Gerard Way on His DC Comics Imprint Young Animal, Music, and Making Art to Make a Difference | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Gerard Way on His DC Comics Imprint Young Animal, Music, and Making Art to Make a Difference

We Need Voices

Nov 28, 2016 DC Comics Bookmark and Share

“I believe there is an artistic subconscious that people share. I feel like artists and creative types gel up. It’s really strange but it happens all the time, that elusive Zeitgeist thing that people talk about. People just unconsciously end up on the same wavelength in the world.”

Gerard Way and I are sitting in the Donor Lounge of Durham’s Carolina Theatre on the second day of North Carolina Comicon. Way was formerly the frontman for My Chemical Romance from 2001 to 2013 and in 2014 released his debut solo album, Hesitant Alien. But in recent years he’s also been focusing on his successful comic book writing career, most notably with his Eisner Award winning series for Dark Horse Comics, The Umbrella Academy. This afternoon Way’s made his way up to the lounge just after finishing a panel for Mother Panic, one of the four new titles he’s launched for his Young Animal imprint on DC Comics. This morning was the panel for Shade, The Changing Girl and tomorrow there will be ones for the two comics Way is personally writing, Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye and Doom Patrol. At last night’s “An Evening With Gerard Way” he kicked off the event by reading something he’d written the morning after the election two days previous. “I’m not going to talk about politics,” and proceeded very movingly to speak about what is needed right now for us as people to keep going and heal. How important it is to create, and in doing so create the world around us and make a better one. And how absolutely vital it is to have the courage to be who you are. In their own way (and Gerard imagines the four series will link up at points), each of these new comics are dealing with precisely these thingscharacters coming to terms with the strange and violent new worlds they find themselves inand taking them on with style and heart.

Aug Stone (Under the Radar): How is your year going?

Gerard Way: It’s going really good. It’s very busy but it’s been really positive. [My daughter] Bandit’s in second grade now and it’s really exciting. She loves school and it’s just great to see her grow and turn into this person. Work has kept me really happy, I’m doing something I love to do. I think the best thing anybody can do right now is bring positivity to people. We really need it. We need art, and we need voices, and we need people saying what they’re feeling. I talk to my therapist a lot about healing and she’s observed that it’s something I have an inclination towards. It all starts with yourself, and if you need healing maybe you can help heal other people.

In My Chemical Romance, there was the mission to change people’s lives. And I still see that in the comics, the characters’ lives are changing and they have to deal with it. That’s such an important mission to have but I also imagine it’s really difficult to keep up that level of intensity.

That’s a great question because it was basically impossible to keep that up. And that’s kind of what happened to me. I was talking to [My Chemical Romance’s guitarist] Ray [Toro] recently and we were trying to make sense of My Chemical Romance and what really happened with me and how I felt about it. And I said that it’s hard to feel or convey peacefulness if you sound like a freight train, you know? So that was one side of it. With wanting to change people’s lives, I guess eventually I started to feel that I was either failing people or I wasn’t changing people’s lives or maybe the band was losing potency… It just started to unravel for me, that’s what happened with the band.

I see this mission with the comics as well.

Yeah, and I guess my way of channeling that same kind of energy is into the books. I would love the books to be able to change minds or open minds. I think the Young Animal books are really about expansion, and introspection, and questioning yourself in the universe. I feel like some of the books are a bit cosmic, especially Doom Patrol. It’s very cosmic. And I dig that.

Do you ever have to remind yourself of that mission?

[Thinks.] I don’t necessarily know that that’s specifically the mission anymore. I think it’s really about sharing, and getting people to share. And getting people to experiment and make things and make art. I feel that’s more of the direction now. I don’t feel like leading a charge anymore. There’s something about that that…it’s not so much the responsibility but there’s a weird kind of power that comes with it, a kind of power I wasn’t interested in having. Power is a very corruptible thing. And I think even with the best intentions and wanting to use power for good, you can still find pitfalls there, and it can really eat you up and mess with your psychology.

What did you learn from writing The Umbrella Academy and The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys that you’re now bringing to Young Animal?

[Gets excited.] I learned a lot from working with two great editors, Scott Allie [Umbrella Academy] and Sierra Hahn [Killjoys]. Obviously I had gone to SVA [School of Visual Arts] and I had great teachers like Klaus Janson, Carmine Infantino, Sal Amendola, Joe Orlando before he passed away, Joey Cavalieri, and Dame Darcy, a smattering of different types of comic book artists and writers. So in coming into Umbrella Academy it was like getting a crash refresher course from Scott about mechanics. My first instinct was just to throw a bunch of weirdness out there and see what sticks. But Scott made me go in and re-engineer that to make it pay off. It can’t just be weird, you have to have some meaning behind what you’re doing. There has to be a reason for the weirdness. I learned a lot from him, a lot about dialogue. He definitely beat me into shape. Some of those comics I had to do eight drafts of, I think even one of them had nine drafts.

And with Killjoys I learned how to really be a collaborator with somebody making a book. Sharing and compromise, things like that. Coming together with somebody else to make one shared vision. And Sierra was great for that. Very encouraging, very inspiring. A great editor asks the right questions. I’ve been very lucky to work with great editors constantly.

Listening to you talk at the panels I get the sense that you really enjoy this collaborative effort.

I do. It’s very important, vital. Being in a band teaches you about collaboration, and over time there’s things that can obscure collaboration. Press has a way of inflating your ego. You can start as a great collaborator, but if you go off the rails you can become a bad one. Having ended the band, I needed to relearn how to be a collaborator. I was a bit controlling towards the end of My Chemical Romance, so I really took that to heart. Everything since I left My Chemical Romance has been about how I can improve myself, looking at my faults, looking inward and saying, “What can I do better? How can I become better?” I started with communicating clearly and directly and honestly with people. And then I moved into becoming a good collaborator. So that’s why collaboration is so important to Young Animal, because there’s a lot of very hard work that happens by a lot of people to make sure these things come out and they come out great. Comics are really hard to make. And I think different perspectives and different voices is what makes Young Animal special.

So what’s going on with Umbrella Academy?

I’m still writing and Gabriel [Bá] is still drawing. There was a little bit of a speed bump with getting Young Animal going and writing Doom Patrol and stuff like that. There were little moments where it had to dip out but I’m getting back on track.

And there’s a TV show of it in the works. Like anything in Hollywood, you can never truly be sure what’s gonna happen with it. But everything’s been very positive and we’ve had meetings with different companies and they’re very interested in Umbrella Academy, so we’ll have to see. I don’t get my hopes up too much for that stuff. If it happens then you appreciate it.

How much will you be involved in the TV show?

I’m involved in a minimal sense. I’m at the pitch meetings. I basically provide support to Jeremy Slater who is the showrunner/writer and he has a distinct vision for the show. I trust his vision, because he’s just trying to make the best version of Gabriel’s and my comic.

How did you choose the characters for Young Animal?

Obviously Young Animal is rooted in the work of Karen Berger starting Vertigo, and the work of all her creators who she discovered at that time. And then into the work of Shelly Bond in taking over Vertigo and also working at Vertigo with Karen Berger. The work those two women did, as well as all the editors at Vertigo during that period, was a huge inspiration. So I knew I wanted one or two books rooted in that. But I also knew I wanted to then separate the line from Vertigo and be able to say, “It’s not quite Vertigo.” Because it isn’t, it was going to be different. DC characters hadn’t been a part of Vertigo in a really long time. I thought it would be strange to bring those characters back to Vertigo now that Vertigo had grown into its own wonderful creator-owned thing. But that’s why Cave Carson was chosen because it was like, “Okay, I don’t think Cave would ever have been in Vertigo.” But it’s still mature readers and it’s on the fringes of the DC universe so it is its own thing. I also don’t necessarily think a Gotham book would’ve been in Vertigo either so then we brought in Mother Panic. Young Animal is a little more strongly connected to the DC universe than some of the Vertigo books had become at a certain point because they really did end up in their own worlds.

Tell me about your feelings about Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol.

Oh man, that’s the series that when I re-read it after they started re-releasing the trades, that made me want to write comics and get back into comics. It really gave me the inspiration to be free and make cool and strange and fun comics. It felt like something like that was missing from comics, even though Grant is involved tremendously and makes work to this day, it felt like there was something in that Doom Patrol run that was missing from comics. And I believe I was able from my end in my work to transform that a little bit too. And not just do a cover band version of that stuff.

What inspired you to put Flex Mentallo in?

I love Flex. I loved him in Grant’s run, how he pops in and is a major part of this one arc, and then he pops out and then has his own adventure in the Frank Quitely book. I was like, “We have to use Flex.” I find him so interesting.

How did you get into Morning Pages?

I got into it through the book The Artist’s Way. At first I was very resistant to them but then I realized what they were actually doing and how they were getting me through. They started to become kind of a therapy. They’re a very useful tool and it was all I felt I needed at that point so I didn’t continue on with The Artist’s Way. Although I do still find things in that book to be very useful even if I don’t get to do them. Like when they suggest you take an Artist’s Date and you go to the museum or you go see a movie by yourself, you do something to refill the well. I think that stuff is very important. For Morning Pages I got this amazing little device called the Freewrite, which is basically a word processor where you can’t go back and edit, you can only delete what you’ve just written. It’s really for getting out stream-of-consciousness. It’s probably great for writing a book or something where you just have to get a draft. For my purposes it’s not super great for writing comics, because to me while you’re writing comics you’re moving around a lot, editing, shuffling, and shifting.

How did you get into Transcendental Meditation?

I think the same way a lot of people did, through David Lynch, hearing him talk about it and then watching videos about his foundation that brings it to prisons and schools. Then I just said, “I’m gonna do this. I feel like I’m ready for something new in my life to help me better understand my brain or maximize my headspace.” And my wife and I went to the classes and we really enjoy it. It’s really good at quieting my mind, during the process and then throughout the rest of the day until I do my second session. So far we’re loving it.

How do you view writing lyrics versus writing comics?

I’ve learned to play to my strengths in terms of writing comics so I’ve learned to be more lyrical. I do believe it is a strength of mine to be a lyricist. For a lot of Umbrella ‘til maybe the second series, it was me writing how I thought I was supposed to write comics. And then the more I wrote comics I started to realize that I needed to bring more of myself into the way I did the writing. So I started to bring in things like rhythm and a lyrical quality. You see a lot of that in Doom Patrol, at least once or twice per issue. These lyrical tangents and sometimes the way the characters speak. When you have to produce something month to month, it’s gotta come from somewhere. And my default mode is to be lyrical. When I really need to get something on the page and I really need to make the book work sometimes I find my way into a character through writing like it was lyrics.

What are you doing musically at the moment?

I’m writing music, but I’m pretty casual about it at the moment. I would love to make a record next year. It would be great to start another one because I’m starting to get the itch to tour, but I still wanna be really focused on Young Animal. It would be great to find a way in my life to make both work, because I really truly enjoy doing both. I do miss music a little bit, but I got to do a song with Ray Toro for Cave Carson so I have kept the musical spirit alive.

My standard last question (and there’s a special resonance here because Casey Brinke’s mom in Doom Patrol does just this) is if you had stolen a space shuttle and were flying it directly into the Sun, what would you want to be listening to?

Oh my God, probably David Bowie. But not like something too on the nose [laughs] like “Space Oddity.” Or “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed. “Perfect Day” is probably great for flying into the sun.


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Colin Counsellor
November 23rd 2018

“I believe there is an artistic subconscious that people share. I feel like artists and creative types gel up. It’s really strange but it happens all the time, that elusive Zeitgeist thing that people talk about. People just unconsciously end up on the same wavelength in the world.”