Today at New York Comic Con, writer Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá sat down at a special panel to welcome fans to Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion. The first issue of this seven issue mini-series came out this past Wednesday after a decade long wait following the conclusion of Umbrella Academy: Dallas and sees eager readers finally reunited with the most dysfunctional superhero family in comics. What lies in store for our beleaguered heroes and the many, many villains trapped in Hotel Oblivion? What’s the latest on the Netflix adaptation of the series that is currently filming? Stay tuned to the Beat to find out.
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Gerard Way kicked the panel off by describing his busy creative schedule. He only gets to make music on Fridays, but hinted that he has a bunch of demos made this far. Way said that he is busy working on the Umbrella Academy comic series and Netflix show in addition to managing DC’s Young Animal imprint, which is currently on hiatus.
Gabriel Ba said that he’s just been busy with Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion for two years.
Since Umbrella Academy: Dallas ended, Gerard has been toying around with Hotel Oblivion. He said that while his band, My Chemical Romance, was touring, he used to write a great deal on the road. However, on the tour of their last album, Danger Days, Gerard found that he was depressed and unable to focus on writing. Then, after the band broke up, he found himself messing with Hotel Oblivion again but not being happy with what was coming out, so he stepped away and turned to projects like Young Animal until the children of Umbrella Academy felt fresh to him again. He said that once he turned to writing Hotel Oblivion this time around, he found himself “bursting” with ideas. “This is the best version of Hotel Oblivion that you’re going to get,” Way said.
Since Dallas, Ba said that he’s been working on a huge number comics such as the acclaimed Two Brothers, Cassanova, and Daytripper. However, Ba said, Umbrella Academy is “unlike” any other of his projects, which is why Ba loved it so much. He was very excited to begin working on it with Way again.
Turning to the story of Hotel Oblivion, since Dallas, a nondescript amount of time has passed, according to Way. Spaceboy has further retreated into himself but finds a doctor in Japan that he thinks may be able to help him. Number Five, the time traveling terror, has become a hired gun. According to Way, the events of Dallas hit “Seance the hardest.”
Ba said that returning to Umbrella Academy meant that he would get to “play” with character designs in fun and interesting ways. For example, turning to Spaceboy, Ba discussed how fat the character was in Dallas but in the blink of an eye, Ba got to make him lean again in Hotel Oblivion. Way chimed in to compliment Ba, telling the audience that his collaborator has grown a great deal since completing art on Dallas a decade again.
Turning to the Netflix show, Way discussed how, after the first Umbrella Academy volume came out, the property was quickly optioned by Universal for film. Way say that he “gave a lot of myself” to the process of making the film, which ultimately “never materialized.” Way said that he gave too much of himself and resolved not to do that when Umbrella Academy began to get shopped around for a TV adaptation. When Netflix brought Way in to discuss what he wanted for the show at that point, two years after the shopping period began, he said that his goal was “to make the best comic possible,” choosing to focus on his work and letting the network focus on their version of the series, which will be different from the book but will also “go deeper” on the characters.
Ba, discussing the set design of the show, said that he had many conversations with people who worked on the show. He mentioned how much goes into building the world on the page, but how much more work goes into rendering lighting and textures when the show designers translate a page into reality.
According to Way, the showrunners want the aesthetic to look like “1970s Berlin” and also “timeless” of an uncertain era. Everyone was worried about the way that the show would render Spaceboy, according to Way, but the design ultimately translated well, albeit differently from the book– he’s “big and sad,” said Way.
“I want to hug the casting director,” said Ba, saying that all the actors on the show are “perfect” for their roles. “We couldn’t have asked for a better class.”
Way said that although it’s “apparently very rare,” the Umbrella Academy cast hangs out a lot and has dinners together, unlike the dysfunctional family on the comic’s pages and show’s screen.
“The goal now is to take a couple months off between series and then go right into the next one,” said Way of future Umbrella Academy arcs. The team wants to constantly stay a little bit ahead of the show as much as possible and provide possible roadmaps to the showrunners.
Way said that he has the complete Umbrella Academy story mapped out in a document with eight graphic novel volumes planned. That said, things are constantly growing and shifting in the series. Way said that there was a volume in the middle of the series that started as “science fiction” but ultimately ended up reflecting what the political reality of America became during the nine year gap. Of My Chemical Romance, Way said that the band intentionally “never got involved in politics” but did comment on America and future Umbrella Academy stories will be much the same way.
Way and Ba teased a new character in the next issue of Hotel Oblivion who will be introduced riding a “giant rooster.”
Speaking to the Hotel Oblivion building, Way said that how Hargreeves found it and exactly how it works is a mystery, but it is essentially a “pocket dimension” that Hargreeves keeps villains in. Ba said there are “hundreds of new villains” and Gerard has sketches of who they are and what they can do– Ba is amazed that Way has so many ideas.
There will be some interdimensional stuff explored in Hotel Oblivion, but Way said that he would avoid too much Time Travel. “Time travel stuff is hard!,” Way exclaimed, alluding to some difficulties writing Dallas. Way said that he likes the second volume of his and Ba’s series, but the first one, The Apocalypse Suite, “holds a special place” in Way’s heart and he said he feels that way about Hotel Oblivion as well.
Discussing the villains of Umbrella Academy, Way said that they all have special flavors because the 43 kids born at the start of the Umbrella Academy are the only ones with powers in the world. So some of these villains are just gangs with knives and guns. Others are tech-based villains or those with magical powers. Way said that he had some villains spring from sessions of an RPG game called Gurps. One character that sprung from that is Night Hag, who Way teased on his Instagram. The film Delicatessen also served as an inspiration.
Way said that some things were inspired by real life as well. The character White Violin was born when Way was having lunch at NYC’s Sidewalk Cafe, where Way saw a white violin on a wall and thought it would make a really cool superhero name. Other characters are inspired by people Way has toured or been in bands with. Way said there’s a little of himself in all the characters. Ba joked that the fat version of Spaceboy was inspired by him.
Ba said that Number Five’s look at the start of the series was inspired by Way’s look at the time, but his personality was basically built as the polar opposite of Gerard’s.
Speaking to future surprises, Way said that the showrunners of the Netflix adapatation made one critical change to a character audiences won’t expect to see but will appear on screen.
The first season of the Netflix show will be a bit of a mashup of the first two volumes of the comic. Some elements like Hazel and ChaCha, the time traveling assassins, have been “advanced” to the first storyline, as Ba put it. Showrunner Steve Blackman “really gravitated” to those characters, Way and Ba said, so he wanted to use them right away.
Speaking to the casting of ChaCha, Way said that they were “really surprised” when Mary J. Blige said she wanted to be cast. They loved having her, but were amazed that she wanted to play a time traveling assassin.
Speaking to the theme of Hotel Oblivion, Way said that everyone knows about super-prisons like the Phantom Zone and Arkham Asylum, but those properties are implicitly okay with the moral questions surrounding these institutions. Hotel Oblivion wants to question whether or not these prisons are humane and what the lives of the people inside are like. Way said that he hopes that when the show gets to that arc, it explores the side stories of people who got rehabilitated by Hotel Oblivion or got worse because of the isolation.
Way said that he’s basically done writing Hotel Oblivion and Ba is almost done drawing it. Way plans to dive right into the next arc of the series after finishing Hotel, however.
Turning to locales Way hopes Umbrella Academy will explore, he mentioned Scandinavia, Norway, Russia, the jungles of South America, Canada and London. On Canada, where the Netflix show is being filmed, the panelists joked that maybe they’ll see the Netflix show being filmed in the comic. Way said that there actually was once an Umbrella Academy story where the children found out there was a movie being made about their lives and the result ended up depressing them and everyone else.
Way said that he likes “compressed comics.” He doesn’t like to “drag things out” and that Grant Morrison once told him to get his ideas out there and “don’t be precious…you’ll have more [ideas.]” At one point Dallas was just one issue, according to Way. When it was expanded to a full arc, Way found that he painted himself into corners several times.
Turning to products, the panelists discussed the new Umbrella Academy merch including Hazel and ChaCha pins, an Umbrella Academy crest t-shirt, and a Spaceboy maquette. Way said that one of his favorite parts of the show was seeing the characters’ masks come to life, as it was important to him and Ba that Hazel and ChaCha have their trademark crazed designs. Ba said he helped build the masks and also did a lot of art that will be featured in the show itself.
“So far,” Way said, he and Ba have not cameo’d in the show yet. His wife, Lindsey, asked early on that perhaps they could be in the Orchestra Verdament, but it has not yet come to pass. Way is hopeful, however, that despite his self-professed camera shyness, that there will be “many more seasons” of the show where he and his collaborators will get the opportunity to appear in.
Thanks for tuning into our panel liveblog and please stay tuned to the Beat for more news from NYCC.