It has been a long, strange, busy life for Gerard Way. By the time he turned 40, he already had two majorly successful careers under his belt. In the beginning, Way was the frontman for the inimitable defunct pop-punk outfit My Chemical Romance, arguably one of the best emo bands of all time.
During the peak of the My Chemical Romance commotion, Way was also the brain behind The Umbrella Academy, a comic series about a super-powered family. A few years later, The Umbrella Academy TV adaptation is one of the most high-rated superhero shows on Netflix for the spring 2019 season.
While Way has always tried to keep the two projects separate, his experience with My Chemical Romance influenced The Umbrella Academy in many subtle ways.
A bedraggled, tour-weary Gerard Way draws and paints in a sketch pad with a laser focus as he is interviewed by various media outlets for 2006 documentary, My Chemical Romance: Life On The Murder Scene.
There is an entire segment of the documentary dedicated to Gerard’s love of comics, especially Hellboy and Doom Patrol, which heavily influence his work. Even during My Chemical Romance’s prime, Way was already plotting what later became The Umbrella Academy. In the doc, he shares some early character designs:
I'm working on a comic. [It's about] superheroes, because I never did superheroes before... It's kinda like X-Men. There's one I'm working on called The Seance, he's a guy who - he uses a ouija board to contact dead superheroes, and he gets their powers when they possess him. And I got this guy called, I think I'm gonna call him the Darwinist or something. Or Doctor Darwin. He's a guy that got in an accident and they had to put his head on the body of a gorilla, and he has to wear this kind of apparatus to keep himself alive, kind of like an iron lung. But he gets all of the abilities of, like, a superhuman gorilla.
The Hargreeves siblings are seven supernaturally large personalities, and despite all odds they must work together to decode the mysterious passing of their father, prevent a global apocalypse, and deal with each other's sh*t. And they must do it perfectly, because the world is watching.
My Chemical Romance was composed of six supernaturally large personalities, and despite all odds they had to survive the emergent pop-punk cultural obsession, maintain sobriety, and deal with each other’s sh*t. And they had to do it perfectly, because the world was watching.
The first issue of The Umbrella Academy released on September 19, 2007, amid the thrall of The Black Parade's tour and international fanfare. In the month leading up to the comic’s release, Gerard Way’s psychic landscape was undoubtedly affected by the intensity his superstardom peaking, and the dynamic between his characters reflects this.
When interviewed, Way acknowledges this, saying, “We were in a big pressure cooker of fame and notoriety and the characters experience that in the comic and the show.”
The Hargreeves family are bound to one another not by blood, but by cosmic fate. Their relationships are not always harmonious, but they still work together as a unit. Gerard Way refers to the band as a "dysfunctional family," and the same could be said for the Hargreeves siblings.
In the fantastical universe of The Umbrella Academy, a dizzying array of chimpanzee antics, doomsday premonitions, and violin solos almost obscure the true core message of the comic: deep-seated family PTSD and how to recover from what has been done.
The Hargreeves family dynamic is heavily informed by Way's experience in My Chemical Romance. He admits the characters are all slightly based on himself, his bandmates, and the roles they played as artistic collaborators and as close friends. Way describes his experience in My Chemical Romance:
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.
During the 10-year gap between The Umbrella Academy volumes, the structure of Gerard Way’s life changed tremendously. My Chemical Romance broke up, solo projects began and ended, and Way and Lyn-Z of Mindless Self Indulgence gave birth to their daughter, Bandit Lee Way. This informed how the singer approaches his characters’ difficult relationships with one another. Way recounts:
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... I accumulated wisdom. I learned to let go of my ego. I gained some humility. I learned to shut up and start listening.
This real-life experience is echoed by the premise of The Umbrella Academy, where the Hargreeves siblings are brought together again due to tragic and unlikely circumstances. During the largely unseen span of time between their departure and reunion, a lot of crucial changes take place in their personal lives, as is reflected through their complex interpersonal dynamics upon their return.
That is where the drama of the story really unfolds - the audience figures out what happened and what has changed as the characters do.