Long before his band My Chemical Romance found international success, Gerard Way was hard at work on another passion: comic-book art. He first began publishing comics when he was 16 years old, with the short-lived series On Raven’s Wings; later, he attended NYC’s School of Visual Arts and worked as an intern at DC Comics. On Thursday night, at a panel during Seattle’s Emerald City Comicon, Way surprised attendees by announcing his reunion with the company via his very own mature-reader imprint, DC’s Young Animal.
For Young Animal — which follows Way’s non-DC comic series The Umbrella Academy — Way will be curating, overseeing and even writing many of the titles, maintaining full continuity with the DC Universe. The series launches in September with Way’s take on vintage series Doom Patrol, which will be written by the singer and feature art by Nick Derington. Shade, the Changing Girl, written by Cecil Castellucci and with art by Marly Zarcone, will launch in October, along with Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye, co-written by Way and Rivera, with art by Michael Avon Oeming. Finally, in November, Mother Panic — co-written by Way and Jody Houser with art by Tommy Lee Edwards — will premiere, introducing the Gotham City heiress and street vigilante Violet Paige.
In his first interview about the upcoming project, Way explained to Rolling Stone what readers can expect from Young Animal, the themes he plans to explore in the various titles and what it means for him as a lifelong comic-book fan to leave his mark on the characters and stories he grew up on.
You’ve found a lot of ways to fuse your background in visual art with your music career, but how does it feel to finally focus your energy primarily on your love for comics?
It feels great. A monthly book is a lot different than the limited series that I was doing — and still continue to do — with Umbrella Academy. We’re on Series Three right now, and you really have a long time to write those things. You plan those out pretty far in advance. Being a comic-book writer for a monthly book is a whole different animal, and you end up putting a lot of yourself into it — a lot of personal things I feel. And that happens in Umbrella Academy, too, but it feels more immediate because you need material to sell those books. To get back to your question, it feels amazing. I come in, and I help edit. I art-direct; I help put the teams together; I give people directions. Sometimes I write scenes, things like that. It’s using all of my skills, which is really great, and it’s more focused than when I was doing art for the band, but it’s very similar.
Growing up, what was your relationship with DC Comics?
I love all the companies, really. They all have a place in my heart. I started by reading X-Men, and then I discovered Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns. What I got from DC was this different kind of cerebral comics that I felt like I wasn’t getting with normal superhero stuff. The fact that DC was doing it immediately just latched me onto DC, and it elevated their importance to me. Not only did I have great books like Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns and things like that, but there was also Doom Patrol coming out and then the birth of [mature-reader DC imprint] Vertigo shortly after. I’ve been with DC really ever since.
You’re describing the Young Animal imprint as “comics for dangerous humans.” Can you explain the meaning behind that?
Aside from sounding extremely cool to me, I’d like to think that the comics exist for people that want something different or would like mature-reader takes on DCU characters. It’s also there for people that maybe don’t normally like superhero comics.
I like to think everybody is a potentially dangerous human, so one of the things about the line that was really important to me was that it really can reach more people than just a certain type of audience. The books are all constructed to be enjoyed by people that like all different kinds of books. Even the books that have superheroes in them aren’t completely superhero books. They’re all really unique. It’s interesting and different. So [dangerous humans] is a nod to the potential readers. I like to think of dangerous humans as potential readers.
I know Doom Patrol will be launching the imprint. What can we expect from your take on it?
Doom Patrol was a really crazy odyssey for me. It’s the most important superhero comic book to me; it kind of always has been, since when I was young reading Grant Morrison’s stuff, and then Rachel Pollack’s run. After Rachel Pollack’s run, I had really kind of moved on to more indie stuff, like Eightball and Hate by Peter Bagge. I started moving to Fantagraphics stuff, although I did read Love and Rockets early on because I had a friend who had a cool sister who collected Love and Rockets comics. But that was also my kind of gateway into Fantagraphics books.
After that, I went back when they started reprinting [Doom Patrol], and I read all the original series from the Sixties. Those early Doom Patrols were also a big influence on Umbrella Academy as well. One of the things that I took away from re-reading all of the runs is that every writer came in, and every artist came in, and they did their own take; they did their own thing. I think my starting point was Grant’s material, and then the further I got into the process, I started to draw from all of the continuity and all of the writers’ runs. I have every issue of Doom Patrol that ever existed, so there’s great things about everybody’s run, and I’m trying to incorporate all of them.
My take is a brand-new take. I would say, to me- it feels like a cross between, kind of the super strange things that were going on around the time of Grant Morrison and Rachel Pollack, and then it has a lot of the spirit of the original series from the Sixties. It also has this indie kind of feel like Love and Rockets. Love and Rockets is a big influence.
My take’s very different, and I think I owe that to readers of Doom Patrol. I think if I came in and just did fan fiction of something then that would be no good. Aside from that, I’m a completely different writer than Grant. He’s my hero and he’s my mentor, but I can’t go near what he did. Like, it’s so great and it’s so intellectual. There’s a certain way he wrote that comic that I can’t do, so I’m not going to.
How has it been for you, as a longtime fan of DC and also as an artist yourself, to come in and honor these characters while also creating something unique and true to your style?
It’s been interesting because obviously I want to come in and do things that are pretty different and exciting and experimental and take risks. That’s very important to me. I try to bring that to everything that I do. Because of that, you get some people who dig what you’re doing and some people that don’t dig it. You’re not going to please everybody.
At the same time, I take comics really seriously and I respect legacies. Instead of just saying, “Alright I’m just going to reboot Doom Patrol,” I went and re-read the entire Doom Patrol. It’s been important for me to respect the legacy and also take the risk to move it forward.
What sorts of themes are you hoping to touch on with the new characters and stories that you’re developing?
The themes vary, obviously, because the books are so different, but a lot of it has to do with relationships between parents and children. There are a couple of situations where it’s [between a] father and daughter [and] mother and daughter. Alienation seems to be a theme. How we look at fame and celebrity is a theme. These are all things that I’m kind of interested in that I’m trying to inject into these books, and being able to deal with mature themes is something that’s really exciting. There are things that are pretty out there. Like with Shade, it’s [dealing with] teenagers and there’s drug use. So we will be dealing with mature themes, and we’re still working that out. We have this playground now to play with all that stuff in, and I’m sure sure there’s gonna be a lot of personal stuff for me in Doom Patrol that deals with mature themes.
[Also], there seems to be a lot about self-actualization and becoming something else. It deals with a lot of change. I feel like change is one of the biggest themes in all the books. There’s a strangeness that comes with it. But change is a big thing. We’re gonna put these characters through a lot.
I know you also did a bit with Marvel and Spider-Man last year, and of course you have Umbrella Academy, so I’m curious if those projects will still exist, or is DC your official home now?
It is my home, but at the same time I still have an amazing relationship with Dark Horse Comics. Umbrella Academy — so that book is coming out. I’ll always love my Dark Horse family. I’m not exclusive with DC, but at the same time, I’m doing so much work right now, I can’t really see doing anything else. I’m very invested in this imprint, so I’m going to devote a lot of attention to that, and I’m here for the long haul with it. I want Young Animal to be something that does stick around. I want this to be the start of a lot of different great, interesting, experimental books for DC and DCU characters and superheroes.
Is your young daughter into comic books yet?
I don’t push anything too hard on my daughter, but at the same time, when we first started to show her words and reading, I did that through comics because she loved the pictures. We would get My Little Pony or Adventure Time, and I would read it out to her. Then we graduated to other superhero books and more grown-up stuff like X-Men, and I would read her Doom Patrol and things like that. One of the things we do together is read comics, when I’m not reading regular books to her. I like to read a lot to her. I’ve steered her towards it a little bit, but I do like her finding her own things.