The Origins of My Chemical Romance Frontman Gerard Way's Experimental Superhero Line

"I'm putting everything I have into these."
Tommy Lee Edwards/DC Entertainment

Last week, DC Entertainment announced Young Animal, a new comic book imprint led by musician and writer Gerard Way that will revive a number of classic DC properties with the tagline "Comics for Dangerous Humans."

With four series — Doom Patrol, Shade the Changing Girl, Mother Panic and Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye — the line is intended to offer a more experimental take on the superhero genre, with Way being quoted in the launch announcement as promising "fine art, bold concept, mature themes and strangeness with lots of heart."

The Hollywood Reporter talked to Way about what that will mean, and where the line got started.

Let's start at the beginning. How did the Young Animal line come about? People probably know you as a musician, but you've been working in comics for some time now…

I do enjoy working on my own books, but I have a passion for these characters, and that's what brought me to DC. I'd been talking to Shelly Bond for a long time, firstly about doing Vertigo stuff, then it was doing Doom Patrol for awhile. These things always fell through because of my schedule, or I was going through hard times; it just wasn't the right time. But then I was finishing my solo record and my tour, everything went great and I thought, 'Okay. I want to change things now, and try something new.'

I talked to Dan [Didio] and Jim [Lee, DC Entertainment co-publishers] in South America, where we all were for a convention — I think we had dinner together almost every night. We kept talking, and by the time we got home, I was in the DC office and we were talking again. It was Jim Lee who said, what about an imprint? You take some of your characters, mix them up with our characters. Within a week, I'd envisioned all of the books.

At least two of the Young Animal books have a particular pedigree — both Doom Patrol and Shade were part of an early 1990s renaissance at DC that saw British writers like Grant Morrison and Peter Milligan rise to prominence, and led to the creation of the Vertigo imprint. Were those books that you loved at the time?

Oh, yeah, definitely. I started with X-Men when I was a kid, and then I got into Dark Knight Returns and then, I slowly got into Doom Patrol and then it was [all of the early Vertigo titles], and then it was, now I'm into punk rock… They changed everything for me, books like Doom Patrol and Sandman.

And yet, this doesn't appear to be an attempt to just redo those books. Shade the Changing Girl appears to be a very different book than Milligan's Shade the Changing Man, and even aimed at a totally different audience…

It's not 'Remember Vertigo,' or trying to recapture that audience — it's not retro to me.

In terms of who the audience is, I never think like that. I just make the stuff I make, and it finds its audience. You make mistakes in your career where you try to go for a particular audience, but you can't do that. You can just be you, and make the work you need to make. If it so happens that there's a large female audience for Shade, then that's what happens, but the logic going into all of these books is that I want everyone to read all of these books. When I was reading Doom Patrol and Shade the Changing Man and these books, the classic Vertigo series, it didn't matter who the character was. I wanted experimental stories. They're aimed at everybody.

What does that mean, in terms of the stories? Will Doom Patrol be less of a superhero book than it has been in the past?

There are other comics besides Vertigo that really inspired me. I feel like my Doom Patrol is a combination of all the previous runs and stuff like Love & Rockets in there too. It means that the series is going to be about great relationships, that you can have an issue where people are just going to the movies or going to a punk show.

Does that translate across the entire line? Did you start by identifying what you wanted Doom Patrol to be, and then use it as a model for Shade, or Mother Panic?

I started with Doom, and then it was, this is what I'd like for the other books. I developed my ideas and wrote the pitches for the other titles. Then we found the teams, and we had story meetings. I said, 'This is what I envision for these books,' but then it was just, run wild. I sat down with Cecil Castellucci, who's doing Shade the Changing Girl, clicked immediately and after a couple of story meetings, was just, it's all yours. Same thing with Jody Houser [writer on Mother Panic].

Cecil is perfect for Shade. She is perfect to write an alien trapped in a teenage girl's body. I can't think of a better writer for that. Jody is so versatile, she writes crime so well, and Jon Rivera, who's my longterm writing and development partner who I met in art school — I knew, if there was one person who'll understand what Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye is all about, I knew it would be Jon.

That title is still amazing to me. You read Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye and the first response is, 'What is that?'

That's the reaction I want [laughs]. I want people to say 'What the hell are you doing?' [Laughs]

What is the aim for Young Animal, as a line? Is this something where it can run forever, do you have endings for each of these titles in mind…?

I'm putting everything I have into these. I keep saying about Doom Patrol, I'll write until I finish it, or they pull me off. I always have endings in my head, I think they're important, but a great piece of advice that Grant gave me was, use all your ideas. If you think you have a great series ending, use it as the end of your first arc. It's great advice, and I'm following that advice in all of these things.

For me, Young Animal is a very Pop Art thing to do. When initially planning the books, I thought of people like Andy Warhol, and thought, these are my heroes because they just came in like this pure force of creativity. I see Young Animal almost like a band, I wanted this small, focused group of books and creators. I want this to be a force.

Doom Patrol, the first of DC's Young Animal titles, launches in September.