Grant Morrison, Comic Maestro

The Skinny’s first sponsored event at this year's Book Festival will feature the near-legendary Glaswegian comics writer Grant Morrison

Feature by David Agnew | 06 Aug 2012
  • Grant Morrison

Legendary? Don’t take our word for it – Morrison’s book on the Superhero history, Supergods, comes with a cover quote from none other than Stan Lee saying that the Scot is ‘One of the great comic writers of all time.’ Now, smilin’ Stan, creator of Spider-Man, is well known to be both relentlessly positive and prone to hyperbole, but you can’t fault his statement – grinnin’ Grant is one of the greats. Looking at his CV won’t give you any grounds for doubt on that score.

What is interesting about Morrison’s CV is that it’s hard to judge where the tipping point comes. When, exactly, did he get so big? He’s 52 now, but his first efforts which made it into print were when he was 17, so there’s a lot to cover. In the early 80s he worked for various UK publishers, including DC Thompson, and he even wrote strips for Doctor Who Magazine – in fact, a surprising number of British comics writers who made it big later did. This was by no means Morrison’s big break though.

Perhaps that came when he got to create and write a continuing strip for 2000AD, Zenith, a work that, tantalisingly, is still not completely in print today for rights reasons. Zenith led to Morrison being offered work in America, reviving old comics heroes. Many British writers were being asked to do this type of thing, following Alan Moore’s work on Swamp Thing. The most successful effort in this mode is probably Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, but Morrison’s work on reviving Animal Man was greatly entertaining. He took a basically daft story about a man who can adopt the abilities of any nearby animals and gave it new life, first by grounding the story in domesticity – Animal Man has a wife and kids – then devising innovative superpower scenes – an excellent cliffhanger occurs when our hero is severed in two, but uses earthworm abilities to reform himself. This level of invention would have done for some writers, but Morrison then introduced what we’ll call metafictional touches, with things like a Wile-E Coyote analogue coming to our world to finally die, and culminating in Animal Man meeting his creator. This figure, who looks a lot like Morrison, is used to examine the creative process in comics generally. It’s a theme Morrison is fond of, culminating, you could say, in Supergods.

Animal Man was a big break for Morrison, and a bridgehead to America, but it wasn’t necessarily the tipping point in making him quite the name he is now. Animal Man led to work reviving a superteam, Doom Patrol, on which Morrison did excellent work, and then to a Batman graphic novel, Arkham Asylum, wherein Batman examines Arkham Asylum, and it examines him, and go and read it, it’s fantastic. This title definitely helped establish Morrison’s reputation.

And yet… it just isn’t the single work that made Morrison, because he’s written so many quality titles afterwards. He was given the chance of writing the Justice League of America, which, with Batman and Superman in it, is the superteam of superteams, and at around the same time he began his own superteam, The Invisibles. Set in a world where most conspiracies are true, the 59 issues of The Invisibles became a cult classic, and the JLA didn’t do badly either. At that point Morrison could effectively write whatever he wanted and write it well. And he has done, writing for X-Men and Fantastic 4, as well as his own creations. His work on All-Star Superman has shown an affection for the character that’s proven enormously popular. It’s the affection people have for Morrison, who’s a great live performer, which we’ll get to see on the 17th. He’s as entertaining talking about comics in reality as he is examining the nature of reality in comics – you should come, it’ll be good.

Grant Morrison appears at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 17 Aug, 9.30pm-10.30pm