In the Gerard Way Spotlight panel at WonderCon hosted by Young Animal editor, Jamie Rich, they decided to talk about the “secret comic book origin of Gerard Way”.
Way said he discovered comics pretty heavily in the 3rd grade, and was into drawing from a young age. He knew he wanted to be an artist. He was always into music, too. As a teen, he was into Dungeons & Dragons, and friends of his had a college-aged brother DM. He still plays D&D, he said.
There’s a comic book shop in Doom Patrol that’s based on a comic shop that Way “grew up” in, he said. There he discovered obscure stuff, and other types of comics like Love and Rockets. The shop closed after a robbery, which he was present during. It was the kind of shop where you could hang out, and eventually they let you work behind the counter, he laughed.
Asked about what appealed to him about Doom Patrol, Way said it was his first experience with group therapy and characters who struggled with mental health. Up to that point, reading X-Men, the biggest issue for the characters was that they were “too attractive”, by contrast. He found the comics to be therapeutic, and they helped explain the differences between people and learn to embrace that. It was the birth of Vertigo, though, that also brought him into “cooler stuff” following.
Asked if he’s trying to send a message or just entertain, Way said that in Doom Patrol he feels he can talk about mental health, since the series has a history of that. They are not trying to recapture Vertigo in Young Animal, but using older characters is a main connection.
Asked if Vertigo seemed his direction or plan, Way said he was really into vigilantes early on, especially indie ones like Faust, often “hyper-violent”, so that was the early stuff that he wrote. When he discovered Vertigo, it brought a little more “maturity” to what he was doing.
Way and Jon Rivera met while students at the School of Visual Arts, and Farel Dalrymple was there at the same time, too. SVA was one of the only schools that focused on comics back in the day, to get a degree while learning to make comics, so it was an appealing place.
After art school, Way tried to break into comics for a couple of years, then landed an amazing job doing toy design. He did that until his band at the time started to take off. Then he had to quit the toy design job and give up on comics for awhile to focus on the band.
Rich said that My Chemical Romance often seemed presented in a “comicbooky” way and asked if Way was conscious of that. Way said yes, that the art that he brought to the band was intended to use all his skills. Creating characters and worlds was one of his comic book skills, so he worked it into the music he was making.
Rich observed that Way has a knack for titles, characters, names, and the like, and Way commented that a band called Umbrella Brigade appealed to him, which influenced the title of Umbrella Academy.
Asked how Umbrella Academy got started, Way said that at that point, the band was touring a great deal and not creating much, so he started to miss being creative. At that time, the Doom Patrol graphic novels were being printed, and Way reconnected with the story. Reading that version of Doom Patrol inspired him to go back to making comics. Umbrella Academy was inspired by the original Doom Patrol series, he said.
Asked how long the time was between touring for Revenge with My Chemical Romance, creating Black Parade, and creating Umbrella Academy, Way said he was creating characters and drawings in a notebook ahead of time, and then when the time opened up, it was time to work. The comic came out one year later. Editor Scott Allie at Dark Horse brought in Gabriel Ba on art, Way said.
Asked about Way’s collaboration with Ba, Way said he’d suggest artistic influences and styles, and Ba immediately got it, also drawing on architecture from his native Sao Paolo in Brazil. Way feels like he was “winging it” constantly, though, but that was intentional, since he didn’t like the mainstream comics problem of having to know everything in continuity to appreciate them. He wanted to make people feel there was a long history without actually having to know anything. He felt he knew the characters well, so little bits of info would just pop out about their lives and histories.
Asked about what it was like to start doing comic conventions, Way said it’s very different than touring with music. He feels comics are more “direct”, talking about the characters and stories with fans and finding out what they love. Whereas with music, fans are connecting with the music rather than characters, so it’s less specific.
Asked about how he started writing Doom Patrol, Way said he’d had been talking to Shelly Bond about writing Doom Patrol, but it was years later before he was officially writing it. After reading Morrison’s last graphic novel, the talks started.
He’s also building a home studio and will soon be starting to make music again, he said, to applause. He’s not happy focusing on only comics or only music, but needs both and wants to achieve that. Writing comics can make him feel “closed off and disconnected from other human beings”, whereas writing songs come “naturally”, but music is just physically tiring. So they are different experiences.
Asked how important it is to him to honor the original Doom Patrol legacy, Way said it’s super important to him. He’s read stuff and is aware of more obscure things than most people. He’s “folding everything in”, Rich commented.
Talking about Nick Derington, Way said he feels lucky for “lightning to strike twice” in getting to work with both Gabriel Ba and Nick Derington. Working with Becky Cloonan on Fabulous Killjoys had its own energy too, but was more of a collaboration. He and Derington have the same music tastes and really want to make the same book. In arc two, they’ll be presenting more commentary on corporate workings, and Derington is very “anti-corporate”. Derington has come up with a lot of detail in posters and comic covers, like in Danny’s comic shop, Way said.
There’s a sequence where Casey discovers who she is by looking through classic comics in issue #3, and Way was asked how he and Derington came up with that. Way said Derington and he both said “Danny the Comic” needed to be a thing, and worked from there. They talked about what comics they could “nod” to, and more.
Way said he’d be ok with future creators working on characters like Casey Brink in the future, and sees that as collaborative, whether they like or hate what he did with characters. Thinking about Casey, he wants to work a way into Doom Patrol where she can’t be killed off or erased. “She’s safe in my eyes”, he laughed.
Asked how he relates to characters in the comic, Way said Casey’s positivity is something he’s trying to work toward in his life rather than using negativity and aggression to achieve even what may be positive goals. He wants to be more someone who lives in relative peace with others now, Way said.
He went through a sad, intense time when the band broke up, and many went on to make their own stuff, but his growth process really only started after making Hesitant Alien. He decided he wanted to bring more “positivity and light” after that. He feels he’s changed a lot and “come a long way”. He’s spent a lot of time in therapy, which he found beneficial.
Way said that doing music may, in future, be as weird as Doom Patrol. Usually what he works on connects together, so it’ll probably happen. Hesitant Alien links to early Doom Patrol, but as he moves deeper into Doom Patrol, he thinks it’ll get weirder. He realized lately that the comics need to come first, and the music later, but when you see an opportunity to create “big art”, it’s hard not to take it. Killjoys was very difficult, which he created with Shawn Simon, and a little “too much” for him because of creating costumes, videos, and comics.
Asked about his process working with Jon Rivera on Cave Carson, Way said that Rivera has taken over scripting but they meet and just talk about the story in person. They come to agreement and then he just goes away and executes the plan. It frees him up to work on the imprint Young Animal as a creative director.
With Mother Panic, which he co-created with Tommy Lee Edwards and Jody Houser, Way said that creating the character was exciting, but it’s also really cool to wonder what someone will do with the character a decade from now. He imagines Houser will be on the book for some time, given what a great job she’s doing, if she wants to.
Talking about new Umbrella Academy, to applause, Way said it’s about “strange and unusual punishment, villains, and more stuff like that”. He’s always planned for there to be 8 series, with one publishing per year, and that’s still the plan. They got behind to start with due to other projects, but now they are more focused.
Asked if he would like to see Doom Patrol or Umbrella Academy as movies or TV series, Way said he would like to see them both as TV series due to the way the storytelling works vs. films.
Asked what keeps him motivated, he says he now works on what’s challenging and that drives him. He makes things more difficult for that reason.
Asked what character in Doom Patrol he likes the most, he said he laughs the most with Cliff, but gets to show his most personal side with Casey.
Asked how he feels about the fact that many comics fans have come to comics through My Chemical Romance, he said he feels “amazing about that”, and he wanted to bring fans into reading comics. He has asked, “How can I help comics”, which sometimes struggle as a medium. He loves people coming in from music to comics.
Asked how he developed his art style, Way said he looked at a lot of artists and the things that spoke to him stuck, but he has always kept discovering more. He looks around at what he loves and responds to.