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The Long and Winding Road - Grant Morrison's 18 Days

posted 5 Jul 2015, 16:02 by Ben Hansom
This week saw the release of the first issue of Grant Morrison's 18 Days from upstart comic book publisher Graphic India, a project 7 years in the making and the cause of some confusion online as to its provenance.  I thought it might be a good idea to get a bit of a chronology up here to iron out once and for all what this book is (and probably isn't) and how it came to be.

18 Days - then called MBX - was first announced in a surprise appearance by Grant Morrison on a Virgin Comics panel at the 2008 New York Comic Convention.  A free-wheeling sci-fi adaptation of the Indian epic poem The Mahabharata - running to more than 74,000 verses and around 1.8 million words in total - Morrison described it thus,

"Like the Beatles took Indian music and tried to make psychedelic sounds…I'm trying to convert Indian storytelling to a western style for people raised on movies, comics, and video games."

A couple of months later Virgin Comics and digital animation shop Perspective Studios announced they'd be debuting footage from MBX at the 2008 San Diego Comic Con - there's a low-quality version still online here, and though I suppose it does look kind of clunky now, but let me tell you young whippersnappers, it actually looked pretty swish back in 2008.  Encompassing a planned "movie" (intended from the beginning to be cut up into shorter episodes if desired) and a video game, there was - initially at least - no plans for a comic book adaptation.  While I don't know for sure I'd imagine this was because at that time Morrison was signed exclusively to DC Comics for his comic book work.  Animation, movies and video games though - all falling outside of Grant's DC contract - were fair game.  No release date was set, but a limited run (1,000 copies) sketchbook was sold at the convention - pulling double duty as a $25 ticket to Virgin's Grant Morrison signing at the Con - featuring excerpts from Morrison's series bible and the complete script for episode one, alongside pages of concept artwork by Indian superstar artist Mukesh Singh.

Not long after SDCC, in September 2008, it was announced that Virgin Comics was to close and, after a management buyout, rename itself to Liquid Comics.  The fate of MBX remained unknown.  Not long after, some foolhardy speculator decided to cash out and put his MBX Sketchbook up on eBay.  I was the only bidder and won it for significantly less than it's $25 retail price.  The script material was brief - the whole sketchbook only runs to 16 pages - but was a cool glimpse at a Morrison project that looked like it would probably never happen.  And you all know how much I dig *that* shit...

Fast forward a couple of years and, in March 2010, Dynamite Entertainment announced they'd be partnering with Liquid Comics to release "an illustrated hardcover book featuring the original scripts created by Grant Morrison for his animated project ‘Grant Morrison’s 18 Days'" - the epic war of the Gods that forms the centrepiece of The Mahabharata lasts for 18 days, hence the retitling.  Released in August 2010, the 120 page book - though awkwardly sized - was immaculately presented.  Featuring the full series bible and complete scripts for episodes 1-3 (each intended to run for 10-15 minutes), the book also featured a ton of previously unseen concept work by Mukesh Singh. 

With no further news on a distribution channel for the proposed animated series, it seemed like the Dynamite book was an attempt to at least make some money off the material that had already been completed.  Morrison didn't do much (any?) publicity for the book though, and it seemed like maybe his involvement with the stalled project had come to an end.

Fast forward once again to SDCC 2013.  Grant Morrison appears on a panel alongside Gotham Chopra and Sharad Devarajan, co-founders of Graphic India - a Liquid Comics-owned "character entertainment company focused on creating leading characters, comics and stories through mobile and digital platforms", where it's announced that Grant Morrison's 18 Days would - finally! - hit the web as an animated series, with the first episode debuting during YouTube's Geek Week in August 2013 alongside a promotional music video by Indian metal band Pentagram.

Though Graphic India reused much (all?) of the MBX CGI material promoting the 18 Days launch, when the series eventually appeared on YouTube the art style had changed dramatically - from Mukesh Singh's intricate paintings to Jeevan J. Kang's much more cartoony/western superhero style.  A more unwelcome change came in the quality of the animation, reduced to the sort of paper-fastener flailing arms and legs of a 1960's Marvel cartoon.  I don't suppose anyone would want the job of Photoshop-animating those concept art paintings to be fair...

Another frustrating feature of the YouTube series was the length of each installment - episode 1 clocked in at three minutes, episode 2 barely hit two.  Graphic India kept up a weekly schedule on new episodes, but you couldn't help feeling like they were just uploading a minute here or there whenever it was finished - an impression not helped by the ongoing story often veering off in wild tangents for weeks at a time.  More salient to this article (I suppose...) is that Grant Morrison is only credited as writer of Grant Morrison's 18 Days for the first two episodes, total running time: about 5 minutes (he does also get a co-writer credit alongside Gotham Chopra on episode 12, and a "Created by"/Executive Producer credit on all of the rest to be fair).  The vast majority of episodes - we're currently on Episode 92 as of this writing, and only just past the end of Day One of the 18 Days War - were written by Chopra/Devarajan and Sarwat Chadda.

Unfortunately, to say the web series has departed somewhat from Devarajan's contention that "most of the Asian epics and themes don't define good and evil in the same very linear way that we see black and white in the West; it's much more about the gray," would be putting it mildly.  The extremely limited voice cast has dictated that all the good guys sound like good guys, while the baddies all sound like mustache-twirling pantomime villains.  The story itself is undoubtedly epic in scope and puts the characters into some complex moral binds, but the delivery has often left much to be desired.

A couple of months back, unencumbered now by exclusive contracts DC or otherwise, Graphic India finally got around to soliciting an 18 Days comic - or soliciting it in the West at least.  It seems that there are already a couple of trade paperbacks of Grant Morrison's 18 Days comics available in India published by Westland Books, running to 288 pages between them (I think that's about 12 regular sized issues?).  Curiously, both the existing Indian books and - more noticeably -  the ongoing YouTube series seemed to have been completely overlooked by the comics internet when the Grant Morrison's 18 Days solicits appeared - with at least one site reporting it as "The Return of Grant Morrison's 18 Days", as though the series had never been seen since the Dynamite book some 5 years ago.

Once again, Morrison hasn't really been involved in the marketing push for this book, and it seems pretty unlikely at this point that he would produce all-new material for Grant Morrison's 18 Days #1 - I'd imagine what we have here is an adaptation of Grant Morrison's 7 year old scripts for 3 ten minute episodes of an animated series, repurposed into a comic series.  That's not to say the book is neither good nor worthwhile...

Just don't expect it to go on for a whole lot longer with a Grant Morrison solo writing credit.


While I was writing this, I found this blurb for an upcoming panel at this year's SDCC - happening this Thursday (9th July) in fact:

"Legendary creator, Grant Morrison (Batman, All Star Superman, 18 Days, The Multiversity) discusses storytelling, global mythology, mysticism, the rise of Indian superheroes and his latest comic launch, 18 Days: The Mahabharata. Morrison will also announce his latest groundbreaking, mythic/sci-fi project with Graphic India for the first time."

So it looks like we'll find out a bit more about Grant's ongoing involvement with Graphic India and 18 Days (and what if any new stuff he's got up his sleeve) later this week.  Should have just saved writing this til after then really shouldn't I?