I’ve known Grant Morrison ever since I got involved in creating comics. Don’t see him much – haven’t clapped eyes on the scrawny Glaswegian git since last summer, in fact, when we spent two weeks in New Zealand and Australia. And before that I think the last time I’d seen him was in San Francisco in 1997. But reading his comics always feels to me like him giving me his half of a continuing conversation. Whether it was DOOM PATROL or JLA or the brilliant THE INVISIBLES, I knew what books he was reading, who he was seeing, where he was travelling to. Often, I could tell who he was fucking, and who he wanted to fuck.
Grant is one of comics’ few genuine pop stars. He’s also a long-time practising magician who makes his art his magic; magic is a thing that demands a lot of your life, and Grant solves that by making the act of writing an act of magic. This is not to be confused with the infamous save-THE-INVISIBLES sigil Grant worked and placed in the comic’s letter column, insisting that his entire readership masturbate ferociously over the thing at an appointed time.
Grant Morrison’s work is a conversation with himself, a conversation with his peers, a conversation with his audience and with the world. And this is a conversation with me:
Last time I interviewed you was ten years ago in Glasgow. I figure you’ve changed identity at least three times in the last decade. Who are you today, and how do you differ from the version I published ten years ago?
Every single one of the atoms comprising my physical body has been replaced during that time but the organising field which maintains the integrity of my timesuit seems still to have some indefinable ‘Grantiness’. All the daft shite I discussed in that interview with you back then is still a part of my current agenda. The ideas expressed there – of comic books and comic book universes as functioning autonomous continuuaaaaaa, the potential for magical manipulation of reality using fiction etc – have all moved to the forefront of my work in the 90s , particularly in the forms of the incredibly potent supersigils called FLEX MENTALLO and THE INVISIBLES.
Two of my cats died, I moved house, I split from my long-term girlfriend, I travelled round the world, learned to drink and take drugs, practised transvestite shamanism, went to ‘raves’, was seemingly abducted by aliens, almost died of blood poisoning and pneumonia, stopped being miserable and pessimistic, split from my girlfriend, cured two cases of cancer using magic, shagged around in Paris, Venice, LA, lived in New York, appeared in ‘Vogue’, met the girl of my dreams… I’ve finally become one of my own characters. In fact, almost everything interesting in my life has happened since the last time you interviewed me, Warren. What the fuck d’you think that’s all about?
“I’ve finally become one of my own characters.”
– Grant Morrison
At one point last summer I knocked on your hotel room door to see if you wanted to watch me drinking again and you emerged in a vast cloud of dopesmoke, wrapped in a sheet and giggling that you were having ideas and that they were serious breakthrough stuff. I’m not going to ask you what those ideas were — we’ll see ’em in MARVEL BOY soon enough — but I’m wondering how you perceive comics right now. Your ideas for comics stories tend to reflect the way you perceive the medium. What’s your ideal comic right now?
There was LSD involved as well. I can admit that now that I’m Straight Edge and back at the Jeet Kune Do classes three times a week. Shortly after you leave, there am I drooling and buzzing in the presence of seven times seven times seven deranged Bizarro beings all boiling in the interference moire of the SELF/NOT SELF boundary. Intravenous concept jelly overload followed by a bath (water spiralling in the wrong direction, coriolis force all fucked backwards). A lot of the direct transmissions go straight into INVISIBLES volume 3 #5 which I’m writing in Australia at the time you’re knocking on the door.
The real breakthrough business stemming from that night (and that whole journey to the Antipodean realms) appears in purest form as ideas in the IF, the novel I’m writing, but there are hints of my new theory of everything all through the last issue of THE INVISIBLES and more echoes through most of the new stuff I’m working on.
As for Marvel Boy. Not only am I working with one of the best comics artists ever, the colouring gauntlet has been thrown down once again with the most incredible video game lighting and atmospherics. The whole thing really becomes something new with issue 3, however, which I’m unusually proud of. Apart from the fact that the potentially impenetrable central idea (HEXUS, THE LIVING CORPORATION) wound up beautifully simple, original and ridiculous all at once, that was the issue I really began to utilise J.G. Jones’ preposterous genius to its best effects and decided to rethink the prevailing vogue for cinematic/money shot panel structures and page layouts. Marvel Boy’s visual style becomes more like MTV and adverts; from #3 on it’s filled with all kinds of new techniques; rapid cuts, strobed lenticular panels, distressed layouts, 64 panel grids, whatever. We’ve only started to experiment but already MARVEL BOY looks like nothing else around. Some of the stuff J. G. is doing is like an update of the whole Steranko Pop Art approach to the comics page. Instead of Orson Welles, op art and spy movies, J.G.’s using digital editing effects, percussive rhythms, cutting the action closer and harder, illuminated by the frantic glow of the image-crazed hallucination of 21st century media culture and all that. Comics don’t need to be like films. They don’t need to look like storyboards. This is not to dis the many great comics which have used filmic narrative techniques but I wanted to go back and explore some of the possibilities of comics as music.
I’m doing MARVEL BOY and whatever else in a Utopian 21st century spirit – I’ll aim the comics at a wide, media-literate mainstream audience and slowly but surely help generate that audience, just like you. I’ll continue to act as if being a comic book writer is the same as being a pop star. I’ll continue to learn from stuff I think breaks new ground. If at the moment I think comics aren’t being sexy enough or FuturePop enough or incendiary enough, I’ll attempt to fill the gap with the sort of thing I want to read. Whatever happens, I know I’ll sell more comics than the crawling half-men who believe we’re all doomed in a ‘shrinking market’. Look out of the window at the planet you live on, morons! There are billions of those bipeds and they keep making more of them! How much bigger does the market have to get before we’re eating Soylent fucking Green ? Get out and sell comics to these people! In the same way some idiot savant managed to convince them they needed Pokemon more than oxygen.
I’m busy writing my way out of the slump like most of us freelance folk. But someone has to start making some sane adminstrative and marketing decisions to back up the sterling work of the talent pool.
“…I really began to utilise J.G. Jones’ preposterous genius to its best effects and decided to rethink the prevailing vogue for cinematic/money shot panel structures and page layouts”
– Grant Morrison
The ‘medium’ is unaware of its attractiveness, that’s all. Everyone loves comics. I’ve proven this to my own satisfaction by handing them out to acountants, insurance brokers, hairdressers, mothers of children, black belts, pop stars, taxi drivers, painters, lesbians, doctors etc. etc. The X-Files, Buffy, the Matrix, X-Men – mainstream culture is not what it once was when science fiction and comics fans huddled in cellars like Gnostic Christians dodging the Romans. We should come up into the light soon before we suffocate. I believe we’re on the verge of another big surge of mainstream interest in comics and it would be nice if we had some good, forward-looking stuff ready for when they get here?
Meantime and today, the only books currently giving me that full-on ‘must-have’ hard-on are PLANETARY and AUTHORITY but there are lots of interesting voices emerging, like Tom Peyer on HOURMAN and Mike Carey who does LUCIFER. I like Brian Holguin’s SPAWN too and Azzarello’s HELLBLAZER. A lot of the comp box contents seem rather stolid and yeomanlike and missing what I’d call ‘sex’. I prefer the visonary, delirious buzz of high-octane imagination and for me, the crime-type stuff lacks pelvic thrust and misses the asylum edge of all my favourites…but that’s just my taste. If it sells books good luck to them. If it doesn’t…leave it to James Ellroy and the NYPD, lads. Ug-lee.
My ideal comic is the one which perfectly expresses its moment and makes you want to dance like your favourite records do. The ideal comic is a holographic condensation out of pure zeitgeist. Pop is my god and goddess, Warren, and I believe comics should strive to be popper yet than Pop itself. I particularly despise the cynically perfect, utterly barren, ultimately charmless retro-pastiche of OTHER PEOPLE’S IDEAS which has come to characterize so much of the output of tired creators who should have had the dignity to move on when they ran out of words of their own.
You’ve been writing for newspapers, writing for SLEAZE NATION (a magazine for the young folk of the British Empire about fashion and “night clubs” and repetitive beat music), writing a novel. Change of pace? Change in the way you’re treated? What stage is the novel at? (Who’s publishing the fucker, anyway?)
All of the above…
The novel’s about a third done now and is taking a little longer than I’d hoped when I figured I could dash out a book in a few weeks. I’m spending a lot of time editing and polishing the writing. Using prose alone, without pictures, is more Jackson Pollocky.
I’ve also written the obligatory screenplay and the pitches and the treatments and have begun to flrt with the Hollywood flicker factory. Channel 4 have just expressed some interest in picking up THE INVISIBLES TV show again and I expect a lot of this screen stuff to start flowering over the next six months. I’m hoping to make loads of money doing film scripts so that I’ll be able to finance Guy Grand-style acts of global tomfoolery.
The SLEAZE NATION column was something I’d love to have done regularly but they kept inexplicably editing out my best stuff without telling me, so I stopped. So much for radical skate anarchy. I wrote this Blair’s Britain piece in 1998 and they chopped it all to fuck which rather killed the joke. Maybe you could run it in its entirety, Warren. I think it was one of the first journalistic pieces to truly capture the flavour of the country that’s now become so familiar to us.
This FANTASTIC FOUR thing. Marvel seems to be denying you’re doing it, yet you seem dead certain you are. What’s the score here? And what interests you about playing with such an old and soiled toy anyway? I mean, do you really want to touch something once it’s been in Tom DeFalco’s mouth?
It wouldn’t be the first time. Fans of comics like INVISIBLES and JLA may be interested to know that I was Mr. DeFalco’s unwilling ‘bitch’ for most of the late 80s. Because I was quite young-looking and fairly skinny, I could quickly be done up with a bit of curtain as an ideal ‘visiting niece’ whenever one of Tom’s morbid testosterone build-ups was giving him grief. It was a reciprocal arrangement with DC in which each company’s new young hotshots were paired off with senior editors who were then expected to teach these fledgling nymphos the tricks of their dismal trade in a NEW GODS -style ‘Pact’. Dick Giordano got Scott Lobdell, I think, in return for me. Neil Gaiman was swapped for a very young and inexperienced Rob Liefeld, which is pretty good when you think about it. This grand old tradition went into decline in the 90s, I’m sad to say. Isn’t it heartrending to see all those wonderful old customs and skills die out?
“Fans of comics like INVISIBLES and JLA may be interested to know that I was Mr. DeFalco’s unwilling ‘bitch’ for most of the late 80s.”
– Grant Morrison
Obviously I want to be paid and like to be paid as much as possible but I choose projects not on the basis of money but upon the whim of the imps. Beyond Marvel and DC as corporate entities lie the Marvel and DC universes and I have a great scientific interest in these little living paper worlds with their own internal cosmological structures and laws. These miniature universes even continue INDEPENDENTLY of their creators. We can enter them and destroy characters, maim worlds, run utopian ideals to their destructive conclusions, re-run, delete, annihilate…and put it all back the way it was if we choose. They can even outlive us as Jack Kirby, Joe SImon and many others would surely remind us if only they could interact with the material plane like they used to. As a magician using comics as a medium for the purposes of effecting ‘magic’ (‘magic’ like ‘comics’ is another one of those terms which really obscures its subject), I enjoy getting my hands on corporate icons recognised the world over and charging them with new intent. Which is what I intend to do with FF or Silver Surfer or any of the others I have my eye on. I’d like to make them shine with some meaning for the 21st century while generating money and media attention. Is that truly a crime in the eyes of the court ?
Fellow magicians, for instance, may immediately recognise in the six issues of MARVEL BOY a fairly blatant supersigil invocation/download of the incoming current of Horus, the newly arriving Lord of the Aeon. This aspect of the way I use powerful corporate characters for my own ends is hardest to explain to fundamentalist materialists who assume I’m joking or trying to appear unusual by talking about magic but it’s fundamental to what I do and how I get what I want out of my life and ‘work’..
Of course corporations fuck us over. Everybody who plays with monsters ends up taking a clawing some time or another. We know it and we do it because we want to get our hands into those little chunks of the global Dreaming. I don’t care who owns the Marvel universe. It’s like who owns the Rocky Mountains, for fuck’s sake. If I’m stoopid enough to try climbing them naked, that’s my problem. The truth is, all the poor bastards, including myself who’ve been get fucked over by DC or Marvel or amybody else got fucked because they were too busy working to pay attention to business. It happens for the same reasons it tends to happens in the music industry – creative people are notorious for avoiding anything to do with bureaucracy, comics in particular demand constant output, constant imaginative concentration – it’s no surprise so many of us have been shat on by being unable to focus any attention on the intricacies of behind-the-scenes financial chicanery. The sad truth is that it’s our own fault for neglecting our weak points and blaming other people for things we know WE didn’t do.
And the Marvel Knights have been fine with me so far. I’ll go wherever I get to do what I most feel like doing at any given time.
Any travel planned for this summer?
Primal Scream in LA . New York to meet Genesis P. Orridge and Doug Rushkoff – we’ve been talking about doing a book of three way discussions, wild-eyed nonsense about ‘the future’ etc. And in the middle, Mexico for some tantric shore leave. Then Tokyo in September, which I’ve been waiting for all my life.
2001. You doing comics or not?
Undoubtedly. What about you? Let’s all keep raising the bar and see who can create the coolest, hardest, shiniest and most successful comics of the next decade.
I can be contacted by email about this column at firstname.lastname@example.org. My terribly beautiful website, updated yesterday with a new front-page essay and now containing an online store (carrying most things listed in INSTRUCTIONS) and a 24-hour rolling news service, is http://www.warrenellis.com.
BAD WORLD, a new series of occasional articles by myself, is at
INSTRUCTIONS: Read LOVELY BISCUITS by Grant Morrison (Oneiros, 1999), listen to FOR YOUR EARS ONLY by Bentley Rhythm Ace (Parlophone, 2000), and hit Douglas Rushkoff’s website at, unsurprisingly, http://www.rushkoff.com.
Today’s recommended graphic novel is THE MYSTERY PLAY by Grant Morrison and Jon J Muth (DC Vertigo).