Though "The Umbrella Academy" writer Gerard Way has played sold-out shows across the countries as the lead singer of the super-popular band My Chemical Romance, there was a bit of stage fright for the rocker-turned-comics-scribe last weekend at Comic-Con International.
"He's really nervous," writer Grant Morrison told the crowd.
"I am," Way admitted.
"There's no guitars," Morrison chided.
The two met up in San Diego for the Born Under a Dark Sun panel, which was touted in the Comic-Con programme as a discussion about "death, death, and everything: comics, culture, the war on youth and how you can fight back. This panel will change your life!"
A bold panel description, but one that surely delivered for some fans.
"When we first met, we had this idea ï¿½" let's have a panel," Way said."I was so honored, he's my hero ï¿½" he inspired me. I said, 'Let me write a comic first.'"
"An you're an Eisner Award winner now," Morrison said, eliciting boisterous applause from the crowd for Way's "The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite," winner of the 2008 Best Limited Series award.
"That award means so much... I'll probably never win a Grammy now," Way said. Way told the crowd that he was recently asked if winning the Eisner was as significant as a Grammy.
"I said 'absolutely.' I don't know what a Grammy means anymore, but I know what an Eisner means."
"I'm going for a Grammy next," Morrison laughed.
Way then brought it back to the bold description of the panel. "(Morrison) wrote a very ambitious description of this panel... he said he wants to inspire people. Everyone has a dream, an aspiration. It's why you're at Comic-Con."
Morrison followed Way's lead and offered some inspirational thoughts to the attendees. "You have to remember, in the entire history of the universe, you're the only you that has ever existed," he said. "Only you see the world the way you see the world. We want to know how you see it. It might be so beautiful, so different, that it changes everything."
Again, the crowd was moved to applause.
With a microphone set up in the middle of the room, the two invited questions. A fan asked Way if he could describe "The Umbrella Academy," because he had not yet read it. "Well, it's about a group of cowboys..." Way said.
"All gay," Morrison continued, before getting serious. "It's a post-modern superhero story."
"It's the X-Men for cool people," Way concluded on his debut book from Dark Horse.
Way then started talking about how he didn't want his fame as a singer to have any affect on his comic."It was a very important thing to me to keep the band as separate as possible," Way said. "(The band) is only mentioned in three places: The Diamond preview catalogue, a Wizard ad, and on the back of the book. I don't feel like we ever tried to capitalize on the band. I'm proud of being in the band. ...If we ever release the pitch, you'll see elements of 'The Black Parade.'"
A fan asked the duo how they felt about the way Hollywood was influencing comics. "Movies tend to steal our stuff," Morrison said. "I think we should make (comics) even weirder. Comics do weird better than any other medium. We just need more weird shit, to be honest."
Way agreed. "The 'Doom Patrol' reprints came out... There's still nothing like this today. I read this after I got clean, and I said, 'this is what I want to do.' Talk about weirdness... That's what I want to do, I'm going to figure it out."
Way then talked about how unique comics are as a medium, comparing them to music. "Let's say [My Chemical Romance] decide we want to sound like MC5 or the Stooges... it'll sound like how I interpret MC5," he said. "I wanted to do something so bat-shit, they wouldn't want to make a movie out of it."
"Lots of comics are just pitches for movies these days," Morrison agreed. "I'd like to say we're post 9/11 now, it's time to start telling more stories."
As the fan left the microphone stand, he approached Way on the stage and videotaped him up close.
"Now you're making it weird," Way said, annoyed.
"He's going to shove your head into the ground," Morrison warned.
A fan of Morrison's "The Invisibles" asked Morrison if he'd like to see those characters get the Hollywood treatment.
"Of course! I'd rather write it then let some Hollywood nut-job get his hands on it," he said. "I read in a magazine, they asked a writer, 'How do you feel about (the movie industry) ruining your books?' He said, 'They can't ruin them, they're on the shelf.'"
"If they ever make an 'Umbrella Academy' movie, it has to be made as the first post-modern superhero movie," Way added. "It can't be "X-Men," it can't be "Harry Potter." There is no origin story."
A fan asked what the two thought of so many characters ï¿½" Bucky, Jason Todd ï¿½" coming back from the dead. "When me and Grant kill a character, they feel more dead," Way said proudly. "In our comics, they feel dead... I mean, they're dead."
"And they deserve it, too," Morrison added.
A young female fan told Way that her girlfriend, who could not attend Comic-Con, was a huge My Chemical Romance fan, and wanted to know if he would say hello to her on her cell phone. Way didn't seem eager to talk on the phone during the panel, but said he would. Then the fan started dialing her friend. Not realizing the fan wasn't already on the phone, Way tried to move on to the next question.
"You're making it weird," he told her.
Another fan began asking a question when the woman walked up to the stage and handed Way her cell phone.
"Goodbye," Way said, as he hung up the phone and handed it back. Quickly, a security guard approached the woman and asked her to get back to her seat. She quickly scurried away.
"Did that just bum everybody out?" Way asked. "Sorry."
Later in the panel, Morrison told the story of when he first met Way. At the time, Way was still trying to live a normal life without a bodyguard, he said, something the rocker could no longer do.
"The first time I met Grant, he was dressed as a super-villain," Way added.
"I pretended to be his bodyguard," Morrison laughed.
"And nobody fucked with me!" Way said.
Way also told the story of the first time he ever saw Morrison, when he was an intern at DC Comics.
"The first time I saw Grant, I was essentially a copyboy at DC," he said. "The Invisibles had just started up. It was like King Mob showed up. We're talking silver vinyl pants, leather bumpy jacket... and it's 104 degree New York weather."
Way was asked what it was like living in the spotlight and having fans everywhere he goes. "If you walk around like it's not a big deal, it's not a big deal," he said. "I'm still mostly the same pissed-off 17-year-old."
A fan asked what they liked about working on original characters over classic characters. "Doing a character with history, like Batman or Superman, you're not going to please everyone," Morrison told the fan. "When you do your own stuff, no one is going to say 'He doesn't talk like that,' or 'Batman has never taken his pants down like that in public.'"
"The idea of working on established characters is exciting to me," Way said. "But the Umbrella Academy is my home, Dark Horse is my home. That's the way I wanted it."
"Who would read a Gerard Way Batman comic? I would," Morrison said to a chorus of applause from the crowd.
Almost a guarantee for every panel, a fan asked about inspiration. "I was inspired by a lot of stuff," Way said. "I grew up reading '80s 'X-Men.' I'm 31 now, so that doesn't appeal to me anymore. I just draw upon strange sources ï¿½" like a Wes Anderson film, or if David Lynch got to direct 'X-Men.' A lot of it was being on the road.
"The coolest thing about getting clean ï¿½" I'm way crazier sober than I ever was on drugs," he added.
A fan asked if Morrison ever wanted to try to work with Way in his profession as a rock star. Way then told a story about how they had planned on using Morrison as a writer for a music video for the band ï¿½" a music video with a budget of $600,000. "I demanded most of (the budget)," Morrison laughed. Way said they planned on casting Morrison as the Devil for the video.
"There was a scene where we were really fucking close, yelling in my fucking face."
Morrison told the crowd that he does have a musical past. "I started out in bands. I was in punk bands. Comics to me were a way to make a living without four other guys," he said. "I'm still making music. I just started doing it again... I'll get it out there. Check my website."
The panel ended with Way proposing an intense writer's workshop to his hero and now colleague. "You know what I think would be fun? Get a hotel room for a week. Drink all the coffee we could. Do some stories and just create a universe," he said.
"Challenge accepted," Morrison responded.
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