Just a few short hours ago, Paste helped break the welcome news that DC and Gerard Way’s “pop-up” imprint Young Animal will be ending its hiatus by launching a brand-new slate of comics. In addition to a new volume of flagship title Doom Patrol, now titled Doom Patrol: The Weight of Worlds, Young Animal will introduce an original Green Lantern series called Far Sector and a brand-new concept known as Collapser.
Co-written by former My Chemical Romance bassist Mikey Way and The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys writer Shaun Simon with art by G.I. Joe: First Strike contributor Ilias Kyriazis, Collapser introduces struggling DJ Liam James, whose anxiety-ridden life gets a lot more complicated when he opens a package containing a black hole—which quickly takes up residence in his chest. Collapser stands apart from the wider DC Universe, but Way and Simon have big plans for addressing mental health, early adult melancholy and that whole power/responsibility thing with their cosmically powered protagonist.
In advance of Collapser’s announcement, Paste chatted with Simon and Way to learn more about their long friendship, tackling mental health via superpowers and why Collapser protagonist Liam sports a pea coat.
Collapser Cover Art by Ilias Kyriazis
Paste: Shaun, you worked with Gerard Way on The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, and Mikey, you obviously spent years growing up, and then making music, with your brother. But how did the two of you come together for Collapser and how long has the project been in the works?
Mikey Way: It’s crazy, me and Shaun go back a long time. He was in a band called Pencey Prep, that My Chemical Romance shared a practice space with, and we just became really close friends through so many similar interests—we all like the same music, we like the same comics and movies, we have the same points of reference. When Pencey Prep kind of dissolved for a bit, Shaun had come out on the road with us. He was selling merch and helping out and hanging out, and I vividly remember us all trading comic books around. We were in a van at the time. We’d be talking about which comics we were reading, and everyone borrowed our graphic novels. There were no tablets back then and you had to physically bring the issues with you. I remember all of us having really heavy backpacks full of graphic novels and whatnot. But yeah, we’ve known each other a really, really long time.
Paste: And how long has Collapser specifically been in the works?
Way: Two-plus years, I think?.
Shaun Simon: I think so. Mikey had done an issue of a Batman Halloween special for DC, what was it, 10 years ago, Mikey?
Way: It was a decade now. A decade ago. Initially, there were a few projects that I was working on with DC and then life just happened. Do you know what I mean? Different things pulled me in different directions. At the time I was really bad at multitasking. I would always write pitches or have series ready to go, and then My Chemical Romance was so consuming, that I honestly—it falls on me, I’m bad at multitasking. So I was like, “I’ll do this when we have a break, I’ll do this when we have a break,” which is what I would say—and then we never really had a break.
Paste: Mikey, It’s pretty common knowledge that your brother pursued a comic career before My Chemical Romance got off the ground. But are you also a lifelong fan of the medium, and is Collapser a story that you needed to tell with or without Young Animal?
Way: Yeah, I think comic books—I mean, it’s how I learned how to read. My brother got into comics at a really early age and so I did I. We would walk to this store that was a couple of blocks away that was an old newsstand, and we would go and buy comics there and eventually, you know, as we got older, comics shops became really important to me and him. They became like our clubhouse. It’s kind of like your home. We played Dungeons & Dragons there on weekends and it became your home away from home really. We met lifelong friends that we still talk to at the original comic shop that we hung out at in Bloomfield, NJ, called Metropolis. We still talk to those guys pretty regularly. But yeah, it was just always there for me. I was always interested. I always kept tabs, even when life got busy and I would fall in and out of following storylines, I would always be aware of what was going on too. I’m almost 39 now so that’s probably 36 years of comic books.
Paste: Getting to the book itself, what can you tell us about Liam James and how he gets the abilities that upend his life as a struggling musician? Are we seeing the birth of a new hero, or is Liam planning to stay pretty far removed from capes and tights?
Way: I think he stays away from the tights. [Laughs] He finds his own costume of sorts.
Simon: He prefers pea coats.
Way: Yeah that’s the thing. Me and Shaun, we’ve always been pea-coat enthusiasts. I remember like 15, 20 years ago, walking around Willowbrook Mall trying to find one. We were like, “Yo, we want a really good coat!” and me and him, we’re both really skinny, so we’d get a small and it’d be draping on us.
Simon: Yeah, we’d get women’s coats that actually fit.
Way: We’d have to go in the women’s section, we’d try it on. I remember we’ve always been into pea coats, so the fact is that our hero, the pea coat is kind of his Superman shield. That’s his costume. It’s funny. That’s something from our past that has come up in the story.
Paste: Well, aside from his fashion choices, what can you tell us about where Liam’s life is when the series opens and how he comes to possess these powers?
Way: He’s kind of in a strange spot where he’s like—it’s the second coming of age when you’re done with high school, and there’re some people, they don’t quite know what they want to do yet.
Simon: They’re in a limbo.
Way: Limbo, yeah. And they’re trying to figure it out. They know what they do like, but they don’t know how to make a living doing it. Like for instance, Liam is very into DJing at his local club that all his friends hang out in. And he knows he loves that, but he doesn’t know what that means necessarily. Until he figures that out, he’s got to have a regular job; he works at a nursing home. So yeah, it’s about that in-between, like Shaun said, it’s kind of like a limbo. He’s in that second coming of age, a second adolescence of sorts where he’s trying to grow up. He’s trying to figure it out. But he is very much struggling to find his footing in the real world. He’s also apprehensive to give up this stuff that, you know, some people would say is childish or it’s like a pipe dream. He doesn’t want to give that stuff up quite yet. So it’s like one foot in the door, kind of dipping his foot in the pool kind of thing—he doesn’t know how to attain his dreams.
Paste: And about the actual event itself that kicks off the book—is there anything you want to tease to readers about how Liam gets his powers, or is that a surprise that they’re going to have to pick up the book to see?
Simon: I think we could we could say that. Liam also suffers from anxiety, which is something that I know a lot of people, Mikey and I, friends and this generation has to deal with. That’s kind of a driving force in his life, that he has to deal with this anxiety, this voice in his head nonstop. And when he DJs, the music kind of calms that voice down. So right in the beginning of this issue, he gets a package from his mom, his mom who he hasn’t seen since he was little, and in the package is a black hole. And the black hole takes up residence in Liam’s chest.
And then the story goes: how does this affect him and what does this mean for him? You become this superhero and does that help you when you have an issue like anxiety, or is that just a distraction from an issue like that? And is the real solution to it something other than what he’s doing at this point?
Paste: I’m glad you brought that up because I wanted to ask—you’ve both worked with mental health issues before, Mikey with My Chemical Romance, Shaun, with books like Neverboy. Was it important for you to bring a theme like that into the pages of a superhero comic?
Simon: That was one of the first things we talked about, like who’s this main character? The music, the kind of Goth music and the New Wave stuff is stuff that Mikey and I grew up with. And also dealing with issues like anxiety and depression and all this kind of stuff, I mean this is all where we came from. So it was no question—how then would someone like this deal with becoming or getting these powers that he’s about to get?
Way: I feel like this generation is very open about their internal struggle, which is cool. I think a lot of our parents, growing up, they were told to repress that kind of thing, or it wasn’t classified what some of it was. Medicine wasn’t there yet, things weren’t diagnosed properly yet. I feel like this generation, they kind of wear it like a badge of honor, which is cool.
Simon: They’re not afraid to get help.
Way: They’re not afraid. I know some people probably think it’s a bad thing, like a stigma. But I feel like the way the world is evolving, that it’s not seen that way anymore. But yes, it was super-important for us to get that in because, again it’s something me and Shaun and so many people we know struggle with. I see it being brought up in comic books, but this is another opportunity. I can’t remember the comic I saw it brought up, but there was a comic book a couple years ago where one of the characters had some kind of anxiety, but I don’t remember it. But I feel like it’s something that will probably become more commonplace now because it is such a big problem. I don’t know many people without anxiety. I talk to friends and people about it and everyone can kind of relate.
Paste: Yeah, it’s not an easy era in which to feel relaxed and carefree.
Way: Yeah, you’re plugged in and you’re told to be scared all the time and you’re told all these awful, terrible things. And it’s hard to not take some of it to heart. There’s a degree of shellshock. With the news and world events and tragedies, it’s a lot of process. Especially, I can imagine a young kid having to absorb some of this stuff.
Paste: I do want to talk a little bit more about the plot of the book and the new cast of characters, because based on the art in the first two issues, it seems like Liam’s story is full of new faces, not necessarily familiar DC characters. Can you give us any teasers about the supporting cast or anyone who might be making Liam’s life even harder?
Simon: There is no one from the DC Universe—this is pretty much a self-contained story and universe on its own. However, there will be people from Liam’s own life making appearances, old friends, new friends, stuff that really affects him in very personal ways.
Way: Initially the allure to kind of scratch the itch of wanting to use some of the beloved characters we all grew up with—the temptation was there, [but] we kind of felt it would be best to go our own route, that this is actually an opportunity to create all our own stuff. We got excited at the idea of getting to mold the whole universe. Kind of almost like the ‘90s Vertigo stuff where nothing else existed around it, that’s kind of the vein we wanted to hit with this.
Paste: And is there anyone from the supporting cast that readers should keep their eye out for? Or would you rather keep that closer to the vest for now?
Simon: I’ve been saying that this dude is a late-night DJ, suffering from anxiety, getting a black hole in his chest—I feel like that might be enough for now. [Laughs]
Paste: Before we go, let’s talk about your artistic collaborator, Ilias Kyriazis. How did Ilias get attached to the book, and what’s it like working with him to bring Collapser to life?
Simon: He’s great. We were looking for artists for a while and a big part of it was finding the right tone because there is comedy in this, there’s drama in this, there’s horror in this. So we needed someone who would kind of tick all those boxes. We were looking for a while and then I believe Ilias got in touch with someone at DC and was just like, “Hey, you know, I’m available to do stuff,” and I had seen his stuff, his Dirk Gently stuff, which I was really drawn to, the art in that book. And then we got an email from one of our editors and it was like, “Hey, this dude is available and he might be great.” And Mikey checked out his stuff and he got on board and he’s been fantastic.
He brings a whole other level to this whole thing. He makes things look lived in. [Liam’s] apartment has been lived in by people for generations, and that stuff is all important to us. Not so clean and crisp but lived-in and like it’s really happening to this guy, which is important for Liam because he’s such a ground-level character when he starts out.
Way: What I was really taken aback by with Ilias is how fast he is. I have tons of friends in the industry and they tell me stories—I’d be like, Oh, how long does something normally take to draw, etc., etc., and he’d be finished in days and it would be amazing. He’s really fast and really good which is getting to be his currency.
Simon: He’s very excited about this book too, so I feel like that adds to it. And he’s very involved in character design and the design of the world. It’s very good to be working with someone like him who is as invested as you are.
Way: He got all the references, any time we would send him references or a quick description. He was always right there with us where we were, Exactly, that’s exactly what we were thinking, and he got the vibe right away.
Paste: Collapser helps kick off Young Animal’s return this July. Shaun, like you said, a black hole in the chest is a pretty great hook, but are there any final teases you want to give fans to tide them over until this summer?
Simon: Hmm, that’s a good question.
Way: I think what’s cool about this story is it’s kind of like science fiction/horror. Anything I do has a horror element to it—no matter what I try to do it ends up having a horror aspect to it. As I grew up, all I did was read Stephen King. [Laughs]
Simon: There’re some Twilight Zone elements to it. Stuff like that inspired us. I think overall, the whole process has just been a blast. Mikey and I are really great friends and we know each other so well, and we connect on so many things, getting to work together on something like this has been like we’ve been hanging out every day even though we’re across the country from each other. It’s just been a really great experience.
Way: It’s a dream come true. The funny thing is, what we’re doing with Collapser, we kind of would do with other things anyway. Whenever you had a story idea, you’d be like, “What do you think?”
Simon: Oh yeah, all the time.
Way: Or back when I was doing all my pitches, I would send them to you. It’s like a bullshit detector—is this good or does it suck? And we know from the reaction of the other how it was. Getting to finally do that with something that we’re both working on—I don’t know, it seems like a powerful combo.