The Umbrella Academy, by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá, hit the comics scene in 2007 like a psychotropic bomb. Dominated by offbeat characters, nonlinear storytelling, and art resembling a vivid acid flashback, the first miniseries, Apocalypse Suite, won the Eisner Award for Best Limited Series in 2008 and was wildly popular, to boot. Fortunately, hungry fans just got to feast on The Umbrella Academy: Dallas, the second miniseries, which just released issue #6 on May 13.
I was lucky enough to interview Gerard–also very well known for his band, My Chemical Romance–about Dallas, the upcoming hardcover edition, the proposed Umbrella movie, and his next comic book series for Dark Horse. Read on, but be warned: there are multiple spoilers for issue #6, so if you haven’t read it yet, be careful!
TFAW.com: Thanks for taking some time to talk with me!
Gerard Way: No problem!
TFAW.com: So, what led you to creating The Umbrella Academy and working in comics?
GW: Before I started the band, I spent a lot of years trying to break into comics, and eventually finding work in toy design. What happened was, the band started to really take off, so I had to quit all my jobs–all my freelance gigs and everything–and I really just missed it. I missed the whole world, and creating stuff like that. I missed the whole thing–the art of it, and the scripting, and the possibility, so that was the whole motivator.
TFAW.com: What’s your favorite part of writing The Umbrella Academy?
GW: I think my favorite part is that the comic is so loose. I like being able to surprise myself, and Scott [Allie, Dark Horse Comics Senior Managing Editor], and sometimes we have conversations where we surprise each other, and I love that part. I’d say, “Scott, this is the rough overview of the six issues,” and then by the time we’re at issue three, things have already changed, in a really good way, and I’ve got a whole new opening now. I never knew how I was going to end Dallas. I knew the facts, I knew what would happen, but I didn’t know how it was going to end, the specifics. There was all this weird stuff, like the Vietnam thing in issue #5, stuff like that was able to happen, to occur to me only as I’m writing the script, and that’s my favorite part.
Sending this stuff to Gabriel, and then seeing it come back and come to life, that’s actually the most rewarding part. I would get really excited whenever my email inbox would show something of his, and then I’d get to open it up and see what he’s done, and it’s always amazing.
TFAW.com: Cool! What made you choose JFK for the second series?
GW: You know, Dallas was going to be a later story–I wanted it to be a one-shot, at a certain point. I was like, “I just want this really crazy one-shot issue that’s maybe 40 pages long, that involves the characters having to assassinate JFK, and then being torn about it.” That was the original idea, and then what we realized is that we had a lot more. There’s so much more going on with these characters since the first series, and there’s so much more happening with their lives, that we can make a whole six issues out of it. The JFK thing really only takes up a quarter of their story in the series, but there’s so much more to it. I guess we could have done just that story in one issue.
Dallas was supposed to be the series that happened later, after we got through some more A-plot stuff, like where are the other kids? What really happened to Hargreeves? What happened to the Horror? Things like that. But Scott had said, “I think this is how you follow it up, you follow the first series with something that’s very different and kind of severe,” and that’s what we did.
TFAW.com: Are you still going to pursue those other storylines? I know everybody wants to know what happened to the Horror.
GW: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, right now, as soon as Gabriel is done with his other commitments and taking a break–I think Gabriel deserves a really nice vacation–as soon as he’s done with that, we’re gonna go ahead and get into some more of the A-plot again, which is, what happened to the other kids, and what’s going on here. So by the time we get to the fourth series, we’ll be deep in another plot.
TFAW.com: In Dallas, it seems like Spaceboy has kind of lost it. Was that because of the trauma of Apocalypse Suite, or Allison being injured?
GW: I think there is so much disappointment in that guy’s life, and I think he’s his own biggest disappointment. I think he just lost it because he apparently saved the world, but nothing seemed to have gotten better. Nothing’s different, for him, and that’s usually the case, but you never see that when you’re reading Superman. He’s always saving the world, but the next week, it’s the same thing, and you never really see that affect the character’s personality.
I think the biggest thing is, he’s trapped in this [Martian gorilla] body, so, now that’s they’ve saved the world, it’s time to celebrate and move on, and go back to their normal lives, and he can’t really do that.
TFAW.com: Yeah, because he’s a gorilla!
GW: Yeah! He can’t move on at all!
TFAW.com: It’s seems like he can’t move at all–he’s gained all that weight, like he hates the body.
GW: Exactly. So he’s stuck in this situation and body, and he can’t move on from it. But oddly enough, neither did any of the other characters. They didn’t go back and have normal lives.
TFAW.com: Well, how much of normal lives did they have before?
GW: Yeah, exactly.
TFAW.com: We saw more of Seance in this arc. Do you have any plans for him in the near future?
GW: You know, Seance is a character that I’m really happy has delivered the goods in terms of what he needed to be as a character. He played a very small role in the first series, up until the end, and now it’s nice to see that he’s actually kind of–that’s how I always wanted to use the character. He ends up using his personality more than his abilities, but I’ve always wanted to get more of him in there, and I found in this series that I could do that.
Me and Scott talk all the time about potentially doing a series with Seance, because of all the characters, it felt like he was the one that had the most room for other stories–he’s got this lost 10 years that were probably just a big party for him. But I’m sure there’s other things involved, because he’d lost his allowance for such a long time, when he split from Hargreeves, and he’s the kind of guy who’d do a lot of weird things to survive.
TFAW.com: Well, he had a kid back in Vietnam, so does he possibly have an adult child now, in the present?
GW: That is something I think we’ll see, if not in the next series but in the one after–the issue is definitely going to be addressed. Him having a kid in Vietnam is actually one of those interesting things where, it started off as something very simple, like, I just wanted him to have had a kid, I wanted to show the passage of time. Also, I’m assuming that a lot of people think that Seance is gay, and I wanted to play with that notion a little bit, too, because I’m not sure that he isn’t, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have a kid. So, you never know how that happened.
So that’s another interesting subject, but I really, out of all the characters, I thought, “It would be the most interesting if Seance had a kid,” and then the fallout of that we’ll just deal with later. I don’t know what the repercussions of that are, but I wanted to show that at least a good three years have passed.
TFAW.com: Well, we didn’t see a lot of Vanya in Dallas. Is she ever going to be forgiven by the family? It seemed like Rumor was opening up a little bit.
GW: Yeah, I feel like Rumor climbs into bed with her because she realizes that, “Hey, we all do horrible things. I did something horrible, and who am I to judge?” I think that they’ve kind of come to peace. So we’ll see a little more of Vanya and Rumor together next time. And potentially, Space might be on his own, Space might be with somebody else, so I think the team is going to be really split off now in different directions, and that should be pretty interesting.
TFAW.com: Does Vanya have any powers, besides being used as a weapon of mass destruction?
GW: The interesting thing is, by the time we get to see her again–and as the writer, I’m not even sure when that is, that could be series four or series five–she does in fact have the ability to play that violin and make things happen, so we’ll hopefully get to see that.
TFAW.com: So, is Number 5 always going to be trapped in his childhood body?
GW: As of right now, yeah (laughs). That’s another thing about the comic that’s really fun. I don’t know! Who knows what might happen there? As of right now he’s absolutely trapped in that body. I think now that people are so attached to that character, that if I had done anything with his body it would probably be disappointing. Because it’s not like he’s a precocious kid; he’s 65 years old or something. And I think that’s more interesting than just a precocious kid.
TFAW.com: He actually reminds me of Damien from The Omen. Was that on purpose?
GW: (Laughs) I think any sinister child is going to come off like that. If and when the [Umbrella Academy] movie ever does come out, it will be interesting to see how the actor–whoever they get to play that character–acts, because he’s not just a super-genius boy. You have to pretend that you’ve lived an entire lifetime of mostly murdering people, and you’re smarter than anyone in the room. It’s also been hinted at that Number 5 has had lots of sex and lots of drugs, so he’s someone who’s had a very full and extreme lifestyle.
TFAW.com: With future storylines, are you going to go chronologically from Dallas, or are there going to be more flashbacks and flash-forwards?
GW: By now, I think we’ve got this weird–I don’t want to call it a formula–but I like to feel like the flashbacks, the history, while it doesn’t exist until I write it, it’s there when I need it.
A really great example is the flashback at the beginning of issue #6 of Dallas, with the diorama of the solar system. This series is really about Number 5, so I wondered, what’s an example of something from back when he really was a child, that could really give the reader the sense of where his sense of rebellion comes from, where his sense of self-purpose comes from. Or at least an example of the rebellious nature he used to have. I wanted the story to be about his strong personality, his rebellion, so that’s why that scene was really important to me.
TFAW.com: Who is the third series going to focus on, then?
GW: That’s kind of up in the air right now. I knew going in that series one was about Vanya, and series two is about the Boy, and now it’s going to be kind of interesting, because we’re now going to see some other characters who are totally new to us, and I don’t think the book’s going to revolve around them, so it may revolve around–I don’t think it’s going to be Seance, but it’s gonna revolve around a main character from the group.
TFAW.com: Do you think it’s going to include the other kids from the mysterious birth?
GW: I think that we will see that more around series four.
TFAW.com: I was just wondering, with Spaceboy mentioning them at the end of Dallas, if they were going to be in the next series, or if you were just seeding it for future story arcs.
GW: He’s going to be actively looking for them, and he’s going to find some things out. I just don’t know how much yet.
TFAW.com: Is it safe to assume that the other kids will have powers?
GW: I would naturally assume that they also have powers. It’s weird–it’s not like I don’t want to give away stuff, it just hasn’t been written yet, which is a good thing.
TFAW.com: Are there going to be any MySpace Dark Horse Presents stories?
GW: I think Scott’s trying to get one more out of me. It’s really difficult with doing the album–that’s actually the hardest part, I’ve been doing this album. When I did the first Umbrella Academy series, I finished the pitch, and I sent that off, and then I couldn’t touch it until, I mean, even when Dark Horse called to do the series, I was literally in the middle of tracking, and I said, “I can’t work on this book until after I’m done with this record,” so it will be the same situation here. It’s very hard to do comics right now, even though there are some exciting things I’d like to do: doing an MDHP story, doing a one-shot, an Umbrella Academy adventure, all kinds of stuff. Fitting it into my schedule is the hard part.
TFAW.com: What about the Umbrella Academy movie? What’s happening with that?
GW: We just had a weekend of meetings, which was awesome. Writer Mark Bomback flew out from New York, and he met Scott and I here at the house, and we had a full day of meeting about the first film, about the script, about the things he was going to add to the mythology, things he was taking away, just making a really solid film out of it.
At the second meeting, we met with Universal and some people from the studio, and Mike Richardson and Scott and some people from Dark Horse Entertainment, and talked about the film itself and Mark’s script.
At this point, we’re waiting on a script from Mark–he’s finishing up some other commitments and then he’s going to get into it–and then we’ll move from there.
TFAW.com: Is it going to be an adaptation of Apocalypse Suite, or is it going to be a new story?
GW: Thankfully, it’s an adaptation of Apocalypse Suite. It doesn’t even involve that many changes. The only changes are stuff Scott and I had wished I’d thought of. It’s kind of like, “Oh, that’s cool. I wish I’d thought of that.”
TFAW.com: So it’s like your second chance.
GW: Yeah! And there are also some scenes that didn’t make it into the first trade because we ran out of room that will now make it into the movie.
TFAW.com: Oh, that’s cool. So it’s like a little bonus.
GW: Yeah, there’s a little bit of fan service in there, too, because by the time the film comes out, series three and four will already be out, so readers may see things from series three in the movie, which may excite them.
GW: I loved it. I got a test run at my house, with the packaging, and after that they sent a case of them, and I opened them up, and I couldn’t believe how well done they were. I guess I should have believed it, but I’ve never seen PVC this good and this detailed.
TFAW.com: The paint jobs are really cool, the way they reproduced what was in the comics.
GW: Yeah, I think that’s my favorite thing. Oddly enough, the initial prototypes were painted by a woman I used to work with at the old toy studio I used to freelance at, before I had to quit for the band. She’s the one responsible for making the paint jobs look like Gabriel’s art.
TFAW.com: Do you have a particular favorite of the figures?
GW: I think my favorite is probably a tossup between Kraken and Space, because Kraken has some really interesting things going on with his paint job, there’s a weird little detail with the hair, certain shadows on him, and Spaceboy obviously has a lot of the same treatment. So the characters with the most detail colorwise in the comic have crazy detail in the figures.
GW: We’re locking those in right now. The plus and minus of this whole series was, Gabriel and I had to become so tight of a unit, that I honestly did a collection of just three or four drawings for this series. Gabriel has such a better handle on the world that he does all the design work now–a lot of the time, right on the page. I would give him a description of the character and then I would see it right on the page. I don’t think he worked out too much on a sketch pad beforehand. Little bits, like Hazel and Cha Cha, he spent a little time on, and Carmichael he spent a little time on; characters like that. But that was it. So there’s very little art from me this time, so I don’t know what the extras will actually be.
TFAW.com: No apple pie recipe?
GW: Yeah, exactly (laughs).
TFAW.com: So, if you could have a crossover between The Umbrella Academy and any other comic, from any publisher or era, what would you pick?
GW: I think a really interesting crossover would be either Doom Patrol or Challengers of the Unknown. That’s one of the unspoken influences on the comic, those really old ’60s Challengers of the Unknown comics. There’s some crazy stuff that happens in the books.
TFAW.com: The members of The Umbrella Academy have powers, but they’re not really presented as a traditional superhero team. Do you consider it a superhero comic?
GW: I don’t consider The Umbrella Academy to be at all a superhero comic. If anything, series two pushed that even further away. With series three and four, it’s going to get even further away from what’s traditionally perceived as a superhero comic. I don’t know what it’s going to be considered as–maybe a post-modern science fiction drama? But that’s what I feel it’s moving toward. There’s not even a lot of costumes going on. I think of the comic more as an adventure comic.
TFAW.com: You and Gabriel Bá are a pretty good team, but are there any other artists you’d like to work with?
GW: Yes! Actually, the next series I’m doing with Dark Horse, I’ll be working with Becky Cloonan, and she’s someone I’ve been wanting to work with awhile. I kinda want to keep it in the family, and to me, that’s Gabriel, Fabio Moon, Vasilis Lolos, Becky, Rafael Grampá–all the guys who did the 5 anthology. I’ve had a really strong connection with them, personally, and I want to work with all of them. Those are the guys and girls that excite me the most–that kind of tight little group. They all kind of found each other. I think that eventually I will have worked with all of them–that’s what I’d love to do.
TFAW.com: So you think you’ll do any artwork yourself, or will you stick with the writing?
GW: Right now I’m going to stick with the writing. As far as concept stuff into the comic, Becky has already nailed it. I expected that I would do the same thing as I did with Umbrella, which was create a ton of drawings, but it’s been really hard with the record so I haven’t had a chance to do that. But I did get to build a model, which was really fun for me, and this was the first time I’ve ever built a piece of reference for an artist for a comic.
TFAW.com: What was it?
GW: I can’t actually say yet, but everyone will get to see it eventually. It’s this car model. It’s very integral to the comic series I’m doing, in the way that Kaneda’s bike was kind of a character in Akira, this car is the same type of thing. When I built the model, it took me about four days to get it to look right and do all the masking and detailing and stuff, but I wanted to get it totally exact to the way it should look in the book. It’s going to be a really interesting thing when we finally do a collection, to have photos of it.
TFAW.com: This project with Becky, is this the next Umbrella Academy series, or a one-shot?
GW: Oh, this is a totally new series.
TFAW.com: Oh, okay!
GW: Gabriel is always going to be the one doing Umbrella. Right now, he’s taking a break, and I didn’t want to give him something else to do. Gabriel and I have both decided that if we’re working on something together, it should be Umbrella.
TFAW.com: What’s the new series? Can you talk about it?
GW: I don’t know if I can yet, to be honest with you. Once I finish writing my lyrics for this album and start doing my vocals, I think then I’ll be able to sit down and really plot it out. I think it’s going to be a seven to eight issue series. I need to lock down the plot points so I can talk about it when people ask.
I’m writing it with a partner, who is an old associate of mine. We kind of wrote it together when we used to tour together in the van. I think that was the genesis for a lot of the slang and the locations in this comic. But it’s by no means autobiographical at all. It’s a really crazy sci-fi action comic, conspiracy story. So that’s going to be me with another writer, and Becky is the artist. And I think Dave Stewart is gonna color it.
We want to thank Gerard for taking the time to talk with me, and he’s definitely piqued our interest for the new comic series.
So who has finished reading Dallas? What do you hope to see in future Umbrella story arcs? Will you check out Gerard’s new comic book series, even with a different artist? Anyone wondering how Gerard is on the phone (he was really nice)? Post your comments and questions below!