it’s important to have them adopt each other’s mannerisms and facial expressions. So, first I had to make sure they were very pronounced and uniquely themselves in the beginning, and then my job became thinking about how it would feel for them in each moment: how would they act and move while pretending to be one another… when would they move and react instinctually the way they always would, etc. It is a lot of research and planning and thinking, but so much fun.

Paste: At least on the surface, Juniper’s everyday struggles seem more familiar than Cason’s. Do you see this series as a way to subvert readers’ expectations about reliability and likability?

Simone: At the beginning of the book, both are feeling trapped, and I think that’s an emotional state we have all been in. Sure, most people have never been Chicago hitmen, but it’s the same driving motivation behind Ariel, the Little Mermaid, as well. It’s that feeling that we’re locked in, somehow, and no one seems to have the keys. That’s pretty universal.

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Crosswind #1 Interior Art by Cat Staggs

Paste: What drew you to use Chicago and Seattle as the two settings for the book?

Simone: They are two of my favorite cities. I love, love, love Chicago, it’s just a place that has to be experienced. I had ridiculous, goofy concepts of what it was about before going, now I try to go as often as I can. At the same time, Seattle almost couldn’t be more different, and that’s here in the Pacific Northwest, where I am. The sense of place is hugely different. And this is a book about being uncomfortable, feeling out of place. So they were perfect.

Paste: For all that their lives are different, both Cason and Juniper seem to have familial difficulties: the opening scene shows Cason reacting badly to a mention of his father, while Juniper’s relationship with her stepson seems less-than-perfect. To what extent is family a theme of Crosswind?

Simone: It’s about support. Cason has a support system, no one seems to be on Juniper’s side, and that’s just very interesting to me. You can have money, you can live somewhere nice, and have no one who cares about you. Or you can be poor and be surrounded by love. Some of the richest people I have met are among the most miserable, and sure, maybe it’s pure entitlement, but that lack of satisfaction, of feeling loved, that can be painful no matter who you are. If you marry for security, that’s not an easy road to walk.

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Crosswind #1 Interior Art by Cat Staggs

Paste: Cat, how did you come up with the visual for when the two leads switch minds? Am I wrong for thinking that there’s a visual callback to the snow falling at the beginning of the issue?

Staggs: I wanted to add a supernatural feeling to the face swap and it was important for it to feel like it had movement. I just kept playing with concepts until I had something that captured those surreal, magical and disconcerting feelings. I love that you felt a connection to the snow scene. That wasn’t intentional, but it’s always fun to see how people interpret things.

Paste: In the sketches feature at the back of the issue, you talk about the process of discovering the characters. What was the biggest thing that you discovered about a member of the cast as you developed the book?

Simone: Well, for me, it’s that Cat was bringing guns I didn’t even know she had to the table, even as a big fan of hers already. The drawing style she has chosen, it’s pure commitment. I can ask for the subtlest emotions and she puts them on there. It makes it so I have to be less verbose, to let the art tell more of the story. It’s gorgeous.

Staggs: How much I just love both main characters. Gail has written these amazingly nuanced characters. I really didn’t expect to feel such a connection with each of them… but that’s the beauty of her writing. It’s so honest and takes you to such unexpected places that now I am really, truly in love with Cason and Juniper and rooting for them both.

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