Gerard Way began his career as the lead singer of the stratospherically popular emo band My Chemical Romance, only then to enter the comics universe with his cult classic The Umbrella Academy. After a life as a comics fan and almost a decade as a comics creator, Way took on the mantle of curator for DC's newest imprint, Young Animal. With fresh takes on classic books and a dedication to strange stories featuring eclectic creators, Young Animal was a welcome disruption of the landscape of the Big Two. At this year's SDCC we sat down with Way to talk about writing comics, creating a legacy, making friends, and losing them too.
With many fans seeing Young Animal as a new Vertigo--DC's alternative publishing imprint--the announcement of the imprint was fresh and unexpected. But for Gerard and DC, it was a long time in the making. "It came about very naturally through a series of discussions over the years with everyone from Dan DiDio to Shelly Bond to Jim Lee," Way tells Nerdist. "Years ago I would talk to Shelly about writing Doom Patrol, and Jim and Dan would talk to me about writing other stuff at DC. Then we all did a convention together in South America and had dinner together over a couple of nights. We met up again when we all got back in the office. So it was this very natural thing, and Jim said, 'Well, maybe it's an imprint,' and I was like, 'Yes, that's great.'"
The process of curating and facilitating other artists is one that comes naturally to Way, so the chance to do that in comics was incredibly appealing. "I got the chance to do something I think I'm good at and that I enjoy a lot, which is curating and pulling elements together. I feel like I was doing that a lot in the band at times, so it felt very natural to do that here," Way says.
Juxtaposing classic books with new titles was something that Way wanted for the Young Animal imprint from the start. "I knew I wanted maybe a couple things that harkened back to Vertigo a little bit. I knew Doom Patrol was going to be one of them and I'd always wanted to do something with Shade. But then it was Dan who said, 'Let's do two totally different titles' and I was like, 'Okay, let's do something super old and then a brand new character with Mother Panic,' and it felt nice and rounded out," Way explained.
Taking on the role of writer on Young Animal's Doom Patrol was a statement of intent from Way, with the book's '60s and '90s incarnations holding classic comics status. It's a responsibility that wasn't lost on him. "It was very nerve wracking at first. I spent days and days and months and months making notes. I think I thought about it way too much. But there were things that started off quick and came with instinct. Casey was a work in progress but she came together really quickly and Sam felt like he came together pretty quickly and it all felt quite instinctual. So Nick and I started to put these pieces together and then we looked at it and said, 'Okay, this looks like a superhero team.'"
With an entirely female creative team from editors to letterers and colorists--something almost unseen in comics--Young Animal's Shade the Changing Girl is radical just for its sheer existence. Gerard shared his thought process on the diversity of creators at Young Animal. "What I think people want is for diversity to be a part of our lives. To not have to go to war for it, but to have people just do it. Just say, 'We're having a team of women make this book.' It wasn't even a question or a discussion, we just did it. I think that's one of Young Animal's strengths is that we just kind of exist and we do things a specific way, and there's diversity because we're just kind of doing it."
Creating Young Animal has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for Way. "It's been super incredible. Dan and Jim have complete faith in us and they really support us, even if they say, 'We don't get this,' they still say, 'Alright, give it a shot.' I was such a huge fan as a kid, and then I became friends with Jim through the band and now we have a very interesting relationship that way. Jim and I and my brother Mikey, they're really close," Way explains.
One of Gerard's formative memories of Lee is bittersweet, given the recent tragic news about Linkin Park's Chester Bennington. "The first time [Lee and I] sat down, I was actually talking about a Batman story, and he started sketching Batman and we're backstage at Projekt Revolution, which was headlined by Linkin Park." Way pauses. "I was devastated to hear about Chester. He was actually at my wedding. Not a lot of people were there because we got married super quickly at the end of the tour when half the people had gone home. So there were literally only 30 or 40 people there, and he was one of them."
"His band and bringing us on tour, that changed my life. I met my wife. We have an amazing life now and a daughter. My memories of that period and meeting Linds again are tied into Chester and his band. It's so sad. I think a lot about mental health and it's something I've always wanted to address in Doom Patrol, so I definitely think we'll see a lot more of that now. I've been through depression, dark times, and therapy. I can really apply that stuff to these characters."
As for the future of Young Animal, Gerard has a clear vision. "I'd like to get a little more experimental, a little bit more counter culture, a little more of that feeling of the underground. A little more stuff where we mess with printing, and tell a story in way that hasn't been told before. I think that's the future, developing the core books we have and just trying some more experiments."
What are your favorite Young Animal books? Can't wait to see what Gerard is up to next? Or just happy to see the Big Two try something different? Let us know in the comments!
Images: Warner Bros., DC, Young Animal