In a nearly lightless unisex bathroom in the Body English club at Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Gerard Way, “My Chemical Romance” vocalist, creator of the Dark Horse Comics-published science fiction/superhero series “The Umbrella Academy” and MorrisonCon special guest, unpacked a shaving kit and stated what he loved most about the convention was the chance to have in-depth conversations with fans.
“I never get to do that. Usually, they truck everybody through,” Way said, calling the convention an “amazing” change of pace. The comics creator/musician, who spoke on panels earlier that day with Morrison and fellow musicians Jimmy Urine and DJ Akira The Don, had really thrown himself into the convention spirit, extending his afternoon signing session from one to four hours and stretching his busy schedule to the limit in order to talk with fans.
Now on his way to a video filming, Way invited me to join him as he got ready. Minutes later, we stood in front of the bathroom mirror, chatting about Way’s musical accompaniment to Morrison’s 45-minute spoken word performance on Friday night as the rock star lathered up.
“I can’t remember when the thing came about, but it was like, ‘They’re going to do a convention about Grant.’ I was like, ‘Whoa! That’s really awesome,’ because I can’t remember the last convention they did based off an individual and their way of thinking,” Way said.
In 2010, Morrison appeared in “My Chemical Romance’s” music video “Art Is The Weapon,” starring as the video’s villain. For MorrisonCon, Way was more than happy to collaborate musically once again with the comics writer.
“So [Morrison] said, ‘I want to a piece, do you want to do it? I want to do a summoning ritual.’ I said, ‘Yeah!’ I mean, he’s my hero. I said, ‘Oh my God, yeah, I’ll do this summoning ritual with you!’ It’s funny, because exactly what happened when he mentioned it is exactly what I thought it was going to be, so no surprises to me, really.”
He was ready for a 45-minute spoken word/music performance that doubled as a magical summoning ritual?
“Yeah! Really ready for it!” Way answered as he enthusiastically began to shave. “It sounded and felt exactly like I thought it was going to feel, and I loved it!”
Despite Way’s own large fanbase, the musician/writer laughed when asked if he’d want to create a similar convention — a WayCon — for his fans.
“Grant is really the only one who could pull that off because he is so all encompassing with music and magic,” Way responded, shaking his head.
“I’d say if there’s anything’s underrepresented at the convention so far, it’s magic,” Way continued. “But that was the first thing everybody saw, so I really believe that thing was a magical interface with the fans, and I’ve never seen that at a convention. The fact that it’s underrepresented — it started with magic, and now it’s about other things.”
Shifting gears to his own work, Way explained that while there was talk last year of turning “The Umbrella Academy” into a film, there is little in the way of an update, though there have been some recent developments in regard to the script.
“We have a new script, which is a really important thing; I don’t know if there was going to be that much movement on the last script,” Way said. “The new script is really great and it’s really up to the powers that be if they want to make this movie.”
With an easy smile, Way admitted that his series, following the destructive and dysfunctional lives of seven grown ex-child superheroes trying to stave off the apocalypse, does not easily fall into the Hollywood formula.
“It’s not an easy sell, it’s not an easy movie. There’s a talking chimp, there’s a guy in a blue Martian gorilla body — that’s a hard movie to make! And for the money, it’s really hard,” Way said.
Nodding in agreement to a comparison of “Umbrella Academy” to an “X-Men” where Professor X really hates his students, Way said that the real challenge in adapting his work to the big screen is keeping the spirit in which it was conceived and written.
“It’s hard to get people’s brains wrapped around what that movie is supposed to be, because that movie is supposed to be cool. That’s the idea — it’s hard to make a cool movie. The cool movies, like ‘500 Days of Summer,’ that only cost what, 30 million? Trying to do that with a superhero movie and retain all creative control is very hard.”
Unfortunately for “Umbrella Academy” comics fans, Way said there is currently no concrete release date for “Hotel Oblivion,” the next chapter of the series, though he is hard at work on it.
“I started writing it, and [artist] Gabrielle [Ba] is very busy. The thing is, if it’s written, somebody will draw it. He’ll draw it when he gets the chance to draw it. I’m just writing it and I’m pretending that he’ll be able to draw it when I’m done,” Way said. “I was excited to start writing it again. I miss those characters, I miss that world.”
The first two arcs of Way’s series not only introduced fans to the world but also served as mini-character studies. The first, “The Apocalypse Suite,” revolved around non-powered Umbrella Academy member Vanya who learned she actually possessed the musical ability to end the world. The second, “Dallas,” followed time-traveling Number Five as he stumbled upon the apocalypse and got stuck in the body of a ten-year-old boy. The third chapter, Way told CBR, will likewise take a deeper look at one of the other seven main characters.
“We tried to make one character-centric; that way the trades all look really cool, you get a bit of that in each. I think you should focus on each character for at least one of them — everybody should get their spotlight for their trade,” Way said.
“This is a long shaving experience,” Way added, frowning at his chin in the mirror.
I had to admit I had never shaved before, so I have no idea what the experience was usually like.
“Razors are rough going,” Way sighed, reapplying the Bic to his chin.
Jumping back to his protagonists, Way said that he deliberately wanted all his characters to be unsympathetic when readers first met them.
“The reason I did that is because I think everybody is hard to like. I think we’re all hard to like as people. You got to get to know us, all of us, and I had never seen that represented in comics where it was, ‘It’s hard to like these characters!'” he said, laughing.
Finally packing up his on-the-road shaving kit, Way explained how “Umbrella Academy” and MorrisonCon shared a special sort of kismet, as Morrison was the one who inspired him to write in the first place.
“I read an interview — and this is the thing that made me want to do ‘Umbrella’ — I read an interview, and it was really almost like a manifesto. [Grant] was talking about how there’s this new wave of lo-fi weirdness about to hit us, it’s about to come, and I said to myself, ‘I want to be part of that. I’m going to make a book that’s a part of that.’
“If you look at comics today, right now, it’s all blowing up,” Way continued as we headed back downstairs to the waiting film crew. “That’s what’s happening; you read Matt Fraction, it’s happening from Marvel to DC, all over the board. He was right. But I read that and I took that as, ‘Oh, I better get off my ass and do something!’ Be part of this. That’s what it is.”
As for observations that Way’s unique, musically-influenced writing style held similarities to Morrison’s, Way countered, “It’s inspired by Grant, with this spirit of difference and creativity and energy. I actually think if you read our work, it’s very different. But the spirit is there of experimentation, creativity and all that stuff.
“I’m just another soldier, that’s how I feel. But a very different soldier, like I’m attacking the Northern front!” Way declared with a final laugh, pausing in the Body English green room to model his newly-shaven face for the camera and the applauding crew.
“You’re so shaven!” one of the camera operators laughed.
“I know!” Way said, grinning right back.