How Gerard Way Brought The Umbrella Academy To Life

How did the writer of The Umbrella Academy craft a tale as engaging as this? The Umbrella Academy– the new-age Netflix series showcasing a dysfunctional group of superheroes, is one that has got us all glued to our screens! But, did you know that the hit show was first introduced to the world as a comic book series?

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY: DALLAS #1 - JIM LEE COVER VARIANT - GERARD WAY -  NETFLIX | Dark horse comics, Umbrella, Gerard way
The original comic cover

I think all hit shows or movies, originate from great books, especially action-super hero movies. The Avengers, Superman, Spiderman series are all adapted from one or the other form of comic books! Wow!

However, the story of the birth of The Umbrella Academy and the inspiration behind it is rather different when compared to others’ and surely is interesting to read about, for that matter!

So, let’s dive straight in. Who wrote The Umbrella Academy?

The answer to that is, Gerard Way! The name sounds familiar right?

Image Courtesy: Getty images for MTV

Yes! That is because he is the frontman for the popular band “My Chemical Romance”! I know right, this guy is so talented?!

Way started writing the book when he was 15, he shares. There are 3 volumes in the original book, written by the musician.

Moreover, Way also shared in a podcast, Behind the Scenes: The Umbrella Academy, that he took a break from writing and resumed only after when the band traveled to Japan. “One of the fans gave me a little marker set, and it was Copic markers. They were like the greatest markers I’ve ever used before, and so I started to create Luther.” Explains Way.

As we know, most forms of creative art draw inspiration from the creator’s personal experiences and feelings, Gerard Way is no exception. Way also shares that he started writing the comic book again as an adult, drawing from his own life and personal knowledge.

Into The Life Of Way

Chris Hyde, Getty Images

Way struggled with alcoholism and prescription drug addiction for many years but as of 2007 was maintaining sobriety. The Spin magazine revealed that he is better off now, and is able to enjoy the occasional recreational drink.

In 2014, Way began openly discussing his gender identity struggles online and in interviews. In a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) hosted by Way in October 2014, he stated, “I have always been extremely sensitive to those that have gender identity issues as I feel like I have gone through it as well, if even on a smaller scale. I have always identified a fair amount with the female gender and began at a certain point in MCR to express this through my look and performance style. So it’s no surprise that all of my inspirations and style influences were pushing gender boundaries. Freddy Mercury, Bowie, Iggy, early glam, T-Rex. Masculinity to me has always made me feel like it wasn’t right for me.”

The Lightbulb Moment

In an interview with Rollingstone, when asked about the origination of the first idea for the book, Way said, “The philosophy that I apply to all the art I make is that you should make something that you would want to read or listen to or see, something that you feel doesn’t exist in the specific way you see it in your head, something that can only be told through your lens. In comics, I didn’t see anything like The Umbrella Academy. I saw a lot of things that were beholden to continuity that had been going on for 50 years and stories that have continued that long, but I didn’t see anything that threw the reader in the deep end and just got them into the good stuff right away.”

In the same interview, Way sheds light on how other comic books have influenced and inspired his creation. The writer delved further into the inspiration for The Umbrella Academy.

“The first comic that I remember being hooked into and buying on my own at the shop was Chris Claremont and Marc Silvestri’s X-Men. That has like a big influence on what I do with Umbrella Academy. The way that they were telling the story, you would jump around to the different characters through a series of vignettes and you get these little slices of their life that eventually all came together. That’s kind of what I do in Umbrella Academy.”

Watchmen did have a huge impact on me, and there’s obviously some elements of Umbrella that are inspired by it. Dark Knight Returns was a big one, Daredevil: Born Again was a big one. Then I discovered Grant Morrison’s work in Doom Patrol and that became my mixtape of weird, awesome stuff.” Said The writer of The Umbrella Academy.

How Gerard Way Wrote The Umbrella Academy

It is a given that each writer has their own unique way of going about the writing process. If it were a different writer, they most definitely would have adopted a very different style of writing as well as chronology of the same.

As a kid, the writer of The Umbrella Academy saw the 1953 film Robot Monster which served as an inspiration for Luther’s body. It’s the first character Way fleshed out, using the gorilla form as part of his criterion.

His process for coming up with all seven Hargreeves superheroes included creating a list of words and qualities that came to mind for each character and their unique personalities. After Luther emerged in his mind, Klaus and Allison sprung easily to life.

“Klaus. He has some pretty serious addiction issues and addiction is something that I dealt with in my life. He’s also a little bit spooky and supernatural, and my persona in My Chemical Romance is very similar to that. He was like, kind of my version of like Doctor Strange.”

Way revealed that Allison was the easiest to write and added “I put the most of myself into Allison.”

With Diego, Way knew that he’d be the one in the family to have a clash or rivalry of sorts with Luther, the leader. Number Five was simply a time traveller trapped in a kid’s body, but for Ben, the idea of a “tortured soul” lurked beneath his human/monster facade.

So, what of Vanya and her violin, that’s a rather unusual addition to the superhero siblings? Way said he saw a white violin at a café he dined at in Brooklyn and thought “That would be a cool superhero, and Vanya was always designed to be a character who wasn’t special but was going to transform into that.”

the umbrella academy writer
A still from the show: Vanya with her violin

Similarities Between the band and The Umbrella Academy, from Way himself

Naki/Redferns

“Being in a band is like being in a dysfunctional family and all these personalities are really distinct and really big, not just the people in your band, but the people you meet on the road or the crew that you work with and all this stuff. A band especially is a dysfunctional family, so there’s little bits of me in all the characters, there’s bits of some of the guys in some of those characters and the different roles that we would play in the band and how those roles would change sometimes. We were in a big pressure cooker of fame and notoriety and the characters experience that in the comic and the show.” Shares Way.

“When I sit and think about the experiences that I’ve had since that second volume, there’s been quite a bit. There was a band breaking up and dissolving. One of the best things was getting to raise my daughter and be around her a lot and not have to tour. So fatherhood, parenthood became a much bigger role in my life. I accumulated wisdom. I learned to let go of my ego. I gained some humility. I learned to shut up and start listening. I got much better at all those things.”

Here’s a video where Gerard talks more about The Umbrella Academy:

Anyway, The Umbrella Academy is quite a riveting show to watch. Catch up with all the seasons if you haven’t already!

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