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Next Planet Over - 25 November 1999

Highlights from Grant Morrison's Message Board


As the immensely popular writer of numerous bestselling comics, including The Invisibles and JLA, Grant Morrison has garnered a well-deserved reputation as one of the hottest writers in the business. His vivid imagination and groundbreaking plots have combined to produce some of the most acclaimed comics being published today. It's no wonder, then, that fans across the country have been shocked to learn that Morrison plans on "vanishing into the undergrowth for a little while." This fall, in our Artists Speak message boards, Morrison answered more than 300 questions from his devoted fans. Read on for selected highlights from the discussion.


JLAnthony: Any new books you can give us a heads-up about?


Grant Morrison: New books? Umm... the next Invisibles collection is out soon, I think, reprinting the rest of Volume 2. I'm still trying to convince Vertigo to collect the rest of Volume 1 -- not to mention Sebastian 0, Kid Eternity, Flex Mentallo, and all the other work that lies unexploited in their drawers. For prose books, you could check out Lovely Biscuits, if you can find it -- it collects all of my previously published fiction and plays.


InhumanNature: Grant, how do you feel about having The Invisibles come to an end? Are you excited about it... or a little sad?


GM: I'll miss the characters, but I've met so many of their real-life counterparts that it doesn't seem so bad. I'm happy I got to the end of The Invisibles, and now I intend to take it off the page and into the world.


JimmyLove: When you say you met Ragged Robin [from The Invisibles], do you mean you met a redhead who looked like her and was perhaps similar in personality, or do you mean you met someone named Kay who had similar experiences to Ragged Robin?


GM: As for Ragged Robin -- in '96, after I got sick and life tumbled into an abyss, I emerged with a new understanding of magic and the possibilities of using my comics as magical sigils. My girlfriend and I had split, and when I saw Brian Bolland's cover for The Invisibles, Volumes 2 and 3, I decided I'd enchant for someone who looked exactly like Robin. Robin's doppelgŠnger materialized shortly after. When after a month of two of trying it turned out that we didn't get on at all, I learned that image isn't everything and shied away from such frivolous use of the hypersigil. Strangely enough, every woman I met that year and the next had red hair or other Robinlike qualities, including some who directly impacted on the storytelling of the book itself. Life and fiction are strange and interchangeable here. The "aliens" didn't choose me. I believe that everyone was "abducted" in a period roughly covering from '92 to '97. I'm not sure if it's an emergent structure in consciousness which we're identifying as alien and a little threatening. Or maybe it's aliens. The experience is unmistakable and real, and literally dozens of people I know personally went through classic or skewed versions of the whole abduction scenario during the '90s.


MelanieAstrogirl: The Invisibles mailing list was talking about the significance of flies appearing in your work. Apparently there have been recurring flies in The Invisibles and two other comics you've written. Is there a theory? Or is it all just a coincidence?


GM: Flies? Beats me. It embarrasses me to say that a lot of what goes down on paper is purely unconscious. I often read comics I've written with no memory of having been involved at any level. It's like the elves cobbling your shoes at night. This isn't a way of sliding out of admitting that sometimes things which don't necessarily appear meaningful can hide in narrative cracks, but it often seems that my conscious mind does nothing but wrestle with the dreamlike aspects of The Invisibles, et cetera, and more than often loses the scuffle. Much of it is beyond explanation but not beyond contemplation. Which is to say -- flies? I've noticed them, and they're never fully intentional or important to the plot. Beelzebub? The Lord of the Flies himself, perhaps? I have no idea why my literary droppings are covered in bluebottles....


AustinArmatya: There have been several scenes in The Invisibles that take place in Australia. What experiences have you had with Australia, the aboriginal culture, and Uluru in particular?


GM: I've been to Australia three times, and each time has been incredible. The first time I was in Perth, then went to Uluru and on to Sydney. Then I visited Darwin and Broome before another trip to Uluru. The only aboriginals I met were drunks, men whose heads had been hollowed out and infected with white man's magic. If you want to destroy a culture, kill its dreams; that's what has been done to many aboriginals. The "clever men" of old are undoubtedly still there but, quite understandably, tend to keep their secrets very secret. I had a profound totemic experience on the Rock, which led to my visionary rant about Ayers Rock being the "heart," the "magic stone" embedded in the Earth entity, in the same way shamans and abductees claim to have stones or crystals placed inside them.


dakini: If Invisibles is the spell, what is the intent?


GM: The intent is to create a global network of people who would not normally participate in global networks. It is designed to manifest parts of itself in reality and work as a bridge between the 3-D comics universe, the 4-D real-life universe, and the 5-D supercontext. It was designed to rewire my head and the heads of dedicated readers. It was intended to seed culture so that lots of things like Invisibles would begin to appear and hasten the arrival of the New Aeon of Horus or the emergence of the next level of human consciousness or whatever model of the experience you prefer. And you can read it, too. Or paper the budgie cage.


Kyle: Are there any plans for The Invisibles to go on TV?


GM: The BBC had it, and I'd written some scripts which told a revamped and extended version of the story from the first four issues. After five years of meetings and messing around, I was eventually told by a BBC high-up that "no one understands telepathy," and that was reason enough not to make the show. It went to Channel 4 and nothing happened there, and now it's floating around with Chris Carter and a bunch of other production companies in the U.S. I don't think it will ever get made. People seem almost scared of The Invisibles, and as I've said, [The Matrix directors] the Wachowski brothers already stole the theme, the characters, the code names, the leather, the bald heads, the torture scenes, the magic mirror, the insect-machine bad guys, the evil agents with special powers and shades, and just about everything else that would have made The Invisibles look great on film.


DanSouder: Your comments about The Matrix brought to mind something else I've been wondering about. What about Men in Black and its resemblance to Doom Patrol?


GM: I can't really claim any credit for Men in Black -- the concept's been around since the '50s in ufological circles. My twist on it was to introduce even weirder government agents like the Men in Green and the Men in Mauve. The Men in Black script was written by Ed Solomon, who is a smart cookie and someone I have a lot of time for (he also did the Bill & Ted movies), so I wouldn't want to steal his thunder.


Neurotic Boy Outsider: Any chance of a Doom Patrol reunion?


GM: I can't imagine doing any more Doom Patrol ever. Tom Peyer, I believe, is doing something with the '90s DP, and he's the only person I'd trust not to ruin my beloved characters. John Byrne has entertained numerous schemes over the years and will probably end up doing something with Doom Patrol -- like making it exactly the way it was in his youth but with enough of a Byrne spin to make everyone hate it.


PipTheElderRamrod: It seems that a lot of the best American comic-book stories are written by British writers. Why do you think that is?


GM: In the '80s it may have been true that the most innovative writers were from Britain, but I don't think it's anywhere near as true anymore. We have our own share of hacks, and there are some brilliant U.S. writers around now. The good writers tend to be ones who read and experience a lot of other stuff [outside of] comics and who are willing to put at least some of the fire in their souls down onto paper. At least that's how I judge it. Intelligence and a sense of humour really help, too.


JLErik: Why do you think it has become popular to kill off heroes in the last few years? Why not just have the character leave -- or just not use a character?


GM: Because we can. Where else do you get to have all the pathos and drama of death without the mess? These guys live in a universe where the important dead always come back, no matter how thoroughly the dirt is tramped down. We in our universe can wring endless thrills, spills, and tears out of those poor characters' sufferings. Life and death are the stuff of drama, I guess. Having said that, nobody important dies in Earth 2. And Metamorpho is currently "inert." Do you really think he'll stay that way forever?


Remic: Will we see Animal Man again?


GM: Yeah, Animal Man is back in JLA #39 and is instrumental in figuring out how to defeat Mageddon. Putting dialogue in Buddy's mouth was like kissing my first girlfriend again.


wallyoeste: Where did you get the idea for Animal Man?


GM: Animal Man was influenced by a couple of old Flash stories where the Flash met his editor, Julie Schwartz. I took that classic comic-book notion and spliced it with the the current ('80s) fad for "magic realist" or "postmodern" writing, in which the author becomes part of the text.


summersmith: Can you give us an idea what the hardcover JLA story is going to involve?


GM: The JLA hardcover, Earth 2, is a story of the evil Crime Syndicate of America, who live on the Anti-Matter Earth. I don't want to say too much about the story, but I will say it has the sleaziest superbeings imaginable, Commissioner Wayne and Boss Gordon, evil supergorillas, Luthor and Brainiac, colliding Earths, Superwoman seducing the transvestite Jimmy Olsen, Jeffrey Dahmer as President, and lots more. If you buy only one superhero book ever, this is the one with everything. And Frank [Quitely] has outclassed even himself to produce the most beautiful comic art I've ever seen.


PipTheElderRamrod: Were you pressured into including more women in JLA?


GM: I wasn't pressured to include more women in JLA, but I wanted to. The trouble was, I felt that the female characters at DC weren't iconic enough for JLA. I solved that problem by coming up with the idea to base the JLA membership on the Greek pantheon; that meant Oracle could go in as Athena, Huntress could be Artemis, and Barda could be Demeter. Editors are the bane of my life sometimes, as I am the bane of theirs, but in the end the comics get out more or less unscathed.


Hellboy: I really like the professionalism theme with the JLA, but I'm curious about how you got there, especially considering the higher sex quotient in your other books.


GM: The professionalism in JLA -- I just decided to do them as the gods. There is no problem they can't handle. Each of them is a master or mistress of the game, and they simply go to work and get the job done whatever it costs. That simple. The JLA are not in any way domestic -- they are the last line of defense against threats to reality. These are serious professionals who get plenty of sex offscreen in their own books. I'd love to do Superfriends, but hey, Charles Manson would love to be free....


shirleydoe: A quick question about Zauriel. Is he your attempt to create a Hawkman you could enjoy writing or -- as Thor is a representative and superheroic ideal of the Norse myths -- an attempt to create the superheroic ideal type of the Judeo-Christian myths?


GM: Zauriel started out as an attempt by Mark Millar and I to create a completely new and updated Hawkman. Instead of the science-fiction origin of Katar Hol, we gave him a heavenly background to explain the wings and the crusading. He was originally intended to appear in the JLA under the name Hawkman, and I imagined a sense-strangling battle of the Hawkmen between Zauriel and Katar Hol at some point down the line. The Hawkman name was seen as a biohazard after the numerous continuity maulings the character had sustained. We were asked to retain the angel concept and simply call him Zauriel. I felt it took away the mythic power of the name Hawkman from the team, but I grew to like Zauriel when, as you say, I decided to write him as DC's Thor but with a Judeo-Christian/Muslim background to replace the halls of Asgard, et cetera.


rictor: What are the possibilities of an Avengers/JLA crossover?


GM: I won't be involved in any JLA/Avengers crossovers. Last I heard, Mark Waid and Kurt Busiek were trying to work out something that would allow them to do the first DC/Marvel crossover in the regular books. I don't know how far along those plans are, but I suspect it will be your children's children who finally get to see a JLA/Avengers team.


Susan: So how do you get out of the DC Universe and learn that you're simply a character in a comic (something Batman and Wonder Woman still don't know and probably wouldn't believe if Animal Man tried to explain it to them)?


GM: Easy. You get help. Animal Man can't get off the paper into this universe, but I can flatten part of myself down into his world to make him believe that he's talking to a being from beyond -- one whose strange ideas will shatter everything Animal Man believes about his reality. I can assume any form I like in the DC Universe and tell them all kinds of weird stuff about a world where they are only 3-D stories on paper (the third dimension being time, which exists in the DCU but in a completely different state from the time we're familiar with in our dimension). Take that up a level, and you'll see that the same would be true on the higher scale. We can't get out into 5-D without help, without the help of our writers or creators, who can enter our universe at any point in its history, change it, revise it...without us knowing. We may have suspicions -- all those weird events: hauntings, UFOs, odd meetings -- but how could we possibly suspect that what we're actually seeing are cross-sections through our reality of higher beings? Just as Animal Man could scarcely imagine that he was talking to a cross-section of a flesh-and-blood meta-entity which wrote sections of his life for a while. Maybe when our lives are miserable, a bad writer's taken over. I could go on and on, but I hope this gives you some idea of the basics. The applications of this thinking are enormous in the sense that I am now convinced that we can rewrite the universe as it happens.


PinkFreud: Can you explain what's going on with Alan Scott? From all available sources, Alan lives in Gotham, but he never seems to interact with Bats. Do you know of any editorial views on Batman and his relationships?


GM: My Batman is rooted in Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams's '70s version, which I grew up on -- the hairy sex god who flew high-speed jets, skied down mountains with girls in his arms, and had, in Talia, the sexiest woman in comics as his opponent and lover. Give me that guy over the weird, twisty isolationist Batman. I thought I'd satirised that to death in Arkham Asylum. If I was doing the Batman comic, there would be a lot more kissing and hairy-chest activity.


StatelyWayneManor: What do you think of the work Chris Ware is doing in Acme Novelty Library?


GM: I love Chris Ware's work and consider him a formal genius, but as with many of the Fantagraphics creators, I sometimes feel like slapping him upside the head and telling him to stop moaning about everything. Sorry, but I live in one of the poorest cities in Europe, and when I see privileged Americans whining about how awful everything is in their sunlit world, I have to gag into my porridge. Kill yourself or get over it, buddy.


Timmy Timmy Bang Bang: I was wondering how one makes a jump from the stage to comic books. Have you ever acted? Directed? And do you ever want to get back to playwriting?


GM: I wrote comics before I did plays. I did them so that I could win prestigious awards and be taken more seriously as an artiste, thereby raising the profile of the comics. I don't know if it worked. My work is influenced by a number of playwrights and dramatists, so it was an interesting experiment to write the plays and see them performed to full houses, but comics was more fun and paid more money. I played "Grant Polanski" in the film Strangers by Sue Denim and appeared in several extra roles in the '80s, but acting didn't come into it.


MGB: It seems to me that the major religions, mystery schools, 19th-century occultism, modern magic, quantum physics, and common sense (you make your own luck) are all telling us the same thing: You make your own reality. If you were to loosely agree with this, I wondered if you really think a major "event" is going to occur in 2012, and if what's happening between now and then is some kind of battle to establish a consciousness paradigm shift to enable whatever it is to happen on a mass scale.


GM: There's some kind of self-referring, self-correcting communal system at work beyond the simple notion of "you make your own reality." There is an element of large-scale collaboration involved in the maintenance of what we call reality. Magic in one sense is the serial establishing of what Hakim Bey describes as temporary autonomous zones: moments of personal freedom and self-responsibility wrenched from consensus-tolerance. The year 2012 is an intriguing myth at this stage. My own wacko experiences have imprinted in me a gut belief that some unusual upheaval of thought and perception is beginning to occur, and I've tried to explore through the fictional context of The Invisibles the "information" I was presented by apparent fifth-dimensional complexes in a hotel in Kathman-bleeding-du.... I'm not sure I can be trusted, but I'm convinced it will inevitably be mass scale. I have no idea what "it" is. It may be some 20th-century analogue of the modernist impulse, which will seem brutal or dissonant or terrifying to we of the decadent postmodern 20th century.


Jimmylove: I was wondering if you find it difficult to find a balance in everyday life, now that you've had experiences that force you into questioning the reality of our perceived everyday existence.


GM: There's nothing funnier than being waltzed through the cosmos and knowing all there is to know about everything that ever was, is, and shall be, only to wake up and find that you can't pay your bills or chat up Madonna. Slowly but surely, I've found that these contradictions start to resolve until you realise that you actually can do these things, at which point you then have to deal with the fact that you can't use your wonderful magical knowledge to stop getting ill or getting angry or being stupid. And bit by bit, slowly but surely, you get less ill, less angry, and less stupid.


Fenris: You've mentioned the idea of utilizing the language of music for the purpose of divination. I was wondering if you had made any such attempts through music.


GM: My bands were pretty poppy. It was the '80s, and we were into the Sex Pistols and the Beatles and the Velvet Underground. Feedback pop. That was it. Later stuff was a little more sophisticated, but I've never specifically used the music for magic. I know of many people who've had interesting results. I always felt that words and pictures were my natural medium for sorcery.


Tom: Have you read any Kurt Vonnegut or Luke Rhinehart? I can't help thinking that you'd like Slaughterhouse-Five.


GM: I loved the movie, but I find it impossible to read fiction generally. I usually spot the structure and know the ending within the first five minutes, so I tend to read only weird or nonlinear books by people I know, like Steve Aylett or Stewart Home, or otherwise reread Burroughs and Mark Leyner. I did read [Rhinehart's] The Dice Man at a very impressionable age and enjoyed it so much I bought the life.


FanX15: Why is it that DC always pisses off the talent and then goes to fourth-rate hacks?


GM: What happens with mainstream companies seems to be this: If you're at all passionate and vocal about what you do, and if you rise up the tree to find yourself doing a big-selling mainstream book, you will suddenly find yourself clashing with editorial and management on all kinds of small, stupid details. DC wants to protect its interests and tends to come from a conservative position. DC editors are on a salary and don't have to worry about where their next check is coming from. Freelancers, on the other hand, feel that they know best because they're on the cutting edge; they have to know what's cool and what will sell, or else they don't get paid. It's that simple. As a writer, I think I know best when it comes to making old characters work for a new audience. As the management, DC thinks it knows best and doesn't want people like me to push the envelope too much. Because of this, people like me eventually get frustrated and angry because things aren't being pushed forward enough, and DC gets panicky because they think I'm pushing too hard and trying to make too many rapid changes. That's why they tend to lose people like me, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Alex Ross, et cetera as regular contributors. It's okay -- new young talent arise and are happy to do what management wants until they too reach the top of the tree and hit the ceiling. It's pop, and that's how it works, as far as I can see.


Patrick: At the Wizard Con, Mark Waid mentioned a Superman series that the two of you along with Mark Millar and Tom Peyer (I think) had proposed. It hurts my heart to think that DC didn't jump on it. Can you give us some insight as to what the proposal entailed?


GM: Yes, the above-named Gang of Four was asked to submit a Superman proposal, which we did. It was rejected, and the quote I was given was, "Do you honestly believe DC will ever give you the keys to the family car?" I can say here and now that the Superman proposal by Waid, Peyer, Morrison, and Millar was the best, most thoroughly worked-out take on a major character you are ever likely to see. It was Superman Plus. I wrote most of it after meeting the Man of Steel at 2am opposite the Sheraton in San Diego -- a true shamanic moment. We had the 21st-century Superman, we had four guys who'd been waiting all their lives to do this, we wanted to launch in January 2000, and we'd have sold a million copies. It would have been the coolest, biggest thing to happen to Kal El since the Byrne revamp, and DC blew it. I have nothing but respect for Joe Kelly and Jeph Loeb and the other guys currently on the books, but they haven't been allowed to go far enough, and as a result, the current revamp seems a little muted. Not being able to do Superman and not being offered anything else at DC was the main reason I decided to do Marvel Boy for Jimmy [Palmiotti] and Joe [Quesada].


GoatLegEd: Other than Marvel Boy for the Marvel Knights line, do you have any other plans for the future?


GM: After Marvel Boy, I'm vanishing into the undergrowth for a little while. As I've probably said too often for it to be interesting anymore, I'm taking six months or a year out from comics to refresh my head, get some new ideas together, and do some noncomics work I've been waiting to do for the last few years.