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Gerard Way: Broadening Comics' Audience with Umbrella Academy

A comics interview article by: Gemma Milroy
Gerard Way, writer of Dark Horse’s Umbrella Academy miniseries [the third issue of which went on sale last week], is currently on tour with his band My Chemical Romance. Despite his busy schedule, Way took a few moments to chat with SBC’s Gemma Milroy (who interviewed Umbrella Academy’s artist Gabriel Bá a few months back) about the project. Special thanks to Dark Horse’s Jacq Cohen for facilitating this interview.

Gemma Milroy (GM): With your busy schedule, how did you find the time to develop the Umbrella Academy?

Gerard Way (GW): Well you know it definitely took me a couple of years, I wasn’t in a rush per say. I was excited about doing it, but I really wanted to develop it well. I wanted to take my time with it. It started on a tour called Taste of Chaos, which was two or three years, and that’s kind of when I started working on it. So I’ve been working on it for two or three years. And then overall it’s been something I’ve been interested in for a long time so I’d find the time regularly to script it. I have to really work it into my day; it’s a bit crazy so I have to block time aside to do it.

GM: In my interview with Gabriel Bá, he said, "Gerard has a very defined idea of what he wants visually." With that in mind, looking over Bá's pages, have there been specific scenes that exceeded your original vision of a scene?

GW: Y’know, he has pretty much nailed it. He really helped shaped the world. I would literally describe things in a couple of sentences and I think right away he knew what the aesthetics were. He knew what the feel of the world was and it’s kind of one of these worlds where it’s a little bit nostalgic--when wrestling was still real, when the cars were still cool looking, but it’s when everything is really kind of pure and things like that.

It has an element of the 1960s to it, science fiction in Europe, and Europe was a big part. I have a distinct vision for sure and for the characters, but a lot of times he’ll really reinterpret that sort of thing. He does a great job of it. In issue three, they fight these killer robots called Terminauts and he spent a week redesigning them--just sending over hundreds of drawings of these things to get them right.

GM: What was your reaction when you found out the first issue of Umbrella Academy had sold out?

GW: I was really surprised. I was surprised the day it came out we did a signing and there were a lot of people there. I was genuinely surprised at that and I was surprised at the reviews being amazing, then I was surprised that the fact that it sold out clean in one day. It really blew my mind; I was so excited for that. It was really cool. And I think the fact that people took the comic seriously and did not take my other career into account when they were reading it was really, really awesome.

GM: Your creative pursuits have taken your career in several different directions, have you ever thought you would get back into comic books after your success in your other work?

GW: I had always dreamed about still doing comics, I wasn’t sure if I could go back to doing that. I definitely still drew all those years in the tour bus while on tour. I always kept a sketchbook with me. I was always drawing--I was always making art, always coming up with ideas and trying to write stories. So I knew eventually I was going to be able to hopefully do something, but I wasn’t sure if I would ever have the time or the ability to go back and do comics. I just went for it because I really wanted something out there. I really wanted a book that I could write every month--be working on something that’s just really crazy and fun. That’s kind of the world we’re really setting up in series one.

GM: How did you come up with such a diverse bunch of characters?

GW: I really just started drawing; I based them initially on what I found visually interesting, and then I assigned them their powers based on that. I knew that I wanted a man who used to have a human body and now has a Martian gorilla body, I knew that for sure. I knew I wanted him to have a jetpack. I knew I wanted his gorilla body to be impervious to the pressure of space, so it’s almost like this biological space suit that he was currently attached to and I really like that, and so he was the first character. Then came The Séance. I wanted a character that was very influenced by German silent films as well as expressionism and certain kinds of art and I wanted a character that was very angular, almost like I could picture him being a German interpretative dancer--some kind of oddball like that, like a real artistic kind of oddball. I knew I wanted him to be supernatural but then it just came together with these two characters, and I slowly started to build them. I knew I wanted a chimp and they weren’t a family initially either, the family thing came later, the fact that they are adopted, that they were brothers and sisters actually came later. They were kind of initially flung together by fate and then I had figured that they were all adopted because I wanted to explain their birth in a really interesting way, to do something pretty radically different. I wanted that beginning to be almost like a bunch of coincidences happening at once.

GM: With Dark Horse properties like Hellboy seeing success as movies and animated projects, if you were offered a movie deal for the Umbrella Academy would you be interested?

GW: Yeah I’d definitely be interested. I think anyone that makes something like a comic or a book would be interested in it becoming a film. I find that maybe some people are not, but I find it extremely thrilling especially if it was done the right way. I guess the people that aren’t excited about it are the people that have had their books made into films. It definitely couldn’t be a big Hollywood blockbuster for sure. It definitely couldn’t be pitched to the public as that. I guess if it was way more artistic it could be a really interesting film. So yeah, id be really interested in that.

GM: Did you get the chance to help pick the letters that ran in the third issue of the mini-series?

GW: No, [editor] Scott [Allie] picks all that stuff. I totally trust Scott to pick it and they are fun for me to read when the issues come out actually. I enjoy reading the skepticism and then the other people that really enjoy it. It’s interesting to read.

GM: Are you pleased that your success and popularity has attracted new readers to comic books, much like Joss Whedon's Buffy comic has drawn in new readers?

GW: That’s probably the second most rewarding thing. Probably the initial biggest reason to do a comic, for myself you know to do one. It was to attract people to comics, to bring people to that industry because I have such a love for it. That was the big thing. The first was simply just wanting to tell a story and really have the passion, and secondly that was the goal, to bring readers to comics. And at signings, when I meet a lot of these kids at signings a lot of them its their first American comic book ever read, they have only read manga up until this point.

I just really enjoyed doing this. I’m lucky to have the opportunity with Dark Horse, it’s an amazing family. Scott is an amazing editor; he really pulls this stuff together. Scott really makes sure it comes out on time, he really gets the best out of me, I think we already get the best of Gabriel but he really pushes me to get the best out of me. I think it makes the series special, I think everybody involved in it is really special, like [colorist] Dave Stewart and [letterer] Nate Piekos. Dave has turned down much bigger projects so he can keep working on the Umbrella Academy as one of his books and I really love that.

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