by Savas Abadsidis on 2012-07-12
This week an annual migration takes place. From around the world hordes of men and women, some with families and real jobs, some wearing capes and strange outfits, will descend on San Diego for Comic-Con International. Now in its 42nd year, "the world's largest celebration of the popular arts" becomes the epicenter for Hollywood and virtually all forms of entertainment from July 11 to the 15. Here at Escape Republic we mark this occasion with an interview with comic-book superstar writer Grant Morrison.
Grant Morrison is the coolest cat in comics and has single handily changed the industry over the last 30 years. Beginning with his critically acclaimed run on DC Entertainment's Animal Man, which he followed with the number one selling graphic novel of all time Arkham Asylum and then record breaking stints on JLA, X-Men and Batman, Morrison has always broken the mold. Grant currently runs the ship on the Superman mythos in ACTION COMICS whose #0 is out next month! Oh and the paperback version of his awesome book Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human is just out. Speaking from his swanky digs in Glasgow, Morrison offers up the skinny on comics, cons, and douche-y underwater fish men.
OK. First off how did you end up writing a BOOK?
I was conned into it! It was the last thing I wanted to do! I was sort of tricked by a friend at Counter Culture Magazine and then my agent suggested I could do a compilation of interviews about superheroes I have done over the years. Then when he saw the proposal for this, he suggested I do some new work and then once he saw the new work, he said why don't you do the whole book, and then two years later I was almost regretting it, but I'm glad I did it—although I don't think I could have done it without coercion.
You break up the history of comics into some nice easy to define eras, how did you come up with that?
I look at the development of comics kind the same way I look at development of a young adult, and I compared it to my own biography, because I feel like it gives it a really nice structure.
The Golden Age is when you're a kid and you know who the good guys and bad guys are and the morality is very clear.
The Silver Age is when you're young 12 or 13 and almost on the verge of adolescence and everything is really cool but it's all changing fast, so the Silver Age is an age of massive transformation, because you're morphing and changing shape and becoming weird new versions of yourself. It also dovetails with that pioneer spirit of America in the 60s when we were excited by space exploration and celebrity and the media and it was a very exciting time, and the comics were inventive and child like in a lot of ways...
Then there's what I call the The Dark Age which happened in the 70s, 80s and 90s and is like getting older and you're asking questions, like why are they wearing tights and what happens when he needs to go the bathroom, what happens when he gets horny, when we ask those embarrassing questions.
Then the most recent age has been almost like settling into your 20s and getting on a little bit, getting out of the ghetto and getting a haircut and a job—and comics have lost a lot of that angry, questioning adolescence , they're well done and dressed up for the public and I just think that's the best way to look at the history of comics, like a kid growing up.
Is that what you are trying to do in Action Comics, are you trying to get back to that Silver Age spirit again?!
Only in the sense that we're taking a fresh look at EVERYTHING. You never can get back to that spirit of the 60s because those kids were the biggest generation of kids that had ever been up to that point. And it was a time when the entire culture especially in the west, American culture was very forward looking—it was all about space and the new frontier and the pioneering astronaut, so we're not living in that time—America barely even has a space program sadly—but we can certainly try and capture that atmosphere, capture a post-Bush era, and for comics a post movie era, back to what make comics unique, because so much has been copied, the style and do the kind of stuff that we do best is the more imaginative stuff, the kind of stuff that can't be done on even a $300 million budget; and some formal experimentation, The Watchmen kind of stuff or the stuff from the 80s. James Steranko, pop art stuff from the 60s—we're trying to be comic art rather than be movie stills.
One of things I love is what you did with Batman. Ever since Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns every iteration of Batman seems like it's been death march towards that story, like no one could think outside of it—you've blown up that paradigm and made it fun and fresh again.
I'm as big a fan of Dark Knight and Frank Miller as anyone but it kept such a stranglehold on the myths and everyone kept going back to the well recently. Batman Incorporated was all about that—to do things that hadn't been done in awhile—it's also been longest book that I've worked on—and people really responded to putting Dick Grayson into the Batman suit and his evil son Damian as Robin. A whole new generation came on board, girls were buying it, and it was almost sad that we had to bring Bruce Wayne back. That's what DC is going for this year, this feeling that anything can happen now in the books and even if they go back to the status quo which they always kind of do in the end, I think it's always good to keep it popping.
What's the one thing you would tell someone who thinks comics aren't cool?
I don't think it's something you should have to explain. Comics are cool because they have been created by outsiders. And usually things created by an outsider culture have a natural coolness b/c they are not part of the mainstream—so for me comics were always cool—like I never even got the whole geek thing—and in movies there'd always be a comic artist and I saw Stan Lee and Neal Adams as these kind of super cool Madison Avenue kinda guys, so for me it always had this sort of incredible connection to the arts. It was like Rock and Roll, it was like pop art, and a lot of stuff that I loved anyway. It's cool because the geek thing that was sort of thrown in was kind of weird—b/c yes it's true a lot of boys became fans esp in the 70s and 80s who were collectors and hobbyist, but for some reason all the rest of the world wanted to focus on the collectors and hobbyists, but there was the rest of us who were buying them along with records and clothes and all the other stuff, but no one ever focused on the pop music audience as being fanatical collectors, but that whole hobby element is there in pop music, a collector of Beatles Memorabilia is no weirder than a collector of every Superman comic and yet those two were never connected—one was used to denigrate an art form and another was used to elevate an art form so it was a public perception and people chose to pick on comics. A fan of Britney Spears is a mad as any geek collector of Thor, so that spotlight was shown on them, I just think it's annoying that that was what happened. And the pejorative connotation of comics comes from the 50s when comics were actually burned on bonfires, the creators were targeted and discredited and were accused of being pedophiles (by a book called Seduction of the Innocent by Frederic Wertham)—that's what those comics were being accused of—they had a really bad atmosphere hang over them for a long time. We forget because we weren't around back then—but that image hung over comics for a long time post 50s—a slightly disreputable air even though so much of the popular arts takes from comics even going back to Lichenstein and his pop art, he was just ripping off these guys who made 40 bucks a page and blowing it up to 30Xs and then getting millions for it. It's always been an art form that people have been stealing from it to create movie and TV ideas b/c it was a hidden form and it's been highly imaginative over the years, so of course it's inspired people, but in a lot of cases you find when someone's inspired they don't want other people to know about it.
Growing up, Marvel or DC?!
I was always a DC fan—I never really liked the Marvel Comics because they were always angry—when I was a kid I just always wanted everyone to get along—that's why I loved the Justice League because they all sort if teamed up and they always used their powers to defeat the bad guys so I appreciated that.
Which superhero is the biggest loser?
Oh God—the minute you said that I immediately thought of Aquaman, but I feel so sorry for him because he always gets the shit end of the stick—but he's actually pretty good—I did a film treatment for Aquaman when I was a consultant for DC, nothing ever came of it but you know finding a way to make that guy cool… his face was the first one that popped in my mind—Green Arrow is another one—with his little gay beard—and I mean gay the way teenagers use gay—he was so pompous back in the 70s when he was always on a new issue every week, like this week it's women's rights, he's just the most obnoxious millionaire born again guy in a suit who's always telling someone what to do..
Who's got the stupidest costume of any hero or villain?
There was period in the 80s when costumes were ridiculous—in the 80s they were just terrible—I mean Nightwing—Disco Nightwing—with that collar and weird little bits of his body exposed—him and Cosmic Boy.
Have you ever had a story rejected by an editor?
In Animal Man—and I just had seen An Animal documentary where I saw what goes on in an egg farm—I was very shocked, so I had this angry anti-meat tirade—and then I was on acid and wrote this trippy bit where Buddy Baker thinks he's being eaten alive by people, cut open and such and Karen Berger rejected it on the grounds that it wasn't much of a story to justify all this abuse—where he's being prepared to be eaten on the kitchen dinner table.
Which are the best and worst comic book adaptations?
I didn't like the Daredevil movies, but then I am not a huge fan of Daredevil. The Batman movies and the X-Men are great and The Dark Knight—I don't know what the bad ones are because I missed them—I think the best cinematic superhero movie ever was one that was not based on a comic, it was Unbreakable. I think that was the most grounded and realistic.
What's the project you're most excited about right now?
Dinosaurs and Aliens that I'm doing with Barry Sonnenfeld, it's the most fun I've had in awhile, the next big thing is Multiversity. I've been pretty lucky to do everything. Multiversity—which takes place over nine worlds—if I was going to do one giant project where I made some grand statement this would be the one, so if anything that's my dream project—everything I've wanted to do with comics I'm getting to do—this will be out next summer, 2013.
What's been your strangest Comic Con experience?
Well, there was one where there I was walking around and if you've never been it's a surreal experience and I was walking around with editor Dan Raspler and we saw this guy dressed as Superman and he was just perfect. Everything about him was perfect and then he sat down and he was so relaxed and confident and it occurred to me that if Superman were real and invulnerable that's how he would be… that guy was the inspiration for my interpretation in ALL-STAR Superman.
If you were going to do Cosplay, who would you dress up as?
Oh I do it all the time—I go with easy ones for me since I'm bald now: Lex Luthor if I'm feeling naughty or Professor X!