Interview: Rocker weighs balance of comics, music and fatherhood
The bad news for music fans: The rock band My Chemical Romance split up in March. The good news for comic-book fans: Singer Gerard Way potentially has a lot more time to write titles like his award-winning Umbrella Academy.
Comics or records? It’s a question the New Jersey native thinks about every day.
“I’m trying to figure out what the universe wants me to do right now,” Way says, “and then when I figure that out, I’m just going to do it as hard as I can.”
His current project actually crosses over into both mediums: The post-apocalyptic Dark Horse Comics series The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, set in a future California town called Battery City, has its first preview in a special Dark Horse issue on Free Comic Book Day on Saturday.
Killjoys No. 1 arrives in comic shops on June 12, but the actual story began with the 2010 MCR album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys and music videos for the singles Na Na Na and Sing.
Punk-rock freedom fighters and corporate villainy came alive via guitars and film, and he was already laying out the plans for a comic back then with Killjoys series artist Becky Cloonan, who designed the logo and cover for the Danger Days album.
“The Killjoys is a weird case of the comic informing the music, which was the basis for the videos, which has gone back to fill in the gaps in the comic,” she says. “I definitely use the album and the videos as a style guide, but it’s such an expansive world that I never feel restricted.
She based the characters of the Girl, Korse and Dr. Death-Defying on the people who played them in the video — so Korse looks a lot like comics icon Grant Morrison. Yet, Cloonan adds, “it’s important to put my own twist on them, too. I mean, a bunch of years have passed so it makes sense to age them a few years.”
For the true origins of Killjoys, though, one has to go all the way back to New Jersey in the early 2000s, when Way, his brother Mikey and the rest of My Chemical Romance were in their early days and were just trying to find a practice space. They bought into a place shared with MCR guitarist Frank Iero’s first band, Pencey Prep, and Way befriended the group’s keyboard player Shaun Simon, who would later be Way’sKilljoys co-writer.
“He and I connected in a very special and unique way,” says Way, 36, who convinced Simon to hop in the van on MCR’s first tour to sell merch, hang out and see the country. “We forged our views on what the world was, like the little details — the truck stops, the open desert, commentary on society. We really were deeply thinking about that stuff in the van together.
“In a weird way, I feel like back then we were almost writing the book, whether we knew it or not.”
Music was actually his fallback plan — he went to the New York City School of Visual Arts to be a comic artist, and the late Carmine Infantino was Way’s portfolio instructor his senior year in 1999.
“I remember him saying, ‘I want you guys to make sure you also have another skill for when you get out. I’m not saying you guys can’t make it — it’s going to be hard for a while.’ And he wasn’t wrong,” Way recalls.
“That era of comics was after the ’90s boom, which completely disassociated modern normal non-nerd society from comics. Everybody felt burned because they all bought The Death of Superman and they thought they were going to be rich. Granted, people were getting into comics for the wrong reason, but people were feeding them bad stuff. There were a lot of publishers not really doing things at the time to keep the new readers around — they were just slapping a hologram on a cover or something.”
When he graduated, there was zero work in the industry.
“I started a rock band because that felt more secure, let’s put it that way,” says Way, who interned at Cartoon Network before he founded My Chemical Romance soon after the 9/11 attacks in Manhattan.
“It did work out for me,” he adds with a laugh. “It was harder to break into comics than it was to become a singer in a rock band.”
In the 2000s, My Chemical Romance gradually grew to become one of the biggest bands in the punk and alt-rock scenes, but here and there Way found ways to scratch his comics itch.
He created artwork for the 2006 album/rock opera The Black Parade, but did double the work creating costumes, bumper stickers and other details for the Danger Days videos.
Way brings that strong sense of visuals to his writing, too, according to Simon.
“Gerard is a great artist but being a great artist doesn’t necessarily mean you’re great at making comics,” says the Killjoys co-writer. “He can visualize the layout of a page and just by changing a few angles or depth of panels make the whole page work that much better.”
For two Umbrella Academy miniseries with artist Gabriel Ba, Way wrote on the road, but when the band began touring for Danger Days, it felt very different, he says — as the group became bigger on a worldwide scale, more people wanted their attention and the press and activities were tremendous, so comics took a back seat.
“There were a lot more distractions, but I felt like a lot of it came from the noise in my own head,” Way says. “Maybe that had a lot to do with the battle that Danger Days was to get the message across. It felt like something I was actively working on every day.”
In 2012 and early this year, My Chemical Romance released a series of songs under the Conventional Weapons banner that were written prior to Danger Days, but took its fan base by surprise when Way posted a 2,200-word essay on March 25 saying the band was no more.
“My Chemical Romance is done. But it can never die,” he wrote. “It is alive in me, in the guys, and it is alive inside all of you.”
When the announcement went out, Way felt a mix of emotion, sadness, anguish, pain and nostalgia, all at once.
“I was very upset,” he explains. “I said to myself, ‘Yeah, you’re supposed to be upset because doing the right thing is really hard.’ Anything easy usually isn’t the right thing — like to not communicate, to allow the band to become less than vital, to dislike each other, to let all that stuff happen without it being in your control, and the band either breaks up in an argument or they just wear out their welcome or then they start phoning it in and then no one really cares anymore.
“It was always really important to me that My Chemical Romance had a legacy,” the singer adds. “The message, while it’s still vital, is extremely important so to get that get tarnished or misinterpreted — even from within — and to see that in jeopardy made me know that this is the right time to do this.”
Way’s glad he has a little more time on his hands. He says he wants to go to more conventions, especially those for games since he’s really into Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games.
“That’s really what I connect with so I want to get out there more,” says Way, who has kicked around the idea of penning a fantasy series. “The only way a comic like that would be really awesome and amazing is if it was something that came out literally every month and forever, like Cerebus or something.”
He’s also catching up with comics reading — he’s currently fixated on the Fantagraphics series Prison Pit, and enjoying the works of Brian K. Vaughan, Matt Fraction and his pal Morrison.
“He’s a constant source of inspiration in my life, even on a personal level,” Way says. “I never thought that this would happen with somebody who was a hero of my mind but we got to become really close friends. He and his wife and I are really important in each other’s lives.”
Way also wants to reteam with Ba at some point to do a third Umbrella Academy, yet he still hasn’t lost his love for music either.
The universal question lives on. Comics or records?
There happens to be a third answer: being a father.
“I literally wish that at times I could divide myself in half, and one guy could stay home and write comics and a dad and the other guy could go do music,” says Way, whose daughter Bandit — his first child with wife Lindsey, bass player for the band Mindless Self Indulgence — turns 4 on May 27.
Reconnecting with his little girl is a huge focus for him these days.
“Not making up for lost time because you can never do that but you can make the time you have now good,” Way says. “It’s like a gift — I think I’m finally proud of the dad I am, and that’s a hard thing. I think some fathers go their whole lives and then eventually ask their child for confirmation.
“That feels really great to wake up and know you’re a good dad.”
Posted on 05/02/2013, in Gerard Way, Interview, True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, Umbrella Academy and tagged Becky Cloonan, Dark Horse, dark horse comics, Gerard Way, interview, MCR, Shaun Simon, The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.