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Glasgow Comic Con: Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely in Conversation

Glasgow Comic Con returned for its second year after it was brought back to life after an absence of 15 years. Held in the Mackintosh Church once again, it was a fitting venue given Glasgow's ties with the world of art and comics. Hidden away from the centre of Glasgow though, it was a tight squeeze and the acoustics made it difficult at times to hear what was going on. Hopefully after expanding to two days and across two venues this time we'll see a move to the centre of the city next year.

The guest line-up was stellar, featuring Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Jim Starlin, John Wagner, Alan Grant, Rufus Dayglo, Karrie Fransman and more, many of whom spent the weekend mingling amongst the crowd and tirelessly answering questions, looking through portfolios, and sketching away. I'll be providing a full write up of the majority of guests in the next few days but first we'll focus on the headline panel of the Saturday - the dynamic duo of Glasgow boys, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.

Having the guys on together was a brilliant move, as Frank's calm resulted in a more relaxed Grant who is often slightly nervous in front of crowds. The two laughed and joked together, and it's easy to see just why they collaborate so well together. The boys talked Flex Mentallo and Pax Americana, with Grant revealing some of the names of the other Multiversity books -  SOS, The Just, Thunder World, Master Men - along with Grant's future book plans, his love for Damian, and both of them attempting to explain their philosophies of life.

The Glasgow Boys

Grant appeared on stage apologising for a bit of a raspy voice due to having just delivered messages [US readers, this means groceries!] to his mum who smokes. He and Frank were interviewed on stage by Mike Conroy of Multiverse Magazine, before signing for around three hours.

On collaborating on Flex Mentallo:

Grant: I saw his work in Electric Soup and the first thing I thought it looked like was this combination of Winsor McCay and Dudley Watkins, and I just thought, I'd love to see this guy drawing American comics and American superheroes. The notion of Watkins doing Superman would be so cool. So it was kind of driven by that need to just have Dudley Watkins draw superheroes and I suddenly realised that he could do it. And that's what we did with Flex Mentallo [laughs], really that's the root of it. He knew nothing about American characters that I was trying to reference, which made it much more interesting, and it made the costumes look more convincing and more part of the world that these characters inhabited. What about you?

Frank: I know nothing!

Grant: Yeah, good!

Frank: I don't know, I didn't realise the fact I knew so little about it was part of the appeal for you until some time after.

Grant: Because it made it look new. Y'know if it had been one of those American comics guys, it would have been... the characters would have worn costumes that kind of harked back to the 60s or the 40s. What you did was create this world that was complete within itself and everything fit, and all the costumes fitted into that world. It wasn't trying to be post-modern... it wasn't that type of pastiche of the past. It was doing something much more organic, shall we say. Like potatoes.

Grant: It took three years to do, so from the beginning to the end, we'd a different life I think for everyone because we were doing other stuff at the time. I started doing Justice League and stuff like that, so this weird dream of superheroes turned into a reality a little bit.


On how easy it is to choose to work together:

Frank: The choice is usually work with Grant or work with somebody else, so Grant's always the better choice. Or what sometimes happens is Grant will say, "I've got a couple of things," and he'll run them past me to see which one I’m most interested in.

Grant: There are certain things like Superman or We3, which seemed like no one else could do this. So I kinda had this idea of what could be done, and I knew that nobody else would carry the nuances like in All-Star Superman and in We3 the kind of kinetic, highly edited camera movement.

Frank: Generally I find it easy working from Grant's scripts, but what I learned from the first time we worked together on Flex Mentallo was that, it's always a kind of leap of faith when you're an artist working from someone else's scripts anyway, and it's not always easy when you get the first half a dozen pages of script in, y'know if you're getting it in increments or it's the first issue of something longer. It's not always easy to know how good the thing is going to be when it's finished, and obviously I learned on Flex Mentallo that when I’m working with Grant what we end up with, it's always the time, it's always worth the investment.

Frank: But none of the projects have actually been the same. I mean what we're working on just now, Pax Americana, it's actually been the most labour intensive collaboration yet-

Grant: Yeah it's been difficult, like doing calculus. The idea was, I’m doing this series called Multiversity next year which is a bunch of superhero books in different parallel universes, and one of them's the Charlton characters. So one of the ideas I had was since the Watchmen were based on some of the Charlton characters, to do a book about the Charlton characters, we've kind of updated some of the storytelling techniques from Watchmen, because nobody's really done much with them. The kind of books that are out just now are tackling it in a very different way I thought, it would be really interesting to the challenge of those beautiful crystalline mirrored structures that exist in that world. So we kind of tried to find a new way to do it. Stuff like, where they had a nine panel structure, we've got this 8 panel grid and it's based on the musical harmonics and it's all to do with DC, and this ringing frequency.

Grant: We worked all this stuff out for the deep symbol structure of it and built this up and I’m really excited by this, it's all grids, it's like a mathematical puzzle and time is represented in many different ways, so it's really kinda exciting. And again, it's something only the two of us could have done together, no one else would be able to do this stuff that I've asked Frank to do.

On stageI should point out, Grant was laughing away through most of this, so everything he says has a bit of a cheeky slant.

On whether Frank runs screaming from the scripts:

Frank: No, because in my short sighted way I immediately think this is amazing but it's pretty complicated but I know it'll be easy if I read and re-read it... With We3 and with Pax Americana it's been much more complex and much more involved and I'm sure, I think it'll be a good result when it's finished. It's shaping up really well.

Grant: Everything works. That's what I mean, no one else could do that, every little trick works.


On the two of them seeming very much in tune with each other:

Grant: Absolutely.

Frank: It's funny because obviously, going back to Flex, when I got the Flex scripts in I really loved them, didn't get everything about them, but really loved them. But in a way it was just like I had a really brilliant opportunity to have this really great script to work on and I just did the very best I could at the time. And looking back on it, I can see that there's something like a kind of synchronicity there that I wasn't really aware of at the time. And each of the projects has been different. In a way, on the one hand it's tempting to think that the more we work together the more in sync we are but I think that's probably a part of it but it's also just the fact that Grant gives me a script that's quite brilliant and then I’ll spend as long and work as hard as I have to to make it as good as I can.

Grant: You tend to always be like that though, that's what makes it good, what makes it seem so natural.


Talking a little about Multiversity:

Grant: I don't want to say too much because again, I've been promising this thing since like 2008 and it's still not out til next year! So beyond what I explained, it's a nine issue series that reintroduces the whole concept of the DC multiverse but in a way that, I went back to the roots – I read those first Flash stories where the Flash is reading comics about the old Flash. I thought wouldn't it be great to have all these worlds communicate between one another using comics that are published in each different reality which happen to be the stories of all the other realities. So the whole thing, I made up seven different comic companies and [laughs] the whole thing cross refers, and a big immense god-like[?] menace in it.

Grant: And as I say, this is the beginning of one of the cornerstone books in the whole series, but there's all kinds of stuff like the Nazi Justice League and all these other cool guys, and there's a kind of 90s version of Justice League where all these characters have grown up with nothing to do because the Earth, they fixed it so they have battle re-enactments... and sit around just reading magazines like Heat [laughs]. So there's a bunch of different worlds, and they're all completely unlike one another, but they each collaborate and then the story comes together. So, it's a bit of a puzzle box but if it works it should be pretty good fun.

In sync!Couldn't help but giggle at how in sync these guys really are.

On whether boundary pushing is what keeps Grant motivated:

Grant: I don't know if it's been in that motivational way, it's just you get bored y'know, you get bored with things when you've done something before or sometimes I might read something that I've done and see a little seed for development that I hadn't thought of. So no, I think it happens naturally... It's really that simple, if we haven't tried this one yet, we haven't approached four dimensional or five dimensional grids on a comics page [laughs] so let's the two of us try this and see what happens.

Frank: When he says, "let's the two of us try this," he means let me describe something complicated! [laughs]

Grant: Let me describe! A murder investigation and a murder happening simultaneously across the same background in three different time sequences [laughs].


On whether Pax Americana is the only title:

Grant: No there's a whole bunch, there's the Multiversity title itself which is a kind of framing book, then there's Society of Superheroes, SOS, which is a pulp version of DC characters. Then there's The Just which is this kind of world of celebrity youngsters. There's a Captain Marvel book called Thunder World. There's Pax obviously. There's a thing called Master Men which is the kind of fascist Justice League. So yeah there's that, a final one on the end plus a book in the middle and some maps and concordance and everything [laughs] ridiculous about the DC Multiverse.


On it being next year:

Grant: Yeah, next year! Next year. I'm praying for the Mayan Apocalypse [laughs]


Audience question - when will Zenith be available:

Grant: Beats me. What can I say? Personally no, I don't deal with any legal stuff. I'd love to see him back out... it might never happen. It seems a shame. We'll see what we can do is all I can say.

Like really in sync

Audience question - potential plans for Animal Man:

Grant: Animal Man? No, no, I've kinda said my bit with that one and I think they're kinda taking it in an interesting new direction now that wouldn't really suit my... the way I thought of that guy. So nah, probably never again.


Audience question - potential plans with My Chemical Romance:

Grant: Yeah. Me and Gerard are doing a kind of musical piece for this thing in Las Vegas. So definitely, I’m doing that with him and beyond that I don't know. We just kinda hang out, we always want to do something but that's the first time we've done an actual collaboration.


Audience question - advice for people starting out in the industry:

Frank: Advice for starting out would be, ehh-

Grant: [evil voice] Kill yourself! [laughs]

Frank: [laughs] Ehm, gosh, advice?

Grant: What did I tell you?

Frank: It sounds really obvious but just try and do your very very best work all the time. Don't keep your best ideas or your best tricks or whatever for some special project, just do your best work all the time. 'Cause you're not gonna go back and redo it.

Grant: It's the same thing, y'know, really. There's more pressure now, there's more commercial pressure for up and coming writers to fit in certain structures that have now been defined as this is how you write stuff. And I grew up when the world was quite different, I grew up with like New Worlds and y'know, speculative sci-fi, where we were allowed to just go mental and do stories that didn't have beginnings or ends or middles. And although it's really brilliant to learn all this stuff... I just think there's more pressure. If you want into commercial writing you're gonna have to learn all that stuff, and it's fun to learn but the thing you've gotta do is put yourself into the work. Your experiences, because nobody else has lived your life, nobody in all the history of billions of years of the universe will see through those specs. So it's kind of your job, what you've got is to put that into your work so that everybody gets at least a flavour about who's lived this life.

Grant: So as I say it's a real balancing act between people say, well we want a story this way and try to put yourself into it, but if you want to be a commercial writer, you're gonna have to learn that stuff. If that's helpful.

Meta in sync?Pout! Don't kill me Vin, it's a very arty look...

Audience question - on whether it is harder to get into the industry now:

Frank: I don't know because I'm not trying to get in! [laughs]

Grant: I mean somebody said... you should be out there crowdsourcing. I don't even know what that is! Y'know, when I was a kid in 1978 a crowd was like you and your three friends! So the notion would never do that for me. When we were young it was all about getting a job, all about getting work because my dad didn't work so you kinda wanted a job. And I think that was really the driving for, was to get real jobs, to work for DC Thompson to do that rather than although we both came up from the underground route there was certainly a wish to use your writing or drawing to kinda get out, y'know, of the poverty trap of Scotland.


Audience question - on whether Grant plans to write more books after the success of Supergods:

Grant: Aye yeah, I might write another book, I certainly won't write anything else about superheroes, I'd say I've burned out the fuse on that one! But no, I’d like to do another thing, I've been talking to the agent about what could be a non-fiction or a fiction book, probably a fiction book...


Audience question - on whether it was fun writing Batman across different time periods:

Grant: Yeah I loved it. That was my most kind of analysis-ridden take on Batman.... So yeah, it was like having fun with the whole Batman thing.

Many questions for GrantNo Glasgow Comic Con is complete without this man.

Audience question - on how Grant feels about writing Damian:

Grant: How do I feel about writing Damian? Oh he's one of my favourite characters, I kind of was responsible for putting him in that format and the interior personality that he has now, I really love it, it's this balance between this really nice kid who's under and on top of that there's this obnoxiousness, this aristocratic privilege, but you kinda feel sorry for him which is a hard one to do when you're doing a kid whose grown up with everything he could ever want except a mum and dad. So he's kind of, he's really funny to write because he can swing from vicious to sentimental to all the nuances which makes the character fun to do.

Grant: I'm just doing all this stuff with him and then [inaudible] came and mixed it all up a little bit. So we'll see...


Audience question - on whether this is really the end of Grant doing Batman:

Grant: No this is actually the one, this thing is actually gonna end. And like I say, all that thing with the snake devouring its own tail, and even the symbolism started collapsing in on itself so it really is, it's come to an end. It's pretty good...


Audience question - on whether the changes in DC continuity have changed his ending to Batman:

Grant: No, it hasn't changed the ending. You kinda have to adapt to it a little bit or fix it back when the trade paperback comes out, so I’ve tried not to worry too much – I'm sure like every issue I've put my foot in it in some way. Honestly, it gets to the point where you just have to enjoy the story, and if there's some slight mistake then at least it gives you something to do all night on the internet [laughs].

On stage

Audience question - on inspirations and what their life philosophies(!) are:

Grant: My inspirations, honestly, it's everything and it's everyone we meet and the things that are going on at the time, y'know, what's my mum doing, what's going on with people that I meet in the street, with friends, and a lot of them come across in my head as these luminous superhero dramas. So it's just, there's a new story, somebody's just split up with somebody, so my god, imagine if Batman split up with, err, Robin or whoever [laughs]. It just all feeds in, everything, all the feelings you get, you're having to try and take it out your work, so if you're feeling depressed, it's kind of, put in it in the story, use it somehow. If you're feeling happy then use it somehow. As a writer you become very mercenary, everything is grist for the mill, for the story. So yeah for me, honestly, a bit wide ranging... [posh voice] everything my dear! [laughs] That's easy to say but it's all the things that impact my life I think.

Grant [to Frank]: You got your philosophy of life then? Put in a nutshell!

Frank: Err, philosophy of life? Wow. Every Friday night-

Grant: You've got one?!

Frank: No no no!

Grant: I'm trying to think of a philosophy of life and he's just sitting there! "Every Friday night..." [laughs]

Frank: Every Friday night, one of my Electric Soup pals, Shug Minty, the two of us reassess our philosophy of life, and it's an ongoing process, we've not quite got it pinned down yet. But I suppose "this is it" would be about as close as it gets at the moment. That would be my philosophy, "this is it."

Grant: No, I actually don't have a philosophy. Except don't eat guys like Aquaman if they wash up on the beach [laughs]. If you stick to that you'll be okay. The best philosophy is old Tim Leary's one, "find the others" though, I think that transcends everything else. "Find the others", it justifies basically any pack behaviour. So go ahead and find the others [laughs].


Audience question - on whether Frank's art has an impact on Grant's writing after the fact:

Grant: Oh yeah, it's happened a few times. You get the feel for how the character is gonna move and act and talk, and suddenly let's bring this guy up... Y'know in All-Star Superman we had a lot more dialogue until I saw just how much he could stress in the drawings and the body language and the expressions. So it changes that, I wouldn't say it changes the... structure, it certainly changes how the characters might speak because certainly with All-Star Superman you can take away a lot of dialogue because it's obvious Superman's projecting it or a vibe. If you didn't get that in a different drawing you might have to somehow convey that vibe through dialogue which would result in a larger balloon and I’d rather have smaller balloons, so y'know, he captures all that stuff on the page so you don't have to say it.

Frank: I might be slow but I save him time!

Grant: And that's worth more than you could know!

Part of the queue!Just one part of the massive queue!

And that was it! Grant cheerfully stayed until the entire queue had gone while Frank, who had earlier done another signing, worked his way down the line signing and chatting to everyone. Copies of the paperback of Supergods were available, and Grant was keen to have a word with everyone. The dynamic duo are surely two guests who need to be signed up for next years event asap!

Grant Morrison, Signing Master

[Photos by Jonathan Mayo.]

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  1. Ughhhhh multiversity sounds SPOT ON.

    Glasgow’s a lovely city, I might have to keep my eye on GCC in future

    • I’ve been both years since it re-started and it’s well worth it for the guests. So many talented comics people in Scotland, and a great indie scene as well.

  2. Once Multiversity title hit the stand, Before Watchmen will be forgotten, period.

  3. Hey sorry comicbookgrrrrl, was wondering since you’re at the panel, did you have news confirming that Grant said he would be leaving action comics after 16 issues? I do know prior to this he did say he was going to have minimum 16. but he didnt really mention much after that

    • I don’t think he mentioned anything about Action, though he might have done to individual people… pretty sure it’s just the 16. I’ll hopefully be chatting to him again soon so I’ll see what I can find out.

  4. RIP Frank Quitely’s hair

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