MORRISONCON: Morrison and Artists Talk "Batman Inc," "Happy!" & "Multiversity"

At the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, MorrisonCon's programming officially kicked off Saturday morning with the "Grant Morrison and the Future of the Third Millennium" panel. Morrison, who moderated the presentation, entered the convention hall to a standing ovation.

"I almost lost my voice last night doing that show," Morrison said, referring to the 45-minute spoken-word piece he opened the convention with Friday night. He then brought onstage "Batman Incorporated" artist Chris Burnham and longtime longtime collaborator and artist Frank Quitely.

"What am I doing here?" Burnham joked, looking between Morrison and Quitely, whom he labeled one of his "artistic heroes."

The three men showed a page from upcoming "Batman Incorporated" #4, which was delayed due to the Aurora, Colorado, theater shootings. "Even though I don't think what we did had much to do with any of it, DC was obviously upset about the event, so we were pushed back a couple of months," Morrison said.

A colored but unlettered page flashed onscreen showing El Gaucho and the other Batman Inc. soldiers as well as "uust about every person who's ever been in the League of Assassins and hasn't been killed yet is in this issue getting beaten up by the Batman guys," Burnham said.

"They're trapped in this house with the world's greatest assassins, and they all just keep smashing through doors," Morrison added, noting the debris raining down on the heroes and villains.

Morrison praised Burnham's work, pointing to a panel where an arrow about to be fired actually appears to be wavering as it's drawn taut. "There's smashing, there's people shooting everywhere, there's a woman's bum -- everything you ever wanted in a comic is right there," Morrison joked.

Burnham was less sanguine about collaborating with Morrison, however.

"This fucking guy here, he wanted the gunshot hitting the tank, him noticing and jumping up, but I think he wanted that in less than one panel!" Burnham said as Morrison and the audience cracked up.

"I really like doing the blur effect on the arrow there -- I stole that from Tetsuo Hara, the 'Fist of the North Star' guy," the artist said. "I love that stuff."

Quitely also praised Burnham's work, saying, "It's brilliant stuff. Usually when you get people who work with such descriptive lighting you sacrifice a wee bit of movement for that kind of clarity and control, but Chris does both really well."

"Batman Incorporated" #4 & #5 cover art by Chris Burnham

"Look at Batman's new thing!" Morrison said as he pointed to a bat-glider in two sketches from "Batman Incorporated" #5. "This one is set in the future world with Damian growing up to be the new Batman. We wanted to do the most apocalyptic Batman story we could because everything's getting more and more towards this dystopia thing."

Using the bestselling "Arkham" video games as an example, Morrison continued, "We were looking at the 'Arkham Asylum' game or the 'Arkham City' game and it's like, what the hell is in the water? The police headquarters is in a maze, this is really weird, it seems like the city is hardly worth Batman defending at all!" he laughed. "We take that to the absolute limit we can, so this is super-grim, this comic, everything that could possibly go wrong goes wrong for Batman in this one."

Taking questions from the audience, Burnham teased a fan who wanted to know if the fifth issue would mark the last time readers see the Damian of the future.

"Why would you even want to know the answer?" Burnham demanded as the audience burst into applause. "That's what you're spending your three dollars to find out!"

"Back in the day I used to sit with Mark Millar talking about stuff and I said, 'You know I've really fucked up and it's all gone to hell when I do 'Arkham Asylum 2.' And so that's what we're doing!" Morrison joked.

Another audience member shouted praise for the detail on grown-up Damian's face, including a chinstrap.

"That's my trick for old Damian, he still has a pointy chin," Burnham said.

At that moment, artist Darick Robertson entered to applause and cheers, joking, "Who put this thing together for 10 a.m.?"

That sparked a shift to Morrison and Robertson's four-issue Image Comics series "Happy!" The team displayed the MorrisonCon-exclusive "Happy!" cover, featuring Jack the Hammer in his prawn costume, which was based on a charity event picture Morrison had seen.

"Children in Need, which is a charity thing in Britain, they all dressed up in these formal suits that were kind of based on seafood. I don't know why, it's like that Danny Boyle stuff at the Olympics and you go, what?" Morrison said as the crowd laughed. "They had this guy dressed in a prawn suit and I said, look, in the first page there's this girl giving a blowjob and it wasn't enough. So, I wanted the guy who was getting the blowjob to be dressed as a prawn -- I thought that would in some way posses the themes of the book."

Morrison added with a laugh, "One of the themes is never give a blowjob to a prawn!"

Robertson and Morrison were especially proud of figuring out they could have the killer smoke a joint, as was in the script, hold the girl and kill her with a hammer by combining the drug and the tool.

"Suddenly Darick invented this image, and under it he just wrote 'hammer spliff,'" Morrison laughed, "So if anyone wants to make their own hammer spliff, we'd be happy to take a picture."

Uncolored pages from "Happy!" #2 were projected to the audience, showing the torturers headed toward Nick's hospital room as Happy, the tiny flying horse, tries to warn him.

Robertson and Morrison discussed where to put the horse, accommodating word balloons and making action sequences clearer. This led to a conversation about the difficulties of collaborating, all three artists commenting they've had projects in which writers ask too much or else want very boring images.

"I think you should always write stuff that's cool to draw," Morrison said.

"Drawing people sitting at a table are the worst!" Burnham added before asking Quitely, "What's your least-favorite thing to draw?"

"Fast," Quitely said as the audience laughed. "I'm not crazy about drawing cityscapes. I always ask Grant to write me things taking place in Antarctica or outer space."

That brought Morrison and Quitely to "Multiversity," which after years of being an open rumor, Morrison officially confirmed and announced as project for DC Comics due sometime in late 2013. The crowd was shown a peace symbol on fire; Quitely's uncolored cover to his issue titled "Pax Americana."

"It's the only comic I've ever done where I've gone back and revised it the way you do a movie or TV script," Morrison said. "One of the things I wanted to do was just take years on this like, Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' world, where 20 years go by and you're still on this thing."

"I'm taking years to draw it!" Quitely added.

"We're taking a bunch of different parallel universes from the DC Multiverse and telling a story about them," Morrison continued, saying "Pax Americana" was the issue dealing with the Charlton Comics superheroes, which served as the inspiration for the characters of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' "Watchmen."

Dissecting the bloody smiley face image Gibbons drew for "Watchmen," Morrison said that visual clued in the audience that the landmark miniseries was about to make comics "grow up." Morrison said along those lines they too were playing with the character the Comedian was based off on, the Peacemaker.

"His title was, a man who loves peace so much he'll kill the Communists for you," Morrison joked, describing the original hero. His Peacemaker was very different from the Comedian, Morrison added, "He's a really good guy but he assassinates the President in the first page."

Morrison displayed inked pages showing the assassination in reverse, the action rewinding further with each panel, until it was back to the Peacemaker preparing to shoot the President from space. The comic also goes further back in time, taking the reader through the President's life. Morrison showed a page of The Question and Blue Beetle speaking with each other and another in which The Question and Nightshade seemingly fight.

Morrison also said they very specifically chose to do the comic in an eight panel grid as, "The 'Multiversity' series is based around a musical concept. The DC Multiverse is all vibrations, so we did the grid which was based on musical octaves and harmonic scale -- the whole thing is based on music."

Asked by a fan how far along the other "Multiversity" issues were, the writer replied that the other still-unnamed artists haven't begun drawing.

"The idea is to get everyone started soon because I'm wrapping up my stuff and now I have to finish this. They're all pretty much three-quarters of every single issue," Morrison said. "We wanted to do something at least as good as the good issues of 'Watchmen.'"

"At least as good?" Burnham asked, prompting a positive reaction from the audience.

Another audience member asked Morrison to discuss how spiral dynamics relates to "Pax Americana." Grant explained by pointing to Objectivism as the opposite of spiral dynamics, a world defined in black-and-white terms with no room for gray. "We thought, let's fuck with that. The whole notion of spiral dynamics is human evolution can be seen as a series of specific stages and you apply those to the evolution of society or kids growing up," Morrison said.

Breaking things down into color codes describing the levels of human experience, in the comic The Question is obsessed with that color code. "It's a little bit like Rorschach but absolutely nothing like Rorschach," Morrison said.

The next audience member asked the how structure is played with in the comic.

"I wanted to write it like Alan Moore," Morrison said. "The Captain Marvel issue, for instance, is written like a Captain Marvel story but updated, so I wanted to use the Alan Moore methods, which is not like the way I work at all. I don't like working everything into the last detail but we did for this one. I don't know if I'd do it again. It's like doing calculus."

Robertson asked audience members whether they'd rather have a book the creators labor on or one that comes out really fast, to which the audience unanimously responded in favor of the former. "We've evolved into a business where the trade paperbacks live on forever," Robertson said, noting that people were still discovering "Transmetropolitan" for the first time. He himself had only recently read "We3."

"As long as the work isn't 'Youngblood,' take all the time you need!" an audience member yelled from the back.

"I worked so hard on 'Youngblood'!" Robertson responded. "Rob Liefeld put his name all over it, but I drew those tiny feet!"

Tags: dc comics, image comics, grant morrison, frank quitely, chris burnham, darick robertson, multiversity, batman incorporated, morrisoncon, happy

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