Born in part from designs created while on tour with his platinum selling rock outfit, My Chemical Romance, Gerard Way’s Umbrella Academy team formed the basis of one of comics’ most welcome surprises last year. Way’s debut miniseries is alternately ominous, funny, and surprising, all while reflecting a deep appreciation for and knowledge of its roots, paying quiet homage to everyone from Jack Kirby to Grant Morrison
As Way acknowledged in the first part of our interview, comics are the artist’s first love, a passion which led him to study the form at Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts and intern at DC Comics. It’s a passion that’s made more than clear with Umbrella Academy.
Was the book intended to be a miniseries, from the outset?
Sequels were always planned. It was intended to basically be structured like Hellboy. Because Mike [Mignola] basically pioneered that format. His grew out of necessity, it grew out of his style. He started to formulate this mythos and this continuity, which is incredible. I was lucky to have that as an inspiration. I knew that I wanted to do about nine mini-series. It does have a point, it does have an ending, but I have a little more time to plan now. I think, in the beginning with Hellboy, he was really just having a good time, and then he realized that people really love this character and care about his history, and then he started to create the continuity. But I have one already, having been inspired by him. I love that format. There could have potentially have not been another Umbrella Academy series this year, if I didn’t come up with something that I didn’t think was great, I wouldn’t have done it. I would have just waited until something pops up.
You also eventually have to go and record another record and go back on the road at one point. Is that another reason that you opted for the mini-series format?
That’s another reason, and another reason is that I don’t want to disappoint someone who’s a fan of the comic or comics in general. I don’t want to be a part of the problem. I don’t want stuff to be late. Just like I don’t want our album to be late. I want it to be amazing, but I’ll do it when I have something to say. My friends told me, if you don’t have something to say, don’t make an album, and I think the same should really go for comics, which is why I’m not really a fan of ongoing continuity comics. You’re going to have stretches of months where you’re not saying anything. You’re just kind of sauntering around, socking out villains. You should always be saying something, I think.
In terms of the writing, did it all come in one block, or was it carried out, over time?
It was carried out, over time. It was done like classic Marvel style, which is not how Dark Horse really does their books. The rough plot structure of the mini-series was slotted out, but then things grew and evolved and got better and changed. But then it was done seat of the pants. I’d write it, it would be sent to Scott [Allie], he’d approve it, and then send it to Gabriel [Ba]. Gabriel would draw it and finish it, and then it goes to print. The reason why we did it like that is it gave it room to change and evolve and have really fun things happen that would lend themselves to other series.
Was this first series always intended to be six issues?
Yeah. I always had this number six in my head. I don’t know why. I thought that anything less than that would be too short to tell what I wasnted to tell in the first seires. I don’t know how I got that number. To be honest with you though, I think it could have been seven or eight.
Does that make writing the six issue tough? Did you find yourself cramming a lot into the last issue?
Yeah. I think the next series might end up being five issues or six, but it won’t feel crammed. To me the first series feels a little crammed—or maybe it’s not. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be told. Maybe there’s some fat trimmed out that should be. But I was definitely biting my fingernails over the last issue, and I ended up thinking I went over one page and turned it over to Scott. He said, “you actually mistyped something. You’re right on the money. You did the exact number of pages.” I didn’t think I was going to make it.
Sort of a sign from the cosmos.
Yeah [laughs]. I was talking to Scott on the phone, and said, “isn’t that kind of like a sign, if I have to go a page over?” He was like, “no, it happens all the time.” I was like, “that just seems like cheating. I have to do it in 22.” He said, “no, you can do it in 24. We just need the script sooner, so Gabriel can draw it.” I thought I was sending him a longer comic and ended up getting it right on the money.
How much editing was involved on Scott’s end?
Well, we talk an awful lot, even to this day. We talk a lot about this universe. I think that’s one of Scott’s favorite things is that he gets to work with the creators, and all of these guys like Powell and Mignola and myself, we all have these universes in our head. They’re already there. We have these encyclopedias in our head and Scott is a part of them. He knows the mythos. There was a point where he corrected me about how a character would act, and he was totally right. We were talking about series two, and I said, “Rumor would do this,” and he was like, “no she wouldn’t. she’s a grown woman now.” He was totally right.
It sounds like you both get fairly attached to these characters.
Yeah, very attached. We both do. As far as editing, there’s sometimes more than I would hope. Like I turned in issue four and was like, “dude, this is going to fucking knock you on your ass,” and he was like, “this issue needs some work.” But yet I would turn in three or five and he would be like, “it’s perfect.” It’s always when you think you’ve got it in the bag that your issue needs work.
What about issue four made you think it would knock him on his ass?
Well, I thought the surprises in the issue were enough. We’d discussed the surprises, and I thought that was enough to carry the issue, but it wasn’t. there was a lot more atmosphere that needed to be set up—basically that dinner thing with the boy needed to happen. That wasn’t in there. Then the issue really came to life.
A lot has been said about Grant Morrison’s influence on your work. Has having subsequently met and befriended him affected your work at all?
Absolutely. I think the best part of it is seeing how much he goes with his gut and how carefree he is and how much fun he’s still having, after all of these years. He’s a total genius, but he doesn’t act like it. He doesn’t talk like he is or belittle you. He’s just having fun. That’s just something that found him, the way music found me. I have to work way more at writing than he does. He just sits down and it spills out of him. The way music spills out of me, comics spill out of him. Seeing that has just been really inspiring. I love being able to just bounce ideas off of him to see what he thinks. He tells me to stop being so afraid and to just do it. He and his wife have been really great. They’ve seen me go through a couple of different phases in my life, too, just in the last couple of years. We have a pretty special relationship.