The UMBRELLA ACADEMY Creators Talk Influences from X-MEN to ’60s TV

It’s been 10 years since Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba’s seminally surreal school saga The Umbrella Academy was first released. The book quickly became a cult classic and fans were delighted when it was announced earlier this month that the comic was picked up for a Netflix series. During a jam-packed schedule at San Diego Comic-Con, we were lucky enough to hang out with the creative duo to discuss adaptations, original creations, and growing with your characters.

The pair have recently returned to the source material, as they’re not only involved in the Netflix show but also creating a brand new arc of the comic book for Dark Horse. “Looking back over the first series is something I’ve been doing because we’re doing the new series,” Gabriel Ba told Nerdist. “I try not to stray too far away from that in terms of artwork, so I look back to see, ‘Oh, I used to do this, or I used to do that,’ because it was 10 years ago. I still love it, I still fall in love with the characters, and I get my heart warmed by the relationships we built with the stories. I think it still works, and that’s something you can’t say about every work you’re involved with. This is a very special project.”

For Gerard Way, the book represents an vastly different time in his life. “I was such a completely different person when I wrote it that it’s almost kind of jarring to go back to it,” he said. “I know people feel that way about past work and I definitely have that, but when I do revisit it, the core is so special and interesting and different. I’m kind of learning as I go along and we’re both trying to figure out this world. But just from the standpoint of having grown into a completely different person, it’s interesting to look at it now.”

Ba and Way are both extremely excited about the chance to revisit their creation through an entirely new lens, in this case a live-action adaptation. “There are all these things you can do, and just from sitting in the writers room–we met the writers the other day–you can see how easy it is to make adjustments, and the right kind of adjustments,” Way told us backstage at the Dark Horse booth.

Ba continued, “I think it’s actually great that it took this long for us to work on the third series. If we’d have done that right after Dallas [the second arc] it would be different and we wouldn’t be as ready as we are now. If the series had happened 10 years ago as a movie, it would be completely different. It’s one of those things where it took a long time but it was the right thing for everyone.”

The Umbrella Academy tells the story of seven superpowered children adopted by an alien who’s disguised himself as a wealthy entrepreneur, creating an expansive and engaging world that subverts the idea of superheroes as we know them. The book has drawn comparisons to the Fantastic Four and very often to the iconic X-Men. “A lot of the philosophy behind Umbrella Academy is to take the stuff we already know, that’s been programmed into us over the years, and then really mess with it and explore it in ways that have never been explored before,” Way explained.

Like many of us, Way and Ba both came of age loving the X-Men. “I grew up with Chris Claremont and Mark Silvestri’s X-Men, which was a huge influence on me,” Gerard said. “Along with Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, which was a big part of what made me want to do comics again, so that DNA that is in there too. But it’s really X-Men. Especially Dallas, it feels like an X-Men story.”

Ba agreed with his collaborator and shared his own history with Claremont’s take on the mutant heroes. “X-Men was really the book that made me care about stories and characters,” he said. “Before that I would trade the old issues for the new issues at the comic shop in Brazil. When I started reading X-Men in the ’80s, I started caring. Although, I didn’t end up working with superheroes–as much as I love them, they didn’t feel like the stories that were right for me. When I got Umbrella, it had all the character-driven relationship stories that I loved, and I could put all these references I had inside of me into it, and that was so great.”

Though Ba and Way are both lifelong comics fans, many of the pair’s strongest influences for Umbrella Academy come from television and movies, including a cult classic British sci-fi show. “The ’60s TV show The Prisoner was a really big influence,” Way said. “That sense of paranoia and the way it looked. I try to put a lot of that into Umbrella Academy–I use the word ‘paranoia’ a lot to describe the book because to me that’s what it started to feel like.”

For Ba, there were many influences, but one film stuck out: “Delicatessen. We wanted that weird vibe, something we could get from films but not much from comics. So that’s what we wanted to do. Something different.”

As for Umbrella Academy’s newest incarnation as a Netflix original, the pair are pleasantly surprised that their beloved creation is coming to our screens. “We’re really excited… I didn’t expect to be this excited,” Ba said. “It hasn’t sunk in completely yet. We’re both still a little overwhelmed and I think it’s only going to get bigger and bigger.

Way added, “We had our first meeting and we both turned to each other and said, ‘This is real. This is really happening.'”

Are you super stoked for the live-action Umbrella Academy? Planning to revisit the books? Or just excited to see something entirely different coming to Netflix? Let us know in the comments!

Images: Dark Horse

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