The Umbrella Academy
Written by Gerard Way
Art by Gabriel Bá
Yes I watched the first episode of The Nextfix version of The Umbrella Academy because I am an idiot. And no – it wasn’t very good at all was it? No excitement. No adventure. Just people standing around talking to each other and a lukewarm action scene that felt like it had been edited slightly wrong (like – were all the beats slightly off or was it just me?).
Although this isn’t a thing about how typically Netflixy the Netflix thing felt (although I feel like someday soon I do need to write a rant about how everything seemingly everything Neflix makes has the same kinda flat cardboard taste to it): nah – this is a thing about how you really should go check out the comic book it’s based on (if you haven’t already). Why? Because in terms of sheer, sick, giddy, comic book thrills it’s very hard to beat. Yeah it’s kinda basic and kinda dumb and isn’t really about anything much more than itself but that’s kinda what I love about it….
Yes. I’ll admit it. Way back when when I first saw that it was a comic book series by… Gerard Way?
I was all like: Urg! Isn’t that the My Chemical Romance guy? Why would I want to read a comic written by him?
(Altho: truth be told (and don’t judge me for this) even tho I wouldn’t strictly define myself as an actual My Chemical Romance fan (in that I don’t think I could listen to a whole album of theirs from beginning to end – with the exception of ‘Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys’ which is my pretty tasty even if all the songs go on a little bit too long – but damnit pretty much all of them start so so so well) they do have a bunch of songs that I would be happy to put on a mixtape (if people still made mixtapes) including: The Sharpest Lives (ooh! yes! I could just quote the entire lyrics – but I won’t seeing how most of it is all in the delivery), Sleep (I have a weaknesses for songs that go BIG for their ends), I’m Not Okay (I Promise) (altho I think that might mainly be because of the video – which is awesome pretty much just because of how Gerard Way emotes to the camera), Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na) (best lyric ever (?): “Thought you was Batman / And hit the party with a gas can”), The Only Hope for Me Is You (as featured – apparently – on the soundtrack for Transformers: Dark of the Moon – but please don’t hold that against it), S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W (“Everybody hide”!) – and and… Ok. I’ll stop now.)
I didn’t really think about it before but that sorta approach to lyric-writing is a pretty perfect sorta place to start for writing comics (well – a certain type of comic at any rate). The “sing whatever just sounds good” school of bands (whose alumni include: Mclusky, Future of the Left, The Pixies, Biffy Clyro, Parts and Labor and – yes – My Chemical Romance) all know that if you find the right words to make a perfect moment (and what is a pop song if it’s not just a perfect 3 and half minute moment?) then it doesn’t matter that much about meaning – because people’s brains can fill that bit in later – and – hell – if the moment is perfect enough – then that’s sorta meaningful anyway (and if you’ve ever shouted: “Then God is seven!” at the top of your lungs then you’ll know what I’m trying to mean).
And – ok (I’m gonna try and make this make sense): if a story is a series of incidents told about a bunch of characters doing certain stuff – (I know I’m not exactly reaching Joseph Campbell levels of insight here but just bear with me) then – for a writer – the issues is how do you distill that incident into a finite amount of pictures and words. I mean – with a book and kinda with a film – it’s a lot easier – because you have more time and more space to play around with (usually it doesn’t matter that much if you wanna add a few more pages or some extra scenes – obviously it might make things less lean – but it’s an option if you wanna take it). But with a comic you pretty need to reduce everything as much as you can – trim away all of the fat -and leave only the important essence. Because that’s what it’s all about.
So if you take someone – and that would be Gerard Way – who’s used to writing songs that go – Blam! Blam! Blam! – with one great phrase after another after another (any one of which could comfortably be written in biro on a backpack) and transplant them into a place where every panel and every word and every small part counts: then you get something called The Umbrella Academy. And – (this is the thing that I’ve been trying to get at) – The Umbrella Academy is awesome because it reads just like a great rock song sounds: every part is beautiful and every phrase that everyone speaks wouldn’t just be great put on biro across your backpack – but tattooed across your face.
This is a comic book will make your head fizz with joy and then explode in orgasmic pleasure. Featuring the splendid delights of: Atomic flying elbows. A head transplanted on to gorilla’s body. Orchestras that can destroy the world. The joys of time travel. And giant monuments on destructive rampages. “Why have you adopted these seven children?” “To save the world of course.” Oh – and Hazel and Cha-Cha (I love Hazel and Cha-Cha!). Remember that feeling of watching cartoons in bed on a Saturday morning and eating way too much sugar-coated cereal? That is the way these books make me feel (and – hey – wait a second – “Televators”? Is that a Mars Volta reference – ha!)
And to be clear: even tho it comes across as someone just making up awesome things as they go along (the first part is called The Day The Eiffel Tower Went Berserk) one of the many best things about these books is the way that it’s masterplan all falls into place bit by bit by bit. So even if it seems random with people throwing out killer lines just for the sake of it (“There’s just nothing special about you”) well: everything happens for a reason.
What do you think?
Instagram / budaboyhq
I was going to keep quiet, for a simple reason: I didn’t read the comic. It wasn’t on my radar when it was released, and even after it being reprinted I just ignored it. The thing is, I’m Brazilian, and I’ve followed Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon’s career since they started their heavily influenced Frank Miller comics ages ago. I was totally amazed by their artwork, and after I learned to appreciate their writing as well. But after a while, I kinda stopped reading their comics, and I didn’t really like Daytripper.
A few years ago I was tabling in Brazil in my first convention, and they sat beside me. They were quiet and polite, I talked with them about comics and realized that I was thankful for them, which I expressed giving them a copy of the comic I had printed at the time. It was awkward. I mean, a guy out of nowhere thanking you for no particular reason is not something you see every day. During the Convention they were drawing all the time (it lasted four days), and they were interested in the other artist’s works as well, so they basically read comics and drew.
I’m a bit shy. On that occasion, Peter Milligan was around and I was so nervous the day before that I sliced a bit of my finger while finishing the copies of my comic (I did everything handmade). I was a wreck. I didn’t really talk to anyone and the Twins remained distant.
And now we have a tv adaptation of a comic that Gabriel Ba co-created. I’m so proud and happy because at least I have some good news from Brazil, you know? It’s been hard days in my country. I wish only that the series were a bit more visually edgy and colorful, like his art.
The reason I still didn’t read the comic? I can’t find it anywhere. I don’t want to use Amazon, and I don’t feel like reading it digitally. It doesn’t really matter, comics come and go, but my support and admiration are intact.
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Nice post. Thanks for sharing your story. I think I sometimes forget that comics are actually made by real people and don’t just somehow magically arrived already fully-formed in my hands… :)Am duty bound to say tho: If you want to read The Umbrella Academy and you can’t find it in the bookshops or Amazon and you don’t want to read it digitally – then maybe you should try your local library? (And if it’s not on the shelves: you can always reserve a copy).
Instagram / budaboyhq
I check my library every week or so, but after the series everybody wants to read this comic :). Didn’t try the reservation though. I’ll pop at Orbital when I have a day off anyway.
Thanks for the peanuts
Barbican Comic Forum
I like Joel’s Umbrella Academy-as-rock-song metaphor. If I could steal that for a moment, and pick up on the Mars Volta reference: I’d suggest the comic book is like At the Drive-In—fast-paced, in-your-face, relentless, frenetic—and the TV show is the Mars Volta—lots of the same members and ideas, but slowing them down with more prog-rock meandering and weedling, broken by occasional bursts of energy.
Apologies to anyone unfamiliar with those bands, obviously.
And apologies for being the one to compare the comic to the tv show, but it was probably inevitable.
Having done both, I think they’re both mostly enjoyable, but in different ways. The comic is much faster-paced, but a major thing the tv show does better is give space to Klaus and Ben, characters woefully underused in the comics. Although I’m not sure how much I get on with tv-Klaus’ ramped-up chaotic wackiness, he gets a much more interesting treatment than in the comics, and Ben actually exists as a character (though is arguably still underused). Vanya’s story is a lot stronger on tv, and Hazel and Cha-Cha are more developed, though they’re not as irredeemably evil. A trade-off, I suppose, for keeping them on screen longer without them becoming one-note.
The flip side is the tv show spends so much time on individual characters and finding ways to keep them apart that it ignores the family/group dynamic. It’s all very disjointed—which is maybe the point since these siblings haven’t been in contact for years—but you’d think impending apocalypse would bring them together a bit more effectively instead of waiting until well into the second half of the season.
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