The band My Chemical Romance may have went their separate ways this year, but the colorful characters inhabited by the cutting edge punk quartet are living on in the form of “The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys” comic from Dark Horse spearheaded by singer Gerard Way.
In the works since the band’s 2010 album “Danger Days,” the series co-written by Way and Shaun Simon and drawn by Becky Cloonan expands the world of the rebel Killjoys characters who protected the life of a young girl fated to save a dystopian society in My Chemical Romance’s last set of videos. The comics story picks things up years later after the Killjoys have vanished and the evil Better Living Industries tracks the girl and her new Killjoys-inspired friends through a post-industrial desert wasteland.
With the first issue of the series finally on the stands, CBR News spoke to Way, Simon and Cloonan about their collaboration with a behind-the scenes commentary track on the big moments from #1. Below, the trio explain how ever good idea they had went into the comic, why the focus for the series and the band was on the fans of the Killjoys, what Grant Morrison brought to the table in playing Draculoid master Korse and more.
CBR News: Guys, “Killjoys” #1 has been a long time in the coming. What’s it like in general to finally have the story out there and in front of people?
Gerard Way: It’s super crazy. It’s been so long!
Becky Cloonan: On the day of release, I was just inundated. I had to turn my phone off because it was just constantly vibrating. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t keep up with my Twitter feed because of all the replies. [Laughs] Every once in a while I look in on it, but it’s just crazy.
The thing I found most striking about this story was that it was not only set after the story of the album, but it’s focus is on fans. Many of the characters here are obsessed with the original Killjoys and are building their own culture from that idea. Why make that specific focus?
Way: I guess it’s two things. This story has changes so much, but when Shaun and I decided to go the path we chose -Â and even from my standpoint doing the videos -Â this was always the girl’s story. I never felt it was the band’s story. I know that sounds kind of strange since the band is very relevant to what we’re doing, but even in terms of our band’s whole career, I always felt it was the fans’ story -Â their experience with My Chemical Romance.
And in the comic, the stuff with the Ultra V’s I think Shaun and I handled in a really cool, mature way. It was drawn from real life. Are they fans, or are they different? I think they’re more realistic. I think they’re people who at one point looked up to those guys and then kind of grew out of it. They said, “We can do it better” because the next generation is always trying to eat the old one.
The story opens with and is framed by this DJ telling that story. I know that’s the same way the album worked, though I keep thinking of movies where this happened – “The Warriors” or “American Graffitti.” But is there a specific inspiration that led to that framing device to drive the narrative?
Way: “Vanishing Point!” For me, that movie was the early one we looked at. The DJ in “Vanishing Point” is the unsung DJ of ’70s movies. [Laughs] When it was just a guy named Mike Milligan going on this odyssey with his radio talking to him -Â which was one of the original incarnations of this – we were very much paying attention to “Vanishing Point.”
Shaun Simon: I think that’s what started it, and then after the record, Gerard had built this whole world around the Killjoys. When it came time for the comic, Gerard called me up and said, “We ran out of money. We wanted to make the third video, but we don’t have the money. So do you want to make the idea for that video into a comic?” We started talking about ideas, and we had so many that it turned into this whole series.
And it seems like the comic was born out of a lot of collaboration. Maybe this is just me, but I feel like Becky added the cat in. Or at least I want to see Becky draw cats forever now.
Cloonan: No, that was in the scripts. [Laughs] But going back to what you were saying about the fans and everything, this project has been going on for so long it’s like the comic was informing the music which was informing the videos which informed the comics. You get all these fans that are invested in this story and this world that it’s really been what I try to keep in my mind as I draw it. This is a world people already know about and have thought about. That makes me extra conscious to be as true to that as possible. I’ve got these spreads where I watched the videos and said, “Oh, that’s in the background. Let me put it in this background.” It’s something I’m constantly thinking about.
There was a template set by the videos for a lot of the scenery and costuming, but what were the elements that you guys found were the most unique to comics?
Simon: The Lobby and Battery City. That was a whole part of the story that just didn’t exist in the videos. It’s brand new to the comics, and even in the world that was there, we were expanding on that too. With The Nest and these other parts of the desert and these other characters, the whole world continues.
Cloonan: It’s like every timeline in this could shoot off into its own new comic. There’s so much world building. It’s so great and so lush.
Way: What was really fun for me, because I did so much of the design work for the videos, was that there were a lot of discussions happening over that time. Shaun, Becky and I would talk frequently, and what was really awesome was how all the stuff came together that wasn’t in the videos.
At one point, I was talking to Shaun, and I said, “It’d be really rad to shoot this extra footage of you as the fifth Killjoy.” And the stuff Shaun came up with for the Ultra V’s had a really distinct vision. I’d had a vision for this Kill team, and then to see Shaun’s vision of this young Kill team and Becky’s vision that she threw into the mix, it mean we all got to design them. It was really amazing. Especially with Cola, I felt like Shaun in a lot of ways would have been Cola [in the videos] if we’d had more money.
Let’s talk a little bit about each of the main threads introduced in this issue, starting with the girl herself. The videos took place years before the comic, when the girl was still young, and the original Killjoys were convinced she was fated to save the world. What’s the attraction to centering this story on a “chosen one” arc?
Way: Shaun and I talked a lot about how in this story, we have all the trappings of dystopian science fiction. And I learned long ago that you can use these built-in scenarios so you can just pop things in the story and not spend a lot of time on that. People automatically look at it, and it’s a visual clue that this is a dystopian situation like “Logan’s Run” or stuff you maybe saw on TV growing up. Having that built in already, it allowed us to put more in under the surface. One thing I keep saying in interviews is that I hope people are going to be able to take a lot more from this than from a simple dystopian story. It’s really not just that. We’re able to subvert and try different things. There’s a very human story in here as opposed to a classic “Man Vs. Society” kind of thing.
Simon: One of the things we decided early on was that you open on page one, and by page two and three, you’re off already. We didn’t want to spend time explaining everything. No long exposition. We just wanted to get up and go. Like Gerard was saying, in these types of stories you automatically get it. We don’t have to explain how the world got here and why it’s like this. We just go. I always say that I like to figure things out as I go. I don’t want to be told everything at the beginning. I want things to be a little mysterious so I can take the journey along with these characters and find out things as they do.
Cloonan: And each character has their own journey. For the girl, for me, it’s very much her coming of age story. With some other characters, I can approach it as more of a romance. And with another, it’s about trying to find himself while keeping part of himself hidden. It’s about him coming to terms with it and being okay with himself. This all comes under the veil of this science fiction/dystopian future/Orwell scenario, but it’s grounded in these very human elements. I try to keep that in mind as I layout each page.
One of the newest elements to the comic, like you guys were saying, is Battery City and the Lobby. And the key figure in that story seems to be Blue. She’s one of the few people in this world we’ve seen who’s been on the inside of all this, but so far we know so little about her. What’s her story all about as the book goes along?
Way: There’s a cool real life backstory to how Red and Blue both ended up in this story.
Simon: When we were working on “Killjoys,” I had this idea for a project called “Black Market Women” which was about these two sex workers who lived in the Lobby. As we started talking about the comic, we realized that what we were talking about for both was the same kind of stuff. It was a lot of extending the world and things we wanted to explore more. And this story really became about how Better Living Industries is affecting not just the lives of the people in the desert but also the lives of people in the city and people who work for the corporation. In issue #2, there will be another main character added to this story, and we’ll get to know his story too. It’s all about how the corporation is affecting these people in very similar ways.
Was there one new thread in all of this that became more important or most important to each of you as the full extent of the world took shape in the comic?
Way: I feel this is a very unique book in that we became excited about all the arcs, but then as we got going more arcs became present. Like Phoenix Witch came into it and grew into something way more important than just a side character. At one point, Shaun had a breakthrough on what Phoenix Witch was. Some of the springboard stuff literally came from standing in the desert with your friends and going, “Hey, this is going to look really cool.” We’d shoot it in a really bad hotel room with a dead guy on the bed, and Korse is grabbing my face and yelling in it. We had no idea what was happening in that scene. It just looked like a cool shot. A lot of those images ended up informing real stories. Phoenix Witch was like that, but it was something we didn’t get to put in the videos because that was a really expensive costume to make.
Having said all that, all the arcs became thrilling to us. We’d discover something about Korse and have to do that. And other characters would find something important out about themselves, and we’d have to work it in.
Simon: I think what it comes down to is that we had so many ideas and characters, and the ones that really stuck out were the ones we cared about in the comic. That’s what we ended up including in there. For example, in the Free Comic Book Day story we had Vacation Adventure Society, which is something Gerard and I have been talking about for probably ten years now.
Way: Oh my God! [Laughs] That was totally insane.
Simon: I know, right? It was so cool that we finally got to do that, but it really could have been a whole story all on its own. We only did the ones that really meant something to us.
Way: Yeah, Vacation Adventure Society was an idea that Shaun and I had to start a band that was basically a DAT machine. Shaun was going to dress like a guy who worked a booth at the Jersey Shore way back in the day, and I was going to wear a gorilla suit. That was the thing! It was going to be like party electro punk.
Simon: Some of the earliest shots of it were just of a keytar on the Jersey Shore for the cover of the record. [Laughs]
Way: What I love about this comic is that for this whole world and all the creators, no one was stingy about any ideas we’d come up with in our entire lives. Even if it was an idea we loved that could only show itself in a Free Comic Book Day special or just half a panel, we’d just throw these ideas in there. It adds to the world.
Cloonan: I hate the idea of saving ideas anyway. It’s like saying, “I have to save this for later because it can only be good later.” If you’re thinking like that, you only save ideas. If you use the ideas now, you have to think of something better later.
Lastly on the tour of the book are the Draculoids and Korse and all the villains from the video, and it seems so far like we’re going to get a lot more story on how these drones for the corporation came to be. You’ve said you had so much fun doing the designs of the Killjoys and the Ultra Vs who are so much their own people. Is there something fun about doing these characters who are forced to be more uniform?
Way: Yeah. That was actually, in a lot of ways, more fun because it was a really big challenge. And I didn’t even realize this until we were filming the second video, but Jimmy from the band Mindless Self Indulgence played the main Draculoid, and he came up going, “I just realized…me and the other guys kind of look like Stormtroopers from Star Wars, but we’re these really insane punk rock ’70s horror movie versions!”
And Becky also pointed out, because she was the first person who had to draw them, that they look like Sid Vicious. She said, “I’m drawing this crazy Sid Vicious vampire” and you had this other reference point too…
Cloonan: It was Michael Myers from “Halloween!” These are like if Michael Myers were running around in a vampire cape. [Laughter] That’s how I approached it.
Way: So they were really fun to make. You’re getting into this world and just having fun with it. Again, you can just make something that’s not super generic because you’re not riffing on World War II stuff for your villains. You can have so much fun with it. Sitting with Grant [Morrison] was insane. Grant really designed his own costume. I sat down with him and said, “Let’s talk about Korse” and he immediately said, “This is what I think abotu Korse. He’s a bit of a dandy.” And he’s got all these ideas for it.
Cloonan:I love that Grant Morrison just owns that jacket. [Laughs]
Way: He was like, “I really want a frilly cuff.”
Simon: One of the best panels Becky did in issue #1 was when Korse was holding the gun. It’s so him.
Way: We practiced that a lot. I remember standing in my house and handing Grant his gun, and he immediately held it up in front of his face and was just like, “This is how Korse would hold it.” [Laughter] It’s crazy how many memories are coming back now that the book is coming out.
Looking forward, we’ve had so much of the ideas started up already, but there’s still a lot to do yet, and you left this on a literally explosive cliffhanger. What comes next?
Way: It’s a super dense story, and Shaun and I thought we were going to have to add an extra issue.
Simon: We already have the girl, we have Red and Blue, and in issue #2 we’re going to introduce our third main character. He’s in issue #1 some already. But it’s three main characters, and the thing about #1 is that if you really pay attention to it, when you get to the final issue you’ll see that there were some elements of it set up from the very beginning. Everything that happens here has a purpose and a reason, and everything’s going to be explained. Every thread will close, and you’ll have no questions left. The book goes up and down, but it’s moving the whole time.
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