I couldn’t be part of Record Store Day, when Gerard Way’s Picture Disc and DC’s Young Animal Mixtape was released as an exclusive, also containing a Young Animal poster by Nick Derington, but luckily as a member of Way’s fanclub, I got an e-mail letting me know that a few copies were still available for direct order, and I took that opportunity.
As a fan both of Gerard Way’s comic work and music, and as someone who is definitely enjoying the Young Animal line of comics, ranging from Shade: The Changing Girl to Doom Patrol, Mother Panic, Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye and now Bug! The Adventures of Forager, I was curious to see how this disc and comic package contributed to my understanding of Way’s career and of this comics line.
The disc itself is covered in black and white artwork, and you can make out Michael Avon Oeming’s work on Cave Carson, since the new song that Way and Ray Toro recorded for Record Store Day is about Cave Carson, “Into The Cave We Wander”. The fact that Way and Toro recorded a song about Cave is not a radically new thing–there have been crossovers between comics and music since the dawn of comics, really, if you think about the radio shows that used to exist.
But the fact that Way is choosing to do this now, in relation to Young Animal kind of reinforces something he said recently at a WonderCon panel, that he’s seeking to find a balance between the comics and the music in his life, and finding that they have to go together. Since Way is curating Young Animal, we can expect that relationship to continue. If you look closely, there is a musical element from time to time in comics like Shade: The Changing Girl and Doom Patrol, and it’ll be interesting to see if that expands over time.
But what does it mean when creators intentionally bring music and comics together and foster that relationship? To me, it suggests that transmedia is where we stand right now. Comics are digital, comics are print, comics are moving, comics are becoming TV and film at a rapid rate. That can either be something that wears away the identity of the medium or builds it up. Someone who knows how to navigate those relationships is, however, Gerard Way.
As he’s shown through years of working in comics, costume, video, music, and more, he’s someone who creates relationships between media forms in a highly positive way. Someone who deeply understand comics doesn’t lose sight of the medium’s essential strengths and is able to make sure comics don’t get lost in the crowd of other media forms for storytelling.
Of course, creating a comic “mixtape” to include with the record on Record Store Day is a natural way to try to get music fans even more into comics, which is no bad thing. It also reminds comics readers that there are intersections in their own lives they can explore between different artforms. Most comic creators these days create playlists and soundtracks to their work and talk about them on social media–and acknowledging the role music plays in creative process can only lead to bigger revelations for fans and creators.
This “mixtape” comic is an ambassador for Young Animal, so let’s see what it says about the line of comics. The wraparound cover artwork by Nick Derington brings together the first wave of characters published by Young Animal in a single image, suggesting they share a universe and there’s a degree of unity or vision among these titles. A two page story by Way and Michael and Laura Allred introduces the comic, and features a robotic version of Way as a guide talking about the comics medium. He explains that Young Animal comics are “different from the most mainstream books” in that they “bring the weird to the world, the fringe to the front”. He also gives a succinct explanation of Doom Patrol, Shade, Cave Carson, and Mother Panic as concepts and in doing so really points out how and why those titles are weird.
The book then contains samples of each of the comics to introduce readers to the stories in action, and concludes with another one-page comic where Way reflects on the the “timeless” aspect of comics and a letter from Way further laying out the different comics. Within the comic, DC also takes the opportunity to remind readers that trades are coming up for these series, a wise move, and each book gets a separate and rather dynamic ad. Fans also get a copy of the Derington wraparound cover as a Young Animal poster as an added bonus in this package.
What does all this say, in the end, about Young Animal? One clear thing is that Young Animal is not afraid of the intersection between comics and other form of media and does not feel threatened by acknowledging these relationships within culture that feed growth and development.
Trying to cloister comics and keep them in a protective box as the world moves forward through the 21st century is certainly not the way to ensure the survival of the medium, and it also will lead to the production of lackluster comics. The temptation to do so many be based on the fear that comics will lose their “specialness” and identity as a separate medium if they interact too much with other forms of media. And, of course, it’s the backward-looking tendency to make sure we don’t lose the great elements of tradition in comics that may, unintentionally, hold us back in making new strides.
Having the confidence to address cross-media, and making comics that are strong enough not just to come out and meet other forms of media, but turn the tables and influence those other forms, is a very interesting approach. And one I think we can see in Young Animal. I’m sure, primarily, this is all about making good comics for all the creators concerned. But in making strong comics that are ambassadorial, the line may give comics a chance to be an influence on music, tv, film, and more in a bigger way than they already are, too.