We Are Family: Gerard Way on Umbrella Academy: Dallas

Gerard Way on Umbrella Academy: Dallas

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #1

The Umbrella Academy is back, having started up again with the six-issue Dallas series from Dark Horse by Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance and Gabriel Ba.

The team, made of adults with powers who were adopted as children by the enigmatic (and also, alien) Professor Reginald Hargreeves is in a state of disarray following the end of the first series, Apocalypse Suite. Spaceboy hasn’t left the couch in weeks, apparently, Kraken is even more depressed – and violent, Rumor is having trouble adjusting to life without her powers, Séance is more famous than ever, The Boy is…The Boy, and The White Violin is near catatonic, with a bullet lodged in her brain.

And the trouble, it seems, is just starting.

We spoke with Way prior to the series’ launch, and previewed the first issue of Dallas, now, with the second issue due in stores this week, we caught up with him again to talk about where the characters are, the series’ fans, the collaboration between with Gabriel Ba, and Number 5’s orgy of death at the end of issue #1.

Newsarama: Gerard, to start off with on the very first page – the narration says, “17 Years Ago” and we have Professor Hargreeves talking to a white-templed, yet vey alive President Kennedy. Clearly, we’re talking about an alternate timeline. We’ve spoke about this before, but let’s touch upon it again now that you’re immersed in the world once again – how much of the “world” of The Umbrella Academy do you have mapped out?

Gerard Way: I think the most honest answer to that is, “not that much.” I think that’s a good thing. For example, I wanted to put a story about Kennedy in the book, and my first thought was wondering about how you can do a story about Kennedy, and I decided in the end, to just do it.

The timeline, so to speak, is being written “as needed.” We never really wanted to truly date this comic, but I wanted to tell a Kennedy story. So, if Kennedy was around when they were kids – it just had to work. I guess you can start dating the comic now if you wanted, but I’m not sure if a lot of readers want to do that.

NRAMA: but why Kennedy?

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #2

GW: Kennedy to me is so iconic that he’s also in this universe – like Stravinsky as well – in the first series, he was there (he’s dead now), and he is in this world as well. But as far as the larger timeline, it’s kept very open, and the reason for that is so I can tell the stories that I want to tell. So if something serves the story in the larger picture it will become part of the history. It keeps it loose and very adaptable. I don’t want to be so arrogant to sit down and create a whole universe with a strict timeline of events and a million different characters. It’s very organic, so in that way, it’s very much like an experiment so that, when we reach the end of the entire comic, I think it will resemble something completely different than it may now.

NRAMA: That said, the universe, with all of its trappings is being created, albeit passively so that when you reach a point in the story, you may have to come back and say, “I established that Kennedy was alive 17 years ago, which means x, y and z happened prior to that…”

GW: Right. Totally. By the end, who knows? I may have created so much mythology by then that there will be a whole history around the characters as well as the history of the characters themselves.

NRAMA: In a way, with projects like this, and you see it with Grant Morrison’s projects and Joss Whedon’s to some extent, the fans will start to firm up your universe for you in a sense, through annotations and character histories…

Back to the story, when we reach the present day, how long has it been since the end of Apocalypse Suite?

GW: I felt that it was a few months or maybe more, just based on Spaceboy’s weight. That’s actually the only indication of how much time has passed since the end of the last story – it’s been however long it takes for him to get that fat…

NRAMA: So pounds on Spaceboy are the rings on the tree, here?

GW: [laughs] Yeah – exactly. But again, and that’s another thing where it’s just “afterwards.” I’m not sure exactly when it is, but not too much has changed. They’ve moved into the basement, Rumor went on sabbatical, so it’s not been too, too long – I’d say a matter of months.

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #3

NRAMA: And the condition that the mansion is in is a metaphor for the condition of the family – broken into many pieces, although there are new pieces of stability, such as the monument for Pogo that we see. But this is still a broken family…

GW: Yeah – although the last story did end on something of an “up” note. I didn’t want things to get super-awful again, and I don’t think they’re as bad as they were in Apocalypse Suite in terms of the family relationship. Even partway through the series as you’ll see, they don’t fall into the old ways like they used to, and they start working together relatively soon, rather than at the end like they did in the first story.

So yeah – it is a metaphor in a way. They’re still going to have problems, and even though Apocalypse Suite ended on an up note that the family was still intact, even though their house was destroyed, and a huge part of downtown was destroyed. That’s why I have them still living together – the way I see it is that it’s the most comfortable situation for them. It’s all they’ve got, so they do stick together. In a way, they kind of like the misery a little bit, and they have this safety net of the house. But it wasn’t all going to be fixed overnight, in terms of their personal problems.

NRAMA: The opening pages of this first issue is rather mellow compared to the last, but in the slower portion, you’re showing how the family members have adapted to their lives now. While The Séance is taking a unique approach to his fame, and apparently reveling in it, Number 5 seems to be…a little harder to get into. He’s at the dog track, losing money. Is he guilt-ridden over what happened?

GW: The way I approached Number 5 is that he’s not guilt-ridden, he’s just kind of “existing.” Now the problems that he’s running into, as we’re going to find out more of his back story, is that he’s always been on the fringe of society, and he still is. He doesn’t have a place, so he falls back into doing things that he used to do. You’re going to come to see his real history – he tells Rumor at some point what really happened. He wasn’t lying in Apocalypse Suite, but he wasn’t telling the whole story. So you’ll see the whole story from him, and you’ll realize that he doesn’t have a place – he doesn’t have much of a place in the family, he doesn’t have much of a place in society as a whole.

NRAMA: But he was the one responsible for building the monument to Pogo – wouldn’t that indicate some level of guilt? He doesn’t seem to be the sentimental type…

GW: There’s a whole side to that that’s relatively self-serving, and that’s something that you’ll come to see as well.

NRAMA: Speaking of what he’s going through and what you’ve shown us about him prior to this – at the dog races…why would he lose at the track? As much control and intelligence as you’ve shown him to have, the idea of Number 5 losing on the races seems to indicate that he’s either letting himself or making himself lose…

GW: I’m glad that you picked up on that in there – the fact that when he loses at the track when he’s someone who can technically jump ahead in time slightly, but he would be stuck there, so he’d be screwed if he tried that. But of all the characters, and Number 5 hides it more than anyone else on the team – they all want to be normal, and for him, to be able to go to a race track and bet on something and sit there and see what happens – for him, he’s going there because it reminds him of something that he used to do. There’s a seediness involved in the track, and he’s attracted to very seedy things. So yeah, just simply going, betting, and not trying to change that outcome…because of how many problems it has caused him in this series, you’ll see why he wouldn’t want to try and change the outcome of things. He has had so many problems in the past when he’s tried to change the outcome.

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #4

NRAMA: When you said that he’s an outsider – that’s where he’s comfortable and that’s where his situation has put him…but of any of the family members, he seems to be holding himself back. He’s smart enough to know what it would take and how to be more normal and fit in, so he’s deciding not to, which seems to suggest that he’s punishing himself by keeping himself from one of the things he wants most…

GW: I don’t think that he’s actually punishing himself, but he’s defintely not going to fit in, and I think he knows that. So what you’re going to see of him in this series is that you’re going to see him trying to exist the only way he knows how. He’s pretty selfish, and this series is extremely telling about him. The first issue was intentionally slow-paced, which is kind of odd for being 32 pages, but I really wanted to take a moment where I could slowly reintroduce you to characters, and I could just show people living. I’m the kind of person that would be excited about writing an Umbrella Academy issue that was about them making toast or riding the subway. That’s the kind of thing that appeals to me, and that’s the big difference between this comic and say, a modern mainstream superhero comic.

The things that appeal to me as a writer, and eventually I hope, to the readers is that even though there’s all this wackiness and these crazy ideas, I want to have these moments of kind of “nothing” happening, but that’s the point. So that’s a good example of it in this issue. But the pace will change by the time you get into issue #2, and #3, you’re finding out so much about The Boy [Number 5] and you’ll know his entire story by then.

So no – he’s not punishing himself. He’s a character that’s about self-preservation, if anything. That’s a big motivator for him.

NRAMA: Sticking with Number 5 and what goes on with him in the issue, let’s talk about a different side of your collaboration with Gabriel. You introduced the Temps Aeternalis in this issue – a group of armed…solders hunting him down. You’re an artist yourself, so when it comes down to a new character, what’s the ebb and flow of settling on the design and look of the character? Do you do full-on sketches of how you think they should look, or just thumbnails with some ideas? What’s the back and forth like?

GW: Actually, the back and forth is a lot less now, because Gabriel has understood what I was going for from the very start. That was very obvious early on, as soon as he was doing issues #1 and #2 – which I did come in to with a stack of drawings. He was able to adapt my ideas quickly. For instance, his Spaceboy is much more accomplished than my original design. Mine was kind of like a blue, furry Superman, where his is a genuine Martian gorilla. He adapted things as he saw fit, which has really worked.

But now, there’s a lot less of the back and forth on the looks of something. Even if I’m doing a thumbnail now, I’ll send it to him, and he’ll take a look at it, but he is the artist on the book and has to make it work in regard to putting it in the book. There was always a trust, but there’s a lot more now. It’s gotten to the point that very little design actually comes from me at this point. A lot of it is coming from Gabriel.

NRAMA: Back to The Boy for a moment – one of the things that really has caught people’s interest was his attack of the Temps Aeternalis, where he killed the entire detachment of mercenaries. Was that anger inside him coming out, or was that more, as you were saying, a selfishness, that this is what he was going to have to do to survive, so this is what he did to survive?

GW: You’re right on the second one. There wasn’t any anger at all – if anything, there was an arrogance mixed in with “I have to survive.” He’s somebody that you’re coming to realize has no problem killing anybody – at all – if it’s for self-preservation. But he’ll kill people just because he feels that he needs to kill them.

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #5

But yeah – I know a lot of people responded to what scene, and I think that a lot of that had to do with how it stood out in comparison to the rest of the issue, which was just…quiet throughout – and then there was this amazing amount of violence at the end. I think there was an exact number of agents at one point, but ultimately, we just told Gabriel to stick as many agents on the page that he could to show that he was going to kill them all.

NRAMA: And he told them it was coming, too…

GW: Yeah – he let them know, and he kind of knew what was going to happen, which is another indicator of how Number 5 is. These guys had an idea of what he was capable of to, which is why they came in number, to try and overcompensate and convince him that there was absolutely no way for him to stop them – but they were still nervous.

The thing about that scene – yeah – that’s the first indication that he has no problem killing lots of people. In issues #2 and #3, you find out a lot more about that.

NRAMA: And his speech at the end which ended with “I am a gazelle and the jungle is my home!” That seemed like you were straddling the line between lyrics and dialogue – that while it applied to what he was doing, he was expressing himself in a more abstract way than we’ve seen him do before. Where did that bit of dialogue come from?

GW: I think it probably came from stage. People would interview me at times and you get all kinds of really weird questions when you’re in a band – everything from stupid questions about your hair to if you could be an animal, what animal would you be? I eventually came up with stuff like, “I’d be a gazelle.” So I think I was trying to convey his elegance at fighting and escaping his enemies, but it definitely came from some really weird moments from being on stage for me. I’ve said so many ridiculous things over the years. Number 5 is kind of a mouthpiece for me in a way in that I can really get as obtuse as I want with him. Obviously, there will be more explanation to why he’s that way as we go on in the series, but for this, I didn’t want to leave you with the idea that he wasn’t feeling anything in doing all of this, so I wanted to give an idea of what he was feeling, and that was, again, this complete survivalist instinct.

I mean, I obviously wouldn’t show him completely nude, covered in blood – but if he was a grown, adult character, I probably would have done that, just to get really weird with him, and show how much of an animal he is at his base. So that was a goal there. And it was supposed to feel lyrical.

That’s something else about this comic – I really try not to have these scenes where characters shoot off these one liners. Even the Kraken, when he broke that guy’s arm in the first issue – I really don’t feel that was a one liner as much as it was a segue to the next scene. He breaks the arm, and says, “It’s never going to be the same again,” about the broken arm. That to me is obviously more about what’s going on with Rumor and the whole family. So I try to avoid those types of moments, and didn’t want Number 5 to finish that action with a “Boo-Yah!” or something like that. I try to play these characters as being way more cerebral in their situations.

NRAMA: Going back to Number 5 one last time, although you describe him as being complicated, it seems that as a character, he has a tremendous clarity – almost an enviable lack of pretense and outer “shield” that everyone has to wear in society – he says what he’s going to do, he does what he says he’s going to, he speaks his mind without editing his thoughts for the moment or others’ emotions…he seems stripped down of so much baggage, but I’m guessing that’s replaced by other baggage that we’ve yet to see.

GW: You’re totally right about that. Even the other baggage he has – it’s not so much “baggage” as people to kill, which is how he sees it. He has secrets instead of baggage, and it’s up to his discretion as to whether or not he tells people the truth. You’ll come to find that he’s an extremely deceptive little guy. He basically tells people what suits him. So yeah, he’s very refreshing to write – he says something, and he does it. He reacts to something sometimes without saying it. You don’t have to watch what he says. That’s one of the best things about the comic – he’s been the most fun to write.

NRAMA: Going back to the fans as we had talked about earlier, that, in a way, fans of these types of stories and projects do start to dig into them and draw out the timelines and relationship charts…speaking generally of your fans, have you found that your comics and music are reaching two distinct groups, or are you seeing a crossover between the two…or one homogenous group?

GW: I think at first, and I guess it makes sense, because really, who’s going to pick p a comic by a guy in a rock band? At first, it was almost solely music fans crossing over to comic shops. I wanted to write the best comic I could, and figured that the best that would come of it is if we could get some 16-25 year olds into American comics, instead of just reading manga. It’s not a bad thing that they read manga, but a lot of these kids I’ve met, this is the first American comic they’ve ever read.


GW: Yeah – it’s kind of crazy to find out, but when you look at the statistics on this kind of stuff, it’s kind of staggering – a sixteen or seventeen year old girl is not reading American comics – they’ve got no idea what they’re like. All they know is the manga section at Barnes & Noble. So that was the first thing, and it made me really happy, that they were finding comic shops and finding comics that they really like. That part was great.

Then, what started happening, I think after the comic started being accepted and well reviewed and more and more people started giving it a shot. So I think it was almost two distinct, almost separate groups, but from doing signings, I’ve noticed that the lines are starting to blur. People that I meet that I used to be able to say, “Oh, this is a fan of the band,” now I can’t tell if they’re more into the comics or into the band. And I’m meeting more and more people like that. I’m meeting a guy that’s 36 in a Superman t-shirt, and people that may have started by liking the band, but are a little more varied in terms of what they like. So it’s great.

Coming from my background, I felt that it was going to take a while before Umbrella Academy had a definitive audience, before it had its solid readership. That may mean seeing the numbers drop a little bit – it may mean that it reaches a point of selling x amount, because that’s the number of fans that it has. That’s all I ever wanted for the book – I wanted it to have its readership. The Goon, for example, does really well now, but in the beginning, it had this cult readership. Even Hellboy, for a time had this cult readership before it got really big. That was always the goal for Umbrella Academy - write it for its readership. I think it’s going to take us a little more time – maybe until there are two to three more issues out until we know what they readership really is.

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