Time Is a Flat Circle: Intro to Grant Morrison

~ post by Joe T.

SXSW is a mack truck that has pushed, smashed, and run over the the city of Austin; and, now that its tail lights fade into the sunset, I’m left with the realization that I have left far too much work unfinished in its wake. Like this blog. I can be creative and state that I’m just getting into character for this re-read by aping the habits of Grant Morrison, a writer notorious for his tendency to blow deadlines. But that’s really just after-the-fact justification for my innate laziness. With all the good intentions in the world, I am forthwith promising not to miss my deadlines (don’t make promises you can’t keep).

But enough about me and my self-identification with the subject of this piece, let’s talk Grant Morrison!

In 2010 the website Comic Book Resources conducted a readers poll ranking the top 250 Greatest Comic Book Writers of All Time. It is of no surprise if you are aware of the comic books of Alan Moore:Watchmen; V For Vendetta; and From Hell. They dominated the field and came out in first place. What is somewhat surprising is that Grant Morrison came in second with only 20 fewer first place votes than that of Mr. Grumpy-Pants Moore. According to the readers of CBR, not only is Morrison the second greatest comic book writer, he’s also a strong contender for the greatest one who ever lived.

Born in 1960 to working class parents in Glasgow, Scotland, Grant Morrison first started working in the comic book field in 1978, producing the Gideon Stargrave strip which was a not very thinly veiled pastiche of Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius novels. He worked consistently, but most of his time was devoted to touring and recording with his mod-psychedelic punk band The Mixers. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s, when success in the music industry seemed further and further away, that he put away his guitar pick and devoted himself full-time to his comics work.

In the wake of Alan Moore’s success with Marvelman (retitled Miracleman for American audiences), Grant Morrison made his first big splash with artist Steve Yeowell on the title Zenith. An examination of celebrity culture through the lens of super-heroics, Zenith’s almost accidental heroism was really just grist for the promotion of being a pop star. And, with his own star rising, Morrison was hired by DC Comics (the publishers of Superman and Batman) to tackle an obscure z-list character named Animal Man.

Buddy Baker is Animal Man, a superhero with the ability to take on the abilities of animals who are within a certain radius of him. If he needs to fly, he channels a bird; breath underwater, he channels a fish; and so on and so forth. Pretty pedestrian stuff. Grant Morrison, with the assistance of artists Chas Truong and Doug Hazlewood, focused less on world shattering events that only a super-man can prevent and, instead, more on a family man who uses his powers towards the cause of animal rights– something Grant himself was getting involved in. Over the course of 26 issues (just over two years), he created a work that stands the test of time and is one of my favorite comic book stories. Animal Rights, vegetarianism, the growing trend of “grim and gritty” in the comic book industry, and even the responsibility of God towards his creations is tackled in a way that still leaves tears on my face when reading it 25 years later.

By the end of the run, Buddy Baker has realized he was a fictional construct living at the whim of his creator. Angry and heartbroken over the deaths of his family and the other tragedies that have occurred, he travels through a limbo of sorts and comes face to face with Grant Morrison himself. The fourth wall was not just broken but demolished completely.

In reading the book today, one cannot help but look upon Animal Man as the blueprint for everything that Grant Morrison has done since. It was almost a manifesto of sorts.

Concurrently with his work on Animal Man, Morrison explored surrealism and the ideas of Jorge Luis Borges with the unconventional superhero title Doom Patrol. More importantly, in 1989, he published the Batman graphic novel Arkham Asylum with fully painted art by the Sandman cover artist, Dave McKean.

Released at the same time as Tim Burton’s Batman movie, Arkham Asylum benefited from being the newest stand alone Batman graphic novel on the shelves and sold a million copies on release. With a royalty rate that earned him one dollar from every copy sold, Grant Morrison woke up one day to find himself a millionaire and nothing was the same again.

So what does one do when he or she becomes a millionaire? Well obviously you give up being a teetotaler and try every drink and drug imaginable, travel the world, get abducted by aliens in Kathmandu, and write The Invisibles.

Next time on “Time Is a Flat Circle”: The Invisibles Vol. 1, Issue #1, “Dead Beatles.”

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