With this week’s release of The Multiversity Sourcebook (and our review of that intriguing issue), we thought it was an appropriate time to revive an old interview that Rick Offenberger did with Grant Morrison.
This interview was originally published September 1, 2005.
Grant Morrison has always had an unusual and original perspective on what makes a good comic, and the fans agree. Grant took some time out to talk to SBC about comics, Seven Soldiers, All-Star Superman, “52” and Hypertime
Rik Offenberger: There seem to be two Grant Morrisons one who does these odd quirky comics like the Filth and one who does these tremendously successful mainstream comics like X-Men. Which type of comic do you prefer working on?
Grant Morrison: I like to do both and always have. Commercial and Countercult, Hi Tech and Lo Fi, Film script and Comic book, Bestseller and Fanzine, Hollywood and Glasgow…it’s the Apollo and Dionysus, if you know what I mean. You remember Dionysus? It was him watching Apollo’s back before the Midnighter won the toss and took up pole position, as revealed in the award-winning Authority 76 – ‘A Rose By Any Other Sunday is Only Half As Queer As Sixpence’.
I much prefer writing pop songs and daft, non-linear, stream-of consciousness routines to be honest, but I don’t get much chance to do that in public. I see the universe as basically, fundamentally absurd so I like doing stuff that appeals to my sense of humor mostly. I’ll piss myself laughing and get absorbed for hours on end cutting pictures out of magazines and making up cynical, cruel, and surreal gobbledygook for friends. If I could waste my whole life away writing things like the ‘Guerrilla Grodd’ columns on my website or the text pages for FLEX MENTALLO, I’d be happy as a pig deep in another pig but I’ve had to branch out a little in search of a way to pay the bills. Doing different kinds of work in different media, and for different audience demographics has many rewards fortunately.
The work-for-hire comic books give me the chance to exercise this lifelong obsession with superheroes and the ongoing micro-narrative ‘universes’ where they live, while books like THE FILTH, or THE INVISIBLES sell well to the ‘graphic novel’/book review/bookstore crowd. The DVDs, talks and workshops attached to my esoteric writing have helped me build a vibrant global network of like minds that I wouldn’t want to live without – Timothy Leary said ‘Find the Others’ and he was so right. The films and games come with a bit less control of the creative process but a lot more cash, which then allows me to take more chances with the comics and supports the sort of non-stop, working and traveling lifestyle that keeps me fed and watered with new experiences. I need constant input from real life, real places and real people, or I start drifting towards oblivion.
I always think of the creator-owned Vertigo books as ‘my own stuff’ though, deep down, and all the rest of the comics are sort of more like me doing a spot of tender, faithful and often laborious weeding and watering in some old man’s beautiful garden that gave me such pleasure when I was young, can u dig it ?
When you’re trying to connect with an already existing audience with expectations in place, as is often the case on the company owned stuff, it’s sometimes all about how well you can blend the basic ingredients and how good you are at adding just enough spicy novelty but not TOO much to overpower the taste of comforting familiarity that plays such a huge part in the longevity of an ‘iconic’ series…or indeed, an iconic main course.
Readers! How many Grant Morrisons can YOU find in the above reply to this question?
Offenberger: When you proposed Seven Soldiers to DC, what was their initial reaction to a plan for 30 comics featuring the likes of Klarion the Witch Boy and Spawn of Frankenstein?
Morrison: They were very enthusiastic about it creatively and a little unsure how to schedule so many books. All those boring details were quickly ironed out over bagels and sushi, however, while sour piano music was played quite softly by a man with only 3/4 OF A FACE hidden in the background so as not to intrude. I’d spent a long time putting together the proposal so it was convincing enough by the time I corralled Dan DiDio at dinner with Karen Berger and pitched the hell out of everyone at the table in freezing Manhattan, March 03.
Some have seen the book as an ode to the King, Jack Kirby, and in so many heartfelt ways it is, but SEVEN SOLDIERS is also my personal hymn to the poetic imagination of Len Wein, whose 70s work turned me into a teenage fanboy. A great deal of SEVEN SOLDIERS – as with so much of the work I’ve done for DC – relates directly to, and expands upon, continuity established by Len. I owe an immense imaginative debt to Wein, who is humble, bemused and patient every time I collar him to tell how much his work meant to me. The way a hero ought to be.
Dan, finger on the pulse as ever, picked up on the throbbing potential of SEVEN SOLDIERS straight away and became an ardent supporter of the project from the start. My editor, Peter Tomasi leapt into the cauldron with both feet first and managed to surround me with the best team of artists I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. The rest is geography.
Offenberger: Seven Soldiers is selling out, did you get the impression that DC was aware this was going to be a hit, or was this unexpected?
Morrison: The Zero issue sold out and went to a second printing and apparently, there were some astonished gasps from the halls when KLARION THE WITCH BOY outsold BATGIRL and CATWOMAN and ZATANNA sold more than DETECTIVE COMICS. That’ll do for me, and I’m glad to see that readers are ready for new characters and books about heroes who might not be so all-powerful, invulnerable or even well-known. It shows how easily different genres might work if done properly – why SHOULDN’T well thought-out epic fantasy comics be successful in the wake of ‘The Lord of the Rings’, for instance ? It’s just a case of reconnecting aspects of these old concepts with the kind of stuff that people are REALLY INTO.
Offenberger: The release schedule is interesting on this series. None of the comics are monthly, some are 6 weeks apart while others are 10 weeks apart, will this be difficult for the readers to follow?
Morrison: Only if they’re really dumb. An issue comes out every 2 weeks – how fucking cool is that in an otherwise grim and suffering world ? The artists are brilliant. The story delivers. Buy em all if you know what’s good for you and good for the planet.
Offenberger: Seven Soldiers ends with issue #1, are you planning an issue #2 or any other type of follow up?
Morrison: Not at this stage. It’s been a long arduous process and I’ve written 22 of 30 books so no number 2 in the immediate future, at least until I finish issue 1. I’ve got loads of other stuff to do when I finish SEVEN SOLDIERS.
Offenberger: From 1,000,000 to Hyper-time you have made a lasting impact on the DC Universe After most of your high concepts at DC, the company has continued the ideas without you. Is DC planning on continuing with any of the Seven Soldiers after you are done with them?
Morrison: I believe so. The characters are certainly worth keeping around and were all designed to have staying power – which is not to say all of them will survive the events of SEVEN SOLDIERS.
Offenberger: You have recreated seven characters from the DC Universe, why recreate existing characters instead of creating new heroes?
Morrison: I do that too but a big part of my job at DC involves digging up and revitalizing neglected company properties and it’s something I derive a great deal of satisfaction from – I have a pile of notebooks filled with character revamps, costume designs and story ideas I’ve jotted down in idle moments between jobs and I love it when Dan DiDio calls with a fresh challenge, like ‘Do you have any idea how we could make ‘Hawk and the Dove’ work ?’.
Fuck, yeah. Of course I do. It’s right here on page 57.
I like finding the clunkiest, ugliest properties and turning them into prom queens, so the restoration/recreation part of my brief at DC is always welcome. I can sit in the garden with a pen, a notebook, some colored pencils and the sun in the sky and do little drawings for hours and hours…far from the eyesight-knackering tyranny of the computer screen.
Offenberger: What challenges do existing characters present, when putting together a maxi-series like this?
Morrison: The challenge is not to get cold feet when those disturbing thoughts in wolf masks come a-calling…
‘Why the fuck am I trying to sell KLARION THE WITCH BOY 3 in today’s conservative comics market ? My reputation is doomed! Why didn’t I just pitch that ULTIMATES/AUTHORITYcrossover idea when I had the chance?!’
And all that.
As I said, I like helping poor wee, handicapped characters regain their confidence, but at the same time, no-one wants a dud comic on their hands. Fortunately that hasn’t happened to me yet and the SEVEN SOLDIERS books are all doing well, with a couple of particular favorites emerging. We’re getting features in the New York Times, Playboy and Entertainment Weekly and I’ve noticed that this stuff is connecting with a wider, more mainstream audience, as I intended. We’ve got architecture websites talking about The Manhattan Guardian!
Offenberger: Before you left DC for Marvel, you put together a proposal for Superman. Were these plans similar to what we are going to see in All-Star Superman?
Morrison: No. That was something quite different. I saved one or two elements from the earlier proposal that were worth keeping but otherwise All-Star is all new Superman stuff.
Offenberger: Is the All-Star line itself a separate part of Hyper-time?
Morrison: It could be regarded as that if you like. All-Star is a Hypertime Line which went underground for 20 years and is now coming back into the light.
‘Hypertime’ was the name Mark Waid gave to a concept of cosmic geometry I’d come up with, one bleary night in San Diego – given that the DCU has a Time LINE, the idea started as a consideration of what might exist beyond the Time Line, on the Time PLANE, or even in the mysterious Time CUBE . The theory allowed every comic story you ever read to be part of a larger-scale mega-continuity, which also includes other comic book ‘universes’ as well as the ‘real world’ we live in and dimensions beyond our own. It was also about how the world of fiction relates literally and geometrically to the world of ‘reality’. Some of its basic features have even been echoed in current cosmological ideas emerging from the field of superstring research and M-Theory. Skip the rest of this answer if you can’t be bothered with crazy talk.
We all live in Hypertime – in our 3-Dimensional level of Hypertime, which can be seen as CUBE TIME in relation to the DCU’s LINE TIME, we can pick up comics and leaf through them, flipping in any direction – ‘time traveling’ back and forward through the ‘continuity’ like some new Doctor Who! I have a suspicion, based upon experience, that in HYPERCUBE TIME, there exist intelligences who stand in relation to our 3-D universe as we stand in relation to the 2-D universe of our comic book, film or TV heroes and who can leaf through our lives and times with the same ease we can leaf through Superman’s history but that’s just me.
And think about the emotional experience of reading comics. Nothing but ink on paper , right ? Yet people fall in love with Jean Grey and threaten to commit murder in her name! People cry when Ted Kord gets shot dead! As we all know, inert drawings and words on a page can produce an absorbing, often addictive, unfolding illusion of life, movement and even personality but surely the reader’s ‘experience’ of the ‘story’ in a comic is actually a hologram – a virtual reality generated by the overlapping of multiple human consciousnesses – ‘creator’ consciousness interfacing with ‘audience’ consciousness through the medium of print.
Hypertime tried to bring that kind of late-night speculation into ‘continuity’, as well as figuring out all the cool stuff, like where the Marvel Universe Timeline lies on the TIME PLANE map in relation to say the DCU or the Awesome Universe or the Warren, Quality or Atlas Universes…
Offenberger: Alan Moore did a retro version of Superman with Supreme. Is All-Star in this same vein, or is it different?
Morrison: All-Star Superman’s certainly not intended to be retro or ‘meta’ in any way.
The All-Star idea is to distill everything we like about the characters into one simple package that’s very much aimed at a more mainstream pop audience who don’t like to have to ask embarrassing questions like ‘Why is Superman married ?’ and ‘Why isn’t Robin Dick Grayson ?’
The stories are intended to be…universal, I suppose is the word. There’s actually no big agenda behind All-Star other than to get the big names on the most well-known characters, in an attempt to achieve the highest profile for those characters. ‘All-Star‘ is just one of those daft names they use to distinguish the book from the regular titles. It’s a showcase for talent rather than a coherent ‘line’ or a new, ongoing universe and nothing so far links the books that are being done.
Offenberger: How is All-Star different from what Marvel is doing with their Ultimate line?
Morrison: As far as Superman is concerned, we’re not re-doing origin stories or unpacking classic narratives. We don’t go back to the beginning again, we start from where our Superman is RIGHT NOW and get straight into the action – almost as if he’s had 20 years of alternative continuity going on behind the scenes of John Byrne’s revision in 1985 – on a different Hypertime line, if you like. I’m trying to think of it as the re-emergence of the original, pre-Crisis Superman but with 20 years of history we haven’t seen.
From that platform, it’s a total update, rehaul and refit. Having said that, we expect everyone in the world to know Superman’s origins and have a basic grasp of the relationships of the Planet staff so, as I say, there’s no time wasted on a retelling of the backstory. We deal with the origin of Superman on page 1 and then we’re off into space for a big, new adventure, the way life’s meant to be.
Mark Waid and Leinil Yu’s brilliant ‘Birthright’ is about as close to an ‘Ultimate’ take on Superman as anyone’s likely to need for the foreseeable future. I can’t see any pressing requirement for yet another iteration of the same material for at least 25 years.
Offenberger: With everything you have done featuring classic heroes from, Doom Patrol to X-Men, you have put you own unique spin on the characters, how are you applying this approach to Superman?
Morrison: I started by reading every Superman story on my shelves – from those amazing Siegel and Shuster first issues through the technicolor Mort Weisinger Renaissance of the 50s, the Schwartz/O’Neil depowered 70s, the confident and radical Byrne revamp, the Carlin/Jurgens era of the 90s, when all the Imaginary Stories became REAL stories, and right up to Azzarello and Lee’s troubled, brooding Superman, and Greg Rucka and Chuck Austen’s strong, Reformationist take in the recent books. I read Mark Waid, Jeph Loeb, Joe Kelly, Elliot Maggin, Cary Bates, Alan Moore, Mark Millar, Stephen Seagle, Joe Casey, Paul Dini and Alex Ross and everybody else.
What struck me wasn’t the differences in all these approaches, and they WERE all very different, but the SIMILARITIES. He barely has the same personality from one issue to the next sometimes and yet… no matter who is writing the stories, some essential, archetypal Superman always remains intact and it’s that primal core, that soul of Superman that we’re putting onto the pages of All-Star.
Offenberger: Is it possible to make Superman fresh and relevant to new readers after almost 70 years?
Morrison: I don’t like to think in terms of ‘relevance where this project is concerned. Our wish is to do a collection of ‘timeless’ Superman issues. A big, beautiful book of Superman that you can give to a kid or yer gran or anyone else and they’ll dig it and treasure it until it’s a dog-eared antique. We’re not trying to make it seem ‘real’ in any sense other than emotionally real. It’s the Superman of your dreams – like when you find that weird comic store with all the amazing cool stuff on the racks…
Offenberger: How far ahead do you have to work to make sure Frank can have 12 issues published monthly?
Morrison: Published monthly ? Oh hahahaha…
I’ve written three and a half issues and I’m in the middle of the Jimmy Olsen vs. Superman story for issue 4. I submitted the first script in August 2003. Frank started We3 in November 03 and poured so much heart and soul into it, Superman didn’t even get started until March 2005.
He’s finished one issue and started on a second and so far I have to say it’s a Superman fan’s dream come true – imagine Michelangelo drawing the Man of Steel instead of wasting his time with all that Sistine Chapel nonsense. Even if it doesn’t get published monthly, who cares ? It’s genius.
It’s not like he ever wanted to draw American superhero comics anyway. It was me who talked him into it! He’s a boho Glasgow Art School boy who gets big, prestigious commercial art gigs outside comics and he finds it impossible to work to comic book deadlines because they just don’t suit his meticulous pace and never will. He has three kids and, quite rightly, he spends a lot of time with them and with his wife and family and friends when he’s not behind his desk, so the way I see it, we Quitely fans should be thankful we get any goddamn comic books out of him at all. I’m the one who keeps goading him into doing this stuff when we all know he’ll never do a monthly book. I reckon he’ll manage bimonthly once he gets up to speed. What I can promise is that there will be no fill-ins or other artists working on All-Star Superman. It’s me and Frank, to the glorious end.
And Jamie Grant, who colored We3, is also back with us on for this project so I couldn’t be happier. I’ve been looking at the first issue over and over and over and over again on my computer, mesmerized…and you will too, when it comes out. The second one’ – which is all set in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude – is even better.
Have I truly answered this question ?
Offenberger: Oh yah, that’s a great answer.
Offenberger: Who is going to be the artist after Frank finishes his run on All-Star?
Morrison: I don’t know. I’m telling a 12 part story with him and that’s it for me, unless some fresh miracle occurs. I’ve got loads of Superman stories I could tell in this style but Frank and I are doing 12 together and that’s it for this particular drive-by.
Offenberger: In an industry that loves its history, you have come up with a surprising amount of original concepts, do you find editors excited and supportive of this originality or is there a lot of resistance to new ideas?
Morrison: My editors have always been very supportive. The work’s been consistently successful for over a thousand years now so they know I’m a safe bet and tend to let me do my thing unobstructed.
Offenberger: Is there a difference between work for Marvel and working for DC? In addition, is there any difference between the different divisions at DC?
Morrison: There are some specific minor differences but it’s something for a keen student of anthropology to deal with, not me. Based on my own experiences, I prefer the DC set-up and way of working.
Offenberger: What is next after All-Star Superman and Seven Soldiers?
Morrison: I’m taking a breather after Seven Soldiers to write the We3 screenplay in October, then in 06, I’m getting started on several new superhero projects at DC/Wildstorm including the day-glo revamp of WildCATS with Jim Lee. I’ve also been talking to both J.H. Williams and Paul Pope about collaborating on a couple of new series for Vertigo, and I’m still itching to finish the Seaguy 2 – ‘Slaves of Mickey Eye’ scripts when Cameron’s ready for them. I’ve also just completed – with Frank Quitely – a set of Fortune Telling Cards for the new Robbie Williams album ‘Intensive Care’ which comes out next month. Writing is easier for me than breathing these days.
Morrison: So, I’m just going to keep doing more and more, more until I achieve mega-karoshi – the state of transcendental employment-as-suicide. You know me.
Offenberger: Now that you get to do Superman, is there other comic that you have always wanted to do but not had the opportunity?
Morrison: No, I’ve had them all. All the superheroes. I’m at the high noon meridian of a wonderful life. Everything from here on in is a slow glide towards evening and the yawning mouth of the grave…but before I surrender to the reaper’s gentle razor, I’ve already completed a lot of restoration work on more second and third-tier DC characters as part of Dan’s amazing plans for 2006, post-‘Infinite Crisis‘, so I’m very excited about that too.
I’m armpit-deep in the “52” project which I’m plotting and writing along with Geoff Johns, Mark Waid, Greg Rucka and Keith Giffen with JG Jones on covers, I see this project as the first ‘album’ from DCs first creative ‘super group’ and it’s been the most fun I’ve had in this business to date. I just got back from a series of incredible creative summits in New York and couldn’t believe the energy, imagination and refreshing lack of prima donna ego bullshit on show. “52” is being planned meticulously and written like a TV drama. Based on the material we’ve got so far, I think this project will break new ground for mainstream comics and I can’t imagine any other company being capable of anything like it right now, so it’s going to be very unique and absorbing read, squeezing down four years of continuity into one. It’s the first real, full-length ‘graphic novel’ about superheroes and is likely to change the way we think of what can be done with them.
Excitement and energy are the order of the day here in the solar house. Beyond “52”, a whole bunch of titles I’ve redeveloped for other writers to run wild with will be appearing from DC next year…and the next too…until the sun itself is red and swollen and dies… I’m having a good time right now.