As if it was any surprise, DC Comics writer Grant Morrison drew a healthy and excited crowd for his "DC Focus" panel Friday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego. A packed house was pumped up by panel moderator Ian Sattler, the DC Universe Senior Story Editor who said, "This is one of the cool perks of my job." Sattler spoke on how Morrison is one of the few talents whose work inspires constant calls for new creators on the iconic heroes he's touched to "hit the bar he set."
The Scottish writer soon took the stage to a roar of applause, to which he replied "I can't express to you how much that means to me, but I'll do it in the form of dance" before breaking into a brief, jerky popping and locking routine for his fans.
Sattler joked that he only had one question for the writer to start the panel: What's your favorite curse word? "I can't say my favorite curse word!" Morrison exclaimed before spitting out a mouthful of gibberish and calling it "a terrible curse word on Mars."
Sattler's real kick-off question involved the nature of Morrison's Batman run growing and morphing over the years into a bigger epic than he had originally planned. "As most people know, it starts as an entire idea for a story in the notebook going all the way to the end," the writer explained. "But as usual, when you're on the job with something you suddenly get more involved with the character and you love some characters more than others and want to develop new parts of stories that seem interesting that you didn't expect to come up. Always, things come to life. With Batman, I figured I'd be finished with 'Batman R.I.P.' but suddenly all these other ideas came along like the 'Batman & Robin' thing and this new stuff we're doing. So the story grows like a plant, I've found generally. And the juicy leaves grow at the end."
Morrison joked that he was so hot, he was sweating enough to have a rag to mop his brow like Louis Armstrong – even singing some of "What A Wonderful World" in a pretty convincing impersonation of old pops – before explaining that as a Scot, he was more akin to Conan the Barbarian who in one original story said, "The freezing cold wind is like Mother's Milk to Conan."
Sattler asked how he felt about his new ideas or reinvigorated characters such as Knight and Squire – who will soon be written by Paul Cornell in their own miniseries – being picked up by other writers, and Morrison explained, "As I've said, these long-running universes were here before any of us and will be here long after we're gone. To add something to that is really special."
Of course, the floor soon opened up for a lengthy fan Q&A where the first question drew out "Grant Morrison: Fiction Theorist" as a young man asked how old characters like Bruce Wayne and the various Robins were supposed to be. "It doesn't matter. You must understand these people aren't real," Morrison said to laughter. "Batman is a mythical figure. I'm being funny, but I'm not being funny. They don't live in the real world. It's like this theory I've been developing – you know what they always say about kids? That kids can't distinguish between fantasy and reality. And that's actually bullshit. When a kid's watching 'The Little Mermaid,' the kids knows that those crabs that are singing and talking aren't really like the crabs on the beach that don't talk. A kid really knows the difference.
"Then you've got an adult, and adults can not tell the difference between fantasy and reality. You bring them fantasy, and the first thing they say is 'How did he get that way? Why does he dress like that? How did that happen?' It's not real. And beyond that, when you're dealing with characters, they exist on paper. They're real in that context. I always say they're much more real than we are because they have much longer lives and more people know about them. But we get people reading superhero comics and going, 'How does that power work? And why does Scott Summers shoot those beams? And what's the size of that?' It's not real! There is no science. The science is the science of 'Anything can happen in fiction and paper' and we can do anything.
"We've already got the real world. Why would you want fiction to be like the real world? Fiction can do anything, so why do people always want to say, 'Let's ground this' or 'Let's make this realistic.' You can't make it realistic because it's not. So basically Batman is 75 years old, and Robin is 74 years old. They don't grow old because they're different from us. They're paper people."
Another fan asked how hard it is for him to write the quintessential American characters like Superman or Captain America seeing as he's not American. "In some cases I've noticed is that a lot of the British writers have almost more respect for these characters," the writer responded. "They're more interested in Superman as the best of America. That's what we saw in 'All-Star.' We really saw something beautiful in this country whose heroes up to that point were cowboys and gangsters that Siegel and Shuster created this man who would not kill and could solve all the problems and save us. To me, they created something that America really has to live up to.
"From outside, we kind of see Superman as the very best of what you guys can do, so I think the outsider's perspective helps in a lot of ways. I've thought a lot of American writers are kind of embarrassed by him, and it's an embarrassment or being ashamed of your greatest myth....we find that quite weird as an outsider."
Asked what comics he's currently digging on, Morrison enthusiastically responded, "My favorite comic in the world is 'Tales Designed To Thrizzle.' The latest issue with Jungle Princess is I think the best comic ever." He also noted that he loved Tony Bedard's "Great Ten" as well as Joe Casey's treatment of the Super Young Team in "Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance." However, perhaps his favorite current DC comic is the Johnny DC adaptation of "Batman: The Brave & The Bold" which he said "is beautifully written and just great."
The way the writer balances so many of the big ideas and older comics that inform his mega-arc over the past few years on the Batman titles came up, and Morrison said "I think Batman comes complete with themes just like Superman does...right now with Batman, we're taking some of the real base elements of that – the pearls and the gun – and playing them like music through [the books] so they keep coming up in different ways. It's like themes in a fugue."
However, unlike his famous connection to King Mob of "The Invisibles" where what he wrote for the character almost mystically informed and affected his own life, "I didn't put as much of myself into Batman, otherwise I'd been buried alive. 'Batman' hasn't been as magically driven. All it does is force me to work out more. And even that's gone to the wind recently as I've been writing 400 books a month.
As far as future projects, Morrison promised he'd deliver a classic Wonder Woman story "soon" and that as far as the release of his announced "Multiversity" project, "We can't get a concrete date because Frank Quitely's drawing one of them. But I think it's going to be next summer." The writer also said that one of the "Multiversity" issues would be called "Thunder World" – a title he came up with for the Marvel Family earth because he was tired of always having to work the word "Shazam" into the titles of their adventures for legal reasons.
The final volume in his "Sea Guy" cycle of miniseries for Vertigo – to be called "Sea Guy: Eternal" – will be on its way in the near future. "I've written the first two, and I think this one is the best of them all," he said. "The idea for them came from the world we were living in. The idea being that we're suddenly a part of a big brother society with cameras and surveillance. There's five surveillance cameras for everybody in the country including children and people in prison – five for every living person! If you read Alan Moore's recent interview, he talks about camera being in Northampton where he lives that'll go, 'Hey you! Pick up that cigarette butt!' and actually talk to you. It was that sense that we've all been infantilized – the sense that we're all buying cartoons we watched as a kid and playing little games. We're all sitting in our own little worlds with the internet. I wanted to write about that and mythologize it. And then it became the story of a guy's entire life but sort of strange. It was just responding to the weird feeling of the world these days."
Later, Morrison announced that DC would publish an "Absolute We3" soon which would include ten new pages from Frank Quitely that fill in some parts of the story the creator's couldn't work in with the book's original three-issue format. Morrison is also confident that DC will find a way to publish a collected edition of he and Quitely's "Flex Mentallo" series, although no specifics on that plan could be given.
A fan asked about Morrison's tendency to make violence in his comics unglamorous and vile, and the writer said it was because "I was raised as a pacifist. My dad was a soldier in World War II, and he came back and became an anti-nuclear activist. He saw some things – pretty heavy stuff that you don't read about in the history books – about how our armies behaved, within the army and amongst each other. So he became a pacifist and raised me as a non-violent kid. I was never allowed to play with soldier dolls and stuff...even though years later I went into the martial arts to deal with this well of hostility that I had growing in me."
The writer told the assembled crowd that as for his future, he's happy to play at DC because he's allowed a true amount of creative freedom. "Me and Geoff Johns sell lots of comic books at DC, and no one's every said 'Don't do that,' because they know it sells good. There are certain segments of fandom that say that my work is difficult, but it's the best-selling stuff in the business and has been for 20 years. So I'm not going to change."