A celebrated author of young adult novels, including last year’s Princess Leia Adventure “Star Wars: Moving Target,” Cecil Castellucci knows how to deliver stories featuring strong, female leads. So when DC Comics was looking for a new writer for “Shade, The Changing Man” for its upcoming Young Animal imprint, curated by Gerard Way, it’s no surprise the publisher turned to Castellucci.
Castellucci is joined by cover artist Becky Cloonan and interior artist Marley Zarcone on “Shade, The Changing Girl,” a new series coming this October. In the series, the Steve Ditko creation is reimagined as an alien from the planet Meta possessing a 16-year old female bully from planet Earth. It’s madness, right? That’s what Castellucci has planned as the character’s superpower literally is madness, which the writer told CBR News is both a blessing and a curse.
Castellucci, a fan of comics since Batman attended her fourth birthday party, also discussed what it’s like collaborating with Way, the Eisner Award-winning writer of “The Umbrella Academy” and the former vocalist and co-founder of rock band My Chemical Romance. She also revealed what fans of both the original 1970s’ Ditko series and the 1990s’ Vertigo reimagining from Peter Milligan and Chris Bachalo can expect from “Shade, The Changing Girl.”
CBR News: Were you familiar with “Shade, The Changing Man” before landing this gig?
Cecil Castellucci: I read one or two issues, but I hadn’t read the entire run. It was on my radar, but it wasn’t something I read as thoroughly as “The Sandman” or “Animal Man.”
Since landing the assignment, have you gone back and read the original series by Steve Ditko and/or the Vertigo series by Peter Milligan and Chris Bachalo?
Oh, yeah. I’ve read them twice. [Laughs] Absolutely. 100 percent. I started reading them when Shelly [Bond] called me and asked if I would be interested in auditioning for it. Very early on, after just a few issues and a very, very small amount of Googling, I was like, “Holy shit! This is amazing!” [Laughs] It’s incredible.
How big of an influence are those previous iterations on “Shade, The Changing Girl?” Is Shade still from the planet Meta?
I don’t want to give too much away, but yes, Shade is from Meta. And yes, I am definitely pulling things from both Ditko’s and Milligan’s runs. I think people that read “Shade, The Changing Man” from either the first or second run will be delighted by some smaller moments. I want it to have echoes and nods to the past, but I want it to be fully its own thing, as well.
I can also say that Shade is an alien and possesses the body of a 16-year old girl in America. It turns out that the girl was the biggest bully in her school, and she now has to navigate the consequences of living a life that she didn’t lead. There are some pretty horrible consequences because of who she’s possessed. In a way, the main difference is that Rac Shade was a grown man, and this isn’t a grown man. This is a 16-year old girl, and there are certain restraints on her because of that. I feel that works really well, because one of the things that I love about writing young adult fiction is that we often feel, when we’re teenagers, that we’re sort of aliens in our own body. There are a lot of changes happening, so I think it lends itself really well to a character like Shade.
I also think madness and teenager-dom go together really well, as well, because when you’re a teenager, everything is the end of the world. And everything is the first time everything has happened. It’s the first time you’ve been betrayed. It’s the first time you’ve fallen in love. It’s the first that you’ve realized that your parents are separate humans than you are. Everything is life or death, and I think that’s really interesting to explore, having that constraint on Shade.
Everyone knows about Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth and Green Lantern’s power ring, but how cool is the Madness Vest in terms of superhero wearable technology?
First of all, having your superpower be madness is just… everything. Madness is this power in the world, anyway. Your deepest desires and your deepest fears are right there. Madness has the power to be beautiful and horrific at the same time. And the Madness Vest, well — it’s gorgeous, and I want my own. [Laughs] I really hope DC will make a Madness-themed T-shirt or dress or something, because that would be really, really cool.
You’re working with two wonderful artists on this series: Becky Cloonan and Marley Zarcone. What can you tell us about the look and feel of “Shade, The Changing Girl?”
First of all, they are two of the most fantastic ladies to work with. I love Becky Cloonan so much. She’s a good friend, and I’ve always wanted to work with her, so the fact that we are getting to work together in this small way where she is doing covers for the book is like a dream come true. You’ve seen the first cover and I have seen the ideas for the second issue and they’re amazing. She’s incredibly talented. She really brings fierce, raw passion to the covers that is so essential to “Shade.”
I’m just getting to know Marley, and it’s such an enormous pleasure to work with her. She’s so talented, and the pencils and inks that she brings to the page are jaw-dropping. It’s really something else, the fun way that she plays with madness on the page. Every single time I get a page from Marley is so exciting. I can’t speak for Marley, but when you’re writing “madness,” it requires that you push yourself beyond what you normally do, because you’re trying to push into the unknown. You’re trying to push ideas off the pages both with words and with art. I think Marley and I, along with Gerard [Way], are trying to find a language for that. It’s really exciting to see that bloom.
Gerard Way is serving as curator of DC’s entire Young Animal imprint. What role does he play in creating and developing “Shade, the Changing Girl?”
Gerard is the coolest, nicest guy in the world. Meeting him was like meeting an old friend and kindred art spirit. He’s really given me carte blanche. He had the initial idea that Shade had possessed the body of 16-year old female bully. We had some story meetings, and I told him what I was thinking, and just started working. We have conversations. I email him — he has an open door policy, where I can talk to him about anything; long-term, or new ideas, or whatever. He’s a really great person to bounce things off of. Basically, he’s let me run amok with this, which is really, really fun. I feel like I have a really good safety net and collaborator with him, but I’m also allowed to swing on my own trapeze and do my own thing.
Is Young Animal a shared universe? Meaning, will we see Gerard’s characters from “Doom Patrol, “Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye” or Mother Panic” in “Shade, The Changing Girl?”
I can’t really comment on that.
Finally, comic book readers new to your work may not know that you’ve actually been friends with Batman since you were four year old.
[Laughs] That’s true — Batman came to my fourth birthday party. When I was young, I watched the Adam West “Batman” TV series and I fell in love with Batman. My parents bought me some big Superman and Batman omnibuses of comic book stories from the ’30s and ’40s. I read a lot of those. We’re French, so I also read a lot of bande dessinee like “Tintin,” “Asterix” and “Lucky Luke.” I considered my brother’s book shelf an extension of my own book shelf, and he read lots of superhero comics, so I read those, too.
When I got to college, I started reading “Love and Rockets” and “Naughty Bits.” I loved “Naughty Bits” by Roberta Gregory. That was a huge influence on me. It became too expensive for me to keep reading comics in college, so I stopped for a while, but I used to always Google “How do you submit a comic book to Vertigo?” But it was too impossible. I could never figure it out. And then, the stars must have aligned, because (former Vertigo editor) Shelly Bond called me and asked me if I wanted to do a YA graphic novel for their Minx line, and that’s when I said, “Yes! I’m ready!” [Laughs]
“Shade, The Changing Girl” by Cecil Castellucci and Marley Zarcone is coming from DC Comics this October.