As the creative head of DC Comics’ new experimental imprint Young Animal, former My Chemical Romance frontman and Umbrella Academy writer Gerard Way has a huge weight on his shoulders. However, you wouldn’t know it by looking at him. On the Friday morning of San Diego Comic-Con, he was relaxed and jovial as he and his Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye co-writer Jon Rivera joked about bodily fluids and the nutty C-List of DC characters they had pulled from the obscurity of limbo to lead the imprint’s new line of titles.
Young Animal, which kicks off this fall with the launch of Doom Patrol, Mother Panic, Shade the Changing Girl, and the aforementioned Cave Carson, is the product of years of touch-and-go development finally blasted into high gear by a burst of creative energy that arguably hasn’t been seen at DC since the height of Vertigo’s success in the late 1990s and early 2000s. At SDCC’s Young Animal panel, Way and a team of his imprint’s creative compatriots highlighted the books, which are a mix of old titles, revamped character conceits, and completely new ideas. Way has called the books “comics for dangerous humans” who might not be interested in traditional superhero fare.
The creative team also showed off interesting memorabilia such as a Flex Mentallo beach towel that Way hopes to put into mass production and a blacklight poster that also serves as the proof of concept for a blacklight art comic. None of these items may ever actually come to rest on the shelves of your local comics store, but they’re evidence that Young Animal is not interested in playing it safe. Given the crowd’s exuberant reactions to everything shown, one gets the sense that the Young Animal team will not be diving into the deep end alone.
The Comics Beat recently sat down with Way and Rivera to discuss the development of the Young Animal imprint. We dug into Cave Carson’s mysterious history, the themes of Way’s upcoming Doom Patrol run, the impact of Shelly Bond’s departure from DC Comics, and what we can expect from the imprint moving into its debut this fall.
Alex Lu: Gerard, Jon– two of you have known each other for a long time, right? How did the both of you meet?
Jon Rivera: Art school! We met in a comedy writing class and we were the only two people in the whole class that made each other laugh. We eventually started sitting next to each other, trading drawings and talking about comics.
We both grew up in New Jersey, but we were half an hour away from each other and never crossed paths before then. Meeting one another was cool because back then, when you read comics you were kind of by yourself. I knew people who read comics but they read different kinds of comics. Meeting Gerard in art school was the first time I met someone who read the same comics I did– Tank Girl, Kill Your Boyfriend, Grant Morrison books…it was like “oh! This is amazing!”
It’s the great thing about something like Comic-Con. People can find each other and come together.
Lu: Jon, I know you were working on comics a while back but you took a hiatus. What brought you back?
Rivera: Gerard and I were writing together for a little while and then I started helping out with the My Chemical Romance stuff for Danger Days. That put me in touch with their art director at the time, Jason Fijal. We really hit it off and I started doing storyboards and designs for him. I moved out to LA and I just fell into that. I would still do comics, but they’d be little things I threw on the web about once a year. Ultimately, I had just moved in a different direction.
However, Gerard and I remained writing and developing projects– we’ve never stopped doing that.
Lu: It’s hard to find much information about Cave Carson. All we really seem to know about him is that he has his cybernetic eye. Can you both shed a little more light on the character?
Gerard Way: Yeah! We had his adventures in the 60s–
Rivera: –and then he’d show up once every couple of years in a guest spot. The thing about his 60s adventures were that he had a team and those journeys started petering out as the years went by. They never had an official “final story” but Cave Carson started going out on solo adventures–
Way: –then he was in Action Comics, helping Superman for a while. After that, he disappeared for a while before showing up in Resurrection Man. When he came back in that book Cave had the cybernetic other adventures in the intervening years.
You would see this character and say “Oh! Some shit has happened to this guy!” That sort of thing is one of my favorite visual storytelling devices– to alter the character in some physical way such as taking away an arm or in Cave’s case, giving him the cybernetic eye. However, we never learned how Cave got the eye in that run, so that was the point where Jon and I started from.
Lu: So are the two of you interested in explaining how Cave got the eye or simply pushing forward with his life’s story and leaving the eye a mystery?
Way: We talk about the past quite a bit! Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye is ultimately about what’s happening right now in Cave’s life and as well as what happened to him in the past.
Rivera: It’s interesting because the eye is a focal point for the series but it is not the focal point. That may sound crazy given the title of the series, but we didn’t want the eye to be this mystery box thing where the reader was thinking “what about the eye? what about the eye?” every time they picked up an issue.
We are going to delve into Cave’s eye but it’s gonna be organic to the story.
Way: The title is a little tongue in cheek. If the book were really about the eye every issue the book would get old pretty fast.
Lu: When you approached your version of the Doom Patrol, did you have a vision that you wanted to adhere to?
Way: I wanted to be super free. I take ownership over the fact that this is my Doom Patrol and not anybody else’s. I had to fully embrace the idea that my Doom Patrol is very different than anybody else’s and only belongs to me and Nick Derington.
Lu: Gerard, in the past you’ve talked about the overarching themes that run throughout all the books in the Young Animal line. When you think of Doom Patrol specifically though, what concepts do you hope to explore?
Way: I’m someone who has struggled mental illness with and is a big proponent of mental health awareness. In my mind, Doom Patrol is the perfect book to discuss those issues. They’ve had group therapy sessions in that comic!
The book has a tradition of dealing with mental illness from the perspectives of multiple characters, so continuing that legacy has been my focus. I’m asking myself how I’m going to get those elements in there. I want to use the book to break the stigma of mental illness and explore how people with mental illnesses relate to one another.
Lu: Indeed, characters like Crazy Jane and Rebis were amazing vehicles of the time to explore issues of identity and mental illness. What makes them interesting is not only what they represent and the issues their presence brings up, but how they grow over time as well. I know that you’ve mentioned that change is another overarching theme of Young Animal. Is there a way in which you hope the line will change comics at large?
Way: Honestly I just hope it leads to more comics about mainstream heroes. I hope it breaks things up more. I think it’s important to have your bread and butter superhero books but you need this other stuff because you need to think of the people who aren’t necessarily interested in the biggest heroes. I’d like to see a revitalization or resurgence of the B-List and C-List characters becoming important again.
Rivera: DC Comics has a great history with that sort of thing. Gerard, you were a big fan of Doom Patrol growing up but I hadn’t had an opportunity to read it as a teenager. However, my local comic shop owner, who was awesome, ordered me Grant Morrison’s and Frank Quitely’s Flex Mentallo miniseries because I liked weird stuff. I liked the kitschy Charles Atlas comics, but Flex was a character I knew nothing about and reading that book blew my mind. It’s one of the reasons I’m here today. It showed me what superhero comics could be. It was cool at a time when comics weren’t cool.
Way: It’s about asking how you get the weird into the mainstream. That’s the goal of Young Animal. I would love to read a Superman comic one day that was as crazy as Flex Mentallo. You have a bit of that since Grant has written Superman, but I think there are many more opportunities to make big mainstream characters really weird.
Lu: Definitely. There are many kinds of weird, though! Grant Morrison stories like Flex Mentallo are strange because they’re often metafictional– Flex Mentallo is literally about breaking down the barrier between fiction and reality. Is the weirdness you guys are interested in exploring different in some way?
Way: It’s similar in that it is about breaking the wall in a slightly meta way. Doom Patrol takes cues from the past runs of the series and asks “how can we use these cues in a new way?” You’ll see that our book will reference the fact that it is a comic in some way. You might also see that things can break the fourth wall and you’ll have to ask yourself if this book really is a comic. That’s the sort of stuff we want to play with in Doom Patrol.
Rivera: Grant’s a very supportive and creative person, so I feel like the best way to pay homage to Grant is to do your own thing because that’s what he would do.
Way: You take his ideas, run with them, and turn them into something wildly different.
Lu: Early on, Shelly Bond was heavily involved in the development of the Young Animal line. Have things changed at all since her departure from DC Comics?
Way: They have. Shelly Bond is an editor I’ve followed since I was a kid through books like The Invisibles. She was very important to my growth as a comics reader and writer. Shelly was actually the one who brought me into DC. We had been talking since the release of The Umbrella Academy. She would say “maybe you can do a Vertigo book” and it would fall through. Then she’d say “maybe you can do Doom Patrol” and we’d talk about that for a year before it fell through.
Then, with Young Animal, we finally found the right pairing for Shelly and I to work together. She helped me build this imprint. Losing her was a big loss.
How are things without her? They’re different. We’re just trying to move forward from that and keep making the books that we wanted to make.
Lu: Has your role within Young Animal solidified further since you first talked about it during Emerald City Comic Con?
Way: You know, it’s a weird thing. I’m doing a lot of stuff. I guess I’m the curator of the line but I also edit the books. I feel like I’m just guiding the teams. Young Animal is a team effort and I’m just the forest guide. I’m helping them find their own wilderness and then peacing out.
Lu: So do you guys have any favorite moments from the books you’ve produced so far? Cave Carson, maybe?
Rivera: With Cave, I like the fact that it’s a classic adventure book. Sometimes it’s like Spielberg mixed with a bit of Sam Raimi. It can get gory, crazy, and energetic. There are some major things that happen in the first issue of that book that I love.
Way: There’s a pretty gnarly and gory scene. You know, two things about all the Young Animal books that I’m really into are body horror and fluids. Gelatins, slime…fluids are important in Young Animal. You’ll see slime, vomit, fungus, and other organics show up in all the books.
Rivera: It’s gross out but it’s not hostile. It’s not just gore porn but it is more Sam Raimi than anything else. It’s the fun of seeing someone get sprayed with gunk.
Doom Patrol #1 goes on sale on September 14th. Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye and Shade the Changing Girl launch in October. Mother Panic begins in November.