A lot has changed since the Gerard Way-curated Young Animal imprint started putting books on shelves a year and a half ago. The comic industry has weathered a series of serious storms that range from harassment and abuse to the failures of the direct market, and the world writ large feels like an entirely different place than it was in September 2016. Shade, the Changing Woman #1 embraces all of that chaos in a way few characters and even fewer creative teams can, reintroducing readers to a character who’s not the same as she was when we last saw her—but is still unquestionably herself.
Although it’s been only a few months since Shade, the Changing Girl #12 was published, two years have passed in Loma Shade’s world. As she settles into her new body, Shade continues to try to figure out what it means to be herself. She talks to new friends and old ones, masquerading as Megan and following Teacup and River from her high school days as they go off to college and into a new stage of their own lives. There’s a melancholy to Shade’s story, but a lot of sweetness and heart, too. The creative team has captured the nearly universal feeling of being lost in the world and in your own identity as you try to figure out the type of person you want to be. Artist Marley Zarcone and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick have made some changes to Shade’s appearance and the way the world looks around her, from a haircut and a costume change to a modified color palette that feels harder and shaper, but not necessarily darker. Writer Cecil Castellucci is leaning into the stances she took in Shade’s guest appearance in the “Milk Wars” crossover, and the book feels even stronger than before. For Shade’s fans from her girlhood, it’s a welcome return; for those who haven’t yet uncovered what a great book this is, now’s the perfect time to jump on, and we exchanged emails with Castelluci (with a guest appearance from Zarcone) to find out more about Shade’s journey from Girl to Woman.
Shade, the Changing Woman #1 Cover Art by Becky Cloonan
Paste: The change from Girl to Woman feels weighty and intentional, particularly on the heels of Shade’s appearance in the “Milk Wars” event. Is there a definitive moment when you think the transition from child to adult happens? In Shade’s case, do you think her body- and identity-hopping moved that point for her?
Cecil Castellucci: The “Milk Wars” kind of serves as an emotional bridge between Shade the Girl and Shade the Woman. That moment where you kind of sort out who you are and what you will become. At the end of Girl, Shade has a body. Her old self is dead. And I think that we all have moments like that in our lives. Who can tell when one really feels that they have made the transition from child to adult? I think for everyone it is different. And it is a continuing relationship with the self. I know I have said, Oh, now I’m a woman only to say it again a few years later. So there is no definitive answer, it’s personal. But for Shade, she has control over this new body and I think her time as Honey in the previous arc has affected her and how she sees the world. She’s coming into herself. She has to. There is nowhere else for her to go. This is the life she has to lead. That can ruin you and mature you.
Paste: Much of the journey that Shade is going through deals with questions of identity and agency in a way that is gendered, but largely universal. The “Life with Honey” pages often confronted the imbalanced expectations set on women more overtly than the main story did. On the other hand, the Shade, the Changing Girl/Wonder Woman Special felt like a far more targeted and undisguised statement about how women specifically are seen and treated. What prompted that shift?
Castellucci: I think that Shade’s experience of Earth with “Life with Honey” definitely influenced her point of view. As you know, Honey is what Loma thinks Earth is like and Honey, though 1950s-gendered, is a pretty radical woman. Secretly smart. Totally open. I think that flowed nicely into the Wonder Woman crossover. But you know, honestly, a lot has happened between the time that I started Shade and the time that the Wonder Woman crossover came up. When I was tasked with the mission to have Wonder Woman forget who she was, having her fall into a strange domestic and deeply archaic idea of womanhood seemed natural. I am a woman in this moment of time and I can’t help but comment on that. It was time to be bold and to put that front and center. To say, there is more than one kind of woman. There is every woman. Shade has the position of being an outsider who is trying to parse out what kind of a woman she wants to be. To have her be split and forced into a role was a natural way to have her rebel and become who she wants to be moving forward.
Paste: Do you think Shade would have been capable of playing the pivotal role she had in “Milk Wars” if she hadn’t already survived life as Megan, made human friends and come into her own body?
Castellucci: That’s a great question. No. I think she had to spend a bit of time as an alien bird in a human girl to have the Happy part of her understand that something was deeply wrong in the Milk world she woke up in. She had to have some kind of understanding of the dynamics of understanding. Dealing with her former swim team I think gave her the ability to handle the other emotional parts of herself. Because let’s face it: high school is an emotional roller coaster that you have to ride and hang on or else you lose your lunch.
Paste: There’s a naïveté and arrested innocence to Shade that could easily be frustrating, particularly since a lot of people don’t have much patience for what they might perceive as a vapid young woman. How do you navigate having a character that has the potential to be so destructive out of ignorance without having her come off as unsympathetic?
Castellucci: I think that a lot of people have trouble with innocence and instead they get frustrated at what they perceive to be vapid. I think that’s why so many female characters are dismissed and I think that’s sad. I urge people to look deeper. To dig deeper. Most people don’t have trouble with boy characters like that. There is an entire range of stories of men who are frustrating characters but beloved. They engage with a new world and are ignorant and destroy. I think it’s a shift that we as a whole need to make to give people the room to sit and settle with different kinds of characters, especially those that inhabit the female side of things, that are fishes out of water. Or in Loma’s case, birds with no air to glide on. Aliens are like that. They don’t know. I like to think of Loma Shade as someone who is reframing our minds for relearning the ABCs of life. She is a toddler in emotional terms. She is forcing us to see and stop and pause. And isn’t that always the thing? That fundamentally we all have the power to be destructive with our ignorance. That makes us all potentially unsympathetic. I think we don’t like to look into the mirror and see our own madness.
Shade, the Changing Woman #1 Variant Cover Art by Marley Zarcone & Kelly Fitzpatrick
Paste: Much of the first 12 issues of Shade’s story dealt with dualities that seem to be irreconcilable or at least clashing. Shade oscillates between wanting complete freedom from other creatures and seeking out emotionally satisfying relationships, and there’s the apparent contradiction of Teacup studying philosophy and River wanting to major in exobiology. Of course, there’s also the overarching theme of madness versus love. What drew you to so many supposedly opposing forces for Shade’s story?
Castellucci: By default, Shade is dual because she is living her life and Megan’s life at the same time. In a way, she leaves Meta to explore emotions and become herself only to really discover that she had them all along and you can’t run away from yourself no matter what kind of body you’re in. I think of Teacup and River as her anchors and beings who mirror what Shade embodies—philosophy and exobiology. And Teacup and River and what they are interested in are definitely important moving forward in the new arc. Also, I think that love is the one thing that has the power to keep us sane and save us while also driving us mad. It’s filled with exquisite joy and deep pain. That complexity and opposition seemed a natural fit for Shade. It also, if you look back, echoes some of the core stuff in Ditko’s and Milligan’s runs. That was my guiding star. Or heart!
Paste: You mentioned in a previous interview that not only has Shade gotten a new look to reflect her new title, but also that there’s a color palette shift between the first 12 issues and this new one. How do you, Marley Zarcone and Kelly Fitzpatrick strategize the visual and tonal changes as Shade continues to age and mature?
Castellucci: Oh I think this is a Marley question! But we wanted this new arc to look like she was a little more grounded.
Marley Zarcone: Once I got the script from Cecil, it made sense to do the shift. I don’t know if what we’ve done is darker, but I definitely think it has a more serious tone. The new-car smell of Earth is wearing off for Shade, and she’s no longer distracted by fictional TV heroes. Now she’s just herself, stranded on Earth with all of her old insecurities, and in possession of a coat that magnifies them. I do my best to keep that in the back of my head while I’m putting together pages. Kelly is still bringing her fantastic off-the-wall palette to the book, and she’s experimenting with some new textures. We’re a pretty cohesive unit, so it’s come together pretty naturally!
Paste: This version of Shade is an entirely new being, physically, from the character readers first met in Shade, the Changing Girl #1. She’s got a new body and a new life, new powers and friends, a new home. What parts of her past do you think she’s least ready to let go of?
Castellucci: She’s still our girl Shade. She’s still got the same powers. She’s just more in control of herself. But that also makes things more complicated for her as she has to figure out what that all means and what she should actually care about. She’s got a new body and that brings new problems. I don’t want to say too much about it all, but there is a plan here. I think that Shade is like us all. At the ready to chuck the past and reinvent herself, but at the core the more people change, the more they stay the same.