Catching up with Professor M: Talking with Grant Morrison

Thu, August 7th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Hector Lima, Contributing Writer

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Photo by Kristan Anderson.
If you ever felt like a misfit mutant, contacting "Professor" Grant Morrison from the "Punk School for The Gifted Brats" is bliss. You wake up one morning to find his telepathic electronic mail - directly from the 5th dimension - has been transmitted into your frontal lobe. And when you open the text message it's mental gymnastics make your brain change shape as you read. The Scottish superstar writer has been at the center of attentions - again - after the announcement at Comic-Con International in San Diego of his DC two-year exclusive deal, ending his run on Marvel's "New X-Men" with issue 154.

CBR News caught up with Grant Morrison to learn about his possible plans for "Superman," "Captain Marvel Jr." and a detailed report of what went on between him and Marvel President Bill Jemas regarding "Marvel Boy 2." Plus lots of information on all his projects, from a Chaos Magick book to Rock albums; finishing "New X-Men" and the world of mutants; what's next for Frank Quitely; "LeSEXY," "Seaguy," "Vimanarama" and "Indestructible Man"; the movie he's scripting for Dreamworks; how memetic business consultancy works and how to summon him up with Ouija; Celebrity Culture in Comics and more.

[NOTE: minor spoilers for NEW X-MEN readers below.]

Photo by Kristan Anderson.
HECTOR LIMA: Talk about the best and worst that happened during Comic-Con International in San Diego this year.

GRANT MORRISON: Best was my spotlight panel on the Friday. It's always good to get a chance to talk to readers. Meeting Bizarro in the street with Chris Weston was another high point. Worst was adrenaline crash in the early hours of Saturday morning - hypertension, spewing and belated grief for recent dead animal all crushed into the wee hell hours of Saturday morning in the Marriott. Everything apart from that was fine. I had a great Convention and a great trip to Los Angeles afterwards.

LIMA: What were the main reasons that made you go exclusive with DC for a second time?

MORRISON: DC offered me an unbeatable deal. I have the best creator contract in the business, I like DC's commitment to high quality original work and I'm happy to repay their faith in my new stuff by tackling some of my favorite DC characters...

LIMA: It may be early to ask this, but it must be asked: you and Frank Quitely on "Superman" - yes or no?

MORRISON: I don't know yet. I'd like to do a Superman project of some kind with Frank but we won't be on the regular book. Quitely will be doing We3 until Christmas and then we'll see what happens.

LIMA: Apart from "Superman," what are the company-owned titles you still want to lay your hands on?

MORRISON: I have plans to take a bunch of no-hope, second-string back-catalogue characters and boost them up into the top rank in a series which will completely re-envisage the notion of the "super-hero." News as it happens.

LIMA: Talk about what happened with "Marvel Boy 2" and "Ultimate Fantastic Four?" Would you ever write other Marvel titles like "Ultimates," for example?

MORRISON: "Marvel Boy 2" (and 3 also) has joined... in Project Limbo. "Ultimate Fantastic Four" will probably still appear, but I won't have anything to do with it. I was involved in some of the discussions that went on prior to the release of "The Ultimates" so I feel as though I've contributed my ten cents worth already.

One thing I wanted to do was "Ultimate Kree/Skrull War" (or Kree/Chitauri War...) which would reveal that the original Super-Soldier serum was genetically-engineered by Kree scientists using shapeshifting Skrull/Chitauri Dna. The Kree, hidden on our planet for centuries, were attempting to create a race of genetically-perfect supermen to protect the Earth in the oncoming Kree/Skrull conflict. The Skrull Super-Soldier mix, applied to the not-very-fluid human anatomy, would have also explained why Banner turns green... among other things...

LIMA: You're said to have an interest in Captain Marvel Jr. Could some of the "Marvel Boy 2" concepts appear there?

MORRISON: No, it's a totally new idea. I only re-use concepts if I find a way to wring more juice out of them. The Captain Marvel Jr. thing is a very different kind of character re-invention and doesn't cover any of the ground of the Marvel Boy series. I keep getting weird new ideas for superheroes with fresh and unusual motivations and this is another of them. As for "Marvel Boy 2," there are some parts of the "Marvel Boy 2" series which I may use again - the Kree Book of The Dead issue, "Beyond The Withinfinite," delved into Kree comic book religion in full-on Prog Comics style and had loads of mad ideas which may find their way into something else eventually.

LIMA: Can you comment on the rumours of Marvel President Bill Jemas trying to alter your scripts? This did the rounds as the reason for "Marvel Boy 2" not happening and your departure from the publisher.

MORRISON: Bill didn't ever try to alter anything at any time. He rejected a Frank Quitely X-Men cover once for some unlikely reason, but that's all I can recall. He simply didn't like the fluorescent overtones of what I was doing in "Marvel Boy 2" and asked me if I was prepared to try a different and more down-to-earth approach to the basic idea of angry alien boy trapped on Earth. My original series pitch and scripts were based in a horrible super-security prison called the Cube, home of the most deranged inhuman mutants and motherfuckers on the face of the Earth. Grotesques like Daddy Heart, Alan Satan and the Spider Sisters filled every page and the whole thing was a very fast-paced religious satire in the Marvel Cosmic style.

So I didn't want to do "down to earth" stories in "Marvel Boy." I decided that movies were doing comics so well there was no point in doing comics to look like movies any more. Let's make this stuff really crazy... so that special effects have to keep up with us. I foresaw a new demand for intricate bizarre psychedelic comics and was eager to oblige. Cycles whip and twist faster all the time and pop culture's threshing tentacles are flailing into an ultraviolet magic goth phase for a little while before the lights come on and the kids all look really weird in the sunshine. Time for the comic books to get crazier again, you might think.

"New X-Men" #145
However, what I did have for Bill was a TV series outline I'd created for Marvel Entertainment - a low budget, ground-level interpretation of the Marvel Boy idea which I was never too keen on doing in comic form. Bill liked that one and was happy to let me write it. I wasn't sure and vacillated. In the end, contracts never materialized anyway so there was a sense that the project was doomed to fall through the cracks from the start. It went through all kinds of hellish changes over the years. My own personal "Authority."

That's the story.

LIMA: So, "X-men 2." How does it feel to write a comic when it's hitting the screens as a summer blockbuster? It happened to you with "Batman" once.

MORRISON: It's not quite the same. Last time it happened it made me rich enough to buy a house and go round the world twice. "X-Men" does pretty well every month but it's no "Arkham Asylum." Half a million copies sold to date!!!

LIMA: Who killed Emma Frost? Is she dead for good?

MORRISON: She's not dead at all. Nobody dies in "New X-Men," they just... change. But whodunit? That's the big question. Al the clues have been there for years now and it all gets revealed in "New X-Men" #146.

LIMA: Will all your remaining work on "New X-Men" be published? It should be fun to go from "destroying the Marvel Universe" to awakening the DCU.

MORRISON: I think so. "New X-Men" is all written I just finished my last issue - #154 - for Marc Silvestri and actually felt a deep unexpected pang of loss when it was all over. I'll miss the characters, but they're very stressy, soap-opera, high maintenance people and hard to keep up with emotionally. I'm glad I'm moving on to deal with less traumatic energies. I'm sure there are always some who'll disagree, but I'm very proud of the work I was able to achieve with my collaborators on "New X-Men" and the best is yet to come. I'm sure we all see them through different lenses, but feel I captured the spirit of what the X-Men meant to me. It'll be interesting to see where it goes next.

LIMA: How are these different art styles coming together to you in the title?

"New X-Men" #148
MORRISON: I'm having a great time working with Phil Jimenez again and Chris Bachalo. And as for Marc Silvestri, he's outdone himself on the "New X-Men" arc we're doing together. It's really the best work I've seen him do in many years and should give Jim Lee on "Batman" a run for his money. After Frank Q's classicism this is a full-on return to the Neal Adams 'romantic' comic book style - all high cheekbones, almond-eyed women and brooding gazes - Silvestri has inspired me to turn in some of my most apocalyptic and bizarre X-Men work. There's a two-page spread in part two which is the sexiest 'let's go to work' drawing of Wolverine and the X-men I've ever seen.

LIMA: Any thoughts on the other rumour regarding Marvel stretching - or "padding"- storylines to keep the push for a TPB format?

MORRISON: It's news to me. In my usual contrary fashion, I've pretty much dispensed with the "story arc" format in favor of an ongoing soap opera style but there are always ways to package the stories as "arcs." My stuff usually clips along at a hysterical pace so I deny all charges of padding. I agree that some of these other books often read like they've been luxuriously upholstered... 12 issues where the only thing that happens is dinner with George Bush and a sprained ankle.

LIMA: Where do you see the "X-Men" going after they achieve the homo-sapiens' acceptance they fight for so much? What's beyond mutants and gender?

MORRISON: In my stories, the mutants no longer need to achieve "acceptance." Humanity is on the verge of extinction and the mutants are preparing to inherit the Earth. I prefer not to use mutation exclusively as a metaphor for race or gender as has been the case in the past, and I'm more interested in the connection between the "hated and feared" mutants and our own "hated and feared" children - the inheritors of the future. For me, the real war, particularly at the moment, is between children and adults and the X-Men dramatizes this eternal clash of new ideas with old traditions.

Grant & Kristan at CCI
Photo by Matt Fraction.
LIMA: Do you think the title can hold the appeal to teens? The image of the adult comicstore-goer seems stronger today.

MORRISON: If the readers I meet at conventions and stores are anything to go by, the audience is still in its teens and 20s and those are precisely the people who need the X-Men. Idealism is at its most ferocious peak when you're that age, no matter how well disguised behind fashionable cynicism, and I feel it's my job to provide the kind of no-bullshit, inspirational stories which kind adults in previous generations provided for me when I needed it most.

I recently read something online, which said my "New X-Men" stories read as if "written by a bratty, highly imaginative 14 year old..." which actually describes my ideal male or female reader perfectly. I think it was meant to be an insult but I took it to be the highest compliment and proof positive that the angry little inner teen machine which drives my superhero writing is still alive and well and spitting.

LIMA: Talk a little about your "Sleepless Knights" Dreamworks script? Could Spielberg's studio be the place to pitch a "Filth" movie to?

"The Filth" #12
MORRISON: "Sleepless Knights" is a "timeless" techno Hallowe'en fairy tale which is fortunate because business in Hollywood moves slower than hydrogen atoms during the last three seconds before the Heat Death of the Universe. I'm currently on the second draft of the script and it's looking good. Otherwise, I still dream of "The Filth" as a Hollywood weird movie starring Bruce Willis as Greg Feely/Ned Slade and Mickey Rourke as Spartacus Hughes. Walter Mitty meets "The Prisoner" and fucks that frown right off McGoohan's brow.

LIMA: Does your "Corporate Grant" persona go up well on the "Writer Food Chain" to deal with Hollywood? What was made of your "Batman" script from years ago?

MORRISON: "Batman: Year Zero" was only a pitch, not a full screenplay. People liked it but I was completely unknown in Hollywood and unlikely, under any circumstances, to be chosen as the writer of a major studio picture. As soon as "Sleepless Knights" is delivered I'll be on a magical list somewhere, apparently, which will open all kinds of doors for me. I get on well with people in Hollywood and most of my friends live there.

LIMA: Any news on your book projects like "The If," "Pop Mag!c" and the new edition of "Lovely Biscuits?"

"Lovely Biscuits"
MORRISON: "The If" is being written doggedly behind the scenes of other paying projects. It'll probably get finished this year on a beach somewhere if I get lucky.

Parts of "Pop Mag!c" - the sigil stuff that's online and pages of unseen stuff about summoning Jack Kirby gods - will be appearing as several chapters in the "Disinfo Book Of Lies" to be released in October this year.

"Pop Mag!c" is the title for an almost-completed book which expands all of my magical ideas into a combination autobiography/recipe. Pop Mag!c = Mod Mag!c = Mag!c is Meaning + Transcendental Materialism etc. I'm preparing this right now, with the designer and photographer Steve Cook (alternity.com ). There's a rising interest in mag!c at the moment but most of the writing on the subject is very unhelpful and some of it is so utterly misguided that it can only lead potential mag!cians into a thicket of screaming symbolic bullshit that could take years to get out of.

I'm hoping to restore the simplicity of the Bleedin' Obvious to mag!c. I'd like people to read this and say "Oh, now I understand what they were talking about all along!!!''

LIMA: And what are the status of "We3" and "LeSEXY" right now?

"The Invisibles" #13
MORRISON: "We3" is underway with incredible, groundbreaking Frank Quitely artwork. No-one will be able to do comics the same way again after We3. - check on crackcomicks.com soon for previews as they arrive. It's something new and different. "LeSEXY" - I wrote two episodes, loved them and then had the project rejected by Karen Berger - she felt it was a little too dark and covered areas I'd already dealt with in "The Filth" - which was true to some extent, except "LeSEXY" was much funnier and even crueller... so I figured she has a right to draw the line. Every other idea I've had is fine with Karen so I may rework "LeSEXY" as a TV show, which was how it started originally.

LIMA: How are your Music collaborations coming along? Any release date set?

MORRISON: The ass2ass CD is our priority "must finish" job for this summer and then we're moving straight on to the "Fuckstar" project.

LIMA: You showed how "Invisibles" was a spell to make us see we're part of the same hologram, while "The Filth" was an injection of the worst aspects of life into the reader's mind to inoculate them. How would a third project dealing with similar themes work?

MORRISON: Wait and see. At the moment I'm assembling research material for "Indestructible Man," which is the third part of an informal "hypersigil" trilogy including the "Invisibles" and "The Filth."

LIMA: Have you fully felt the effects of "The Invisibles" spell; was it or "Sandman" the ultimate teen comic phenomena? And will we ultimately see you on a cover, similar to "Flash" #163, screaming "Stop! Don't pass up this issue! My life depends on it!"?

MORRISON: I hope not! I'm still reverberating from the effects of "The Invisibles" spell, It rewrote my life and enveloped me in a shiny, global sci-fi lifestyle I was really only dreaming of when I started writing the book in 1994 ("The Filth" spell was not as much fun to live and work through, as you might imagine from the different style of that book... but the alchemical results to me and the world were worth it... gold from shit all the way...)

I love Neil Gaiman and "Sandman" was a beautifully realized Gothy mythos, but "The Invisibles" remains a unique and living transcendental object which I brought home with me from the 5th Dimension for everyone to play with, so...

LIMA: Do you picture yourself in the morning of 12/22/2012 trading places with "Invisibles" character King Mob again? And do we have to buckle up to become fictional?

MORRISON: I'd like to think so. So far the math is holding up. Time does seem to be accelerating, information storage capacity isIS doubling exponentially. Everyone's getting into mag!c and Gnostic philosophy thanks to "The Matrix," "Harry Potter" and "Lord Of The Rings." The streets are awash with false prophets and dodgy techno-gurus... it sure looks like the Eschaton to me.

Exactly as predicted by experts here at gmWORD Ltd.

LIMA: Speaking of which, how does the "memetic engineering consultancy" work with companies?

"Vimanarama"
MORRISON: Okay... basically I go and I stand up in front of business people, entrepreneurs, CEOs and I tell them how to apply creative, magical thinking to all of their endeavors. It's a kind of magical performance art, intended to wake people up to new possibilities and ways of thinking.

LIMA: Are "Seaguy" and "Indestructible Man" any of the "brought to life comic" projects of yours?

MORRISON: The first 96-page Seaguy book, "Seaguy And The Wasps Of Atlantis," is already written and it's "just" a strange, poignant story of love and loss written by me and drawn by one of the comic industry's finest young artists. "Indestructible Man" is a big, "serious" piece of work which is looking very daunting at the moment and will probably not get written until 2004. Both of those pieces were conceived before I came up with the "living comics" notion as was "Vimanarama!" - an Islamic sci-fi romance for Vertigo. Philip Bond is currently hard at work drawing the pretty pictures.

The "living comic" experiments are currently at the blueprint stage while I develop the "technology,' so I don't expect any of that stuff to appear until late 2004/2005, based on current publishing schedules. "The Filth" was written in 2000/2001, for instance, and is only just wrapping up now. I've written tons of new stuff over the last couple of years and hardly any of it has been seen yet.

LIMA: What do you make of this flood of comic-based movies? Will everyone get tired of them soon?

MORRISON: I think they'll tire of the costumed hero thing soon enough; they always tire of any trend. In fact, I think people will tire of movies altogether very soon as the immersive interactive experience offered by video gaming becomes more sophisticated and involving. I've been doing more and more work in the games field and I'm very excited by the possibilities for radical narrative experiences.

LIMA: If you were starting today as a comic writer what would you be doing? Does the Internet take your time away from writing?

MORRISON: I don't know if I'd be writing comics today. I'd write games. I probably would write comics but only as a hobby... The Internet takes up very little of my time. I have a quick look in the morning before going for a swim and that's about it. There are one or two Web sites I follow to see what's going on with magic, comics and the world and that usually does it - Barbelith, , Ninth Art, Momus...

LIMA: Your work seems pretty intelligible, but yet some readers seem to have problems "getting it." Will this ever end?

Photo by Kristan Anderson.
MORRISON: I wish I knew. I seem to always have had have this weird reputation as a "difficult" writer when, as far as I can see, my work has been very popular and democratic for a long time. I've remained successful for many years now and seen various comic writer 'generations' come and go, so I must be doing something right - whatever the fuck it is. As you may have heard I left school aged 18 and never went to University so my work is the product of a well-read, well-travelled, well-bent mind but I don't think it's hard to understand at all.

The Architect scene in "Matrix: Reloaded" - that was hard to understand. I kept thinking where was Dane McGowan to say, "EY! What the FUCK are you ON about, Sigmund?"

LIMA: Are comics fitting themselves to these times of new wars, falling empires and Orwellian-esque media?

MORRISON: I think today's comic books are perfect reflections of their times: conservative, unambitious and self-congratulatory. A howling lack of imagination or direction runs through the mainstream, but that's about to change. It's easy to sense the upcoming wave. Reading most comics today is like wearing dad's slippers and smoking his pipe - it's an illicit thrill to be sure but not much of one... look forward to the new generation giving me something to thrill my soul again. I promise to try to do the same in return.

Morisson as Edie.
Photo by Kristan Anderson.
LIMA: You're one of the "rockstar's" of comics. Do you think Celebrity Culture should ever come to Comics?

MORRISON: Why not? People are people and their lives are either interesting or they're boring. They either can or they can't. I know lots of comic book people who are smarter, funnier, sexier, more well-travelled and more erudite talkers than any number of "stars." I'd rather watch Peter Milligan or Seth Fisher or Chris Weston on a talk show than Justin fucking Timberlake. I'd rather be entertained by Mark Millar or Frank Quitely or Tom Peyer or Mark Waid or.... anybody except the mind-numbing Cristal drinking "celebs" on TV.

LIMA: Then has any fan used Chaos Magick to invoke you as an Oracle? Cyber Chaos-Ouija, maybe?

MORRISON: I'm sure some have tried and probably succeeded. I'm sure I could be made to serve as the embodiment of many qualities. The Screw Crazy God of All Masks and No Face. Can be summoned with sexual fluids smeared across a Garibaldi biscuit or a copy of the Woman's Own. Whatever.

Special thanks to Kristan Anderson and Rich Johnston.

 
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