For a man whose band, the Goth-punk favorites My Chemical Romance, broke up last year, Gerard Way is busier than ever. Having long established parallel careers as a rock singer and an award-winning comic book writer (the first run of his original series, The Umbrella Academy, won an Eisner Award, the highest accolade in the comics industry), Way continues to pursue both. His first solo album, Hesitant Alien, came out at the end of September, while October 15th sees the arrival of Way's first-ever story for Marvel Comics: a one-shot called Edge of Spider-Verse #5.
Way’s story is one of five, each giving an alternate take on the Spider-Man mythology — which will lead up to an event series called Spider-Verse in which every iteration of the popular web-slinging superhero will be featured. Way’s version may be one of the most unusual: his Spider-Man is actually a Spider-Girl, a 14-year-old named Peni Parker (who may be the daughter of a certain Peter Parker). Peni has not only been bitten by a sentient radioactive spider but shares a telepathic bond with it, and both of them fight crime inside a complex mechanized armor code-named “SP//dr.”
Rolling Stone got on the phone with Way to discuss his take on Spider-Man, the changing role of women in comics and how his music and comic book writing feed off each other.
How did you get involved with Marvel on this? Did they approach you?
Nick Lowe, the editor of all the Spider-Man books, was a big fan of Umbrella Academy and had a lot of enthusiasm for my work. When he was still editing the X-Men titles, he'd got my email from somebody in the business and just started writing me. We met up at New York Comic Con [last year] and he offered me an annual. He was like, anything you want to do for X-Men just do it. But it never materialized.
So I had a little time after finishing the album and then he hit me up again: "Hey I'm the editor of Spider-Man now. Do you want to do a Spider-Man book?" My response was, "I don't know, I have to think if I could add something to it." He said, "Well you get to make up any Spider-Man you want because we're doing this mega-crossover." And that was right up my alley because that's the stuff I think I do a lot better with. If I had to go write somebody's character [in keeping] with years of continuity, I don't think I would fare so well. But starting from scratch and making something new and wild out of a concept — I have a lot of fun doing that. So I was like, "Yeah, I'll do it." And then he found [artist] Jake Wyatt and I knew I wanted to work with him, so it jelled pretty quick.
It must have been fun to play in this universe and create your own take on the character with only the most basic connection to the larger Spider-Man universe.
It was thrilling! I just took the basic concepts of Spider-Man and then I looked deeper into it. I thought about the radioactive spider: "What if it was more than just a bite? What if a bite was a psychic link and the spider stayed part of the story?" That brought up a little girl who loses her dad. Then I drew the spider suit. And then right away I drew Daredevil, because I thought to myself, if I'm only getting going to get to write one Marvel comic, I'm going to put Daredevil in it as well.
When you decided to go with a female character, you probably didn't imagine there would be a lot of discussion about the new Thor being a woman, or people campaigning that we need to see a Captain Marvel movie or a Black Widow movie. What are your thoughts on the way that's shifting within the comic book world?
Ever since doing The Umbrella Academy, the characters I've connected the most with were the women. That's been kind of pattern through my whole life, actually. Like I strongly connected with my grandmother when I was a boy and I never really connected with other boys my age. I was never into sports. I was only into stuff like comics and action figures and I never really identified that much with the masculine type of male; I identified more with the women in my life. So I found myself wanting to write a young woman again. It's just what interested me the most.
But with regards to comics and women, I think it's absolutely fantastic what's happening in comics. I think it's a breath of fresh air. There's all sort of diversity — racial diversity, religious diversity, gender diversity. I'm still waiting for like a big transgender character as a main hero for a book. But I think it's incredible. And I think it really is adding new life into comics and I'm glad they're getting representation. I'm glad people are drawing women as women are.
This book is arriving now and your first solo album just came out. When you're working on comic books and on music do they somehow feed off each other?
They do, and that's the biggest trick. I think with Killjoy, because of where I was emotionally within My Chemical Romance I think I was trying to shoehorn or fit in my comics into the music maybe a little too drastically. But that was my first kind of experiment with doing it. Over the years, I've realized that, whether I knew it or not, my art was always very connected. I was conceiving Umbrella Academy when I was doing [the album] The Black Parade. When you look at that book it has a lot of Black Parade to it — this kind of theatric pageantry and darkness. Even now with the music I'm making, it feels a little like the Stooges or Iggy Pop by way of science fiction, and that's crept into what I do with my comics.
Not too many bands get a chance to go out on top with their heads held high, but you did that with My Chemical Romance.
The way My Chemical Romance did it felt like the first of its kind, just like the band. That's what I appreciated the most about the way it ended, was it was fitting for the band. You know, nobody hates each other and nobody is mad at each other. The band didn't break up because people were fighting, it broke up because it was time. That's crazy — you don't see that. And I think everybody has a good shot at continuing their lives making music because people are interested in all of us. I think that really has to do with how interested people are regarding what all the members of My Chemical Romance do next.