This week The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys is hitting comic shops in both trade paperback and limited edition deluxe hardcover. To mark the occasion Gerard Way took a little time to talk with us about how the series developed, found its distinct look, and came to be the story it is. We also touch on the future of Umbrella Academy, the concept behind All Ages and more.
We’d like to start with the beginnings of “Killjoys.” This was a story that was a bunch of years in the making, had a fairly healthy gestation time. Can you talk a little bit about what it was like when you were first breaking that story, and then hashing it out with a co-writer and spreading it out over different mediums?
Gerard Way: You know, the origin of the whole “Killjoys” and the art that it ended up creating… The start of that was such an exciting time. I’ve never seen an idea form so quickly and then take so long to come out. It was the kind of thing where Shaun (Simon) and I were just plugged into the same thing at the same time; we both had similar things we wanted to say, and then literally just started making it up. I’ll never forget going to the costume shop with him and then saying, “OK, we’re only going to –” and it wasn’t like this major chain, either, it was just this Mom and Pop shop. And I think the goal was, we’re going to go in here and we’re only going to put into the comic what we can come out with. The characters will literally only be wearing stuff that you could find here. That really was the template for how everything was going to look, even though later on it got heavily designed, it got more science fiction, it got a little slicker. But it all started in this crazy moment of inspiration.
Because it got connected, because it was such a vibrant world and it got connected to the music, it took a lot longer for it to come out.
You know, you mentioning the costume shops touches on something else I was curious about. The whole look of everything that you did related to “Killjoys,” from start to finish, is very distinct and unique. In terms of My Chemical Romance, it’s very of your voice. You mentioned polishing it up and adding a more sci-fi element; what was that process like? Who did you bring in, who were some artists that you worked with, or was it you and your sketchbook?
GW: The first person we worked with was Becky (Cloonan). We had sent her some of my scribbles, photos of some of the items we had picked up at the costume shop, and she just started working on the original characters. That was the first sense that it was very organic, before it had gone on to deep sci-fi territory. That’s when it was solely the costume shop. But then, I brought Vasilis Lolos out to work on storyboards with me. He actually conceived the gun and we worked on all that together. Then everything went on hold for a while because we decided to scrap the record we were working on and make this new one, that really fit in with what we were doing with the visuals.
Then a lot of people start to get involved at that point. Legacy Effects helped build the mouse/cat head. A number of people helped build the car. We got to do most of the painting on it and the decorating, which was great. Colleen Atwood came in, who is one of my friends and, really, my most trusted costume designer that I’ve ever met, and she had designed the costumes for Black Parade, so I wanted her to be the person to do these. She’s so versatile, and I’d never really gotten to see her do science fiction. She’s known for a lot, like the Tim Burton films; darker stuff. But I really wanted to see what she would do with these bright colors and science fiction.Continued below
So we got a camera and went up to the desert with some friends and co-directors and shot it all. So, yeah, it started to involve a lot of people after a while.
So you mentioned Becky coming in pretty early. How much of her design influenced what we would end up seeing in the videos and stuff like that? I’m assuming her role was pretty direct in that.
GW: I think that some of the basic elements about Mike Milligram, the character that nobody ever really got to see, some of the basic elements were from a drawing that I had done of the character. I absolutely knew what color the hair should be, I knew what color the pants should be, I knew the color of the guns, the color of the jacket. I knew all that stuff. But she really brought it to life, and I think she knocked it out of the park with Code Red and Code Blue. That’s literally a costume; I think it was called Lady Daredevil, and it was on a mannequin at the costume shop, and I thought, “woah, this is literally what she wears!”
So I think it evolved over time. I really got heavy into the design element myself right when Colleen was going to make the costumes. A lot of that was drawn from science fiction, some of it from really old book covers too.
When you first announced the book, how much did the story you planned on telling change between that San Diego announcement and the actual publishing of the book? Were you ever tempted to tell a Killjoy story proper, or did you know it was always going to be post-Killjoys?
GW: The original “Killjoys” comic was very different. It was set in modern day, it was a pretty post-modern science fiction story about some different things. The world, through the videos and the costumes and everything, it really started to come to life in a sense that we then wanted to put that in the comic. We were totally fine with putting out a book that was different, even if it shared the name, but we wanted to…
And, ok, here’s a good point to bring up. A lot of times, things are created out of necessity. We ran out of budget to make a third video. We felt that there was a great story there and it was a shame not to make that video, and that video was about the Girl at 15 years old. So when Becky created that image of the Girl at 15 with the chopped off hair, I think that’s when Shaun and I knew that that was what our story was about.
This week the Limited Edition Hardcover is coming out. What sort of extras and goodies are going to be in there, and also how involved were you in the designing and production of the final product?
GW: Shaun and I were extremely involved in it, in the production and the design. I’m heavily involved in everything that I ever put out. My favorite thing about the special edition is that it ties to that original packaging, that special edition packaging that we had for the album. It was this thing that was supposed to look like it came from the world of the story. I like that sort of thing, it’s always important to me. The extras are, there’s a ton of stuff — every piece of graphic design, all the inside front covers, the pin-ups, the original designs. I’m looking through it right now; it’s got Becky’s pencils, I think my original “Killjoys” design is in here somewhere. I’d done that when I was first moved to LA.
And it’s over-sized too, right?
GW: Yeah, it’s oversized. It’s gorgeous. It comes in this white slipcase, with a white book inside. It looks very clean and cynical, but it’s also been defaced once you pull it out.
I was struck by the slipcase design, because it looks like it would’ve fallen out of one of those vending machines.
GW: That was the idea. Everything with “Killjoys” was always that way. We made a ton of BLI merch too, to start with. I think that was some of the first and only stuff you could buy related to the record, was all this BLI merch. I’m really, really happy with it.Continued below
So, anyone that knows about your involvement with comics would probably know that you are no slouch when it comes to art and design. When are we going to see you draw something? Do you have any desire to do sequentials, or do you primarily see yourself as a writer?
GW: I miss them terribly. I miss drawing. I just dabbled in, I did a two-page strip for Talk House about Twitter, oddly enough. It’s just a two-page strip that I really wanted to draw, so I drew the whole thing digitally. It was fun to experiment with that. It made me miss it, though; it made me miss sitting down and just making comics, and make them yourself.
I think one day for sure I’m absolutely going to do it, but you meet someone like Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon and they have this thing that I don’t have. They have this thing where they wake up and drawing a full comic or a page or two, that’s what gets them going. They’re born to do that. They love doing it. I don’t have that same kind of dedication that they have. By the time I’m halfway through drawing a comic, I already want to write the next one.
I guess myself in comics as more of a writer, but I try and bring something to those books I write that maybe some other writers don’t. I bring a lot of graphic design. I bring a lot of design; sometimes I’ll just design the whole thing and say “this is what is in my head” and then actually type that out on the page as well. I don’t know why I do that.
That’s the process. [Laughs]
GW: [Laughs] Yeah, for sure.
Looking ahead, what’s the plan for “Umbrella Academy” Series 3? There’s been a lot of back and forth about it, and its become almost like a will he/won’t he type thing.
GW: It is, and I actually never wanted to find myself in this situation of, like, Chinese Democracy. [Laughs] That’s the problem when you announce things and you think your next couple years is going to go one way and then it goes another way with your other job, and then you’re like, “Oh. Alright. So there’s no time to do this?” I gotta say, I’m pretty sure Scott Allie warned me about this when we announced it, but I was really excited to do ‘Hotel Oblivion’ — and I am still, which is good.
I’m working on it right now. We’re in the process. I think Gabriel is free in June to start, so…
Oh, man, that’s real soon.
GW: Yeah, that’s real soon. I don’t know when it will hit stands, but he’s one to two pages a day. He’s a genius, and he’s never late. I imagine it’ll be done pretty quick. But we’re trying to go into Series 4 right after it. I don’t think it’s going to get stalled up at all, so hopefully, I’d like to have a solid year of “Umbrella” out there.
And what’s the deal with “All Ages”? Because those were some intriguing images that hit the internet not long ago.
GW: You know, that was a really exciting thing to happen. It was super fun to have an idea that get such a giant response right away. It’s cool. I’m taking my time with it and it’s evolving. What’s cool about it is, I think I now know what it is and I think it’s a very different book than when I was first talking about it. I think it’s about something much larger, not just about talking cats. [Laughs] Which, you know, a lot of people are really into!
I sat there and I said, “OK, do I want to do a semi-autographical book on growing up in an underground music scene and wanting to get the hell out of your town?” Yeah, I did. Not as much as I wanted to make sweeping social commentary with science fiction. I wasn’t sure if I could write a comic with only talking cats. [Laughs] I didn’t know if that had the gravity for the ten issues I want to do. Not that there’s anything wrong with talking animal books, but I always like to jam a lot in there and I kind of felt like, oh, well, this could only be about this, and that doesn’t really work for me. It has to be about something bigger, you know?Continued below
It’s definitely interesting, from the title and the design. I took the title and the dress of the cats to immediately mean that it was going to be music related, and underground music related. I’m really excited for it.
GW: Cool! And oddly enough, it retains… The idea I’m working with now on it, it retains a lot of that nod to underground music. So it still has that, oddly enough, even though right now it’s about something completely different than talking cats growing up in a punk scene. It still has that stuff that was cool about it in there, it still has this “Love and Rockets” energy to it.
Even “Killjoys” had that, had those nods.
The deluxe edition of “the True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys” is available today in finer comic shops everywhere.