Last week at Emerald City Comicon, DC Comics sent a strong message to fans worried that the streamlined "Rebirth" lineup would mean the publisher no longer had room for quirkier takes on DC characters. That message came in the form of Young Animal, a new, mature readers "pop-up imprint" curated by musician/comic book writer Gerard Way and featuring an experimental bent meant to call back to DC's trippy '80s and '90s comics crafted by writers like Grant Morrison and Peter Milligan.
Young Animal is slated to launch in September with a new "Doom Patrol" series, written by Way and illustrated by Nick Derington. "Shade, the Changing Girl" follows the next month from writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Becky Cloonan. "Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye," starring a little-known sci-fi spelunker from the Golden Age, is due out the same month from the writing team of Way & Jon Rivera, with art from "Powers" co-creator Michael Avon Oeming. Then November sees the debut of "Mother Panic," a wholly new character and concept, featuring "a celebrity heiress by day and brutal vigilante by night as she takes on the underbelly of Gotham City's high society." That series will be written by Jody Houser & Way, with art from Tommy Lee Edwards.
CBR News sat down with Way to discuss Young Animal in-depth, including the extent of his involvement in the line, his plans for "Doom Patrol" and whether or not all of this colorful weirdness is actually taking place somewhere in the mainstream DC Universe.
CBR News: Gerard, this is not only big news for DC Comics, but it's big news for you. You've been involved in comics for a few years now, but primarily in creator-owned projects. Now you're in a different position -- something of a leadership position, in guiding this line. What appealed to you about this opportunity, and the chance to spend more time on comics?
Gerard Way: I saw it as an opportunity to create a big piece of art, or a big art project, with collaborators. I wanted to form this little group, like a band, and then make crazy art -- take these characters to places they haven't been in a long time, but also new places. Personally, I think it's my job to get in there and completely mix it up, really take risks and all that. I think that's the job of everybody at Young Animal.
That appeals to me. Stuff like that appeals to me. I can do my own books, and I love doing my own books, and they sell well, and I have a day job. If I do something, it's because I really have a lot of passion for it.
What is it about these characters in particular that made them right for Young Animal? Obviously there's history with Doom Patrol and Shade as weirder, quirkier parts of the DC landscape -- then you're bringing in Cave Carson and a new character in Mother Panic. How did you land on this lineup?
It came up really quick, and I went with my guts. I started having talks with [DC Comics Co-Publishers] Dan [DiDio] and Jim [Lee] in South America, when we were doing [Comic Con Experience in Brazil]. I had been wanting to work with DC for like a decade. I met Shelley Bond about 10 years ago to talk about maybe a Vertigo book, and then it turned into "Doom Patrol;" there were a lot of starts and stops with that. But it felt like the time was right. I was talking to Jim and Dan, and Jim had suggested the idea of an imprint, and that started to make sense to me. If I do "Doom Patrol" just by itself, it's really going to be on an island, because it'll be so different. I was like, "It would be nice if 'Doom Patrol' had some company." Let's revitalize experimental comics in the mainstream. If there's a company that can do it, you guys have been doing it forever. You have this rich history of that -- let's use that history.
Then it just happened very organically. I came in with my characters. I said, "I would do 'Doom Patrol,' I would do 'Shade the Changing Girl,'" I busted out Cave Carson. I got to be honest -- I think "Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye" is the title that got me the gig. When I presented that to Dan, he was like, "Alright, we have to do this."
Have you also been recruiting the talent, too, to work on the books?
Yeah! I'm working very closely with Shelley Bond and Molly Mahan. They have a wide pool of artists they've used for Vertigo. Then there are some artists that I grew up loving -- Mike Oeming, Tommy Lee Edwards. I'm trying to pull in maybe people that don't know normally do those kinds of books. I know Mike does mature books, but I don't know if Tommy Lee has done a mature, Gotham book.
I just found people that way. Shelley would bring suggestions, and I met Cecil, and she seemed perfect for "Shade;" I met Jody, and she seemed perfect for "Mother Panic."
You're writing "Doom Patrol" solely. What do you have planned for the book? Obviously the Grant Morrison-written years is what most people would look to today, but the original run was also something weirder for DC in its own time -- how are you bringing "Doom Patrol" into now?
The first step is honoring everything that came before it -- and then completely fucking it all up. That's the idea! When you're writing "Doom Patrol," I think it's your job to go in and do your take, and completely throw it in a blender and fuck it up in the best possible way. That book is weirdness and chaos, and all that stuff.
It's interesting: When I first started doing "Umbrella Academy," a lot of people were like, "Oh, this is a lot like Grant's 'Doom Patrol.'" And they were right, it was. That was the biggest inspiration. But it was also inspired by the first series of "Doom Patrol." There are issue titles I lifted from that, like, "The Night Negative Man Went Berserk" became "The Day The Eiffel Tower Went Berserk" in my comic. So there was stuff from that first series.
How do we bring it forward? I think by taking lots of risks. You bring in some of these older characters, you use them in new ways. One of the great things about Doom Patrol, that's a constant, is change. If you really look at "Doom Patrol," these characters were always going through changes, constantly. Robotman would get a new body. Or Larry Trainor would become Rebis. I think that's what's important.
The artist on "Doom Patrol" is Nick Derington, and obviously visuals are vitally important -- for any comic, and certainly a new imprint looking to make a bold statement, you have to have the right artist.
You have to have the right artist. Shelley had suggested him. It had been a while since Nick did comics. He'd moved to Austin and was doing storyboards, and working for Mondo. Shelley brought him up, showed me some of his art, and then she asked him to do a drawing of Cliff Steele sitting on a subway. I was like, "This is the guy. This is perfect." He's wearing his '90s costume -- eventually we'll share that art, it's amazing.
When I talked to Nick, we really jelled. We're the same age, we both grew up in the punk scene, we both have a lot of the same aesthetics. It just clicked right away -- we got really lucky in that; it was just immediate chemistry.
Are you thinking long-term -- both with these specifics books, and with the imprint itself?
I want Young Animal to be around for a long time, like Vertigo's been around. I think it'd be really cool for them to have something like that. When you think about DC, it always comes back to the risks that they took in the '80s. Even stuff like "Watchmen," "Dark Knight" -- people had real vision back then, and said, "Alright, here's an adult Batman story. Here's an adult superhero comic." And nobody else really was doing that.
Could you see the line growing beyond these four books?
That would be ideal. It was very important for me to start it small.
Four's not that small!
It isn't. They're monthly! But I thought of it as an indie label, like Sub Pop. Even the logo that we designed kind of looks like the Sub Pop logo. [Laughs] The '90s were so important to me -- the '90s shaped me into who I am, and there are a lot of people out there that feel the same way. So I think when the announcement happened, everybody was like, "Oh my god, this is the greatest, I grew up on this stuff, and now I get it again."
I'm in it for the long haul, but we have to see how they do, obviously, and see if it works. I'm down for whatever.
Those '90s and '80s comics, like "Doom Patrol" -- how much did they influence you as an artist?
"Doom Patrol" really did help shape me into an accepting person, and it really broadened my horizon. There were a lot of issues that were dealt with in that comic, as well as Rachel Pollack's run, that really just opened my eyes to stuff. Characters being transgender, things like that. That's where that stuff was happening, y'know?
As established in the panel, it's ambiguous at this point as to whether these books will be off doing their own thing, or part of the DC Universe -- though I think some of the fun of that early Vertigo stuff like "Doom Patrol" and "Sandman" was that it was happening somewhere in the DC Universe of the time.
I would like it to connect as much as it can. Whatever makes sense. When I went back and re-read Grant's run, I was like, "Oh, there's the Justice League." But they only appear once, and it's kind of like, "Did it happen in continuity? Who knows?"
The further it went on...
Yeah, the further away it got from continuity. I like continuity, but they're doing this big thing with "Rebirth." I'm not really in the loop; they have plans for that. Young Animal's in its own pocket, really. I'm going to always request to be able to say, "Can I use Superman for a page?"
And one of the books is set in Gotham, so there is a connection there, however it's manifested.
You're going to see Bruce Wayne, you're going to see Batwoman, you're going to see these characters. And I'm very easy to collaborate with -- I'm willing to play ball with whatever they are doing. They're steering the company. They're steering the shape of these legendary characters, and I'm coming in and doing some experimental stuff. We'll see how it links.
Young Animal is scheduled to debut in September with "Doom Patrol" by writer Gerard Way and artist Nick Derington.