You may lose the battle, but you don’t have to lose the war.
That’s the motivation behind the new Dark Horse comic series The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys by Gerard Way, Shaun Simon and artist Becky Cloonan. It follows the sole survivor of an epic clash between a tyrannical corporation and a group of rebels known as the Killjoys. With the Killjoys dead and the rebellion shattered like a pane of glass, the young woman known solely as the Girl has to look for a way to fashion these broken shards into something to fight back with. And with the legacy of the Killjoys burning strong as not just fighters but now as martyrs, there’s a hotbed of followers looking to kickstart the cause once again.
The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys was originally announced by Way as a sequel to his band My Chemical Romance’s 2010 albumDanger Days. But in the aftermath of the album’s recording sessions and tours, Killjoys has evolved to become a standalone story about teenage rebellion and living up to the legacy of those who came before. Newsarama talked with Way about this new series hitting comic shelves this week, and how the dissolution of My Chemical Romance earlier this year cast a shadow on this project.
Newsarama: True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys was originally intended to be a coda of sorts to My Chemical Romance’s Danger Days, but since that came out in 2010 I heard it’s evolved quite a bit. Can you tell us about that evolution and what it ended up as?
Gerard Way: The book was originally going to be a very different book. Shaun Simon and I began working on this comic idea together before Conventional Weapons and Danger Days. During the recording process for Danger Days, I wanted to incorporate the comic into the album. So then ideas just started to feed into each other, with one thing informing the other. We ended up using the story as the basis for the music videos for Danger Days, and by the time we completed the second video we had spent our entire album budget for videos on just two videos. But by living in this world we’d created, I realized that we could mitigate the fact that there wasn’t a third video and instead pour it back into the original medium – comics. So this comic is the final chapter. I had never seen that done before, and that kind of stuff is exciting.
Having said that, a lot of work went into the comic so people who haven’t seen the videos or listened to the music can still enjoy it as a standalone piece.
Nrama: The series opens following the last survivor of the Killjoys’ showdown with Better Living Industries, a girl known only as, well, the Girl. From listening to the album and watching the videos, I felt like the Killjoys held a special place for her kind of like Kitty Pryde in the old X-Men comics – kind of the team’s sweetheart. What made her such a key part of the original Killjoys, and what makes her key to this new comic series?
Way: One of the coolest things about this story is that even from the first video I felt that the concept revolved around the Girl Or to go deeper, any girl – or any person, even – that finds themselves in a position where they’re somehow important or are told they are and then they have to deal with it. Things are expected of them, and people want you to do things. So you’re shot around, manipulated, used, captured, let go, and rescued while, in the case of Killjoys, she’s still a little kid. Then you kind of grow-up after the hoopla dies down, but in a weird way you’re still the same person.
And after Lyn-Z and I a child, it changed my perspective about the project.
Nrama: Lyn-Z, bassist for the band Mindless Self Indulgence.
Way: Yes. Having a child forced me to look deeper into the families of My Chemical Romance – the fans. They’re largely female, and largely young women, and while that’s also true of boy bands I think in general a different kind of person gravitated towards My Chemical Romance. In generally our fans are free-thinking artists that were extremely independent. They also didn’t have a place to go outside, so coming to the shows were something for them – a lot of them met their best friends that way. So with all that in mind, I started thinking about them and what the band meant for them. I wanted to figure out how to tell a story about them.
Nrama: In Danger Days, you and your fellow bandmates were the fictional Killjoys. As this series opens, they’re all dead and it’s up to their followers, like the Girl and the Ultra V’s, to either carry the torch or --, well, not. What’s their status?
Way: I think it’s like any young, hungry and either idealistic or aggressive group of people that looks at something from the past and thinks they can do something better. I think that’s what the Ultra V’s or any other pockets’ roles are. We also injected commentary into that; how ideas can sometimes be misconstrued even by the right people or even for the right reason. The music analogy is relevant to this, so if you look at any young and hungry band and how they look at bands of the past; you either put them on a pedestal, draw inspiration from them or tear them down. The Ultra V’s are probably my favorite characters in this entire story.
Nrama: The corporation at odds with them is Better Living Industries. BLI is trying to keep the populace in check with an addictive stimulant called Plus. Can you tell us how that works, and why people don’t revolt at the idea of it?
Way: The type of picture we’re trying to paint in the series is that, at large, the world isn’t that bad yet. It’s bad for the worker bees, the androids and the like, but it’s not bad for the Draculoids, the soldiers and others… they have a pretty sweet life. They live relatively comfortably and think the world is a game.
Nrama: The face of BLI seems to be one of the lead Scarecrows, Korse. Comic fans can get an extra sense of glee out of this character because he was played by Grant Morrison in the music videos. Can you tell us about the character and any Morrison-isms that might bleed through?
Way: Yes. What’s really amazing about the Korse character is that Grant and I talked a lot when his character was being developed. I spoke with Grant and sent over drawings, asking him “What would you like to look like?” “What do you want to wear?” I do that with any type of costuming or wardrobe projects I’m involved with; I ask the people who’ll be wearing them if they have any specific favorite things, almost trying to find out what’s subconsciously inside. When Grant found out he would be playing a bad guy, one night while hanging out he riffed up a whole back story for Korse. What’s interesting about Korse is that he wasn’t always the way he is now – the way seen in the comics and the music videos. As we get deeper into this series, we’ll see how someone ends up like that. It’s also about really showing how thin the line is between two opposing sides.
Nrama: Grant Morrison is a big advocate of putting himself in his comics as familiarized by Animal Man and The Invisibles, which is something you too hit upon playing characters in Danger Days. Now writing Killjoys, what’s it like having your character out of the picture – at the same time My Chemical Romance is no more as well for fans?
Way: That’s an interesting question; I haven’t thought about that. It happened with us in the videos but hasn’t happened in the comics yet. I haven’t thought about that. I was a fan when Grant did those fourth-wall breaking moments and thought it was hyper-interesting and bold to write yourself into the story you’re writing. The best stories should be you anyway… all coming from you. So it made perfect sense to me as a kid reading Animal Man to see Grant show up. For me personally, having lived with these designs for the characters of Danger Days and Killjoys as they transitioned from Becky’s designs to the costumes that were made, it was crazy putting on that mask, holding the gun and having the bright red hair.
Nrama: One of the favorite pieces to the Danger Days puzzle to me was Dr. Death-Defying. Does he have a role in this comic series? He reminds me a bit of the DJ from that cult movie The Warriors.
Way: [laughs] It’s great you said that. There’s two places the character of Dr. Death-Defying was inspired by, on a movie level; The Warriors and Vanishing Point. That character type from the 70s of the unsung radio DJ stuck with me, and particularly in Vanishing Point it was pretty phenomenal. The cool thing about the Killjoys book was now you’ll get to see more of Dr. Death-Defying and see how he’s been holding it down for years. In a way he keeps the dream alive that the Killjoys started. He attempts to keep it pure, as oppoCola sed to all these wacky kids running around and shooting at Draculoids.
Dr. Death-Defying’s associate, Cherri Cola, is my next favorite character to the Ultra V’s. He has a really interesting story we’re going to show eventually.
Nrama: I’ve read the first issue of Killjoys, and although it’s billed as a sequel to Danger Days people don’t need it to get the good with this story. But it got me thinking – those videos you did for Danger Days – do you have any plans to release those as a DVD? They’re online now, but that might seem like something people would want to hold in their hands.
Way: You know, we don’t. If we had one more video, it’d make a lot more sense as a standalone collection. Also it really would have been nice to do more; I actually wrote scripts and segments to use for b-roll footage; dialogue-only footage. There was this idea to shoot it with any extra time we had; all you need is a desert. We already had cameras and this really amazing wardrobe; the idea was that we would shoot these segments that would chain these things together. But launching a record is stressful and time-consuming, so none of that happen. I suppose we could all get on airplanes, retrieve the costumes and go out and film this but I don’t think that’s going to happen.
Nrama: One thing you do have now is artist Becky Cloonan. You’ve worked extensively with Becky on art for My Chemical Romance and elsewhere. I see her kind of as a comics equivalent of a band mate for you, so what’s she like working with?
Way: That’s a really good analogy; that’s exactly what she is, as is Shaun. Shaun is like a 5th band members in terms of my dealing with him and talking with him on the phone about the comics. So with Shaun and Becky, I feel like they’re auxiliary band members.
With Becky, she’s hear because of what she brings to the project – and why she was right for this. That’s why Shaun and I initially approached her to do this. We wanted a partner; not just a work-for-hire artist with ten other things going on for them. Becky was the obvious choice.
Nrama: This release is your first major thing happening after the breakup of the band at the beginning of the year. Since this is tied to Danger Days do you feel this is the last chapter of that era for you, or the beginning of a new one?
Way: It’s the last chapter of that era. The interesting thing about all that stuff that happened with the end of the band was that there was no planning. Things just happen in life and you couldn’t plan it that way; and even if you wanted to, you shouldn’t anyway. Even if we had known the band was ending, we weren’t sitting there and strategizing – not that you were suggesting that.
It’s a weird thing. We were halfway through the Killjoys comics with it beginning to go to print, and then the band breaks up. I didn’t even put the two together until about a week or two later about how bizarre it is that, in a way, Killjoys is the last My Chemical Romance release. We never intended that, but now knowing what’s in the story and how it ends its become a lot more impactful.
Nrama: Did you ever think about altering the story of Killjoys once it set in that My Chemical Romance was over?
Way: Once I realized what had happen, there was the thought that I could change the last couple issues… but then this anxiety creeps in and what this thing is going to mean. I began questioning myself about what we would do with the ending, and I quickly decided not to even talk about doing it. Shaun and I stuck to the original plan even though the band had broken up.
Nrama: The release of the first issue of Killjoys comes out hot on the heels of your release last week of art from a Batman pitch you had with DC that they apparently approved but you’ve been too busy for. 2013 is shaping up to be a different kind of year for you after the end of the band. What do you hope to accomplish this year, Gerard?
Way: What I hope to accomplish this year is just remained focused on whatever it is I choose to do. It’s been music lately, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been waking up and couldn’t wait to pick-up an instrument.
The Batman pitch was funny; I had realized over the course of the past eight years or so that I had stockpiled so much in my office that I wanted to do but my schedule didn’t permit. For this Batman pitch, I put hours and entire weekends of time into this stuff for months. It’s not just the drawing which I shared, buy the entire pitch; all six issues are planned out and ready to go, but I don’t see it happening in the foreseeable future. But it would be a drag not to share.