Catching Up With The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys Writer Gerard Way

Books Features Gerard Way
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Paste: Are there any modern-day equivalents of Better Living Industries?
Way: In a lot of ways I feel that BLI wasn’t based on any specific corporation, it was just based on us. I felt that’s also what you could become: if you start off as a 15-year-old watching A Clockwork Orange and go to that extreme so young, you could become the person in the white office saying what’s right and wrong, saying what people should and shouldn’t do, making sure everything’s very clean. Those two types of people are literally the same person, they’re just at different extremes. I just based Better Living Industries on us as people. Whether we realize it or not, a large amount of us likes things to be organized, structured, clean, cleaned-up. That’s what we like, that’s what we go for.

Children’s programming for the most part, not all of it, is literally children coming out of some sort of camp or mill. And that’s not a hyper, aggro punk view on it, that’s just a fact. And so not only is that happening, but kids are responding to that. And parents are totally comfortable with the kids watching that. There’s nothing really wrong with that, but it says a lot about who we are. As free and crazy as we want to be, and how much we want to make the world a canvas, there’s also a part of us that doesn’t want to make any mark.

Paste: Did you notice this from watching what Bandit watches? How do you deal with this as a parent?
Way: I noticed it when I finally got to see a show like Yo Gabba Gabba!, and I realized there was such a high contrast in children’s programming between a show that people are taking a risk on and really trying as opposed to a show they know is just going to work. I didn’t realize at that point that there was such a high contrast in that kind of artistry. Flat out, Dora the Explorer...I don’t care if the people who made it are nice people, there is zero artistry that goes into that. There’s also, I believe, zero reference to the real world. I don’t even think images are Googled to have them correctly drawn. You’ve got that, then you’ve got Yo Gabba Gabba!. I know I’m friends with those dudes, but the reasons I became friends with them was because I admired their work. The people really try, so I notice that a lot. There’s a lot of bad stuff, there’s some good stuff. You just have to dig it out.

Paste: Talking about the general aesthetic of the comic and the Danger Days album, there’s a huge difference between the art direction of The Black Parade and Killjoys as both a comic and album, and it was mirrored sonically in the music as well. Was there anything that jumpstarted the bright, jarring color scheme and the garagey sound?
Way: As a musical starting point, (Danger Days) was protopunk and garage rock. So it started with The Stooges and then I put it through a science fiction lens. I went on this musical journey where, if this started with The Stooges, it ended with The Chemical Brothers. I remember listening to Exit Planet Dust when I was 14. That record, more than a lot of punk records, made me want to get up an run away from home. A lot of the digital came from that. I know EDM was happening at that time when we were making (the album), but it was still very underground. People weren’t winning Grammys for it yet, and it wasn’t on the radio. Right at that moment we were making Danger Days and we were a year and a half ahead of EDM exploding. The kids are getting their energy from machine-made things, not human beings playing through the same gear as the last band. That’s where that also came from sonically; I thought that was going to be the best idea to communicate.

Paste: You cast Grant Morrison as the villain Korse in your videos for “Na Na Na” and “Sing,” and he also survived into the comic. Some of the visuals remind me of The Invisibles as well. Did Morrison have a hand in the story at all?
Way: Well, he did and he didn’t. He did in the sense that to me and Shaun, (Morrison) was our biggest inspiration and our influence. It’s as if Shaun and I were in a band together and we loved Queen. We love ‘90s Vertigo. To us, if we had to pick a favorite from that (era), it would be The Invisibles. So in that way, Grant had a giant hand in it. There were also really cool collaborations that would happen when I was doing wardrobe designs and would sit with Grant. I’d already made his weapon at that point, so I handed him his gun and asked ‘how do you see this guy?’ or ‘what’s in your subconscious that you want to come to the surface? Who is Korse?’ He immediately, because he’s Grant, had a vision for how he wanted to look. He said ‘I think he should be a bit of a dandy,’ which I had never thought of at that time. That made me think of Edward James Olmos’ character (Gaff) in Blade Runner. This guy’s a bit fancy, and he grooms himself very well. Grant even had all this crazy backstory for Korse that was really awesome. Spiritually and emotionally, artistically — more so in a guidance sense — (Morrison) was very, very hands-on with it.

Paste: I know you’ve cited Mad Max and The Warriors as influences, but I also saw some parallels to anime like Akira. Did that play a conscious hand?
Way: Absolutely. I was at a convention in New Jersey, and this was when conventions were still small; it was in a small area of a local hotel, like a Hilton. I walked past this TV, and this guy had a ton of VHSs, and I looked at this animation that was gorgeous. It wasn’t rotoscoped, and it also wasn’t like Voltron. I had read Akira as a comic, and had heard about them making it into a movie, but back then you got your news from the back of the issue you were reading. I knew exactly what that video was when I saw it, because one of the gang had just been beaten up by a Clown, so he was vomiting blood. I would never forget that shot. I bought it immediately. I spent all of my money on just that. I just went home with a VHS that I played every day. Constantly.

Having been a huge fan of the comic, too, there’s a lot I took from it. There’s a total reason the back of my jacket looks like Kaneda’s. But it was always important to me, even if I was reappropriating, to push myself design-wise to say, ‘well I like Kaneda’s pill, but how do I one-up it?’ That’s my challenge for the day. How do I make this different or a little more interesting? I turned it into this weird, graphic skull by adding crossbars under it to really make it a poisonous thing. Akira was huge. The Trans-Am to me is basically Kaneda’s bike. If I didn’t have red hair, I’m sure I would have been wearing red.

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Paste: Did you ever play the videogame Jet Set Radio Future?
Way: In terms of having an influence on me, that came out a little late. But there was a game called Zillion that was out for my Sega Master System, and that was a little impactful too, like Phantasy Star II for Genesis. There was some interesting stuff that threw its hat on the ring on this project.

Paste: What’s the most obscure or esoteric influence?
Way: There’s a film called Mr. Freedom by a French director who’s pretty bananas, literally about American superhero violence. Blade Runner wasn’t as much an influence as the documentary about the making of it. That had a bigger impact on the entire project. Watching the interviews, (director) Ridley Scott spoke about how challenging it was to get what he wanted, and how many problems it caused and how many bridges it burnt. Just what a struggle it was to have his vision seen through. I guess I really identified with that. There’s a quote from him where he references his camera as a weapon. I’d never heard a director do that and I started to see my art that way and see music that way. So that was actually the biggest influence, this documentary.

Paste: What do you want people to walk away with after reading this 6-issue miniseries?
Way: I think the main thing I want them to walk away with is a deeper understanding of the artistic process. I would love it if they walked way from it, despite it having some stereotypical trappings of science fiction and dystopian society, getting something new out of that. We’ve all gotten amazing things from Ray Bradbury and Logan’s Run. I just don’t think we’ve ever gotten the other side of that. We know that it’s bad to be a Sandman shooting people because they’ve turned 21; we don’t ever get to sympathize with why they do it. There’s a bit of sympathy for the devil in this, especially if people take away that we’re all kind of the devil in a weird way. We all have a hand in promoting safe culture. It’s easy to say ‘he’s such a bad guy,’ but would I have done the same thing? There’s a lot more sentiment in this than there is in The Umbrella Academy and there’s also a lot more nostalgia. I just want them to get something different from science fiction in this.

Paste: You’ve also been tweeting some incredibly original Batman art from a 2008 pitch. Is there a reason for releasing it now?
Way: I guess it all comes back to that essay that I wrote when the band ended, where I intended to be completely obtuse and secretive when the band was existing, and when it stopped existing there was no need for secrets any more. So I started applying that to all aspects of my life. I was cleaning my office and I ran across what I felt were these really cool designs of Batman that I was proud of. I’m sitting there going ‘what if this never comes out? Why am I going to keep this in a box?’ I started to feel that way about a lot of stuff. What’s the worse that happens? Eventually the book gets made or it doesn’t get made because I released stuff. As it is now, I don’t have time to write it, so I don’t see that happening in the future. I stopped being so precious. I stopped being so greedy with my art. In a weird way, it’s this greed based in fear, and I have boxes of stuff that nobody’s ever seen that I keep to myself. Some of it I obviously should — not everything’s for sharing. I stopped being precious with everything, and I’m applying that to my life and the music that I make and the comics that I make. I don’t believe anymore in the hype machine or the strategy. I believe that you make something and then you share it. There’s no reason to wait.

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