In the world of kids cartoon programming, the lines are always clearly drawn. Superheroes and robots are for boys. Princesses and ponies are for girls.
But this Saturday at 12:30 PM Eastern and 9:30 AM Pacific, The Hub network which is known for shows on both side of that divide from “Transformers Prime” to “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” is merging the two worlds with “SheZow.” The new cartoon created by writer Obie Scott Wade (“Baby Looney Tunes,” “Zatch Bell!”) tells the story of an average boy named Guy who finds that he’s able to turn into a the titular character — who happens to be a female superhero.
The series has recently attracted a lot of attention for its gender-bending/cross-dressing premise, but as he explained to CBR News, Wade was looking to make a comedy show first. Below, the writer talks about drawing early inspiration from Shazam, working to win over both male and female audiences and creating a cast of left-of-center supervillains to match the shows surprising premise.
CBR News: Obie, when word got out that “SheZow” was making its way to The Hub, I think some heads turned. When you’ve got a show whose pitch is “It’s a little boy who turns into a superhero that’s also a little girl,” people are going to go “Yeah-whu?” Knowing that pitch might be a tough sell, what did you say to people in the early days of the show to make them feel this would work for a modern kids audience?
Obi Scott Wade: Everywhere I pitched it, people laughed. I developed the property over a period of time, and it did take a while for me to find a home for it. The response was always positive, but I think it was just ahead of its time. I think it really is all about timing. I don’t think this show could have been made a few years ago, and the response so far in Australia where it’s been broadcast since December of last year has been really positive.
What was the draw in doing a show that was a little bit more…I’m not sure “gender bending” is the exact phrase at this age level, but a show that took a different angle on boys and girls TV?
Well, I grew up loving superheroes and Saturday morning cartoons because when I was a kid, you still had to get up on Saturdays morning to watch them. [Laughs] One day I was watching a show called “Shazam!” which was about Captain Marvel, and I thought for a second there “Did he just say SHEzam? What would happen if he accidentally said Shezam? Would he turn into a different superhero with a different costume?” I’ve always been fascinated with the mechanisms and the tropes of superheroes and their transformations, and later in life I kept collecting ideas about this concept. Eventually I realized, “Hey, that’s a twist that’s never been done on this concept for an American audience.” I just felt strongly that one day I would get this show made because it was something that hadn’t been done.
Often with children’s TV, shows get put into boxes. A show is supposed to be a boys show or a girls show. Or, it’s only for eight to ten year olds, or whatever. Does that bristle against you as a writer? Are you trying to break away from categorization?
Absolutely. I think that it’s got the action that boys are going to like and the heart that girls are going to respond to, and hopefully vice verse. Hopefully all kids are going to respond to the heart of the show because really it’s just a comedy. I set out to make a cartoon I would have liked as a kid — something that made me laugh. And if you look at the best cartoons of all time like Bug Bunny, he dressed up a lot as a girl, and all kids seemed to like that. I think “SheZow” so far is appealing to both boys and girls.
One thing that’s been mentioned about the show is that while it’s never been done in America, this kind of twist has appeared a lot in Japanese manga and anime. When it came to making your show stand on its own, what was the element of Guy’s reaction to becoming a girl that you felt was most compelling?
You know, I wasn’t really familiar with the manga stuff until after I started developing “SheZow.” But what I really wanted for the show was for Guy to go from being a kind of lazy, kicked back kid who was a boy to being somebody who was suddenly forced to deal with a lot of responsibility. He adjusts pretty quickly to what he has to wear, but his big challenge is having to save the world every day and not getting any days off and having to work when he wants to play. One of the catch phrases for the show is “With great responsibility comes great big hair.” [Laughs] So suddenly, he’s carrying the world on his shoulders, and how does that change his life?
You’ve mentioned Shazam and then Spider-Man. As a superhero show creator, how much experience do you have with comics, and are you leaning on some of the classic tropes of the genre in this show?
Not a whole lot. I had my favorites growing up. I really liked “Fantastic Four” and “Spider-Man,” and I liked both DC and Marvel, so I’m kind of agnostic that way. I was just really into the cartoons mostly and what was showing on television as I grew up. Recently, I had the good fortune to develop a project with Stan Lee, and that was a dream come true. It was like meeting Walt Disney or something. So I don’t have a big collection of comics, but I was definitely into them as a kid. Like I said, I loved their origin stories and the way that affected how they went about their lives.
Over the course of the season, what do we get to learn about the world of SheZow? Do you build up a rogues gallery or a Justice League-style team or any of those other classic ideas
Yes. Guy steps into the role of SheZow not knowing anything about it. And suddenly, these villains start to show up who have a history with her, so Guy is always playing catch up and having to appear in public because SheZow is a pretty famous superhero. He has to take on that role. And we’ve got a really funny gallery of funny, silly villains because this is a comedy. One of my favorites is Candy Rapper who is a candy bar that raps. Mocktopus is hilarious because he mocks what people say. One of the most interesting villains is SheZow’s clone called SheZap. Part of SheZow’s maintaining of his powers is that once in a while he has to get a manicure, and Guy refuses to do that. So at one point, a piece of his fingernail drops into toxic waste and turns into an evil clone of himself. I really like that aspect of the show. I think over time, he really does learn to accept his powers and in doing so unlocks other powers.
It seems like part of the theme of this show is bridging some understanding between the sexes. Little kids often hate to play with their sisters or brothers. Is part of this show about speaking to boys about not being so down on “girly” things?
Yeah. I’d say that’s a part of it. That’s not what I set out to do. I really just set out to make a comedy, but I think one of the positive byproducts of the show is the idea that being a girl isn’t gross. Boys tend to think that girls have cooties, but here’s a boy wearing girls clothes, and he becomes powerful because of it. So there’s some of that in there.
It debuted in December in Australia, and it’ll be showing across the summer. Do you hope to see a little bit of SheZow cross-gender cosplay come Halloween?
[Laughs] Well, I’ve already seen pictures of people dressed up in the costume online, which is funny. But yeah, that’d be awesome.
“SheZow” debuts tomorrow at 12:30 PM Eastern and 9:30 AM Pacific on The Hub.