Until I’m Done Or Until I Get Fired: Gerard Way On His Plans For Young Animal [Interview]
DC has made some interesting moves since its relocation from New York City to Burbank, California, last year, including the upcoming line-wide relaunch DC Rebirth, and a notably uneven line of Hanna-Barbera-inspired comics. Perhaps the most surprising announcement came at Emerald City Comicon earlier this month, when DC unveiled Young Animal, a new line of superhero comics masterminded by Umbrella Academy writer and musician and My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way.
Described as a "pop-up imprint," Young Animal includes a new Doom Patrol series by Way and Nick Derington; a Shade relaunch, Shade the Changing Girl, by Cecil Castellucci and Marley Zarcone; Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye, by Way, Jon Rivera and Michael Avon Oeming, and the Gotham-set Mother Panic, concceived by Way and written by Jody Houser, with art by Tommy Lee Edwards. But that's just the start. ComicsAlliance sat down with Way to find out how Young Animal came to be, what his longterm plans are for the imprint, and how involved he is with all the books across the line.
Note: Since this interview was conducted, DC has announced that Shelly Bond is no longer an editor at Vertigo and is no longer employed by DC.
ComicsAlliance Tell me about the genesis of the project. How did it first come about?
Gerard Way: I have a long history with DC; I was an intern. I went to art school, and that’s how I got the internship, and then I started a band. But I always missed comics, I always wanted to do them.
Vertigo is what I grew up with --- obviously I grew up with the superhero stuff too, but once Vertigo was happening, that really just changed everything for me. It really helped shape me, who I was, my tastes, and it fell in line with all the punk music I was listening to an all that stuff. One of my favorite editors from those times, the editor of The Invisibles, was Shelly Bond, and I always felt like she was the rock star editor of comics and I always wanted to work with her.
I would meet with Shelly, and we’d always talk about doing Vertigo stuff, and then Doom Patrol came up, and it wasn’t the right time in my life, so these things would fall through a lot, but it was always my fault.
But then the timing was right. I finished my first solo record, I did an amazing tour, everything went great, I was very happy and fulfilled, and then I was like, I would like to take a break from music. I still write music, and I still have sessions, and I still record, but I have no plans. You get caught up in a cycle at some point, so I broke the cycle and decided; I’m going to really write a lot of books, because I need to get in touch with that part of myself in order to make more music.
Then I was in South America for the Brazilian Comic Con, Dan [DiDio, DC co-publisher] and Jim [Lee, DC co-publisher] were there, we had dinner almost every night, I think, and we started talking about it, and Jim said, “Maybe an imprint?”
I thought about it for about a week, and came in and said, this is what I think; I want to call it Young Animal, this is the imprint; and right away I started dropping in characters, saying what I wanted to do. I feel like we’re still running off that early momentum.
CA: Young Animal was described in the initial announcements as a pop-up imprint. Does that have any special meaning?
GW: You know, the way that came up, at first I was calling it a boutique imprint, which is still the way I look at it, but it occurred to me at one point; I was talking to Jim and I said, "You know you could do other imprints like this, and maybe this is the first of many?" So I tossed around the idea of a pop-up imprint, and he loved the sound of it. I didn’t want it to sound too much like something that was potentially going to go away…
CA: There is that possible read, that it’s a temporary thing…
CA: That’s not the intention?
GW: No. Not for me. I want Young Animal to be around for as long as it can, and I would love for it to grow into a Vertigo one day; to be this pocket of the DCU.
CA: Is that why it’s not part of Vertigo?
GW: Yeah. There were discussions about it, and the reason that it’s a new imprint is because we didn’t want to go into Vertigo and try and recapture the '90s.
Vertigo has grown into something else; Vertigo became a creator-owned place, and they’re doing really great mature reader books and things like that, and I felt like that would have been a step back for Vertigo, but for something new it’s a step forward. So a lot of thought went into that.
CA: Did you come up with the titles first, or the creative teams?
GW: Titles first. I came up with the concept of every book. Mother Panic was a character that I was working on, probably for creator-owned, and once I realized I could put this awesome character in Gotham, I was like, that’d be cool, because then the character outlives you. The character will be around forever, you know?
CA: So DC will own that character?
GW: Yeah. There’s character equity, or… I don’t know how that stuff works. I mean, I do, but you know … I’m not really precious with stuff. I come up with so much stuff, I don’t get really precious. A lot of people will be like, “How could you give up a character?” and I’ll be like, “I’ll come up with ten more. So.”
But I came up with the concepts first. I knew I was going to write Doom, and then I was like, we’ve got to bring back Shade, but Shade’s got to be different. It would be amazing if Shade was a teenage girl; that could lend itself to so much. And then Cave Carson is character I discovered going through the encyclopedia, and the old Who’s Who, and I was like, who is this guy?
CA: He’s pretty obscure. The spelunking adventurer.
GW: He’s very obscure. A spelunking adventurer with a cybernetic eye. And I was, oh this guy has huge potential, this could be a real crazy Life Aquatic-type book. This could be nuts. And that got the biggest response at the panel! Cave Carson!
CA: How did you go about putting together the teams for these books?
GW: Shelly and [associate editor] Molly [Mahan] and I worked really closely, and the great thing is that Shelly had all these relationships and access from doing Vertigo, and we knew we wanted some of that flavor in there.
So it was almost kind of a transition for some of the creators, like Marley Zarcone, who did Effigy, and we got her into Shade, but a lot of it was people I look up to, that I liked as human beings that were really talented.
Tommy Lee Edwards, I’ve been a fan of for years. We did this convention, we hit it off and became friends. Mike Oeming, I’ve been a fan for years, he actually inked some of my work when I was first breaking in to comics, for Jim Kreuger, one of the guys who helped me get my start drawing.
[Shelly] brought in Cecil [Castellucci], so I read Cecil’s work, and I loved it, and then I loved Jody [Houser]’s work. And Jon Rivera, who’s writing Cave Carson, he’s my long-time development partner when I work on TV projects and things like that. We met in art school. We’ve been working together for a long time. We’ve put in a lot of work writing stories together, so we’re very comfortable together.
CA: Your title is ‘creative director…?
GW: I don’t really know what my title is! The way Shelly puts it, “You’re editing.” So I’m acting as editor, creative director… I’m involved in every step of it.
To me the role feels like everything I’ve always done. It feels like even what I did in the band. I come in and do sketches, or do my own really lo-fi graphic design. I lay all this stuff out, I do my conflicts and my characters, and I put them on a wall, and I cook up all these stories, and I present it all, I just vomit it out. ... So it feels like I’m doing just a lot of it, with a great team. And Shelly Bond and Molly Mahan have been invaluable, and the support from Jim and Dan has been great. .
CA: Do you have an office down in Burbank?
GW: I have a cubicle.
CA: Do you spend much time there?
GW: I do! I’m in DC’s offices every Wednesday, and I spend a full day. If I have to come in other days, I do, but usually the other days are reserved for me writing. I have so many books to write now. So I’ll write from home. Sometimes I’m writing in the office too, in my cubicle. It looks like a mess. It doesn’t look like anybody uses the spot.
CA: What was it about Doom Patrol that made that such an urgent title for you to work on?
GW: It was one of those things; I was so strongly connected to it as a teenager and it meant so much to me, and it was one of those constants in my life that I always came back to, and it always inspired me. And then, through developing a really close personal relationship with Grant [Morrison] … I look at Grant as a big brother, you know? And he’s always given me advice, and we get to create things together, and it’s just so much fun, and I felt worthy because Grant felt I was worthy! You need that.
In a lot of ways it felt like destiny; I must write this book. Even if it crashes and burns it totally doesn’t matter. I have to try this.
CA: And there are plans to do more books in the line?
GW: Yeah. I wanted to start it small-ish, kind of grass roots, and almost a little under the radar, and that’s how I’ve operated my whole life, with music. We didn’t sign a major label deal with my band until much after the fact. They were coming, and we were like, no, we’re doing our own thing, we’re going to build it ourselves. It’s good, because you get to develop. So I want these books to develop and live on their own.
And then of course there’s a list. I bought all the Who’s Whos off eBay, because I lost them from when I was a kid, and I went through and I wrote down names, and I filled two pages of a notebook.
CA: So is Young Animal going to be a split between new concepts and revamped properties?
GW: It’s interesting, I feel like we’re leading with the revamps.
CA: Three out of four.
GW: Yeah, and any time a new character comes up that really fits into DC’s universe, we’ll go for that too.
CA: Mother Panic is the one new concept; but it was Gotham that made that attractive to you?
GW: It did, yeah. It’s a character I was working up for a little while, and Tommy and I were supposed to do a Batman project together, and I realised, I don’t really want to write Batman right now in my life, it’s too dark for me. I didn’t feel I was ready to step into Bruce Wayne’s head. It didn’t feel right.
So I said, Tommy, I think I’ve got an idea for a Batman book that we can still do together. ... So we worked on the character together, and we were pumped, because she’s so different than anybody else is Gotham.
CA: But it’s going to be the same Gotham, the same continuity? Batman’s Gotham?
GW: That’s what we’re trying for, you know. The continuity thing, it’s a tricky situation, because we want the books to count and be in a continuity, at the same time they’re doing their own thing and I feel like we need to do our own thing, a little bit. ... We’re just going to play it by ear right now, instead of making promises, like, "This’ll be tied into Rebirth," because I know very little about Rebirth. That’s not my area.
CA: You’ve talked about this being a break from music, but when you go back to music, do you plan to keep this going as well?
GW: Yeah. Oh yeah, absolutely. I’m hoping that by then, I’m just writing Doom Patrol and Umbrella Academy [at Dark Horse], and by then I think Cave will be on its own, all the other books will be on their own, and the imprint should be running.
But you know, I’m older now, so I don’t have to tour as much as I used to. Doom Patrol is something I want to keep in my life until I’m done or until I get fired.
CA: Is the line all "mature readers" titles? What was the reason behind that?
GW: I thought it was important because mature readers titles really lend themselves to experimentation. Because if you’re already going to put mature themes in there, you might as well go full bore and do some experimental stuff. So I thought, off the bat, they have to be mature, because that’ll give us the room.
And you know, there’s all those things that were explored back in the '90s that are very relevant now, and we may explore, so I wanted to keep the channels open to explore those things. I know Cecil is dealing with stuff in Shade, and stuff’s going to come up, that’s relevant to today’s social issues.
CA: Tell me about the title, Young Animals. What does that evoke?
GW: It was the title of my second solo album, and I decided not to make that album, and I was like, OK well, it’ll just be the name of my next project, whatever that is. As soon as I brought it up to Dan, I could tell! I saw his eyes light up, and I was like, “All right, that title works.”
Actually, I talked to Grant about that, about six months ago. He’s like, "If you ever did your own comics company, what would you call it?" I said I’d call it Young Animal, and he was like, "Oh, that’s a good name!"
I feel like I was onto something! It sounds good! It’s cute, but it’s also a little dangerous, you know? It’s light, and it’s also a little bit dark.