Spike Trotman’s Iron Circus Comics has launched its eighth Kickstarter campaign (six have been completed and fulfilled with the seventh currently headed to the printers) in support of Sophie Campbell’s newly colored and resumed Shadoweyes.
Originally published in black and white by Slave Labor Graphics in 2010, Shadoweyes tells the story of a teenage girl in a dystopian city wishing she could fight crime until she tries it, gets konked on the head, and begins transforming into a monster, which results in trading her humanity to fulfill her desire to be powerful enough to strike back at predators and bullies. The cost that comes along with her new form and abilities bypasses the typical cheap wish fulfillment and attendant issues that go along with the Steve Ditko Spider-Man archetype that Mark Millar tapped into for Kick-Ass to result in a conflicted new form.
While it’s one of Campbell’s most idiosyncratic comics, it’s also an ideal entry point for readers who discovered her work through Jem and the Holograms. Ever since I first started following her work nearly a decade ago with The Abandoned, when her Wet Moon saga was still in its early days, Campbell was garnering the same praise that she is now for the racial, gender, and body diversity at the time, we just didn’t have those terms for it at the time. There are many entry points into her work as a writer/artist that retain strong queer representation as well as rich diversity, but Shadoweyes stands out both artistically and story wise as the genesis of the current phase of her career.
Visually it stands out for being her first major work to begin incorporating the sharper more angular inking that deviates from her earlier softer style, but familiar design choices and body types emerge here that later go on to form the backbone of her Jem designs. Sparkle, one of the supporting characters, sports the same lighting bolt buzzed into the side of her head as Pizzazz and Noah, the target of Scout/Shadoweyes and Keysha’s mutual affection, clearly points the way towards her conception of Rio. There is also what appears to be some pastiche of Warhammer 40K and Magic The Gathering that employs MLP like magical ponies in the comic, so there’s even a certain amount of continuity with the giant MLP plushes that have been sneaking their way into Jem & The Holograms.
One of the most interesting, and intriguing, elements of Shadoweyes that separates it from the rest of Campbell’s work is how it conceptualizes of the body horror element inherent in Scout’s transformation. There certainly is, to borrow a phrase from Breaking Bad, a Kafkaesque quality similar to The Fly but there comes to be sympathetic elements of her situation with trans identity including a kind of coming out narrative to her mother after her transformation becomes permanent. What makes it remarkable both now and then is that Scout/Shadoweyes and Keysha have a conversation about that similarity and Scout broaches the topic of going to Keysha’s intersex group. Keysha, who is intersex herself and faces abuse and transmisogynist slurs for it, shoots the idea down, telling Scout that whatever she is, she isn’t intersex or trans.
It’s an exemplar of my contention that fantasy metaphors for the struggles for marginalized groups need parallel representation of people from those groups and Campbell was already blazing that trail five years ago. While she may not be the influential on a wide scale within comics, Campbell has been working in the current zeitgeist and delivering what readers are demanding in larger numbers than ever before for her entire career. Backing Iron Circus’ first full color paperback comic is more than just getting a physical copy of a web based series, it serves to restore a cornerstone in the body of work of one of the most transformative and imaginative creators to emerge in the last decade.
Emma Houxbois is a fiercely queer trans woman from the wilds of Canada, most recently spotted in the Pacific Northwest. She is a two time IWC Women’s World Champion and has written about comics for the web since 2005 for sites including Playboy, Bitch Media, and Graphic Policy.