Interview with Grant Morrison

Posted by Goodreads on August 1, 2011
What would Superman do? Comic book author Grant Morrison advises us all to take life lessons from superheroes. Guided by the belief that costumed crusaders offer a needed source of optimism in a cynical world, the influential writer has revitalized some of mainstream comics' biggest heavyweights, including new story lines and best-selling series for Batman, X-Men, Justice League of America, and, of course, Superman. Morrison's fans also revere his original creations such as We3, a series about a trio of weaponized cyborg pets (a dog, a cat, and a rabbit), and The Invisibles, a series about a secret society fighting an alien conspiracy. This month Morrison has a new work of nonfiction called Supergods. The book pairs an in-depth history of superheroes with a personal memoir of his trajectory as a writer. The Scottish native chatted with Goodreads about the best superpowers and how cape-wearing do-gooders can provide real-world guidance.

Goodreads: Supergods can either be viewed as the culmination of your body of work or a huge departure. What inspired you to write it?

Grant Morrison: I was kind of forced into it. [Laughs.] Originally it was supposed to be a book of interviews on the subject of superheroes. I wrote an introduction for the projected book of interviews, and my agent in New York said the original stuff was much more interesting. So I was talked into writing the book, and I'm quite happy I was, but it wasn't anything I expected to do.

GR: Did you set out to write a personal memoir or an academic analysis of superheroes?

GM: Well, I knew it wouldn't be academic because I wasn't an academic, and there have been so many good books written by academics on the subject of comics. So it's a personal story—a story coming from someone enmeshed at the highest levels of creating these characters. It was more about taking elements of my life I thought were just like the themes of the story—to basically show how an ordinary, working-class kid's life can be completely perverted by exposure to a long-term comic book reality. [Laughs.]

GR: Supergods posits that superheroes are currently experiencing a renaissance, with geek lore going mainstream. You write, "Names that once were arcane outsider shibboleths now front global marketing campaigns." Why do they have such staying power as characters?

GM: I think what we're really seeing is a contact between the fictional idea of the superhero and the reality of the superhero. These stories are so popular because they offer a slightly hopeful utopian view of where we might end up as a race, as a people.

GR: Can our future approach this ideal?

GM: We now have incredible technology at our fingertips. A connection is being made, a lightning bolt between the real and the fantastic. I was just reading the Sunday newspaper about how bionics technology is about to transform human life in the next 10 to 20 years. Stem cell research is happening. Quite clearly we are trying to push ourselves toward some kind of superhuman version, whether we're connected up to the telecommunication system or whether we actually become physically stronger and smarter and longer lived. I think [superheroes] can help us by providing positive energies of what a superhuman future might look like. That's why I've always enjoyed the comics. They have tested the superhero idea with all kinds of nightmare scenarios, and it seems to have survived intact. I think certainly if we are looking at our own troubles, we can look to superheroes who are problem solvers. To ask: How would Superman deal with this? And do we have the resources or technology to duplicate what Superman might do to solve this problem?

GR: Goodreads member Chad says, "I dig your ability to write self-aware fiction that works on a story level and as flawless meta-fiction (Final Crisis, Animal Man, etc.). What works of meta-fiction have inspired your creativity, and will the upcoming Multiversity work contain traces of self-awareness? Will you continue to explore the 'life intimidates art, art intimidates life' concept that is apparent in The Invisibles?"

GM: That's a big, complex question! The Multiverse is all about that. It's set across several parallel worlds, and each of those worlds has comics within them, and each of the comics has events in real parallel worlds. So it's all about communication across boundaries and communication between the reader and the author. What meta-fictional works have inspired me? I have no idea. I don't really know what I could fit into that category—maybe Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective or House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski. I didn't ever think of it as meta-fiction. It's more for me—just taking seriously the medium itself. Superheroes aren't real, but they are absolutely real as drawings on paper. They have a history that stretches back to the 1930s, before I was even born. They have a future that stretches out long after I'm gone. I deal with them in the absolute level of reality. What is going on between a reader and an author through the pages of a superhero comic—that contact and the fact that we can create emotions in people. I've taken it very seriously. We're creating these beings on paper, and only on paper can we be assured that they are real.

GR: Goodreads member Derek asks, "I see there are two kinds of Grant Morrison comics: the wild, meta-fictional, and more experimental stuff, and the more mainstream superhero work. I'm curious to know which kind of narrative he enjoys writing the most."

GM: There aren't necessarily two versions. It's a combination of the mainstream work and the more experimental and bizarre. They are blended together. I like the fact that I've learned a lot more about story structure from doing 20-page comics—having an entire story and characters in 20 pages. At the same time I love to break all the rules of storytelling. In Final Crisis we made the actual story about the war between the ink and the white page, getting down to the very basics of it.

GR: Goodreads member Tracey asks, "When [you were] a child, what superheroes were your favorites and which ones inspired your own writing?"

GM: My favorite one was always the Flash, and he's still my favorite. I think the costume was so beautiful; it gave him the body of a runner rather than a muscleman or a strong man, and it made it very graphically appealing. And that was my favorite power. I thought that if I could run at the speed of light, become invisible, and skip across the surface of water like a stone, it would be the perfect ability. I've always loved the Flash, and the thing that interests me is that he is a modern representation of those old gods—Mercury and Hermes, the messenger gods. They're also the gods of writers, so there's something symbolic in there.

GR: Goodreads member Andrew William asks, "Having done defining runs on Batman, and with your return to Superman upcoming, are there any other characters you'd like to work with? Any plans for something with the Flash?"

GM: Yes, I would like to work on the Flash, and I actually do have plans. I've got a take on the Flash that I'd like to do. It almost takes away from the superhero idea. It's a little bit more like Groundhog Day. It would probably take place in its own universe, but so far it's just an idea. It's certainly something I'd like to do in the next couple years.

GR: Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?

GM: Today wasn't necessarily typical. I actually just worked all night on Superman stories for Action Comics and slept briefly. Most days I get up at 8:30 and work all day. Then I'll have dinner and work all night. That's because I've been writing the book over the last 18 months as well as a bunch of Batman and Superman comics and movie screenplays. So it's been quite intense. I'd like to describe a future where I get up at 2 p.m., have my breakfast, and only work for an hour, but that's still to come.

I think the unusual writing habit is sitting there and not moving until I'm done. And usually it's never done because there is another deadline. For me, it's been working late. I remember when I started out as a writer that I could really spend most of the day walking down by the canal, having wonderful thoughts, but these days I'm working on an almost industrial scale. It's good for the imagination.

GR: What authors, books, or ideas have influenced you?

GM: Dennis Potter, the dramatist, was a huge influence on me. He was a BBC writer who did The Singing Detective and Pennies from Heaven. You can see a lot of that influence still in my work, probably even though I try to disguise it these days. Alan Garner, the children's book author who became an adult book author, is my pinnacle of how writing should be. Spare, poetic, gritty kind of style. When I was a child, Enid Blyton was the first author I ever read. I was five years old, and I wanted to be a writer the minute I'd read the children's mystery book she'd written. I haven't read an awful lot of fiction in a long time. I've picked up a couple of books here and there, but mostly I read nonfiction. A lot of my influences go back to my teenage years.

GR: What are you reading now?

GM: I just finished The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker. It's just genius. Basically it takes the seven basic plots that underlie all human stories and shows how they continually appear and reappear. He takes it all the way from the dawn of storytelling, the Greek theater, right up to the existential crisis of 21st-century literature. He shows how the same stories have been told and retold. In the 20th century that basic story began to break down into all kinds of weird forms under the influence of modernism. So that's been fascinating. It's been like a bible to me. It's a really incredible book about something I'm really interested in and excited about.

GR: What is your favorite part of attending Comic-Con?

GM: At Comic-Con the atmosphere is great. I love it because people get to dress up as their favorite superheroes, Japanese manga characters, robots, or monsters. The entire town looks as if it has gone asleep and is having a dream. It's like being in a Fellini film. I always look forward to seeing the streets filled with all manner of bizarre creatures. The ordinary people just look on. I love the nonjudgmental, carnival atmosphere.

GR: Do you ever dress up?

GM: A bald head is disguise enough for me.

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by Angela (new)

Angela Smith Wow... Grant's character The Writer was one of my early writing inspirations ;D I'm def reading this book. What a thrill... I volunteer for any reviews, promotions etc on my blog, Bring back The Writer... he was awesome xox

message 2: by Théocari (new)

Théocari first, thanks for remembering mailing me your August newsletter : I just jumped for pleasure ! ... have just got a wink at this fabulous interview which attracted my attention because the theme of this very cogent dialogue is strongly connected with our world-wide present global economic and financial situation, as it appears at the end of August 2011. but I bet I shall return to talk more about it later on

message 3: by Théocari (new)

Théocari hi ! so, I'm back again to share the thoughts that this interview of Grant Morrison inspired me.
I enjoyed both the author's survey of his gift for writing about superheroes, originating early in his childhood and his writing habits, which help us imagining the writer at his work. the vivid style adds some life to this dialogue, between the author and various Goodreads members who are keen on having Grant Morrison's viewpoint about some topics they find worth discussing. well, I enjoyed it all !

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