An Evening With Grant Morrison

Last night was kind of surprising, but in a pleasant way.

Actually, let me just do this: mild mannered, modest, not remotely pretentious, somewhat shy.

Those are the ways I would describe Grant Morrison. No, really. For a guy who has become something of a rock star on the comic book scene, he was anything but. More often than not, when asked a question, he would start talking and his eyes would drift down the floor, as if he wasn't comfortable being stared at by the 30 or so people fortunate enough to take part in the Q&A. He didn't wear sunglasses, he didn't have on leather pants, and there were no drugs being taken. He just seemed like a nice guy who has a unique way of telling stories -- and, evidently people like it.

And they REALLY like it. His new Batman and Robin book is #1 and the hardcover collection of Final Crisis, a series that seemed to draw just as much ire as praise among comics fans, is holding its own with the top selling manga collections, something that only Watchmen has been able to do up to this point. In other words, Morrison's name sells books -- it sells a lot of books, which would explain the giant line out the door at Meltdown Comics last night.

As a general statement, it was interesting to see how many non-comic book readers are enjoying his Final Crisis collection, given that one of the main criticisms of the book was that it required a doctorate in both literature and comic books to decipher. I think, however, that non-comic book readers are more inclined to go with Morrison's non-traditional storytelling techniques because they haven't spent years reading traditional comic book stories. In some ways, the non-comic book reader is actually more open to what Morrison does than the comic book reader.

But, as Peter David would say, I digress...

Because I'm taking a comic book class at Meltdown (Meltdown U. every Wednesday night!), I got to be one of the chosen few who was allowed into the back room of Meltdown (where the gallery is) for the Q&A before the signing. The entire thing was recorded, so I would expect to see clips of it online in the near future.

Clive Barker has the host, of sorts, and a perfect choice. Barker is most commonly known as the guy who created Hellraiser, but he's better known as a core writer of the "dark fantasy" genre. He's also a Brit who moved to Los Angeles and he happens to be gay. All of that would come into play over the course of the hour or so of the Q&A.

It should be pointed out that, for whatever reason (I don't know if it's a health issue or what), Clive Barker has a very quiet, very raspy voice. The sound guy had to turn up the mic all the way whenever he spoke, to the point where it was equal parts Barker's voice and equal parts fuzzy noise coming out of the speaker. On top of that, Grant Morrison has a fairly thick Scottish accent.

One of my fellow Meltdown students got there late, and had to stand in the back. His review: "I couldn't hear the one guy and I couldn't understand the other guy."

Fortunately, I was in the front, so I had an easier time.

A few highlights:

  • Mark Waid was in the audience. Waid is famous for his encyclopedic knowledge of comic book history. At one point, Morrison was talking about the Silver Age, when the DCU originally came up with the idea of multiple earths. Morrison couldn't remember when this idea originally appeared and asked the audience for help. Waid yelled out something like "You're just fucking with me, now!" It was pretty funny. And, of course, Waid knew the answer. Morrison then asked him what he was wearing that day and who he was there with.
  • Someone in the audience asked about the lack of gay characters in comics (he was very forceful about this) and why Morrison and Barker thought that was, considering Morrison has created gay characters and Barker has tried to bring gay characters into the comics he's written (he mentioned getting resistance from Marvel on that front 15 years ago). Both mentioned that part of the problem is that there are so few gay writers because the comic book industry tends to put out an anti-gay vibe, in general.
  • Along those lines, Barker made a really great point. He said that relationships in mainstream, superhero comics are generally awful, and treated more as a vehicle for violence than as a vehicle for real love. To paraphrase Barker, "maybe we should be thankful there aren't more gay characters in comics."
  • Morrison said he had pitched an Authority OGN to DC that takes place in the future where everyone but one guy is gay. Part of the story would involve the fact that the infant universe that powers the Authority's ship has now grown into an adolescent universe, and it's horny. So they'd have to take it out past the boundries of reality to let it frolic with other teenage universes. Personally, I'm starting the petition for that book.
  • Morrison is now of two worlds, or at least two countries. He bought a house in Los Angeles. He and Barker compared notes on moving from Europe to Los Angeles and how Los Angeles is a much different creature than most people think. There will be a blog on my thoughts on that in the near future.
  • Morrison was in town, specifically, for meetings with movie studios, although he couldn't say which ones and for what. He also mentioned that he enjoys the creative process of comics much more because it's so much more direct (amen, brother).
  • Morrison concedes the fact that a decent group of people found Final Crisis confusing. He made no excuses for it, aside from saying that he told the story he wanted to tell. Someone asked him if he looks back on it with any regret, particularly given all the art problems that came about. He said he doesn't look at it that way because he just doesn't think like that -- which makes him a better person than me.
  • There is a lot of jumping around in Final Crisis, and plenty of points where Morrison gives you point A and point B, but lets the reader figure out the straight line in between on their own. The only specific question asked about this, though, was incredibly telling. A person in the audience referred to the Supergirl/possessed Mary Marvel battle in Final Crisis. I actually had to look this up when I got home, but the gist is that the two of them, stuck in battle, fall into a building. A word balloon comes out of that building that says "Yukk" and then Mary Marvel comes flying out, clearly having been punched by Supergirl.
  • The question, then, was "what happened to cause Supergirl to say 'Yukk?'" Yeah, THAT was the question. Of all the things to wonder about in Final Crisis, this person latched on to the most suggestive moment in the whole comic because we comic book fans love our underage girl on girl action. Morrison started off by saying he wanted to leave that up to the reader's imagination. And then he added: "I don't know. I wasn't there." Which was freaking hilarious.
  • Apparently, Morrison gets up every single morning and has a boiled egg and toast. And then it's on to the writing. But every single morning, it's a boiled egg and toast. And I guess making a boiled egg is a very delicate process.
  • There was a lot of talk about Wonder Woman, as Morrison freely admitted that he didn't have a handle on the character in Final Crisis. He said he wanted to break the characters down to their roots, but when he got to Wonder Woman's roots, he didn't know how to handle it. Specifically, the bondage stuff got in the way. He talked about the fact that a lot of the original Wonder Woman stories centered on Wonder Woman being in control, placing the men in bondage in a way that was clearly meant to be sexual.
  • He's currently sifting through some thoughts on a Wonder Woman story, because he feels like it's hard to make Wonder Woman that strong, sexually dominate character without objectifying her. He mentioned that the Alpha Male in the DCU, Superman, is allowed to get married and have sex and all that jazz, but Wonder Woman, the Alpha Female, never does. It's an interesting point: how do you tell the story of a sexually dominate woman in a comic book that isn't pandering to an adolescent male fan base?
  • Clive Barker said he read Final Crisis five times before he understood it all. He said he made a map.
  • Morrison said that living in Los Angeles has had an affect on his recent work. I'm interested to see that. Actually, I can already see that in Batman and Robin.
I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but that's what I can remember so far. I'll add more if anything comes to me.

Personally, I thought it was fantastic. For all the references to Morrison as a pompous ass or a rock star or the leader of a cult, he came off as a very nice guy with very little ego. He's just a guy who loves comic books and wants to tell interesting stories that can't be found anywhere else. Seeing him live went a long way to explaining why it is that so many creators seem to be friends with him, while so many readers seem to think he's the devil.

Now, back to work on that petition I mentioned...