EXCLUSIVE: Way, Simon & Cloonan on "Fabulous Killjoys'" Evolution

Mon, February 11th, 2013 at 7:58am PST

Comic Books
Daniel Glendening, Staff Writer

After more than three years, Gerard Way, Shaun Simon and Becky Cloonan are excited to see "The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys" finally make its debut this June
Dark Horse Comics first teased "True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys" way back in 2009 -- an eagerly anticipated science fiction epic from Eisner Award winner and My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way. The book lingered in reader's imaginations as they awaited further news, but time kept moving on without the appearance of the book.

In late 2010, My Chemical Romance released their fourth studio album, "Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys," which told bits and pieces of a story about a world dominated by a corporate entity, Better Living Industries, and a band of freedom fighters known as the Fabulous Killjoys. This world Way and his band mates had imagined was brought further to life in a pair of music videos for the singles "Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)" and "Sing," in which the freedom fighters, portrayed by the band members, duke it out against the forces of the corporate faction led by the character, Korse, played by comic book legend Grant Morrison. Time passed, and the story of the Fabulous Killjoys seemed, perhaps, to have ended there.

New York Comic Con 2012 brought the announcement from Dark Horse Comics that the long-awaited book would soon be seeing the light of day, making its first splash on 2013's Free Comic Book Day on May 4, with the first full issue of the "Fabulous Killjoys" miniseries, written by Way and Shaun Simon and featuring art by Becky Cloonan, on sale June 6. Comic Book Resources spoke with Way, Simon and Cloonan about the project.

The miniseries picks up some time after the events depicted in the My Chemical Romance music videos, with the story focusing on the young girl rescued by the Killjoys from Better Living Industries. Within the narrative of the videos, it seems apparent our protagonists are those fighting against corporate power, though Way said those assumptions are up in the air.

"It's really about this different story... between the bad guys and the good guys -- are there any good guys or bad guys?" said Way. "When you read this book you're going to assume that this big clean corporation are the bad guys, and all these punky-looking freedom fighters are the good guys, and I think that the story really explores that as well -- who in fact is good at all. You basically have two extremes, and in the middle of these two extremes -- one being about control and one being about total chaos -- you have this girl. Both sides basically want this girl for their own reasons."

A young child in the music videos, the girl is a little bit older now, and beginning to question her place in the world. "True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys" looks closely at her journey and her struggle to figure out exactly what that place is.

"At the very core of it, it's the story of a young girl who, for her whole upbringing, pretty much has been told that she's the key to something very important," Way told CBR News. "It's about her self discovery and self actualization -- fulfilling destiny, or not fulfilling destiny -- and how one develops when one doesn't fulfill it."

"It’s basically the story of how society affects the lives of our three main characters," said co-writer Shaun Simon. "It’s about the choices they make when their lives stop fitting into what is expected of them."

While most of the characters depicted in the music videos set in the "Killjoys" world have faded into the background, there are several key players other than the girl that will be returning for their comic book debut.

"In the slums of Battery City, [in] an area called 'The Lobby,' we follow a pair of android call-girls who just want to be together," said Simon. "They're just trying to survive. We also follow Korse, Grant Morrison’s character from the videos, as someone who is working for BLI, the mega-corporation that controls Battery City. He's aged some since we last saw him and his trigger finger is getting rusty."

While the Girl (left) originally appeared in the "Killjoys" videos created by Way's band, My Chemical Romance, she's a little older and looking for purpose in the comic

"There's another DJ named Cherry Cola. You find out something really interesting about him that connects him to the past and why he's still alive today," Way said. "He's probably my favorite character in the book -- he ends up developing an interesting friendship with the girl."

Much of the story Way originally had in mind for the "Killjoys" comic found its way into the My Chemical Romance album and music videos, transforming what was to be a self-contained story into a trans-media project. Despite drawing on the previous incarnations, the upcoming miniseries is a standalone story that is enriched by, but not predicated on, knowledge of past work.

"This is a comic I've been trying to make for years and it started out as something very different," Way explained. "It bled itself into the album I was doing with the band and ended up enveloping everything. It turned out as a much bigger art project than simply just a comic… We put a lot of effort into the fact that you don’t have to have seen the videos -- you don't have to listen to the record -- all of the information for this story that you're going to need is in the story. There're definitely situations that allude to stuff happening [in the videos] but it is a standalone story. That was really important for us."

The long gestation period, aside from allowing the story of the Killjoys to bleed into Way's other projects, allowed the story to shift and evolve over time. In many ways, the story Way and Simon are telling in the upcoming book is vastly different than what they set out to tell, and has changed to reflect their own shifting views of the world.

"A lot of the things that the original comic was [to be] about I feel like I was fortunate enough to be able to say within the videos," explained Way. "We didn't want to say that again -- we didn’t want to make this book about the direct struggle between, let's say, growing up and cleaning up versus keeping it dirty -- that's something that was really explored in the album, and that was a lot of the original comic."

"If we had written the book three and a half years ago when it was announced it would have been a completely different book," said Simon. "The themes would have been there, they haven’t changed, but everything else -- the main characters, their journey, the settings -- the whole world would have been different. It originally started with more of a '90s comic vibe. The stuff Vertigo was putting out at the time had a huge impact on the both of us. What we originally intended to do was more of a love letter those types of comics, but after Gerard had finished the record and was ready to sit down and work on the comic, the new story just kind of came to us. It was a lot of fun, going back and reworking things to fit into this new concept."

Simon and Way have shared a friendship and creative bond for many years. Simon accompanied Way and My Chemical Romance on their first tour over ten years ago, and it was during that time that many of the ideas seeding "Killjoys" began to take root.

"The way we experienced seeing America together for the first time -- really seeing America, being out there on the highways in the desert -- we developed an understanding -- our understanding, I guess -- of America and society," said Way. "We would talk to each other all the time about it, and we'd have observations -- basically throwing observations at each other. I feel like in a lot of ways we were collaborating back then, in the way that we were viewing the world."

Several years later, as Way was beginning to allow the Killjoys story to take shape in his mind, he began tossing ideas back and forth with Simon.

"Gerard had just won the Eisner Award for his first 'Umbrella Academy' series and was gearing up for the second when I got a call from him," Simon recalled. "He asked me about this idea for a comic I was working on. He and I always keep each other in the loop on what we are working on, so there were bits and pieces of information floating around between us up to that point. I knew he was also coming up with something new that wouldn’t fit into his 'Umbrella Academy' universe. During that phone call we discussed our own, separate comic ideas and realized they were so similar that he asked me if I wanted to turn it into one book and do it together. That was that. We started creating this story and world together."

The story and the world of "Killjoys" has expanded beyond the original idea as a result of the album and the writers' constantly changing worldview

Artist Becky Cloonan has also been involved with the project almost since its inception, and the back and forth between Way, Simon and Cloonan has gone a long way toward building a nuanced, collaborative world. Way had been a fan of Cloonan's work long before the two met at NYCC following the release of Way's first issue of "Umbrella Academy." When "Killjoys" started to gain traction as a project, Cloonan was the only artist on Way's mind.

"I called her up, I gave her the idea and I sent her a rough sketch of the early characters," said Way. "She did these really amazing designs and sent them back, so even before we were really doing the book she was working on it -- this was years ago. She's just always been the artist for it. I just saw the final pages for one of the issues and, to me, it's the best work she's ever done."

"I'm trying to make the world feel lived in," Cloonan told CBR News. "I'm taking a lot from my own experiences -- stuff like hiking around the desert in California or getting lost in Tokyo -- right down to little things like being frustrated at the line at the DMV, or looking under my desk and feeling overwhelmed by the cables and wires I have to deal with. I use all of it to draw 'Killjoys.'"

"Becky is amazing," added Simon. "She’s been involved in this project since the beginning and knows this world better then Gerard and I at this point. She'll add little details in the story that make this world feel real, lived in, like it actually exists somewhere out in the universe. She gets into these characters' heads and makes the emotion come through. I couldn’t imagine anyone else drawing this book."

With Cloonan attached at such a nascent stage, her early sketches and character designs had some influence over the aesthetic of the album and videos, which she in turn folded back into the look and feel of the book.

"As much as I'm trying to stay true to the videos, I'm also taking into account that there is so much fan art for this story already -- people making up their own Killjoy characters, designing their own masks and ray guns," Cloonan said. "I'm trying as hard as I can to keep adding to this legacy and make it something people will want to immerse themselves into again. Between all that, I'm still doing my own thing. When I draw characters or places from the video, I'm drawing my take on them... A lot of it is about energy -- the album, the videos, they all have this vibrancy and fast rhythm -- it's something I want to keep intact, while still capturing all of the intense, personal moments of the story."

While Cloonan nods to the My Chemical Romance album "Danger Days," Way himself cites the precursors of punk as large, looming influences over the aesthetic and tone of "Killjoys."

"I think the look of the comic and the feel are actually more inspired by other music rather than music {My Chemical Romance] makes," said Way. "I thought about a lot of proto-punk, and things like the Stooges are really big influence...The thing about Iggy, as opposed to, say, Bowie, is Iggy is extremely explosive and volatile. I feel that way about this comic -- I feel like a lot of the characters, almost all of them, are extremely explosive... I feel like everybody in this comic has a detonating point."

While it's set in a dystopian future, "Killjoys" is really about people struggling to make due in the world.

"The biggest challenge is not the vast amounts of detailed environments, or the wide array of characters, each with a distinct personality and sense of fashion -- both of which are very challenging, don't get me wrong!" But it's finding and hitting those raw emotional beats," Cloonan said. "I'm worried that if I'm not careful, they could get lost under all the action. There are so many layers to the story -- I want it to be exciting, and stylish, but I also want to hit people in their guts. These characters are worth caring about, and as the artist, I always keep that in the front of my mind."

Way, despite his stature in the music world, has had a much longer and more durable professional life in comics than most might guess. He spent his youth reading and collecting comics, and his teenage years working at a comic book shop. After high school, he earned a degree in Illustration and Cartooning from the School of Visual Arts in New York, and went on to intern at DC Comics. Working in comics was his earliest professional aspiration. His foray back into comic books as a creator with "Umbrella Academy," actually made the return to touring and recording as a band difficult.

Cloonan has been involved since the beginning and her initial designs helped influence the album, which then influenced the final version of the comic book

"Going back to music was actually a little bit challenging," said Way. "It was my first dream to be involved in comics, and the music kind of happened in a weird way on accident, so to then go back to this world where there's stuff like major corporations, security guards and combative bands and, just, you can imagine -- it's really different. It's scarier to go back to music, because it's such a jungle, and I'd often fantasize about coming back to comics."

Without those experiences with My Chemical Romance, however -- touring the country and exploring the highways of America -- it's unlikely that the stories Way has been telling in the pages of his books would have taken shape in quite the same way.

"I don't think this story would have existed, and I don't think 'Umbrella Academy' would have without creating and touring on 'The Black Parade.' That had a lot to do with what went into those characters. I think every piece of art you do is relative to every other piece -- I was working on 'Umbrella Academy' at the same time I was working on 'Black Parade,' and the two kind of affected each other in a weird way. The same thing started to happen with the next album, so I thought, 'Let's just join these things.' But, no -- I don’t think that either story would exist without what I do for a living."

Dark Horse will release a first look at "The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys" by Way, Simon and Cloonan on Free Comic Book Day, with the first issue on sale June 6.

TAGS:  dark horse comics, fabulous killjoys, gerard way, shaun simon, becky cloonan

 
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