I interviewed Grant Morrison for the UK broadsheet The Independent on Sunday, but of course the word limit for that was only 1000 words, while Grant happily chatted away for over an hour!
I was going to post up some snippets here but I've been informed by the masses that the full interview in all its lengthy glory is what the fans want! And I am not one to disappoint, particularly as I had a really good time interviewing Grant who is a very lovely and down to earth guy.
Hit the jump for answers on Supergods, Action Comics, Relaunches, socialist vegetarian Superman, Leviathan, women at DC, chaos magic, singing John Lennon, dying comics, the Batgirl of San Diego, and much more.
Supergods has been out a while now, so I thought basically let's just talk first about that book for anyone out there who hasn't got it yet.
Grant: Just extemporise on the subject? God, I don't even know what it is now, because after you do it it becomes something totally different. Now it's out there and it has it's own life, so it's kind of like a Viking child I just threw in the snow and it's like okay now you've got to look after yourself.
I dunno, I guess, I mean as you know it came out of the blue, I wasn't going to do anything like this, I had no plans to do this and suddenly it all happened and they asked me to kind of do this after the original notion of doing a book of interviews. So when that didn't happen and they asked me to extend this introduction to another thousand pages and I found myself doing it, I had no idea what I was doing! I started off just talking about superheroes and then that became kind of a history of comics because mostly they've appeared in comics and comics have done all the really good work on superheroes, and they've done all the deconstructions and reconstructions, and examinations of them that anyone could ever need. So it was just a runaway thing you know, and then because I got bored with just telling the history and I thought no one's really... only the fans of comics are going to care about this, I want to also talk about what happens if you subject your entire life to the radioactivity of comic books and superheroes and so then that became that other dimension of just including those elements of my life that seemed to bring the story to life a little bit more.
So I don't know, I think it's a weird one when I think about it now, it's kinda, as I say to people, it's like being stuck on a plane with me for fifteen hours you know (laughs) and it's kind of, some bits are funny, and some bits are sad, and some bits are kinda ridiculous, and some bits are absurd, and some bits are psychedelic, and some bits are quite grounded. So it was kind of like, when I look at it now, it was like that: everything I could think about on this subject and doing it historically so it at least had a structure and it kind of mirrored the idea of a human life growing up the way comics have grown up and the way they've went through different stages that are almost like the stages you go through as you progress from being a child to an adult. And so that structure fit, and then I embedded even deeper in it this Kabbalistic thing, where the whole metaphor of the lightning bolt began to be really significant because I noticed that in every age of superhero comics, throughout the transformation of superheroes, there's a hero with a lightning bolt. You know if it's not the Flash, it's Marvel Man, it's someone connected to that original lightning bolt motif and the lightning bolt is the same thing that the Kabbalah talks about, this thing called the lightning flash which is the magicians path along the Kabbalistic Tree of Life structure. And all that is simply, the lightning flash is the instant connection between the divine and the material. And so I kind of thought, well there's something here, you know about how comics work and the idea of these energies that once would have been called Gods but are now dressed up like Superman and the Flash and Iron Man and that notion of the flash of lightning. So again the whole book's got this embedded structure of the lightning flash touching each of the ten sephiroth of the Kabbalah. So there's a little bit about science here, and there's bits emotional and there's bits about something... You know they all basically connect on that.
So it became quite an interesting art project, you know like most of these things are for me. I don't even know if it's a book or if it's like an art installation like the rest of the things. But yeah, what more can I say! (laughs)
There was a lot more written wasn't there, that didn't make it to the final book?
Grant: Yeah, there was almost double the length again, they wanted 100,000 words and I did 180,000, so it was nearly double the length and loads of stuff got thrown out. A lot of it probably for the best but you know also a lot of people that I liked and work that I liked that I just couldn't fit in to it. And there's a whole section with Christopher Reeve that isn't even in it which is a really bad omission! Of all the people that you should have in a book about superheroes, to not have Christopher Reeve. So I'm hoping that in the paperback we get the Christopher Reeve stuff in. But yeah, it was just gigantic, it could have gone on forever. And I'm glad they kind of stopped it and chopped it. But certainly the Golden Age took the worst of the scything. The Golden Age section was as big as all the other sections but it ended up the smallest one of the lot.
It would be interesting if the paperback did get the extras back in, like a director's cut.
Grant: It would be good, some of it was good, it did the whole history of Captain America. But because it wasn't chronological - you know I started with Captain America in the war and took it right through and all the things that happened to him - and they just said no this is too confusing because your starting chronologically and then suddenly you tell the whole history of this one character.
So it just kind of, everything got chopped down to its simplest structure.
In the book you talk about how people in general are subjected to nihilistic mass media, and we've seen a lot of social unrest in recent months with a lot of anger. Supergods is very much the opposite of all that...
Grant: It's the return of the repressed you know and I think as I said in the book it's why the superhero films are popular because they at least give some exit strategy from all this, because if we do get better, if we do put on the capes, if we do switch into the tights then maybe there's some chance that we can progress. Because nobody now believes that our current course is gonna lead anywhere but disaster. We have been sold this idea so hard that we're doomed. There is no hope, the environment will collapse, you will all be hunted down eventually by somebody, we're all going to break some law sooner or later. So the idea of that is so prevalent, like I've said in interviews, if you try being positive to people they freak out! In the days of punk, if you wore a nazi armband people would freak out. Now if you say “no, what if you're wrong, what if there's a chance, what if everything's okay, what if it's meant to be like this and these are just stages” but they freak out! So you know kind of that optimism that comics bring is a kind of form of outrage now and it quite appeals to me because of that, it's so against the prevailing trends to say that “hey maybe everything's okay”, people just lose their shit if you try to tell them that maybe we're part of larger scale processes that are working themselves out that we barely have any comprehension of. But you know, you can't say that.
But as I say, comics bring that kind of, that dimension, that slightly utopian dimension, the cosmic dimension, or the transcendental dimension, that we don't get in a lot of other forms of entertainment. You know maybe Doctor Who provides that which is quite interesting because it is such a big programme. Most of what we're given by the media is just nightmarish because they want to make you keep watching so it's run like a, it's like a thriller, you know they can spin out a very small crime over an entire day if you wanted by interviewing all kinds of people and they can make the world seem like its a terrifying and doomed place when in actual fact most people in the West are living easier, safer, more successful and better off lives than they ever have in the past just because of the way things work. But I dunno, there's a kind of, I think we're fighting against a weird... there's an obsession with the culture of crime, you know, or violence even where the games we play, it's always about people who are on the front line of violence. We play at being soldiers, we play at being cops, we play at being gangsters, and it's this real obsessive need to be, to pretend to live lives that in a million years we would never choose to live or want to live. So it's kind of, it's indoctrinating people you know and you watch Big Brother and it's like the exultation of idiocy, like genuine like, you cannot believe anybody's that dumb but she's successful (laughs) or he's successful or they're getting away with it, they're actually being sold as something to aspire to. And god, I mean that, it's hard to pose alternatives to that because it is so popular but you know the superheroes kind of do it a little bit, and it's small, it's in a small crude way but at least its doing it.
Something I find really interesting about comics is that they survive by changing and evolving across the years, resetting for every generation, yet that is the one thing that pisses the fans off the most! Is that something you just have to block out?
Grant: You have to, yeah, I mean I can't remember if I was like that, I dunno, do you remember being like that with these things? I kinda used to like when things changed because suddenly you're on different ground, you don't know what's gonna happen, so the familiar seems strange again. It seems like things should be refreshed every generation but yeah I mean there's a whole raft of people who just want everything to be the same but I think they're the ones who discovered it when they were young perhaps and it had a real particular effect and like going back to crack cocaine it's never as good as the first time as they say (laughs) and they just keep going back and comics don't give them that feeling but they keep going, “just make it the way it was when I was a kid and I'll feel that again” and they don't realise it's them that's changed, you know I mean it's just the sad truth of life, the inevitability of it, you change. And really we need to inspire younger people, we need to inspire different types of people to pick these things up, because you know it is just entertainment and it's bloody better than Big Brother! And it's as good as your favourite film, as good as your favourite record so why not, just read a comic book.
Whether there are new readers or not remains to be seen, I mean as I've said everything's plunging in sales because people consume in such a different way, most people will honestly just go on and get stuff for free if they need it and they've got used to that you know, and if they don't get it for free on the internet they smash a window and take it! So it's a kind of different culture. As I said to you in that interview before, the end game of that you would imagine is to finally annihilate the concept of genius or stardom really, because everyone becomes a star and everyone starts either producing content or not. You know and suddenly you might find that all we've got is old stuff created by artisans, in a time when you could get paid for that and it would come out and sell to a large audience. I just don't know what's going to happen because no matter how hard these things try, dvd sales are down, record sales are down, comic sales are down, it just may not be ultimately possible to make people read these things or buy these things in the way that they used to, or to pay for them – pretty much, pay for them.
Supergods came out in July, and you've done a lot of promotional touring for it over the months, and yet you're still standing!
Grant: It was horrible! (laughs) It was really weird, you know, I just don't like that kind of thing.
How many interviews have you done?
Grant: Hundreds! Aww, probably not hundreds, but it felt like sometimes it was like six a day and then they would have me on really weird things like on NBC and talking on the news and like, okay! And TMZ turned up one night and I had cameras in my face and I don't even know what you guys are talking about, asking me weird questions about American celebrities, sorry I've never heard of them! I live in a rabbit hutch in Scotland!
But no it was quite weird, I wish it had happened when I was like 30 or something and I really craved the scrutiny, and I wanted people to look at me and to get noticed, and to be popular and famous. And now I've had a taste of it and it's horrific, it's the last thing I'd want is to be known or to be recognised, or to be spotted anywhere.
Like having lunch with Neil Gaiman and it ending up all over twitter!
Grant: I know but the amazing thing was it was empty, it was the quietest place, it was like Brigadoon! I thought we were gonna have all these Neil Gaiman fans sitting outside the window.
You're here at the Edinburgh Book Festival tonight – are you looking forward to that?
Grant: Probably, I don't know what it's going to be though, I've no idea what's supposed to happen, I'm just going to turn up! I'll open it to the audience hopefully.
I think you're doing a signing afterwards...
Grant: I don't even know actually, I don't want to know, I find that when I know the day becomes this horror! (laughs)
I was amazed when I came to your last signing in Glasgow and there were 2 hours worth of people standing and waiting to see you.
Grant: But that one was great, there was a lot of kids at that one, a lot of girls at that one, it was really a totally different atmosphere. That was a lot of fun. A lot of My Chemical Romance fans had turned up, it was quite funny.
The strangest one though was just signing in normal book stores in America, the ordinary public were much weirder than the comic fans. They really were, the way they come at the subject, and the way they think and the questions they ask you or the kind of overly emphatic hugs they give you (laughs) were so weird compared to the comic fans and sci-fi fans I usually meet.
I guess Supergods appeals to non-comic readers as well, to pop culture fans and commenting on society. Some readers might not necessarily know much beyond Superman being a guy that runs around in a cape and pants.
Grant: Well hopefully, there's a lot of that, it's not the usual audience I would meet, they're very very different, slightly creepy in a lot of ways, you know a totally different lot of people that you thought anyone one of these could just shoot me! (laughs) Comic fans are great, all the readers just tend to be like smart people that read the stuff and they're pretty cool about that and I didn't really meet any peculiar ones until I went out into the real world.
There's a bit of a difference then between online fans and those you meet – I often wonder if people are just like that online...
Grant: Och, there's just about a hundred of them really, that's it, you know and they just do it and they get pissed off, and I kinda... it's really annoying when you're the subject of these things you know, and people are telling lies about you or calling you names or saying you're a lunatic, or you're a crack addict or whatever it is, but I kinda remember being like that and I'm sure if the internet had been around when I was a teenager say, and I was as opinionated, and as balshy, and as stupid and ignorant as that, I'm sure I'd just have been doing the same thing, so it's really hard to get angry with people. I think there's only a few hardcore bastards, you know and the rest of them are just like, well you're just being dumb you know cos you're sitting up and got nothing else to do that night and angry at something that wouldn't get anybody angry.
You meet the same people at conventions and they're really nice, and they want to talk about comics and get things signed. I've never met anyone who behaves the way they do online.
What I loved about Supergods was that amazing symmetry the book has: it starts with Superman and then with you going on to do Action Comics, it finishes with Superman.
Grant: Yeah that was just like, that was like a gift at the end there you know being asked if I want to do Action Comics and kind of again, it was like more work than I needed but I couldn't knock it back, it was just one of these things, that okay I've got to do this so that I can end the book as it began with Superman. But yeah, everything in it was really nicely composed like that, you know even the fact that you know I'm now living in the place where my dad once protested and the submarines still go up and down. So that was kind of interesting, just to take your own circumstance and your own life and just actually create this little self reflecting jewel by selecting just the right things.
I don't know how much you can talk about Action Comics but I know there was a bit of a fuss about changing artists...
Grant: I can talk a little bit about it. Well Rags Morales is still drawing it but he needed to get help on the second one from I think it was Brent Anderson and he'll probably need help on the third one and honestly it's because DC decided that they want the comics to come out monthly because people were complaining that the comics were taking too long. And it's a really hard one to negotiate because the reason comics take too long is because they cost more, so the artists put more time into making the work worthwhile and also because they're collected, the artists want to make sure that the work is good enough to withstand the test of time, which takes longer.
And it's totally at odds with the old production values of comics which is you put them out in a month, but back then they cost ten cents, fifteen cents and guys would do them overnight quite crudely, a lot of energy but they were done crudely, like punk rock singles. Now people are judging you against the best of everything you know, you can just go and download Watchmen, you can get The Dark Knight, and if it's not as good as these things, or at least aspiring to be as good as these things then you're kind of up against it.
So it was a weird problem because things were getting late, like my Batman Incorporated has been super late because, partly because of me but also because the artist just couldn't keep up and do their best work and suddenly came this dictat that now everything had to be monthly and they want to keep to that so it's just the case that if your artist can't meet that then somebody else will finish up the pages. So it's kinda, for me it hits the long term collections of it to have things done like that but at the same time it brings back a lot of the freshness and improvisation of doing comics again and just responding to that and also sometimes you know they'll be like we need a two part filler here – okay I'll just come up with something, and it might not necessarily fit it in to the middle of this but okay, you need a filler.
And it's gonna change the way things are done, it's a kind of different production ethic and you know the fans I'm sure who complained when the comics weren't coming out monthly will probably now still complain that they're coming out with two artists rather than one but there's just no way of getting around that, you get monthly comics and you get faster artwork or you get artwork done by two people or you get an artist taking his time on it and that's just the way it is. So from now on they're at least doing the experiment to see if they can bring these things out monthly whatever it takes.
I'm not sure if it got more press attention in the US, but I was surprised people here in the UK didn't seem too fussed about Superman's costume change in Action Comics, with him in jeans rather than tights.
Grant: They kind of, there was a lot of interest in it you know, we had a few newspapers on it. I mean people here have seen all that stuff, maybe that's what it is or maybe they just didn't catch on to it but you know every six months Dennis the Menace appears wearing a hoodie or something, you know, or here's Beryl the Peril and she's now dressed like the Spice Girls (laughs) or Rhianna, so we get that all the time, and it's always just when The Beano or The Dandy wants you to look and get enraged and then you suddenly realise Dennis is back to his normal clothes at the end of the episode! So I think in Britain maybe we've seen that ploy tried too many times.
And again, the Americana thing of it's not, I don't know how big that is in Britain any more you know, but it's still strong in America surprisingly! (laughs) But Americana, do we care any more, we get Tiny Tempah and all that, it's a very different type of culture here, I don't know if they care.
So it's a relaunch, starting over at ground zero for a lot of things and you've got a pretty blank canvas – does that mean you can do whatever you like?
Grant: Pretty much yeah, which was the reason I did it. And you know when Dan DiDio came over and said do you want to do this and I said well no' really but here's what I'd do and I thought there's no way he'll accept this and he kind of did! So that was it, it was really getting the chance to just recreate Superman from scratch and I do keep running up into things that are happening now because you know Superman's now... the story I'm telling is supposed to be set 5 years in the past of the current continuity so all this stuff's going on in the current continuity that I'm kinda trying to mix and match with while they're expecting me to come up with certain aspects of the lore that they haven't figured out yet. So it's been a weird kind of shuffle and once the first six issues are done I'm sort of moving forward through the present day of it and catching up with that.
But yeah just to do that socialist Superman I thought it was a really great time to sort of get the chance to seize the reins and just take him out of being a patriotic figure or that kind of representative of the flag in some way, and suddenly do a Superman who's quite clearly, you know he's for justice but he's not necessarily for the law. He just treats everyone equally whether they're super rich or whether they're you know a criminal or a wife-beater or all those things that he dealt with in the very early years of Superman, to bring that back to the fore again. And also to make Clark Kent more of an actual, a crusading journalist, you know who actually gets things done and exposes the stories - Superman will go and threaten the guy and then Clark will get the information, the facts behind it. Superman will extort the confession and Clark will hand in the story and get the guy locked up. So there's a lot of that and also it's what Clark uses to explain the fact that he's always beaten up because Superman's always in fights and this Superman because he's at the start of his career, his powers haven't developed. So he can be hurt and I wanted that as well, you know a little bit more of a relatable thing where he can be roughed up and beaten up and bloodied around. So that also gives Clark an excuse because he's always getting into fights, you know he's always exposing secrets, and being beaten up by people. So it kind of ties together, the two of them become social crusaders rather than Clark being a weakling and a wimp, he's just a big kind of hulking introverted guy from the midwest who just blunders into things, and it's a different way of playing that so yeah.
I mean my big thing though was to do a Superman who was a bit more pro-active and a bit more socialist because that seemed like again, it's a nice bomb to fire into the heart of Americana! (laughs)
That does seem more like the kind of hero Superman should be...
Grant: Well that's how it started, and I can understand, as I said in the book, he became a patriot because it was the war and suddenly the exemplar of the ultimate man would obviously be on the side of freedom against Hitler, and then he's changed all the way through. But right now I do have the feeling that yeah this is the right time to do this kind of Superman again. I think it will get a response in a way that it might not have ten years ago or five years from now.
And he doesn't have parents this time which means he's not quite as tied down...
Grant: Obviously he's had his parents, they brought him up, but he's kind of on his own, and I like that idea because it allows him to have more license. He's not going back and he doesn't have Ma saying “well maybe you shouldn't have thrown that guy out the window Clark, into the river”, there's no one stopping him any more, it's almost, that's the feeling of it, it's this sudden... this guys off the leash now and he's not working on the farm and he's kind of, he's more conflicted in the sense that he sort of believes that he's the son of some space king you know - he doesn't know, he was just a little kid. And he just thinks, he knows he came from space but he doesn't know from where but in his fantasies he's the son of a king, he's magnificent and they've got him working in the general store. So there's a lot more tension to the adolescent Superman and so out of that comes, okay mum and dad are dead, there's nobody to tell me what to do and so Superman happens after that.
I do like that he has his cape made out of his original blanket...
Grant: I think again it's to make it more like a folk tale and less like a superhero story. There's just the notion of this little kid growing up and very slowly developing powers so when he first appears he doesn't really have them, and all he's got is this cape. But the cape's indestructible so he's grown up with it and you can tell stories about little Superman, where he's just running about and the cape's the only thing saving his life and it seemed like a Harry Potter-ish thing, rather than a superhero story because again I really want to get away from the notion of the superhero story, the DC or Marvel Universe thing, and just think, how would it work as a folk tale? How can it be useful to us as a story again?
Aww, will we see baby Superman?
Grant: There's a little bit of little Superman! (laughs)
Okay, on Superman I have one cheeky question, with him being this kind and enlightened being – is he a vegetarian?
Grant: Well Mark Waid had him as a vegetarian, he sort of ratified it and then people were really angry because they used to say in the 70s his favourite food was beef bourguignon. But I kind of think of course he would be a vegetarian, I mean he would find it hard not to be. He's a super kid who grew up with animals and I'm sure he'd empathise with them pretty early on and just not be. I don't know, I might just put it in again to annoy people (laughs).
It doesn't really mesh with him being an American icon I guess!
Grant: No not really, they want him to eat burgers I suppose, maybe he lives on apple pie, that's all he eats and that's what gives him his powers – apple pie and spinach! But also I mean, Superman doesn't have to eat.
It would be difficult I think for Superman not to be a little like Animal Man in that respect, saving animals as well as people.
Grant: Yeah you can get yourself into stuff I've already done. (laughs) But that's the hard one, there comes a point where you're saying you know, I'm lucky I'm doing this early Superman where he can only do so much. But with Superman if you start to push it towards realism and suddenly well why doesn't he shut down every abattoir, why doesn't he just throw all the missiles into the sun, why doesn't he take over the planet, he's an enlightened guy, he would do the right thing for us all. But then it stops, it becomes Marvel Man, it becomes a big science fiction story that has an end. And it's hard to do that. I mean really as I've said before I think these things work best, even though I'm trying a little bit of the social realism stuff in Superman, I think these things work best as symbolic dramas where the characters are acting out feelings but embodying them rather than trying to do anything real because it just runs up against its own absurdity unfortunately when you try to make them do real world things.
You used to be known as the revamp guy at DC, are you still behind some of the changes happening now with the New 52?
Grant: No I've not really been involved much with that. I did those things in the past, I did stuff, you know the Atom and all that, and obviously Seven Soldiers was kind of the big version of doing a whole bunch of those revamps but I don't know, it was never quite, I don't think it's a good idea giving other people ideas because they go off in their own directions which is what they should do but it's really nothing like what I'd thought. Gail Simone's Atom comic, which I really liked, but it was kind of like Gail Simone trying to do what she thought I would do. Whereas my Atom pitch was actually just weekly, monthly adventures of a guy who shrinks and does stuff. You know he's like Indiana Jones, they call him in and say we need you at six inches and he spends the whole issue at six inches, or he spends a whole issue sub-microscopic size, and I just wanted him to do missions, a different sci-fi story every month, just about this college professor who moonlights as a miniature superhero.
But she kind of wrote this thing that I thought was more like, as I said, it was like this is what Grant would do, floating heads and garbled talk (laughs) and other worlds, and it kind of, it didn't really work you know. I felt like the stuff I'd suggested to people didn't really make it. So I don't know if it was worth doing after I did a few of them. I think it's better just to let people do their own thing and not try and impose your ideas on them.
[NB from Laura: Gail has pointed out there's been a bit of a mix up here as her pitch was older, "Love Grant, he's wonderful. But I have plenty of weirdness of my own. :)" - possibly just a result of tiredness from the media circus! :)]
Do you find it difficult when you stop working on a character, like Batman, to let other people take over?
Grant: Och no, I don't, honestly I don't really bother. It's not that proprietorial, once I've done my thing you know. I kind of – no, I was about to say I don't really read them after but I do actually, I always read them! (laughs) I can't help it, when I read Doom Patrol recently and they've brought back Danny the Street as Danny the Brick – aww c'mon Keith [Giffen]! (laughs)
But you are coming back to Batman...
Grant: Yeah, I mean again it's I want to do something a bit different because you know as I've said, comics in the last ten years have tried to imitate movies but movies have now got so good at doing comics that we just look like a poor cousin. So what I've been doing, I was talking to like Chris Burnham on Batman for the final season, these last 12 parts of the Batman Leviathan story is that he's gonna do the lead work you know, I'm just going to do it almost like Marvel style with a really detailed plot and just say break this down. So we were looking at all these, like Paul Gulacy's Master of Kung Fu, and Walt Simonson and things and thinking lets get back to multi-panel pages and slicing time and doing all the things that comics can do. Because we got so into just that wide screen, four panels a page look that it began to take over everything and all it was was an imitation of how it feels to sit in a movie theatre without the audiences heads in front of you.
So I kind of thought now's the time, particularly as the sales are diving and DC are making this great, this mad final flourish to see what happens, it's time to just let the artist take over again. The writers have been running the show for too long, it's ossified into a certain approach. I think it would be really nice to start seeing you know, like I said, things that only comics can do that movies can't do, like that double page spread that Chris Burnham did in Batman Incorporated where it's like across the entire world in slices but everything joins up and all the perspective lines match so it's like one giant image of multiple batmen doing the same thing. More of that stuff, and more of the stuff they were doing in Watchmen and you know, kind of just letting the artists go a bit wilder.
Do you think DC will open it's doors to new people coming in?
Grant: I hope so, I mean Dan says they'll do it. I mean, I don't know what it's like on the sharp end now, I'm just a freelancer as well so I can't even help anybody. But I would like to think, god knows it's necessary you know. Some of the ones I've seen though are kind of, you think the new generation's gonna come in and you'll love it, but some of the stuff I've seen is just even more violent. And I'm kind of like okay, Garth Ennis did this twenty years ago... is that it? So I'd rather see more imagination rather than more violence or more sensationalism but that's part of comics as well you know. And people are into it, god help them, they still seem to be enchanted by idiocy and violence. And it kind of still works.
At Comic-Con this year DC stole the show really and there was a lot of talk about women in comics. Did that take people by surprise?
Grant: Probably, I know there was one girl who turned up at every panel dressed as Batgirl and I spoke to her as well, but I just made her mad unfortunately because I'm trying to bring humour to the situation and she wasn't for humour you know, she wanted to make her point. And as I say, it's hard to talk about this, I don't know, yeah there should be more people but as I said to you in our interview, I don't know how many people have really been drawn to these particular branches of boys adventure comics. I don't know if its been, if there have been a lot of women banging on Dan DiDio's door to write Firestorm. I think possibly women have been smarter and made other choices and do creator owned work or do like what say somebody like Jill Thompson does, who dip in here and then go and do stuff. So I don't know if the field has ever attracted a massive female presence, it's just you know it is what it is, and it has been in the past these testosterone driven stories for boys and servicemen and even in the 60s when more girls were reading comics, the sexual politics were pretty weird in them.
So, I just don't know. Yeah I'd like to see more, it's always interesting, and to me it's if anyone's good they should be allowed to do their thing. But as I said to you, it should be the kids, I really want to see kids doing comics. There's a little kid that does that Axe Cop thing, and it's not great, you know it's like a little kid, but you feel as if give him a few years when he's actually done this little kid stuff and purged all his ninja robot socks out, he's gonna be really good probably. And he'll be really into it and he's been doing it since he was a kid, you know he's like some master musician who's been learning the guitar since he was in the womb. And you really want to see that kid at maybe about ten years old or twelve and just let him loose on Batman or something, you know I'd like to see things like that so definitely more people.
But I'm not in charge, I don't really know what they're doing, but certainly Dan was... I think it definitely left an impact. They felt they had to do something because whatever the girls name, Batgirl I believe (laughs), was so forceful and made them confront some things and I think that's pretty good. I didn't think that could be done any more, I didn't think one voice could really make much of a difference but in actual fact she did so there's kind of proof that you can stand up and shout loudly and maybe change things.
Do you think the direct market is to blame slightly as it's so hard to actually get a hold of comics in many places? Here in a big city like Edinburgh there are only two comic shops.
Grant: Yeah it stopped being mainstream. Even when I started picking them up it was because you'd get off the bus from school and there'd be a little kiosk and they had comics. And every month they'd have different ones, and they didn't always connect but it didn't matter, it was just the excitement of getting new ones every month. If they'd only been in comics shops I don't know if I'd have been as interested. I'd maybe have gone there later when I became a bit more of a fanboy but getting into comics is because you just find them, or because your parents pick them up or you get them on a train going on your holidays, and that kind of way of reaching them has gone. So yeah, the direct market was disastrous for comic sales but it was good for the research and development, you know it allowed comics to retreat from the mainstream and do stuff that actually wasn't mainstream, it was quite advanced and poetic and philosophical and we kind of needed that as well. It's left us creatively better but not necessarily financially better, and not as widespread as art form as it should be.
They're still great, you know when you're a kid everything's great and a good comic would be as great as anything else but they're not there and I think they've also got a bit of a reputation again, like they are corruptors of children, and they're not necessarily good for your kids. You know, I get these big boxes in from DC every month and they're just filling up the rooms and we want to take them to a hospital or something, but you think, there's a lot of these you can't hand in, there's no way! Imagine some poor child suffering in bed and then they're forced to read this thing where Arsenal is injecting himself with a cat! It's not the sort of thing kids would be really drawn to I think, you know, so a lot of them just aren't appropriate.
The new edition of We3 was recently published with some great new pages, was it nice going back to that?
Grant: It was great, you know, the new pages sort of came from the screenplay, because I'd done the screenplay for New Line, and there was a whole bunch of scenes that we couldn't fit into the resolute page count so they kind of went back in and I was really pleased. So we just took a couple of them and gave the rabbit more of a fight before he gets chewed, and then a little bit at the end which I thought was needed and the bit at the start that I really like is setting up the girl, the protagonist Roseanne, seeing why she did what she did in a totally, almost wordless scene just showing everything you need to know about why that character does what she does.
Do you think we'll finally get a We3 film one day?
Grant: I don't know, eventually yeah, I'm sure once this Dinosaurs (vs Aliens movie) thing with Barry Sonnenfeld, if that goes as we hope it does then people take you more seriously. They already take me a little bit more seriously because I've done a book and because they know I'm doing this. But once that's on the go, then yeah probably but I've given up hoping (laughs). It's better to just ignore it and not imagine it will happen sometime.
Have you found then that you get more credibility having written a book compared to being a comics writer?
Grant: Yeah, no totally, you really notice it. You work for thirty years and then you write a book with no pictures and everyone takes you seriously. No it's been kind of weird, like I said I've just kind of withdrawn from it again. I'm not an authority, I don't want to be, I don't want to be anything, a guru or any of these things you know, but they do sort of come to you for like, will you talk about this, or will you write about this, and I actually just wrote 180,000 words on it and probably never want to think about this again! (laughs)
In the US you sang to your audience and it was reported as you “channelling” John Lennon...
Grant: No it wasn't channelling. Back in 1993, it was the anniversary of John Lennon's birthday, October the 9th and I decided to do a magical ritual to see if I could summon John Lennon using ritual magic methods. Because my whole thing back then, my chaos magic thing was all about, when I was a kid and I got into the occult, and I basically tried an Aleister Crowley ritual to sort of open the way and it worked, it actually changed my consciousness to the extent that I had a hallucination of a lions head and all kinds other things that went on. And as I've said many times, this was when I was 19 and I didn't drink, I didn't take drugs or anything, I didn't drink coffee, I was like a super straight edge mod. And so for me it was like, okay things, there are formula available that if you do this, if you go through this procedure, it will change your consciousness in a very specific way. It's not like you just have any old hallucination, you'll have a visualisation of exactly what the ritual is set up to provide, so if you summon the Greek god Hermes you will see the Greek god Hermes. But I began to get different ideas about what these things really were and I was more interested in the effect rather than the explanation because I didn't believe in gods or devils or demons, but I knew that there was something - these were like mechanisms, these rituals that could trigger states of mind.
So once I got into the chaos magic thing, I started to think well if all I'm doing is triggering a state of mind can I do the same thing with something I know to be unreal? And I would start instead of summoning up Greek gods or Voodoo Loa, I would summon up Metron from the New Gods or HP Lovecraft monsters, or the Cenobites from Clive Barker and get the same thing. It was all about, okay, so even fictional things appear as long as they correspond to the specific feeling that you're trying to create using this ritual method. So I wondered what would happen if I chose, say John Lennon because in 1993, he was still, he was about to become kind of canonised by Britpop, and it was that time, there was a lot of talk about him again. So I just thought let's take this guy who's ascended to this position, you know who's on posters everywhere, who's become like a ghost rather than a person, who's become an idea rather than a person and see if I can summon him using the same methods.
So I just kind of did a paraphrase of a typical ritual and got Beatles albums in a circle rather than a chalk circle with demon or angel names in it. I got the Beatles albums out and instead of robes I wore my paisley shirt and my tight trousers and pointy boots and I had my Rickenbacker guitar and I was playing Tomorrow Never Knows on a loop. And just doing what you usually do in a ritual which is you start summoning, “I love you John Lennon, you are the greatest, you are brilliant” and then you identify with him “I am John Lennon, I am the...”, and you're trying to be possessed of everything, you're trying, basically you're squeezing out everything in your head that isn't John Lennon. And so from that state, it's like I had again, this visualisation of a giant head made out of chiming music, and it was just okay this works, this is really good, this looks pretty much like John Lennon. And it's the whole sequence that I put in The Invisibles, issue 1, and even the writing in it was just from my diary right after the ritual. But I'd got this convincing simulation of John Lennon and he gave me a song because that's what John Lennon does as a god - “here's a song mate”.
But it's not like saying, you know I read things saying “Grant Morrison channelled Lennon” or “he did a séance and John Lennon's ghost gave him a song”! It wasn't, it was like omitting everything but Lennon-ness from my head and then writing a song. Because I know how to write songs, it's not like I just suddenly fucking wrote one song, I mean I could write fake Beatles songs if I had to (laughs) but this one was generated directly through this experience. And I just kinda had my guitar so I copied it down. And that was the first time I'd ever sang it in public. Gerard Way had said I should do it because I was playing it up at his house and his kid was dancing and she never dances to anyone else's music! So he was saying you know, you should play this just for fun. And he bought me a John Lennon Epiphone guitar that night and gave me it and said now you have to play it. So it was just the first time I gave it a public airing, and that was it. I'm hoping like Beady Eye might cover it! I'd love like Liam to hear it and think “I'm having that”!
Supergods talks about chaos magic and I've seen some reviews that find it a bit weird.
Grant: Oh they freak out I know. That's the best bits though! “I don't like it when he's suddenly wearing a dress conjuring Voodoo spirits”. And it's just here's what someone did and here's, if you buy into Doctor Strange and all those things, here's what you can do. I was just trying to tell the truth because a lot of the time so much crap gets talked about this stuff, and as I said, I've found out that it works and I've spoken to people and said why don't you try it, because I'm not an advocate for this, I'm not gonna stand up and become... I'm not waving my hands to say you should all practise magic or believe what I say or any of the stuff that comes out my mouth. But all I am saying is that this honestly happened, here's how it came across to me. I'm not saying there are demons, monsters, ghosts (laughs), but you do these things and something happens in your head and this results and it can actually be really good for you you know, particularly if you're a writer or a creative person. It's an immense understanding to know that you can create these very specific states in your head.
So I just wanted to talk about it but as always I find that you're up against people's prejudices, unconscious prejudices, because people will think... the idea of magic is actually really simple and down to earth, it's all just about enchanting the world you live in, it's really really simple, it's about not just taking that light (pointing to the lamp beside us) as something boring to be ignored but looking at that light and seeing there's a manufacturer behind it, there's human hands in there, there's atoms that go back and probably appeared in Christ's body all the way back into the Big Bang and you know, this is this immense magical process that we're all caught up in and magic is about being aware of that constantly, making everything special.
An animal in the street is a totem rather than just a boring collection of atoms walking by. And it's a really simple project, you know Aboriginals in the desert enchant their landscape in their own way, and you know guys in the Amazonian rainforest enchant their landscape, and we kind of do it all the time but we've forgotten so we don't call it magic any more. Even though we've got all this amazing stuff around us, all seeing eyes that we can look at and see anything going on in the world, and telephones that connect everybody like Jack Kirby's motherbox that connect you into the whole planet's database. But we have all this stuff but we're not aware of magic, because we think that magic is Harry Potter and it's to do with wands and electricity flying out the end, and all that is, that's a symbol of will, and the electricity is a symbol of will being used to effect things. But we've confused the symbol with the reality so people say, “oh magic, that's bullshit because nobody can aim a wand and an electric bolt comes out” - well no, you're right, nobody can! (laughs) But that's not magic, that's not magic any more than Dirty Harry's representative of police work (laughs). And you would never confuse Dirty Harry with a real cop.
But you're up against that, people just think well you must be lying because nobody can do that stuff, and yeah nobody can do that stuff but what I'm talking about is something quite different and it's more easy to understand. And you know maybe there are spirits, and maybe there are things out there, maybe there are higher dimensions. There's no reason to believe there might not be but I'm not even, these are just explanations for things, but I'm talking about the actual practical, that actually happens, that actually works. And as I said, a lot of people when I say why don't you do it, because these spells, these rituals are available, they're really easy to get a hold of now, it's not like the middle ages where you'd be burned at the stake for trying this stuff. You know and people will happily chuck drugs down their neck, but say to them do a ritual, and I've noticed people get really scared. And the people who are most rational are the ones who get most scared so I have to believe that behind that rationality lies a genuine fear of the supernatural, and the devil, which is actually so primitive, that I can't deal with you on that level any more because I'm not talking about anything like that! There is no devil's bargain, there's no devil, there's no.. there are states of mind that feel horrible, that correspond to demonic feelings or devilish feelings but no it's the idea of why can't you just press the buttons and see what happens?
And as I said in the book, if as they say, they know these experiences, religious or peak experiences, or transcendental experiences can be created by temporal lobe epilepsy, then why aren't we doing it? You know rather than say, well this proves we've found the seat of religion, we've found that there's a module in your brain that gives you a religious experience so therefore religion is disproved - well for me no, therefore you have found a button that allows me to talk to God (laughs), then please can you give me something that I can press this button on a daily basis. And yet it's not understood like that, I don't understand why you've found this magical radical physical pressing button and then you walk away from it and say well religious experiences aren't real so lets not stimulate them (laughs)
People are really scared of the supernatural, they're actually genuinely scared that there is a devil sitting on a throne somewhere waiting to get their soul, and that's why they keep away from this stuff and that's why they always say none of its real because they don't even understand what you're talking about.
Even rational people who would honestly say no I'm an atheist, but I would never try that. To me an atheist is the most likely person to surely pick up a Crowley book and say like I did, this is bullshit, I'm gonna try it and then find oh my god, okay it does something.
The whole of Supergods is really fighting various prejudices, against magic and then against comics too – it can be a wee bit hard to pitch...
Grant: To me you should just say, well everybody likes Superheroes, even if you think you don't, everybody's got a superhero, everybody want to be a superhero, everyone's the superhero in their own story. You know it's like I said in the book again, your marriage is the marriage of Superman and Lois you know, it's the marriage of Aquaman and Mera, it's the marriage of Reed and Sue. Everyone's own version of these events are the archetypal event, we're all superheroes. So these are kind of our stories, and that's all I really wanted to say in the book, for all that this character intrudes into it, who's me! (laughs) It was all about that, it was about these are our stories, they've got lots to tell us and you may not be familiar with them, and you'll get lots of interesting stuff out of this, you'll find out stuff that your life will be enriched by. Because you should know these stories of our culture, they're really of their times, and they're reflective of those times and as I say they've got stuff to tell us about who we are, where we've been and what we want to be. And that's what it was about.
It's a great book for pop culture buffs too and those interested in societal shifts.
Grant: And I also wanted to expose things, like the eleven year sunspot cycle that gets used against us. You know the arbiters of culture use these ridiculous models and create culture in accordance with them. So you can actually watch it happening. And once I put that out there I was hoping I could just put a stick in there because now we're not gonna let it happen because we're not just part of a cycle that we've got no control over. So it was kind of exposing a lot of these mechanisms as well, the way things work and the way you're sold stuff and you know they know what's happening, they know what's... and even when it's not real, even if the cyclical shifts weren't real there are people creating them now, you know and making them real because they've figured out that's how you sell people stuff and make it look as if seasons are changing.
The comic industry is very boom and bust, and there's always talk about how comics are dying, I think they've been dying since the 40s!
Grant: Well they've been dying since I came into the business, and as you say, they've been dying ever since they were born but aren't we all! (laughs) No I mean, I've seen generations come and go saying that they were dying – well you guys have disappeared from the business, maybe you died in it. (laughs) No, it never ends and even, it'll become like poetry in the future or as I said it's gonna go online, or not online but on maybe iPad and stuff and that'll change everything, that's where the new comics will be and they'll be interactive and there'll be little games and there'll be all kinds of stuff going on there. That will be the saviour of comics as a medium.
There's a lot of debate and panic in the publishing industry about the rise of digital compared to print, but it seems like it's something that could really be interesting for comics.
Grant: It'll revive the format again, there's things you can do on that three dimensional depth of the page that you can't do on a two dimensional surface and nobody's really done it yet, nobody's thought about it. I'm sure we'll see it soon because I've been talking about it and I know Jim Lee's been talking about stuff, but I think it'll be really interesting to see what can be done. Once they stopped just trying to translate one medium into the next and doing the flippy pages and start doing other things: pull it, twist it, do all kinds of stuff.
Final words on Supergods?
Grant: It'll change your life (laughs). No it will! It's like your secret origin, if you read Supergods it'll change your life.
It changed my writing quite a bit I have to say, I felt a lot more positive about comics as a whole and that while I can be critical, I actually enjoy spending my time writing about what I like.
Grant: Yeah? (grins) Well it's good to do that as well, when I started doing fanzines in my punk days, it's really easy because it's fun to be critical, it's really good to rip into things. But we kind of did the dogma thing and we just said well we'll just write about stuff we really love and we were inspired because back in the day we used to meet Alan McGee and Stephen Pastel and these guys who wrote these really passionate, exciting, electric prose about the stuff they were into, and I thought that's a really, that's an even better thing to do, is like engage people and excite them and make them want to run out and buy a record rather than just laugh at it even though that's easier (laughs). You can do that with your friends but I think it's good to get excited about stuff and to point out the positive qualities of stuff because then it encourages people to do it even more.
<insert general chatter about newspapers, comics and reviews!>
Grant: To me nobody talks about the really interesting stuff, which is about the fact these are virtual realities, they don't quite pick up on that. Somehow there's this thing, this DC Universe that exists inside our universe created by generations of people. And when all the current ones are dead there'll still be people doing Superman stories, and there's something really bizarre about that notion of creating a little continuum. But it's not just one person's, it's not like Buffy say which was just Joss Whedon's really, this is a gigantic project that, it's like building a medieval cathedral or something. It's really strange what's going on and what's powering those characters is memes you know, and that to me is the fascinating thing. There's two dimensional time now and continuity and living characters that can be carried on in to the future.
<insert chatter about Grant's perceived (and incorrect!) persona as a raving lunatic>
Grant: They think it's lunacy. I'm being so practical! I'm talking about the physical artefact and the relationship with it. But that's the form in which it exists, you know. They think if I say it exists it means I think Superman lives somewhere in another dimension, and I'm saying no he does but it's the second dimension, you can touch it, you can hold it. That's the form this history takes (laughs), that is Superman, that thing, that continuum. And nobody's got that, they think I'm talking about mystical things, you know, they're ordinary practical real things, in a magical way.
But that's the other weird thing as well, my big influence in this book was Nick Kent's last book where he was talking about his time hanging out with the Rolling Stones and Keith Richards, and I thought it was really weird because Nick Kent's obviously talking about his life and what he wore and what he was doing and the drugs he took, and people love that, it's like here's Nick Kent talking about himself but tangentially he's also talking about the history of the Stones and about rock music through a specific time, but that was okay. Whereas when I'm talking about my subject and introduce me into it, people were kinda like, you shouldn't, you can't do this, you can't intrude this element into this book!
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