Though many people know Gerard Way as the singer of My Chemical Romance, he's got a long history with comic books, from his internship at DC Comics to his creator-owned work Umbrella Academy, and now he's launching his own DC Comics imprint, Young Animal.
Young Animal focuses on the weird and the absurd; characters that exist somewhere on the fringe of the DC Universe. Along with curating and overseeing what DC calls its "pop up imprint," Way is also writing Doom Patrol and co-writing Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye with longtime friend and collaborator Jon Rivera.
Newsarama sat down with Way and Rivera at Comic-Con International: San Diego to talk about Way's long-term plans for Young Animal, which DC co-publisher Jim Lee says will only exist as long as Way is on board, along with his and Rivera's vision of Cave Carson, and how his Doom Patrol touches the teams entire history, from Arnold Drake, to Grant Morrison, and even Keith Giffen's run.
Newsarama: Gerard, let’s talk about the genesis of Young Animal. What was the conversation that led to both you and DC thinking that a new imprint was the way to go?
Gerard Way: It was a lot of things, a lot of conversations. When I was growing up, I used to follow creators, but I also followed editors. One of the editors I followed was Shelly Bond, becauecause she edited The Invisibles and a bunch of other books I really loved. So she and I had been talking since Umbrella Academy came out - like 9, 10 years? - and we always tried to find a way for me to come to DC and work on a project, and a lot of times it was Doom Patrol. We kept talking about it, and eventually we made it work.
Then I had a bunch of conversations with Jim Lee and Dan DiDio, because we were at a convention in South America together. And Jim was the first to come up with the idea of an imprint. So it was a lot of conversations. Shelley brought me in, then I talked to Dan and Jim, and Shelly and I built the imprint.
Nrama: Let’s talk more specifically about Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye. The character of Cave Carson dates back even before Barry Allen, and he’s got a very Silver Age sci-fi background but hasn’t been seen in a long time. How do you get from sci-fi spelunker to cybernetic eye?
Way: Well, here’s how Cave Carson happened. When we decided we were gonna move forward with an imprint, Dan handed me an encyclopedia of DC characters and let me go through it. I found this entry that was super small, and it was Cave Carson. And I was like, “Who the hell is Cave Carson?” It said nothing about him really except that he was a spelunker, and he had a cybernetic eye, and I was like, “That’s it. It’s all about this eye.” There really wasn’t any info on it. It was just a cosmetic device that the writer of Resurrection Man had put in there to show that time had passed for the character, that he had adventures. But no one ever explained how he got the eye.
Jon Rivera: Which is great for our book, because we pick up about 10 years after Cave has had a family and retired. Which is cool, cause you see some of those themes in earlier Cave Carson stories. There were themes like that, where he retired and became a teacher. There’s a history of this character having one foot in the superhero world and one foot in the normal world. We kind of loved that. There’s a little bit of a Steve Zissou vibe to him, where he had a heyday but something kind of pulls him back into the world of adventuring.
Nrama: How did the two of you come together for Cave Carson? What’s your working relationship like?
Way: I knew I wanted to have a hand in Cave Carson, but I knew I wanted a co-writer. And I knew that there was really only one person that was gonna understand the book, and my brain, and that was Jon. He’s the only person I know that gets this character like I do, because we see the world in a lot of very similar ways. So we kind of started organically talking about the character and the book.
Rivera: Yeah, I originally came in almost like an assistant, and then we realized we had a handle on the story and started having more conversations about the character. I immediately liked him. We liked the fact that he stole the Mighty Mole, his digging vehicle. He wasn’t a millionaire who built it, or it wasn’t given to him. He just took it. There are several things in the early stories too, where he and one of his team members, Johnny Blake, and this other member, Christine, kind of have a love triangle, and there are scenes where he leaves Johnny to die, like where he could have saved him, but he’s like “No, I’m sorry, it’s too much work. Poor Johnny,” and it’s pretty obvious Cave could have saved him. We love that there’s this kind of sinister edge to Cave. He’s a hero, but he’s more complex.
Way: He’s kind of a realist.
Nrama: A sci-fi realist.
Way: Yeah, exactly!
Nrama: Gerard, let’s talk about Doom Patrol, which you’re writing on your own. I’ve seen the first issue, with Nick Derrington's art.
Way: Nick Derrington, yeah. Shelly brought him up. She found him and had him do a drawing of Robotman. That’s kind of how Shelly operates, she gets people to start actually working on stuff, and it was this drawing of Cliff sitting on the subway and I saw it and I was like, “Yeah, that’s the guy.”
Nrama: Doom Patrol has this feeling of reforming the band, bringing all the big names back in new ways. Once that’s done, what’s your plan for Doom Patrol as an ongoing story? Are they superheroes? Something else?
Way: I see Doom Patrol as this really big network of people that are outsiders. I can’t give away much, but after the first arc – I hate using terms like 'set-up,' because the whole thing isn’t set up. It’s establishing things, but stuff happens. So by the time the team is fully formed, I want to really get super strange. Once we’ve established our core, we get super f---in’ weird. That’s the idea.
Nrama: You have a long background with comic books – you went to art school, you were a DC intern – and along with music, it’s a lifelong passion for you. You’ve said many times that Grant Morrison is your biggest influence, especially his Doom Patrol run. Does taking over that title feel a little like taking the mic from Freddie Mercury?
Way: A little bit. But you know, at the end of the day, what makes me excited for it and not as intimidated is that everyone who takes on Doom Patrol does their own version of it. That’s kind of what’s expected. I don’t think anybody’s expecting me to ape what Grant did, and I’m not capable of that anyway. He just operates on a level that I can’t get near. But aside from Grant, you had Rachel Pollack writing Doom Patrol, you had Arnold Drake’s original 60s stuff, you had John Arcudi, John Byrne, Keith Giffen – they all did something different. I tried to see how I could take bits of what everybody did and put it in the book. In that first issue, there are references to Grant Morrison and Keith Giffen.
Nrama: DC refers to Young Animal as a “pop-up imprint,” and Jim Lee has said it’ll continue as long as you’re involved, you’re the visionary behind it. Do you have a plan for how long you’ll stick around, or is it something you’ll roll with until it just isn’t working anymore?
Way: I think that’s the idea. Let’s ride it out, let’s make some great stuff, and then let’s see where we’re at in a couple years and reevaluate. And maybe by then I’m writing more books, or I’m writing less books and overseeing it in a strictly editorial capacity. Maybe that’s what happens to Young Animal. We’re not quite sure yet, but we’re primarily focused on what’s happening right now. We’re thinking a little bit in the future, but we focused on the present.