Presented and curated by Gerard Way, writer of The Umbrella Academy and frontman for My Chemical Romance, the Young Animals imprint of DC Comics is inspired by the visionary work of DC’s experimental past while also being shaped by today. Kicking things off, Way and artist Nick Derington are putting their unique stamp on the world’s strangest heroes taking on the universe’s strangest villains, with Doom Patrol.
Beyond that release, whether it’s an alien taking over the body of a 16-year-old bully in Shade, The Changing Girl (from writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Marley Zarcone), a man with a cybernetic eye and his college-age daughter traveling to dark places deep in the earth and mind in Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye (from Way and co-writer Jon Rivera and artist Michael Avon Oeming), or a celebrity heiress by day and brutal vigilante by night who takes on the underbelly of Gotham City’s high society in Mother Panic (from Jody Houser and artist Tommy Lee Edwards), each subsequent comic series will have different story tones and distinct art styles that will result in a stand-out visual look with bold concepts, mature themes and a lot of heart.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, Gerard Way talked about how he’s always had the goal of writing comic books, the detour he took on the way, as the frontman for the hugely popular band My Chemical Romance, what he enjoys about collaborating with different artists, and how he avoids staring at the blank page. He also talked about how cool it is to have The Umbrella Academy being developed into a TV series and whether he’d ever see himself writing an episode, as well as what it’s like to currently be celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Black Parade album.
Collider: Had you always wanted to do comics, and then the music thing ended up being a detour?
GERARD WAY: Yeah, the plan was that I was going to do comics, and then the music just cam up in my life and was a detour. I went to art school and interned at DC, and then did the band. When that stuff comes up, you’ve gotta embrace it and run with it for as long as you can, and I did. I did that for as long as I felt I could. I knew that I always wanted to keep making music, but I knew that comics needed to be a part of my life.
What’s it like to be in charge of the Young Animal imprint at DC? Is that totally surreal?
WAY: It is. It’s interesting, there are a lot of similarities with being in the music business or being in a band, where a lot of it is business work you’ve gotta do, like emails. It’s weird, I don’t feel like I’m in charge. I feel like I’m guiding the teams and we’re all making this together. It feels more free-spirited and less structured, but we have our deadlines and that’s important. We have an editorial team, but we’re having fun. I get to guide them.
How is the experience of working and collaborating with different artists for each of the comics on the imprint?
WAY: It’s amazing! I don’t like to write a script unless I know who the artist is. A lot of people can do it without that, and that’s cool, but I like to look at the art. When I did The Umbrella Academy, I studied Gabriel Bá’s art. I said, “Oh, this is what he likes to do here. Maybe I can push him to do a little more of this.” You can play to those strengths. It’s a different scenario with each artist.
For people not familiar with the comic books you have under the Young Animal imprint, what can you say about them?
WAY: There’s Doom Patrol, which is the world’s strangest superheroes, and they’re making their return. There’s a long tradition there. I think the jump off point was Grant Morrison’s material, Rachel Pollack’s material, and some of the ‘60s run thrown in, as well. And then, I started to read the other incarnations, like [Keith] Giffen’s run. I still haven’t read [John] Arcudi’s or John Byrne’s yet. It’s steeped in tradition. It’s a very new feeling topic, but it has a legacy that I respect.
Mother Panic is a really different take on a Gotham vigilante. The other for Mother Panic started with, what if Bruce Wayne’s cover was so good that he was horrible? What if his cover was that he was just so over-the-top that he was perceived as horrible? Violet is not horrible, but she’s definitely perceived as that. She’s somebody who’s brash and outspoken, and there’s a lot of commentary on celebrity these days, which I don’t feel like they play with too much in Batman, in terms of Bruce Wayne. That’s giving us another avenue to talk about that.
Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye is this really obscure character that was a half-inch journal entry in the encyclopedia, and I saw a lot of potential for that character. It’s an adventure series.
And then, there’s Shade, The Changing Girl, which is super exciting. It’s a reinvented take on the character, and it mixes a little bit from [Steve] Ditko and [Peter] Milligan. I feel like all these books honor the tradition of them and the legacy, but do something completely new. This is the first time that Shade, even though our Shade is a different person, has inhabited the body of a 16-year-old bully.
There’s new twists on all this stuff. And a lot of these books are about father-daughter relationships. I think everybody’s book is about somebody’s daughter, in a lot of ways. I dig that. And the teams are so great. Cecil Castellucci is writing Shade, who is the perfect writer for it. I love her young adult stuff, and it’s pretty hardcore and visceral, so I knew she was going to bring that to the book. Jody Houser, who writes Mother Panic, has this noir-ish superhero style. She’s very adaptable. To me, Mother Panic is very different than Faith, which was really good. She’s able to change tones, and I feel like she’s really got a handle on that character.
Is it intimidating, at all, to take over Doom Patrol from Grant Morrison?
WAY: It’s interesting, even though his run is probably the most memorable run of that, aside from the original, which is really remembered, I feel like so many other people have done their versions, as well, so I don’t necessarily feel like I’m picking up the book from Grant as much as I’m just picking up the book from a lot of people. There is an intimidation that comes with that. I was freaking out, writing the first issues. It was so hard to write. I was banging my head against the desk. The way I write is that, every time I reintroduced a character, I’d have to face some kind of inner demon. It was like, “All right, I’m going to be thinking about this character for three days now,” while I was in a pit of despair.
Are you someone who gets horrified by the black page while you’re writing, or do you get excited by the challenge?
WAY: Sometimes it can be really exciting, but I avoid the blank page now. What I do is hand write everything. When you’re hand writing, there’s never a blank page, really. There’s so much you can do with that. That’s why I start my process hand written, and then I dump it in. It’s like you’re getting a second draft ‘cause when I put it in the computer, I fix it and change stuff. That’s my process. I picked that up from speaking to Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill. I was messing around with the idea of starting to write more, writing a book and doing things like this, and I reached out for advice. They were like, “Oh, we hand write, and then we dump it all in.” I was like, “Great! There’s no more blank pages.” Now I have notebooks that are filled up, mostly with Doom Patrol, but also angry letters to myself mixed in with the comic.
How cool is it to get to see The Umbrella Academy developing into a TV series?
WAY: It’s really cool.
Was that something you’d always seen the possibility of?
WAY: No. It’s been crazy, but it’s calmed down again. It was crazy when it won the Eisner. And then, a week later, it was picked up for a movie and I was on that roller coaster for a bit. I allowed myself to become distracted by that, and it prevented me from making more really good comics, which really was the end game. It’s cool if people want to make movies of stuff, but I’m really interested in the comics.
Have you thought about writing an episode of the TV show?
WAY: I don’t know if I could. I would if it had nothing to do with the comic. It would be really weird and maybe not feature any of The Umbrella Academy characters.
When you’re working on the comics, do you think of the characters and world visually, as well?
WAY: I’m a visual thinker, so I think of everything visually, first. A lot of what an issue will become for me starts with me thinking, “What’s a great cover?,” or “What’s the splash image?,” or “What is the title of the issue? How do I see the text?” I think about all of that stuff, and then the story comes out of that imagery. I do that with everything. Thinking visually is my starting point, and then the writing happens.
How do you set up the work on all of these comics? Do you have a schedule for when you work on each one?
WAY: I do. I have schedules that separate everything. The monthly books that I’m completely writing by myself are Doom Patrol and The Umbrella Academy. For Cave Carson, I have a co-writer, so that takes off a lot of the pressure. And then, on top of all that, I’m helping to edit all of the Young Animal books. So, there’s a lot for me to do, but I have a pretty rigid schedule.
What’s it like to know that you’ve also hit the 10th anniversary of the My Chemical Romance album, The Black Parade? Do you feel like you’re a very different person now than you were then?
WAY: Oh, my god! I was talking to Cecil [Castellucci], who writes Shade, and I was saying to her, and she was saying the same thing, that I’m not even the same person who wrote the first issue of Doom Patrol, and that was six months ago. I’m a totally different person now, already. It’s weird to look back at stuff, but it’s an honor that there’s a legacy of people who still keep it in their heads. It’s really cool!