As anyone who reads my comics reviews regularly will know, I’ve become a big fan of Grant Morrison over the years. Having followed his contemporary work at the same time as devouring his rich back catalogue, I’ve come to believe that he’s one of only a handful of truly great writers to have ever found their home in the world of comics, and I certainly believe that he’s putting out some of the best books being produced today.
However, despite my enthusiasm for his work, I still know very little about Morrison the man–or at least, I didn’t until I received a copy of Patrick Meaney’s Talking With Gods documentary from Halo8 Entertainment.
I’ll get my main criticism of the documentary out of the way first: if you’re looking for a thorough analysis of Morrison’s writing in terms of technique, craft and symbolism, you won’t find much of that in this film. But whilst that might come as a disappointment to some fans of Morrison’s intricately-constructed, densely-layered comics, the documentary instead provides something just as interesting as (and arguably more insightful than) a dry, academic discussion of his work.
Rather than trying to paint a picture of Morrison through his work, the documentary instead explores Morrison’s work by giving viewers a greater understanding of the man himself, featuring a fairly thorough biography of the writer that stretches from his childhood all the way through to his most recent comics projects. This proves to be a highly interesting journey that casts a lot of light on where Morrison comes from as a writer, and the filmmakers are informed enough about his output to be able to draw some very astute parallels between his life experiences and his body of work. For example, it’s interesting to see how Morrison’s childhood preoccupations with the Cold War-era threat of nuclear terror and totalitarian states played into The Invisibles, or how his recognition of the power of fantasy and escapism informed Flex Mentallo.
Interestingly, as far as Morrison’s comics work is concerned, the documentary seems keen to focus on the writer’s more personal projects. This means we get quite a lot of exploration of his earliest work breaking into comics, along with the magnum opus that is his Invisibles series, and other particularly personal books like The Filth. However, there’s comparatively little attention paid to more mainstream superhero stuff like JLA, New X-Men, All-Star Superman and Batman. This might come as a disappointment to some, but it feels justified given that the filmmakers’ thesis is concerned with how Morrison’s life experiences have played into his work.
Talking of Morrison’s life experiences, there’s plenty of material here that would be very interesting in its own right, even if it was nothing to do with his comics. We hear about his first dabblings in chaos magic; his famous “alien abduction” experience; his decision as a 30-something to actively experiment with drink, drugs and alternative lifestyle cultures; and his dark reactions to the perceived negativity of 21st-century life.
There’s also less sensational but equally interesting stuff that deals with his interactions with other creators, via countless secondary interviews with a veritable legion of comics professionals. Most commonly, these sections deal with Morrison’s relationships with his artists, but they sometimes touch on relationships with other writers, too (including one anecdote about Alan Moore that explains the rift between the two writers, as well as a sly reference to a fall-out with Mark Millar).
Commendably, the documentary never feels like it falls into the trap of “printing the legend” by depicting Morrison as the outlandish, off-the-wall and unconventional “rock star” character that he’s often painted as. Instead, it allows the writer plenty of time to explain his worldview and his feelings about his work in his own words–and he proves to be not only a compelling interviewee but also a surprisingly grounded and straightforward human being, couching his occasionally unusual ideas in terms that make them feel easily understandable and relevant when they could easily have come off as pretentious or ridiculous.
Perhaps the greatest compliment that I can pay the documentary is that I feel as though I understand Morrison and his work a lot more fully after learning about his life and his experiences, and it’s made me want to go back and check out a huge amount of his work with this in mind. Whilst I still think there would be room for a more academic examination of Morrison as a writer, this documentary clearly isn’t geared towards that kind of exploration of his work, and it manages to pull off its more personal portrait of Morrison admirably.