|Detail from Jim Lee’s variant cover for “The Umbrella Academy” #1, Series 2|
Before Gerard Way became lead singer for My Chemical Romance, the musician was an aspiring comics artist. Last year, he finally got the opportunity to realize that dream by writing “Umbrella Academy,” published by Dark Horse and featuring artwork by Gabriel Ba and covers by “Fables'” James Jean. “The Umbrella Academy” series 1 told the story of a dysfunctional family of superheroes, brought together by Sir Reginald Hargreeves, aka The Monocle, a space alien posing as a wealthy entrepreneur. In an event that has yet to be explained, 43 extraordinary children were born to 43 unsuspecting mothers. Those who did not die in childbirth were abandoned or given up for adoption. The Monocle adopted seven of these superpowered children with the express purpose of training them to save the world, and called the team the Umbrella Academy. CBR News caught up with Way to talk about what’s in store for the characters in “Umbrella Academy” series 2, the possibility of a big-screen adaptation of the franchise, and Way’s upcoming panel discussion with Grant Morrison at this year’s Comic-Con International.
CBR: Does “Umbrella Academy” series 2 pick up where the first series left off?
Way: Yeah, it’s not exactly where it left off, but it deals with something directly from the first series. It picks up right from that, as far as that is concerned, but some time has actually passed. In the “Umbrella Academy” world, we never mention any kind of year or anything, so it’s always kind of unclear what year it is and how much time has passed, but when you see the characters and what they’re up to, you realize that time has definitely passed. It’s been at least four or five months.
CBR: Where do we find the members of the Umbrella Academy at the beginning of series 2?
Gerard Way: I usually steer away from that until we start making some announcements. We want there to be a lot of surprises. We haven’t talked about exactly what the main problem is going to be, or where it’s going to end up towards issue 5 and 6, but you find the characters basically dealing yet again with having no purpose. This has now had a much more profound effect on them. They’re basically kind of living underneath the house in a bomb shelter that Hargreeves built. He had built this bomb shelter many, many years ago, and it’s the perfect little headquarters for them, but they’re kind of living really in a dark, dank basement together. Which, as you can imagine, is causing even more problems, them being in such close quarters.
CBR: The first series established that the Umbrella Academy were just 7 out of 43 children who got powers. Will series 2 introduce any of the rest of them?
Way: That’s a question that I get a lot, and obviously it makes sense, I set up this big thing in series 1, and people are constantly wondering where the other kids are. In this series, you don’t see any of the other children yet, that’s actually something that’s going to take a little while more before you see. People are wondering, “Where the hell are these kids? How could they have all vanished?” And there’s a point to that, there’s a reason that you’ve only seen 7 of them. You don’t see any of those kids this series. You actually learn a lot about Number 5, that’s kind of like the main focus of the series. It also introduces a totally new character which I’m pretty excited about. In this series, it just kind of the introduction of the character, and as (future) series go along, you will see a lot more of that character.
|Cover for “The Umbrella Academy” Volume 1|
CBR: Can you say anything else about this new character?
Way: It’s actually the character who appeared in the DHP “Anywhere But Here” story. It’s the guy that Kraken punches out at the punk rock show when they’re 13. The character is named John Perseus, and he’s the son of a powerful CEO of a corporation, and now that he’s grown up, he’s the same exact age as the kids, which will make people suspect that he is in fact one of these kids as well, because he’s the same age as all them. So that’s a really interesting character, and he’s going to have a lot to do with the genesis of the next series. He’s going to be the one that causes something major to happen in series 3.
CBR: When last we spoke, you said that one aspect of the Umbrella Academy world that you’d like to delve into was the birth mothers of the children. Will that be addressed in series 2?
Way: Actually, there is something in this series that starts to deal with the kids’ mothers. There’s a couple really cool small things. In this series, one of the fun things I’m getting to now is to really hint at stuff, and it’s not necessarily stuff that’s never going to have a payoff either, some of it will pay off in the immediate sense, some of it down the line, but there’s a lot of little things I’m getting to hint at now, and that’s been fun. This series is way more open than series 1. Series 1 was definitely on a strict path, we had a little bit of room to play around, because right around issue 4 and 5, and even in issue 3, the battle with the Terminauts, that wasn’t originally planned in the series. Scott, the editor, felt that the series needed a few more things, like there was just a few gaps, and so he gave us some room to play around. And now there’s a lot more of that room. Issue 1, for example, ended up being 32 pages with no ads, and that’s how long it had to be in order to tell that first story. Because it was so big. That’s actually how Perseus ended up being a character that’s now introduced, I wasn’t sure when I was going to be able to introduce him.
CBR: Is Gabriel Ba coming back to do the art?
Way: Yes, Gabriel’s coming back, doing all the art, and he’s doing the covers now, which I’m very excited about. James had actually left the book. He was really only supposed to do series 1. I think we were all a bit unclear about that, but he’s super busy, and he wanted to get more involved in fine art, which is completely respectable, and I wish him all the best of luck with that. He really wanted to focus on fine art, because his paintings are amazing as well. When I first had met him, he was at his studio at his house, he had all these amazing paintings, he was basically getting ready for his first fine art show. He’s so busy now. And we didn’t want to get another cover artist. Scott and I discussed this thoroughly, and we wanted Gabriel to do the covers, because this is very much Gabriel’s book, as much as it is mine and Scott’s and Sierra’s, and all the people at Dark Horse. But we wanted somebody that was very much a part of the team, part of the family, not somebody that we were going to lose down the line. And he’s doing an amazing job, he already turned in the cover to issue 2, and the cover to issue 1 is unbelievable. That’s all really exciting. I can’t see anybody else drawing “Umbrella Academy,” so hopefully if Gabriel ever gets too busy or his life gets too crazy, hopefully the fact that “Umbrella” series usually only happen about six issues a year will be able to keep him through the entire story.
|Gabriel Ba’s interior art from “The Umbrella Academy” Volume 1|
CBR: I know you’re an artist in your own right, have you given any thought to penciling a book yourself?
Way: I’ve thought about it a lot. I have a lot of self belief, I feel really strongly about all that stuff, but there’s something where, the lack of time that I feel I can dedicate to it, and the lack of just sheer discipline involved with actually drawing a comic, like, my hat really goes out to anybody that draws a comic because seriously the amount of discipline is unbelievable. And somebody like Gabriel is so gifted, and it comes so naturally to him that he’s a guy where he sits down and he loves drawing the buildings, he loves drawing the stuff in the back. Whereas that might be more of a challenge for me or some other artist, that’s like his favorite thing to do, the backgrounds, so you never really get cheated. I could write a bunch of stuff in a panel, and he’ll draw it. Whereas with me, I may end up cheating, because I just don’t have that discipline. I’ve found over the years that I’m way more suited to design, that’s kind of where I can do a lot of work, I can create something out of nothing. So that’s kind of my thing. I’ve thought about it definitely, and I just don’t think it would ever come out on time, I think it would always be late.
CBR: Do you have any more comics work on your horizon?
Way: “Umbrella Academy” is my baby. It’s my home, really, I think of it more as my home. It’s the book where it’s kind of my home base, Dark Horse is my home base, and it’s the book I’ll always do every year, I’ll do at least 5, 6, 7 issues of that a year. I haven’t even entertained the idea of maybe doing like one-shots and things like that too. These characters have had such an interesting past, that I often debate whether or not it’s best to show these little snippets in flashbacks or to just do a story. That’s what was great about things like DHP, I was able to do that story of Kraken and Vanya at the Punk band, where it didn’t necessarily fit into the story, but it was an important story to tell, and it actually has a lot to do with the second series. I have been talking to some people about doing some other comic book work, (but) it’s going to be a matter really of time, and how many ideas I have. Nothing I’m ready to announce yet, but there’s some really super exciting stuff that I’m talking to people about right now. Hopefully that works out. A lot of that’s all depending on if the ideas even get accepted. Because, you know, let’s say I was doing somebody else’s character, there’s a lot of change I would involve with that, and it would definitely be a standalone type situation, I would treat it like “Umbrella Academy” in the fact that I wasn’t beholden to any rules or continuity.
CBR: Any truth to the rumors about an “Umbrella Academy” feature film?
Way: Yes. Mike [Richardson] had just been at a premiere, and he ended up talking about it himself. I ended up being very tight lipped about it, because, you know, until people are really attached to a film, like director, cast, things like that, it’s best not to really talk a lot about it yet until those things are in place, that way you don’t seem crazy. The really exciting thing is, Dark Horse has signed this deal with Universal, I believe it’s a three picture deal, I can’t remember exactly the specifics of it. And one of the first films they wanted to investigate and pursue is a film of the “Umbrella Academy.” So it’s really exciting. It’s really only had one series out, I would definitely like to have three or four more of these out before it comes to theaters. And when they’re projecting it might come out, I think it’s at least the 4th or 5th series by then. Even I’m slightly skeptical, because it’s had one series. But I get it to some extent because that one series is extremely standalone, and it’s six issues, in a way, it’s almost the perfect movie length. It wasn’t written that way on purpose. I wanted it to feel cinematic, the pacing of it, have a beginning, introduction, rising action, things getting worse, and then some kind of resolve. So that was already worked in there. So the studio or anybody can literally pick up that trade and say, “This is the film.” They can cut little bits out, or add things, but this is it.
CBR: I know Grant Morrison has been a huge influence on your comics work, and that he wrote the forward to the first “Umbrella Academy” trade. Can you talk a bit about the panel you’re going to be doing with Grant at Comic-Con?
|Gabriel Ba’s interior art from “The Umbrella Academy” Volume 1|
Way: Grant and I became friends two or three years ago. One of the things that Grant and Kristen had suggested is that we do a panel at San Diego. I’ve been there 3 years now, the first year I was there to announce it, the second year I believe it was just coming out, so I hadn’t done any comics work. I ended up becoming such good friends with Grant and with Kristen and very much in tune with what Grant was doing, and I was kind of trying to carry on what he’d done in a different direction, so he thought it would be great to do a panel, and I thought it would be great to kind of wait at least until the first series came out, so that way, I’d have something to talk about. Depending on whether or not the series was received well, I could have something to say that has some kind of weight to it in comics. So this year seemed to be the perfect year to do it, because now the series is done, it’s been out. The idea to do a panel and what we’d be talking about came from this interview that I read of his, it was the main interview that inspired me to do “Umbrella Academy,” it talks about this new wave of lo-fi weirdness. That interview is like at least 6 or 7 years old. At the time that I read it, it was probably about four years old. I saw that as a huge thing, this is where my ideas are, this is what I need to do, I need to kind of rise up to what he’s asking for in the creative community, and that’s where I fit in. I read it and I instantly said, “This is where I fit in, this is where I belong, I need to become a part of this, this is what I’m doing already, it’s time to put it out into comics. I believe we’ll talk about post-modernism in comics, and kind of hopefully where they’re heading, other comic writers and artists that are really pushing that genre, because there’s not a lot, the only one that really comes to mind these days is Matt Fraction.
CBR: Any final thoughts?
Way: I’m answering a lot of questions about the movie, which is really cool. It’s really flattering. At the end of the day, I don’t know how much energy I’m going to devote to it if it does get made into a film. I think Mike does want me very involved, and because I love Mike so much, I would do that. But there’s an extent to which I feel like the comic is the comic and the comic will never be the movie, so I can’t try to get them to be the same thing. If I agree to let them make the film, I can’t then really, truly get upset with how it turns out, because it is going to have a director, and that director’s going to have a vision. And I have to understand that that’s there version, the comic is mine. I know that comics to film has been a source of frustration for lots of creators who don’t want to get caught up in that kind of thing, but with Mike being the executive producer, and him having me so closely involved, I think it’s probably going to be about the people that we choose, and then that will determine whether the film’s going to be great or not. My personal favorite director is Alfonso Cuaron. He did “Children of Men,” and he did “Harry Potter 3,” and he would be like my first pick for somebody I’d be really excited about working with.
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