Edinburgh International Book Festival: Grant Morrison

Review by Bram E. Gieben | 06 Sep 2013
  • Grant Morrison

Ah, Grant Morrison. Ever since we saw you coming up on ecstasy and talking about sigil magic at Disinfo.Con in 1999, we've loved you. No, scratch that. Ever since we read the opening 'FUUUUUUUUUCK!' of The Invisibles – the first swear word ever printed by DC Comics – we've followed your hallucinatory, mystical, culture-hacking, pop-culture-gnashing comics work with the fervid and slavish adoration with which that other, more romantic comics tribe, the Gaimanites, follow their leader. We dress better, and are more inclined to neck tabs of mescaline or peyote buttons than drinking absinthe or cider and black, but we have worshipped you all the same. Mystic, iconoclast, prophet of your own superhero-based mystery religion, you are a demigod with shaved head and leather jacket. And yet, you remain one of the most down-to-earth of the comics glitterati, greeting us in the packed Baillie Gifford tent with a thickly-accented, quintessentially Glaswegian "Hello Edinburgh!"

Firstly, it's important to note that Morrison is hilarious in person – he has inherited every ounce of that precious West Coast commodity known locally as The Banter. Asked about his recently-awarded MBE and asked to speculate what comics he thinks the Queen likes, he says "she'd be into weird Vertigo stuff, like Shade, The Changing Man." The MBE is all the more deliciously satirical for a writer who, in The Invisibles, portrayed the Royal Family as occult slaves to extra-dimensional fear machines made of pure negativity.

Beginning his work on the cult UK comic Star Reach (Morrison describes it as "SF with tits"), the young and "super-straight-edge Mod" was surprised to meet a team of creators who "smoked dope constantly." He would find himself strangely ravenous after meetings, and jokes that he might well call his next autobiography "Dope and Chips." The discussion moves through his career writing strips for the 80s Doctor Who comic, before finding himself at Marvel and DC, where he discovered that "the only thing cooler than being Batman is writing Batman." The architect of some of DC's finest moments in recent years, from the multiple-Earths crossover epic Final Crisis ("everyone loves a parallel Earth") to his challenging reimaginings of the Big Two, Superman and Batman, not to mention his snarling, punk-inspired take on the X-Men for Marvel, Morrison is a unique talent. There is no other writer whose reach, influence and invention have done more to define modern comics.

He has an important point to make. "We've made the mistake of wanting superheroes to be soldiers," he believes. The Avengers et al are "arms of the military-industrial complex," especially in cinematic form, where "the superhero cinema of the West stands in response to 9/11 in the same way that Kaiju [giant monster] comics stand in relation to Hiroshima." His response to this was to make Superman once again a "champion of the press and the people," an anti-authoritarian in blue jeans and a cape. 

Fans roared with delight to hear about the forthcoming return of Seaguy, and asked questions about the long-mooted Yanick Paquette team-up on The Trial of Diana Prince, where he has promised the return of Wonder Woman's "super-bizarre" BDSM overtones. He compares doing panel layouts to performing calculus, and laments the lack of vision in artists and writers still creating comics with a 'cinematic' sense of pacing and two-dimensional depth. 

Finally, he delivers an oft-told but never unwelcome tale: the Kathmandu experience, where a gram of hashish and a quest for enlightenment led to a full-on "higher contact experience." If you've never heard him tell the tale, read it in Supergods, and thrill to the description of an experience which was real, life-changing, and utterly transformative for the young writer. Grant Morrison – creator, visionary, ultimate Glaswegian. We salute you. For Morrison, comics are "a non-stop job." Let's hope he never lets up.

Grant Morrison appeared at Edinburgh International Book Festival on 23 Aug http://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/whats-on/grant-morrison-2