Gerard Way And Scott Allie On ‘Killjoys’ And The Future Of ‘ The Umbrella Academy’ [Interview]
Even though it’s been more than three years since the last issue of the second volume of The Umbrella Academy, the sci-fi family saga illustrated by Gabriel Bá is never far from writer Gerard Way’s mind. The My Chemical Romance frontman just got a little busy between starting a family, touring the world, and releasing Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys and working on its similarly-titled comic with Shaun Simon, Becky Cloonan and Dave Stewart. Finding himself with a moment to catch his breath, Way traveled to Portland, Oregon last week to work on the latest chapter of the UA saga, Hotel Oblivion, with his longtime editor and current Editor-in-Chief of Dark Horse Comics, Scott Allie. Way and Allie took a break from planning the future of the Hargreeves children to catch ComicsAlliance up on where The Umbrella Academy is headed, and what fans can expect from the Killjoys comic when it debuts this summer. You can read the full interview after the jump.ComicsAlliance: It’s been a couple years, there’s been kind of an extended wait for the newest book – and it’s still [called] “Hotel Oblivion,” right?
Gerard Way: Yeah, it is.
CA: Can you kind of catch me up the timeline from the initial teaser announcement a couple of years ago to now?
GW: I think that right away I pretty much knew what I wanted series three to be about, and I knew it was going to be about this hotel that [Sir Reginald] Hargreeves had built to keep everybody that [The Umbrella Academy] encountered who were extremely dangerous – he built this hotel to keep them in this kind of pocket dimension. So I knew that right away, and I had this image in my head that I talked to Gabriel [Bá] about drawing and I said, “This is definitely what it’s going to look like.” It’s a hotel a lot like this one. It’s some old hotel. Then he created that image and I think we thought we were going to get it going a lot sooner than we have.
CA: So he’s still drawing the third series for sure?
GW: Yeah, I mean as far as I’m concerned Gab will always draw it. If Gab’s too busy to draw it, I’ll just wait for him. Whenever I have an arc completed for him to draw, I just always want him to be the artist on it.
CA: It’s kind of like keeping a band together.
GW: Yeah, completely. He just kind of gets the world. He immediately got it. Because I couldn’t draw it. I drew a lot of the initial characters, but I didn’t draw any buildings – I just described this stuff and he really got it right away, and what it was.
CA: You’ve given a basic setup for this latest series, can you tease what you’ve come up with since your initial concept?
GW: I guess it hasn’t changed from its initial concept. I really do want the story to be about a couple of different things this time. Obviously it’s always going to be about the family, but I really did want it to be about the hotel and occupants and I really want it to be about this newer character we’re going to introduce in the new series. They have a very compelling story that will connect with The Umbrella Academy and just be a really interesting character to have in there.
CA: Every series has something of a time jump, or covers a different era. Can you say anything about when the comic will take place in this storyline?
GW: Pretty much right after [Dallas]
Scott Allie: Yeah, actually the second one came right after the first one, didn’t it?
GW: Right. The flashbacks make it seem like time jumps around a lot.
SA: But the main story flowed right after the first one and this one is the same way. It’s been a long break for us, but story three will pick up pretty much right where two left off. In fact, in a lot of ways it seeks to resolve stuff that was still at a high pitch at the tend of two.
GW: Right, right.
CA: Since you started the series your life has changed a lot. You as a person have gotten married, had a kid. How has that shaped your perspective and shaped the way that you want to tell this story, especially considering its family themes?
GW: What’s interesting about that question is, there’s actually a situation or scenario in Hotel Oblivion that has very much to do with the pressure of being just about to have a kid. That comes up. And that was always in there, I think, even before I had a kid.
SA: Yeah, for sure. That’s interesting, I didn’t think about that before, but that hasn’t changed at all. But what’s changed is how work gets done. That’s what’s totally different because of life changes.
GW: For both of us, too. Now you’re Editor-in-Chief, but even before that. We went from being relatively busy. I mean I was in a band touring the world, he was editing Hellboy and The Goon and tons of other great books, but then it seemed like we had a lot more time even though we were both busy and then both of our lives got incredibly difficultly busy. I think it just kind of comes with age? I don’t know.
SA: Yeah, both our lives changed drastically and things got a lot harder. It’s funny looking back Sierra [Hahn, Editor at Dark Horse] and I talk about this a lot, like, “How is it that we were able to crank out these two series in such a short amount of time?” In a way it’s weird that it’s taken us so long to get to the third one, but it’s almost just as strange that we were able to do those two six-issue series, because we started the first one right as The Black Parade was about to come out, which was the point where MCR really blew up, and during that whole explosion we managed to jam out two six-issue series that were pretty time-intensive for everybody – Bá most of all of us. We managed to do it all. But again, then life managed to change really drastically. It’s been harder to be as full-time on Umbrella for either of us.
GW: Yeah, it was almost like recovering from two-and-a-half really intense years and dealing with the aftermath of that. So that was maybe what slowed the process down. Recovering and looking back and saying “Holy crap, we just spent two-and-a-half years doing all this stuff,” without batting an eyelash or realizing what we were doing while we were doing it and I guess there was a moment of “Whoah.” It wasn’t intentional like, “Let’s slow down a minute.”
SA: Yeah, it wasn’t intentional, but I think we had this crazy momentum and then we blinked and years went by. We let the moment stop and had to heat back up both for him to do Killjoys and Umbrella and anything else going. It’s just taken a long time to get any of that momentum going again and that’s why he’s in town. We felt like face-to-face was really the way to kick start it.
GW: I’d say it’s hanging out a little bit. Every once in awhile there’s a burst of movement and it’s kind of how I’ve noticed Hollywood works. There’s a burst of movement and then a burst of nothing. We actually recently got a script and it’s really great, so I think it’s just a matter of waiting for [Universal Studios] wanting to take the risk on it.
CA: It’s not really a small budget film.
GW: Well the good news is that it’s not as big as it was before, which actually takes a lot of the pressure off the storytelling in the script and made it so things could exist like Space[boy] still being half a Martian gorilla, Bobo still being a chimp – you know what I mean? Those are things that, when your budget starts to get higher and higher you notice that discussions will start to happen like, “Well, let’s maybe phase some of this weird stuff out.” So, your budget getting smaller is sometimes the best thing that can happen.
CA: Back to Scott mentioning Killjoys – that’s a project that’s already in motion. There’s already an on-sale date, you’ve got the Free Comic Book Day issue coming out in May and then the actual miniseries in June. How far ahead have you worked on that and how much is already ready to print and all set?
GW: Well, we’ve been working on that for so long, and because I have a really great partner on it [co-writer Shaun Simon], script-wise we’re in great shape and Becky [Cloonan] is drawing it right now, so it’s moving like Umbrella was moving. It’s moving forward.
SA: Half the scripts are done and there’s drafts of the rest.
CA: Killjoys was another project that got announced and then there was some quiet time as far as promotion and talking about it, and now it’s coming for sure. Do you think that break that you were talking about before — letting the dust settle for a second and starting back up — do you think that’s improved the final products of both Hotel Oblivion and Killjoys?
GW: Yeah, that’s the greatest benefit of the break, which another thing about that break is important to point out is that we were recording an album. So it was weird because I guess the extracurricular activities I would do or the other stuff I was doing meant it really wasn’t a break at all. So that was difficult.
SA: And originally Killjoys was just a comic and then it was an album and a comic, but the album had to get done first. And now the comic is a completely different comic than it was going to be. The reason is that the Killjoys that he originally conceived is so different from the Killjoys that’s about to come out, because the album did a certain amount of what the original intent was. So there’s different characters and a whole different arc. The hiatus made it better, but it also transformed it into a whole different thing.
CA: Since the comic is so linked to the album, is that going to change how you promote the comic and how you talk to your fans about it? Umbrella Academy wasn’t a My Chemical Romance comic. With this you can talk to your fanbase and point out that the comic can be an extra component of the last album. What are the pros and cons of a project linked to your band?
GW: That’s always been really important. That’ll work itself out as organically as possible. I’ve never been really interested in trying to force people that like the band to like any comic I make, even one that’s tied in to the record. Obviously it’s a lot more connected to the band, but I still don’t want to force that on them.
SA: Yeah, and it’s not a My Chemical Romance comic. You could make that assumption, but it’s not, it is different enough. We were very careful with Umbrella, about how much we exploited MCR. We were very careful and we set up a lot of rules along the way about how much we would use that name. We’ll probably be a little more liberal about it with Killjoys just because you can’t miss the fact that it’s the same title.
CA: You’d done some other comics work before [Umbrella Academy] and you had a very comics-intensive background and fandom, but you weren’t obnoxious with it and the original marketing message for Umbrella that started in the first issue’s letter page kind of said, “This isn’t a guy in a band doing comics, this is a comics guy in a band doing comics” and then the comic came out and spoke for itself and generated the fanbase it has so you didn’t have to have a dual identity anymore. What do you think is the most liberating thing about being where you’re at now with comics as opposed to when you had just put out the first issue of Umbrella Academy?
GW: You know, that’s interesting. It makes sense that I had to prove it. That made a lot of sense in that there are unfortunately a lot of vanity projects. Every time you go to Comic-Con that’s actually mostly what you’re looking at is weird vanity projects by people who are just kind of moonlighting in comics because they’re assuming that it’s what’s generating movie deals or whatever. I guess I knew that because the work was special and because of my background, I felt very safe. I wasn’t really nervous when it came out. I knew that when it came out it was going to prove that it was a very real comic. And again, Dark Horse being extremely careful with how they promoted the book — you didn’t see writeups in Rolling Stone, or even Spin or anything.
SA: Yeah, we were very conscious of it, I don’t know how self-conscious [Way] was, but we were self-conscious of “Well, is he going to be viewed that way and is the whole book going to be dismissed because of that?” And now we don’t have to think about that. Umbrella won a shitload of awards and sold really well. So we had the critical success and a fan success. So now it’s like, “Okay, Gerard does comics” and we don’t have to worry about it that way. I’m glad we lead with a book that was just a comic and had no connection to the music world before doing [Killjoys]. If Killjoys had been your first comic and it had the same name as a record, it would’ve been hard to make that clear.
GW: I almost didn’t even want to do it as a comic for that reason, because I felt a fair amount of safety and protected by my work in comics. It was really a giant risk to go ahead and make Killjoys a comic because I didn’t want to screw that up. I wanted people who were just fans of my comic work to be able to enjoy it so they didn’t have to go back and listen to the record.
CA: There’s an entire fanbase or group of people who see you as Gerard Way the comic book writer and artist – they may not even care about your band. Do you like having that whole different side of your career as an artist?
GW: Yeah, I absolutely love that. If there was just kind of one side to me — or to anybody — I think that would be really boring. So to have people be able to appreciate equally different things and not even be that aware of the other component? That’s fine. I think I’ll always be involved with stuff like that in my life. If I ever do get to maybe make a film, I would expect people who go to see that film to not know about the two different other component, be it comics or music or anything else. That’s kind of how I always want to do it. So I’m actually really happy that I’ll do a signing, and sure there’ll be some people who really like MCR and Umbrella Academy, but there’ll be a lot of people who are just, y’know a guy in a Superman shirt or a lady in a Star Trek shirt or something. That’s really cool because you can tell that not only do they have a different side to them, but that also they really like your comic book. So not only does it not bother me, I actually really like it. It’s a nice escape to have that duality.
CA: Your brother [Mikey Way] has also done some comics work – he’s done stuff for DC. If you google you guys and “comics,” there’s always a rumor that you’ll do something together eventually. Do you have anything planned right now or is that still kind of off in the distance?
GW: Nothing planned with him. He’s been writing a lot. He really wants to dive into writing horror novels. I can see him doing that at the same time as trying to write comics. He’s definitely interested in them. I think he’s still developing what he wants to say in comics. And he’s got a bit more time when he can do that. He’s got some room to stretch.
CA: You’ve kind of become a fixture at conventions now with MorrisonCon and Comic-Con and New York Comic Con. Do you have specific plans to promote Killjoys this summer or do you have to look at touring plans, then see what you can do with cons?
GW: Hopefully I’ll be at everything I usually have, which is San Diego and New York. I’d like to do some other cons this time for Killjoys as well. When Umbrella comes out I’d like to try to go to Brazil with the twins [Bá and his brother Fábio Moon] or Australia. I’d really try to go more globally to promote that book. The hope is that we do series three and try to rush right in to series four like we did with the first two arcs. That’ll be really nice to be involved with Gabriel for a lengthy stretch of time and maybe do some signings with him.
CA: Now you just mentioned series four and I can’t let you mention it without going “Oh, so what’s series four about, what’s it called?” Can you say anything about that yet?
GW: I can’t. I guess I could say that it is… I think four to me is less of an exercise and a study and more of a kind of heavy epoch movement forward. That’s not to say the stuff that’s going to happen in Hotel isn’t valuable or doesn’t move the story forward, but in the basic, most bare bones plot of the Umbrella Academy being the 43 extraordinary kids — Hargreeves, all that basic stuff — series four deals mainly with that element and it’s going to move that forward. Eventually my hope is that by the time we get to eight or nine, you’ll know exactly what The Umbrella Academy was and is and what they’re supposed to be doing.
CA: So we’re going to be seeing eight or nine series?
SA: That was always the plan.
GW: I think I’ve always said I wanted to do eight.
SA: Stuff changes a lot. Like, Hotel Oblivion, I think since early in Dallas we knew that Hotel Oblivion was next, but this week we’ve been banging around a lot of the big parts of what happens in Hotel Oblivion and there’s a thing that came up yesterday that we realized was too big to co-exist with Hotel Oblivion in the same series, so it was like, “Well that could be the big thing in series four.” He has a plan for all of it, but it’s also really flexible. There’s big things and I think the ultimate endgame is pretty well worked out. The ideas on Umbrella are so weird that they gotta stay fluid so that new things can show up. I wondered when he came up here to talk about it to try to work it all out – I wondered if Hotel Oblivion was even going to still be the focus of the next one. Just because it had been so long and all that. I was glad to see that that’s still the main story, but the way the hotel impacts the kids changed just this week.
GW: I guess I’ll say this. Hotel Oblivion was originally very much a study in the hotel to the point where it may have been borderline alienating to a fan of either graphic novel that had come out. So it was really almost like this weird slice of life, like you’re getting all these different vignettes about this hotel. So now it has a very major effect on the characters. It’s a component that I think will be around now in all subsequent series.
GW: I really missed working with Scott and I really missed Gabriel a lot. He and his brother do amazing work and they’re very actively busy still, but it will be nice to work with Gabriel again.
SA: You get that momentum back. Right now I don’t know if the twins are working on multiple things, but they’re doing a B.P.R.D. series for us and I know of other things they have lined up, so it’s not a case where if Gerard produces a script for issue one this week, it’s not like it’s going to go right onto Gabriel’s desk. But we were in that real golden space where we were just working on Umbrella Academy full time. If Hotel Oblivion can get that back into gear where it’s a constant part of all our lives, that’d be great. Working with the twins is one of the most inspiring parts of my 18 years in comics. These guys blow my mind every time. Their love and passion and creativity – I always want that in the mix of what I’m doing. So when we got them on Vampire, I knew I could count on the next six or seven months to have a lot of twins in my life.
GW: It’s kind of funny, I’m almost saying the same thing as him, but if you ever get to meet the twins you’ll know what we’re saying. They have a vibrancy for life. I’ve never met anybody.
CA: Yeah, they’re really… gentle? I guess. My first Comic-Con — not to intersperse the interview with my own story, but it was 2009 and I was doing panel reports — like five or six a day — and partying at night and I was just miserable by day three. I had to sit through a panel to get to the one I was covering and it turned out to be the twins. They came out and they were angelic and glowing and I’d just been hammered over the head with all these comic and movie announcements for projects that may never happen and these two very real comic guys who I’d been following for awhile start talking about their love of the medium and it was like, “Okay, I like comics again. I guess I can come back next year.”
SA: I need the twins.
GW: They have a gift. And they also have the ability to — there’s nothing in this world that could break either of them down or change their work ethic or take away their creativity. There’s nothing that exists that could do that. There’s not a mortgage in the world or a stress or a deadline or anything that’s going to mess with them. They just remain who and what they are, they’re so pure. To be around that is very infectious. So it’s weird. I want Gab back in my life. I’m writing this to have him back in my life and hopefully up until we finish it.