There’s a long tradition of rock and comic books drawing influence from one another, from Wings recording “Magneto and Titanium Man” to KISS appearing in an Archie comic. But it’s rare to see rock stars actually enter the funny-book arena and create their own. Enter My Chemical Romance front man Gerard Way, a lifelong comics geek who just last year began curating and creatively guiding an imprint of comics for DC Entertainment called Young Animal.
It consists of innovatively off-kilter series that take place at the mainstream DC universe’s margins, riffing on long-ignored characters or twisting existing archetypes. The centerpiece is the Way-written Doom Patrol — illustrated by Nick Derington and Tamra Bonvillain — which follows a group of misfit quasi-superheroes who struggle to get themselves together as much as anything else.
At last weekend’s San Diego Comic-Con, Way and DC announced that Young Animal would soon be crossing its titles over with more conventional superhero characters, starting with a crossover between the Doom Patrol and top-tier superhero squadron the Justice League. We caught up with Way at the convention to talk about the differences between making music and movies, the advice he’s received from a past Doom Patrol writer, and how comics is kinda his main thing now.
Are you a big superhero-movie fan? Do you watch superhero movies?
No. And that’s not because I don’t like comics. I just have a really hard time watching TV and film.
Just in general?
Just in general. It’s just hard. I get super excited about films that I find to be super unique and weird and kind of different, as opposed to kind of like, just superhero stories. You know?
Why is it difficult for you to watch film and television?
I don’t know. I can only make it about ten minutes in before I want to do anything but watch TV. I started reading a lot.
Yeah. That’s why.
It’s easier for you to pay attention reading a book?
Yes. Oh, yeah. If I sit down to watch a show, I’m done in, like, about seven minutes. I’m out. I’m done. I can read, though. I can focus on that.
What’s your soundtrack while you’re writing?
Sound recording artists like Jana Winderen. There’s a couple of people who do these wire recordings out by the highways. A lot of textural stuff.
What are the origins of Young Animal?
I think the origins of Young Animal start with Vertigo comics in the ’90s and discovering those kind of books, as opposed to the more mainstream superhero stuff I was reading at the time, which was X-Men. I did have cool side diversions too. I had a best friend whose sister was a really cool drummer who went to art school, and she would give us Hate to read and Love and Rockets and things like that. There’s a little bit of that that really definitely inspired me as well. The basis has a lot to do with the period where Vertigo was taking a more obscure characters and doing takes on them. Vertigo now doesn’t do that. Vertigo — they do creator-owned things, and handle some big characters. There was no component to DC doing these kind of stranger takes on obscure characters. It made sense for us to have something like that.
How did you get together with DC to work that out? Did they come to you or did you come to them?
It was a little bit of both. We kind of came to each other. I’d been friends with [DC Entertainment co-publisher] Jim Lee for quite a long time. I’d known [co-publisher] Dan DiDio for a long time. It just was very natural. I was at a convention in South America and Dan and Jim and I talked about the potential of doing more stuff for DC. When I realized I wanted to write Doom Patrol, I realized it needed kind of a family around it — the books. Not many, just enough to have it exist in a place.
The Doom Patrol are probably most closely associated with Grant Morrison, who wrote stories about them a few decades back. Have you communicated with him at all?
A little. Yeah. Absolutely. Actually, it was like, anytime he’d have a birthday party at his apartment, I would go and eventually we would talk about Doom Patrol a little bit and I would tell him what I was thinking and he would give me really good advice. Like, “Don’t try to do big, epic stories. Try to do two-parters and three-parters and get in there and have fun.” I haven’t taken that advice yet. [Laughs.] I’m about to, because I’ve done it the other way and it’s kind of soul-crushing to try to do these six-part, mega-intricate things.
I have to say, when it was initially announced that you’d be making this play in comics, I assumed you’d do it for a bit and then bow out to return to music full time, but it’s really seemed to take root for you.
Yeah. It has.
Is this sort of your main thing now?
It kind of is. Yeah. I have a studio where I can make music, so I’ve started to do that, as well, but this is kind of my main thing. I work on this every day and I write Umbrella Academy and I write Doom Patrol.
What’s been the biggest surprise about working on Young Animal?
It was a nice surprise, but I think the amount of trust they had and faith in not only me but our editors and the talent that we found. They had a tremendous amount of faith in us. They do let us try things. They let us take risks. They’re very easy with that. There’s obviously certain things you wouldn’t do or you couldn’t do but they’re very open to stuff.
What’s been the biggest challenge along the learning curve of figuring out how to be a curator, how to run a line?
The curating part feels a little more natural. It’s the schedule. It’s trying to stick to that monthly schedule of writing books has been the toughest thing. I commend any monthly comics writer, but with the additional work of the imprint, it’s made it a little challenging to get my scripts in on time because I’ve got the other stuff going on. I hadn’t really thought about that when I started.
Where’s Young Animal going next?
We’re going to see some new mini-series. We’re going to see our third arcs. We’re going into a DC universe/Young Animal crossover. And then after that, I believe, comes this kind of second wave. We’re going to see which books continue on. We’re going to see what maybe gets changed or a title changes or something. It’s kind of like a new era for, a new direction for Young Animal.
How did the crossover with the mainstream DC universe come together? Was that your idea?
It was kind of the idea of Dan DiDio and Jim Lee, and I got excited about it because it meant getting to take Doom Patrol and do something really wild with them with some DC characters.
Can you give me any little hints?
I can’t, apparently, because I still don’t know what I’m allowed to talk about!
You’re a good company man. Have other musicians come to you and say, “Hey, how do I break into comics?”
No. The only other musicians that I really talk to about it have been [Say Anything’s] Max Bemis who obviously already broke in and [Coheed and Cambria’s] Claudio Sanchez was doing it before me, so he obviously knows what he’s doing. Not too many. Not yet. One of my favorite writers is Geoff Rickly from Thursday. I would love to see some writing from him either in comics or elsewhere. I always felt he was going to write an amazing book, but we never really talk about comics too much.
Who’s your favorite character to write in Doom Patrol?
Yeah. What’s great about that?
It’s really fun to come up with the stuff that comes out of his mouth. It’s just super fun. He’s a really fun character to try to stick to his legacy. When you’re writing other people’s characters, you’re really just testing the limits of the original character. You’ve seen what you can get away with, but it’s cool with Cliff to celebrate those old elements, as well. It’s fun. It’s like you’re using tools that are just for that character.
What’s the biggest difference between creating music and creating comics?
For me personally?
Yeah, for you personally.
I find that writing is way harder, writing prose or comics or whatever. Way harder than writing music. Although writing music can be way more brutal. I find that sitting there and getting past the blank page or just the getting in the mood to do it and getting really just finding yourself in the flow — sometimes it gets so rare, and you bang your head against the desk all day. That doesn’t really happen for me with music.
This interview has been edited and condensed.