The 1776 United States Declaration Of Independence lists "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as amongst the sovereign rights of mankind. These fundamentals date back to earlier writings by seventeenth-century English philosopher John Locke, who outlined a regime for better living in his 'A Letter Concerning Toleration' of 1689: "Civil interests I call life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like." Be it 1689, 2010, or 2019 - the world has always been, and will always be, distracted by inward preoccupation.
Ours - arguably more than ever - is a generation of complacency and instant gratification. We ask questions not to hear answers, but to be questioned in return, and to best others in conversation. Coveting tangible goods has taken a back-seat to craving virtual popularity. Self-definition is copied and pasted. Self-expression is mistaken for tweeting about what we ate for breakfast, Facebook statuses boasting corporate slogans, and settling for an average norm... because it's easy.
And like Alan Moore's 'Watchmen' did in the late 80's, maybe we need a comic book to remind us of the White Elephant in the closet. Our generation borrows and recycles age-old narratives, chewing them up and spitting them back out in Hollywood terms. There's nothing timeless or classic about throwaway characters created to fulfill the lucrative whims of mass-consumers. That's not real to me. It's not new to me. And as wonderful and eye-opening that texts written in times before I could even understand them are, I long for something published in the terms of my own reality. Something that captures my own generation as I live out the very existence it chronicles. I want a vision that belongs to me... to us.
At the 2009 Comic-Con Dark Horse panel, Gerard Way on the back of the release of 'The Umbrella Academy: Dallas', announced a second comic book series to be entitled 'The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys'. Way described the forthcoming series as "semi-autobiographical, but nothing in it happened to me. It was written back when we were touring in the beginning, on one of our very first - our friend helped us sell merch for us at the shows [and] was a guy named Shaun Simon. And we'd just sit in this van and have this crazy adventure - and the only thing that I can liken it to is eating raw life. That is what it was like in the beginning."
And that, was the beginning of the Killjoys slowly growing into public consciousness. From there on out, further details of a comic to be co-written by Simon and Way, and illustrated by Becky Cloonan, were impossible to come by... until the title of My Chemical Romance's new album was revealed. And even then, between an elaborate album trailer entitled 'Art Is The Weapon' and countless interviews with media obsessed with rehashing two-year-old headlines, information on 'The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys' was hard to come by. Until of course, we managed to hunt down full-time writer Shaun Simon and interrogate him ourselves...
The Killjoys of My Chemical Romance's new album inhabit a high-concept world - and I have high hopes for the comic book Killjoys as well. Like George Orwell and H.G. Wells before them, Simon and Way are holding up a mirror to show you just how square your world really is. Wake up and make some noise - your inner Killjoy is killing time.
COUP DE MAIN: How and where did you first meet Frank Iero before you co-founded Pencey Prep?
SHAUN SIMON: Frank and I went to the same high school for our freshman year. I changed schools after that first year. We weren’t actually friends though. We had some mutual friends, but it wasn’t until after high school that we were reintroduced. It was Frank and John "Hambone" McGuire, the bass player for Pencey, and the three of us just clicked. I didn’t even play an instrument at the time, they just pulled a keyboard out from under Frank’s bed, handed it to me and said: "Learn how to play this, we want you in our new band." They just believed in me, which meant the world to me. It was inspiring and something I’ll never forget.
CDM: Did you know any of the other members of My Chemical Romance before you toured with them?
SHAUN: Pencey Prep was on an indie label at the time, and we knew Mikey from the parties at the label’s house. I don’t think Gerard was around as much as Mikey back in those days, but I do remember hearing about him because he had done some design work for the band Thursday. We had this practice space in an old warehouse and we would split it with other bands sometimes to cover the rent. So, Hambone comes in one day and says that Mikey’s brother is starting a band and they need a place to practice. Gerard didn’t even have a name for the band yet when they moved in, but he played us this 3-song demo recorded in an attic. It shook the foundation of the place. After that, My Chem and Pencey were unstoppable. We played every basement, VFW hall, and sleazy Jersey bar together. We formed these bonds in those years that will last a lifetime. Eventually, our drummer in Pencey quit, and My Chem asked Frank to join them. All of us in Pencey knew My Chem were going to do amazing things - and to get the chance to do that with some of your best friends, it was the type of thing you couldn’t say no to.
CDM: Later on, what was your on-tour job for My Chemical Romance?
SHAUN: I did merch on tour. I don’t think I was very good at it, because I think I’m kind of dyslexic, and all the numbers always came out wrong. It was always off.
CDM: What writing experience do you have?
SHAUN: I’ve been writing for a long time, mostly comics, but Killjoys is really the first thing that’s finding its way out into the world. I’m a big believer that all you need to be a writer is a notebook and a pen. I think the whole idea that you can’t say you’re a writer until you’ve had something published isn't actually true. My philosophy has always been: I’m a writer now, and one day I’ll be a published writer. I also don’t believe that you need any formal training, you just need to live and experience things. Sure, it's important to learn the basics first, but then it's more important to figure out your way of doing things rather than having someone tell you how you should be doing it. I have always been this way about anything I do.
CDM: Apart from 'Snowman' (which I love, by the way) - read here - is there any more of your work available to be publicly read?
SHAUN: Thank you. Right now besides Killjoys I have a short story that has heavy Killjoys themes in it, which I need to submit. I’m also working on another comic book series with Vasilis Lolos. Vasilis is an amazing artist who actually did some design work for Gerard on 'Danger Days', and has definitely become one of my favourite people over the last year or so.
CDM: Does it feel any different writing a comic book as opposed to straight prose?
SHAUN: The short story and non-comic stuff I do is more of a stream-of-consciousness way of writing. It's this moment in time where a word, phrase, or idea pops into my head, and I have to sit down and write it right then to see where it takes me. If I don't do it when it pops into my head, it usually disappears. With comics it’s more like this journey that you begin and ride it out, the twists and turns, and you usually end up in a totally different spot then you imagined.
CDM: When and how were the initial ideas for a Killjoys story born?
SHAUN: Gerard had finished the first Umbrella Academy series and was starting Dallas and I had finished this big proposal for a comic series, that I’m kind of glad never happened, looking back on it; it could have been a lot better than it was. Anyway, I think we were both looking for this new thing; something that we felt was missing from comics and from the world in general for that matter. We both started to develop our own separate stories and would go back and forth telling each other our ideas and concepts. We both were going down the same path. He called me up one day and asked how much I had and how far I had gotten in my story. I sent him everything I had and he asked me if I wanted to do this together. The idea of working together was insanely exciting. Aside from being one of my best friends, Gerard is someone who constantly inspires me and we always seem to be on the same wavelength. A few weeks later when he came out to NJ for a friend’s wedding, he stayed over at my house, and that's when this whole thing took shape.
We discussed Psychedelic gangs, sci-fi laser gun battles in the desert, staples of American society slowly disappearing, corporations controlling lives, operating outside of our perception of reality - everything began to come together very fast. We were feeding off of each other, inspiring each other, and taking this story to the next level. It started to become very important, and we knew we had something very special in our hands. Low-fi objects inspired the look of the comic and a big part came from our own closets. If you ever find yourself in either Gerard's or my house and happen to need a Santa or gorilla suit, we'll have that. Cheap Halloween masks, costumes, and plastic ray guns that you could buy at any store became our ammunition. We went to a bunch of costume shops looking for those things that just hit you, and we found exactly that. We were at a store a few towns over from me and both happened to be struck by this yellow mask behind a glass counter. We looked at each other and knew we had found a main part. This is the mask Gerard is wearing in their 'Na Na Na' video and is worn by the main character in the comic. Objects inspire all the characters - masks, jackets, gloves, make-up, wigs, etc. This became an important aspect, the idea that anyone can become a Killjoy, and when we see the Killjoys in the comic, it really is any and everyone.
Another inspiration of the creation was the time I spent on tour with My Chem. Tour was surreal. It was a group of friends in a tight van going out and exploring the world for the first time. I could probably write a book about our adventures on tour so I’ll leave it at that.
CDM: Is there much/any separation between the album and the comic - or are they both intertwined? Do any of the characters from the My Chemical Romance album appear in the comic book? What about the Twitter-based Killjoys characters?
SHAUN: The great thing is that the comic is not a novelization of the album, or vice versa. We created this universe, and the album tells one story and the comic will tell another. To me, the record tells many stories actually, not just from the Killjoys world but our own too. In a way, what they did with that record, it's like an anthem for our generation and will resonate for generations to come. It wasn't the safe thing to do and I know it wasn't easy for them - and that is exactly what separates My Chem from every other band out there. It makes me extremely proud to, first, call them friends, and second, to be part of this whole project with the comic.
But anyway, things in each medium will change and become what they need to, which is one of the exciting things about this whole project. It isn't just one story being told over and over again. And the really cool things that I don’t think we anticipated is that these two separate entities are creatively fueling one another. This universe keeps growing. I think we will see elements from the album characters in the comic, especially how some of the band members look. The Twitter characters are a lot of fun. We created them for their record and they all started to develop their own personalities. Who knows, maybe we'll see Tommy Chow Mein, narration from Dr. D, or some reports by News A Go-Go.
CDM: Gerard originally announced that the Killjoys series would be set in "contemporary America". Has that changed at all?
SHAUN: It’s still going to take place in contemporary America. But one of the major themes is that your perception of reality is much more important than reality itself. For example, I spent most of my teenage years skateboarding, before it became popular and a corporate money making industry - we were looked at as outsiders back then. When I would walk down the street I didn’t see what everyone else saw. Benches weren’t for sitting, they were for grinding. Stairs weren’t for walking up; they were for hurling yourself down. Handrails weren’t for holding onto, but for sliding your board down. Cops weren’t there to protect us, but to chase us and ruin our fun. The city wasn’t 9-5 jobs and scrolling stock numbers; it was one huge skate park. So the way I saw the world wasn’t the same as the stockbroker who was walking right beside me. There is a huge difference in the way a businessman perceives the world and the way a child does.
CDM: Gerard has described Killjoys as "a strange kind of love letter to the really great comics of the 90's" - do you agree? If so, why is that era so important to you both?
SHAUN: It definitely is. When most people think of 90's comics, what comes to mind is holographic covers and extreme muscle battles. But there was this underground movement happening on Vertigo comics where rules and directions were being broken. There was Garth Ennis writing 'Preacher', Neil Gaiman doing 'Sandman', Peter Milligan’s 'Shade, The Changing Man' and 'Enigma', and of course, Grant Morrison’s 'Doom Patrol' and 'Invisibles'. These books were breaking the stereotypical "strong man in tights will save us all" world of comics and also came right after the gritty 80's realist books. These books broke new ground and showed us what comics could be. They made your mind move. If you read 90’s Vertigo comics, you don’t need hallucinogenic drugs to expand your mind.
CDM: Is Grant Morrison a comic book influence/inspiration you share with Gerard?
SHAUN: Grant Morrison is a major inspiration to me as well. When I first picked up his run on 'Doom Patrol' it felt like home to me - like this is where I belong, this is exactly what I want to be reading. One of my favourite issues is #34, 'The Soul Of A New Machine'. Among things in the issue, it tells the story of a gorilla and a human brain who end up confessing that they have been in love with each other for years. It’s crazy, it’s absurd, and it has heart. It is very rare that a writer can give the heart and characterization to the weird and bizarre like Grant Morrison does.
CDM: What do you personally think are the main themes of Killjoys?
SHAUN: There’s this phrase I’ve had in my head for a long time now, which is: "If you don't change the world, it will change you." You need to start by changing YOUR world. And it all starts with activation. Something or someone needs to activate you, turn your power switch on, make you operate at full capacity and realize all that you are capable of doing. It could be anything that does it - the first time you hear a punk-rock song, read a certain book, see a movie or painting, meet someone special, or watch an old lady struggle to walk across the street. Something needs to spark within you and give you the inspiration to put you foot on the gas pedal and not look back. It’s a shame because I don’t see it happen as much as it should. There is a major lack of drive in the world today. Everything is too easy. Why go out and start my own life when I could keep living at my parents, that sort of thing. We need to electro-shock our society back to life. Cut the TV cable and inject yourself with actual real life experiences. Go make something happen.
CDM: If you were a Killjoy character, who would you be and why?
SHAUN: We haven’t actually seen him yet. I don’t want to say too much about him but an accurate description of him would be: "flamboyant murder-tech".
CDM: Are there any future plans for a Killjoys game?
SHAUN: Not at this point, but if there were it probably wouldn’t be a video game. It would be based off of Twister, but instead of a mat with different coloured circles, it would be a very nondescript mannequin in a white suit with different colour laser blast holes in it. It would be played slightly faster, more like a dancing pace. Aside from that, the concept is pretty much the same.
CDM: Has writing and drawing work on 'The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys' been completed yet?
SHAUN: The great thing about comics is that they are released on a monthly basis, so the entire book isn’t written at once. The comic is the second phase of this movement, and I think with the holidays coming up Gerard and I should have some free time to get together. I’m also going to go on tour with them for some U.S. dates.
CDM: In the mean-time, what other comics and/or graphic novels would you recommend to read?
SHAUN: Jack Kirby’s 'New Gods'. 'Shade, The Changing Man' and 'Enigma' by Peter Milligan. 'The Filth', 'Doom Patrol', and 'We 3' by Grant Morrison, and 'Captain Britain' by Alan Moore.
CDM: What does the phrase "Art is the weapon" mean to you personally?
SHAUN: It means colour outside the lines. Break the rules and create something new. It’s your weapon against the status quo, your voice in a world where everything is mass-produced to be exactly the same.