Posts tagged with ‘grant morrison’
My general reaction to the entire post was: “Grow up. Get over it. Don’t you have better things to do?” Of course this was a no. The whole thing made me evaluate why the fuck I wrote forty something pages about someone who is obviously being a child to another person just being Uncle Scrooge. Like: why waste my breath justifying the actions of a fucking toddler?
The best part is this:
And why wouldn’t Moore want to speak well of comics? His relationship with almost all of his former collaborators are in tatters, comic companies that he believes have exploited him are spraying graffiti over his artistic legacy, the mistreatment of the industry’s great artists is the subject of multiple history books at this point, and that industry’s dominant commercial strategy is to find one, single, super-rich, taste-free continuity obsessive who hates women, surround him in the bed he’s confined to, sink their teeth into his femoral artery, and drink deeply. What’s not to love?
Thanks for this, Abhay. You’ve done us a service. To read the entirety of the thing Calamity Jon has posted it.
This panel right here is why HAPPY #1 by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson is lovely.
In the fifth issue, a kind of Prometheus-myth allegory, “The Coyote Gospel,” we open on a Wile. E. Coyote-type character as he falls off a cliff after being foiled once again by the Road Runner, but this time the coyote falls into “our” reality smashing end from end against the cliff, breaking limb after limb and even settling with the trademarked dust cloud upon landing on the ground. In this issue a few things change: Morrison goes from aping Alan Moore’s style of storytelling, which usually focuses on a real-life issue (in this case: animal rights) and makes use of grave-narrative captions and internal monologues. In the fifth issue, Morrison moves away from this manner of storytelling, replacing Moore’s style with an omniscient narrator; and even though the tone is very serious, the pictures within the book are absurd. This gives Timothy Callahan the idea that Morrison is an absurdist, and engages against Alan Moore who is an ironist (Callahan 70).
This change of approach adds pathos to the Coyote character, and it certainly tied into a Moore-like animal-rights theme of the first storytelling arc, but Morrison goes in another direction entirely. In this single issue, Crafty the Coyote, confronts the “God” of his universe, “[whom] we see only parts of: gingham pants, short-sleeved shirt, wrist watch, and paintbrush. Crafty challenges this ‘God’ to end the suffering and violence in his world and offers his own life in trade for the peace he desires. The bargain causes Crafty to be reborn in Buddy Baker’s world as a flesh-and-blood creature.” (71)
The story is basically one of Crafty wandering around in Animal Man’s world, wrapping up with a trucker who witnesses Crafty in all of his cartoonish glory and thinks the coyote is a demon of some kind. So the trucker crafts a silver bullet from his crucifix to gun down the hapless cartoon character. The trucker shoots Crafty just before Animal Man arrives on the scene. There is Crafty, arms outstretched in a Christ-on-the-Cross figure, being held by Animal Man, and he gives him a note, entitled “The Gospel According to Crafty,” which says, “While he lived, there still remained hope that one day, he might return. And on that day overthrow the tyrant God. And build a better world.” However, Buddy can’t read the note—all he sees are lines of gibberish with no words, and as we pan out of the death scene we see in the final fourth panel—the hand that paints the scene with a brush.
This is just the beginning of Buddy Baker’s journey to meet his maker and realize his place in the universe. By the end of the series, Baker meets Morrison and asks him why he’s been putting the character through this terrible ordeal, just as Crafty the Coyote did. Animal Man #5 is the first instance of the Morrisonian trope that would make him popular among readers; the commentary on the creation meeting the creator and the creator himself or herself becoming a part of the fictional world, creating an internal magic of the self made into a fiction suit. A fiction suit is something Morrison often refers to as a way a writer puts himself into the story, essentially making the writer a character within the fictional narrative. The idea behind it runs similar to an astronaut’s space suit (Morrison 117). Morrison uses this concept of the fiction suit on a regular basis in his seminal comic book piece, The Invisibles.
The other magic that Morrison makes use of, along the positive idealistic principles championed by Pico and his contemporaries like Trithemius and Agrippa, is in his process for sigils, which I will explain further down. “The magical system” Borchardt writes, “even at most idealistic among the Italians before Trithemius and certainly at its most hazardously practical in the writings of Agrippa before him, proceeds ‘positively,’ ‘affirmatively.’ Study leads to knowledge and, by stages, to power and miracle.” (69) Positive magic is something that Morrison exemplifies at every turn. The practice he is known for, for actualizing creation, is in sigils. The process is, well, eclectic.
The method Morrison uses that conjures prediction is derived from an article in the futurist magazine Towards 2012 written by Iain Spence, which gives a brief overview of his book entitled the Sekhmet Hypothesis: The Signals of the Beginning of a New Identity. Here we enter very speculative territory. Morrison writes, “Sunspot activity follows a twenty-two year cyclical pattern, building to a period of furious activity known as the solar maximum, then calming down for the solar minimum. Every eleven years, the solar magnetic field also undergoes a polarity reversal.” (301) It’s because of this change that cultural trends shift, “like a desert wind carving the shape of its passage into the dunes of fashion, art, and music.” As we shift between the two maximum states, we go from one pole —say, a punk character— to its opposite—say, the hippie.
“In 1955, when our planet was bombarded by cycle-19 solar magnetic waves, young people in the West responded like needles in a groove with rock ‘n’ roll.” (302) This gave way to the Silver Age of comic books with crew cuts and “chemicals and lightning that could have been a song for a band. ” Morrison attributes Barry Allen’s transformation into the Flash to this moment in history. Eleven years later, things tipped the other way, towards the cosmic and psychedelic: “In 1966, the cosmic wave entered the comics, to bring with it the gods of Thor, villains like the Anti-Matter Man, and John Broome’s psychedelic Flash stories. The new heroes were anti-establishment ‘freaks’ and mutants.” (302) What Morrison is talking about here is in the sunspot activity that shifts every eleven years; cultural trends change between the orderly crew-cut nature at the dawn of the Silver Age of comics. The embodiment of that age was Barry Allen, the Kabbalah-like Flash who is blond-haired, blue-eyed, and a police scientist who could run faster than the speed of light. When things changed in 1966, Stan Lee’s socially aware Marvel Comics grew in popularity alongside the civil rights movement. These were the anti-establishment “freaks and mutants” as Morrison says, like the X-Men and Iron Man.
How does this astrological indexing of cultural history connect with the teachings of Pico della Mirandola? Borchardt writes that magic has always been a part of popular culture:
Every indication suggests that conjuring and prognostication have always been a part of the European scene, as they are of most cultures, that fortune tellers and potion brewers as a class have very much more in common with their counterparts in other times and places than they have unique and specifying characteristics. (Borchardt 61).
This concept of conjuring and fortune-telling is something that has been handed down through the European generations and has a rich history from at least as far back as Pico.
In this case, Morrison, as a humanist, reinvents ancient wisdom to be redeployed in his art, something Borchart says is important in Pico’s Renaissance magic: “What makes Renaissance magic a Renaissance phenomenon is, at least in part, its share in the humanists’ compulsion to return to the sources, the claim to have rediscovered, restored and drunk at the lost and forgotten spring of ancient wisdom.” (62).
This comes through in Animal Man, the very first series Morrison worked on in American comics.
Kabbalah is really the system that we can sink our teeth into regarding Morrison and Pico. Sheila Rabin, in Dougherty’s text presenting new essays on Pico, explores this idea. “Rabin carefully explores Pico’s views on the relationship between natural magic and Kabbalah, examining Pico’s explicit claim that magic requires an annexation to Kabbalah [in order] to be efficacious.” (Dougherty 9). Pico began studying the Kabbalah form with Marsilio Ficino while in Perugia, and it helped to complete his syncretic thought in the sense that it was always his intention to approach a topic from many different angles.
Laura Sneddon, a University of Dundee Comics Studies student, interviewed Morrison for the United Kingdom magazine, The Independent. There, he admits that he used the Kabbalistic symbol of the lightning bolt while writing Supergods.
I embedded even deeper in it this Kabbalistic thing, where the whole metaphor of the lightning bolt began to be really significant because I noticed that in every age of superhero comics, throughout the transformation of superheroes, there’s a hero with a lightning bolt. You know, if it’s not the Flash, it’s Marvel Man, it’s connected to the original lightning bolt motif and the lightning bolt is the same thing that the Kabbalah talks about, this thing called the lightning flash which is the magician’s path along the Kabbalistic Tree of Life structure. And, put simply, the lightning flash is the instant connection between the divine and the material. And so I thought, there’s something here, about how comics work and the idea of these energies that once would have been called Gods but are now dressed up like Superman and the Flash and Iron Man and that notion of the flash of lightning. His whole book has this embedded structure of the lightning flash touching each of the ten sephiroth of the Kabbalah. Not to wander into too much territory that Bukatman would sneer at, but the allusion Morrison is making is on the surface level a distinction that super heroes are mythological gods reinvented. Superman is Apollo, god of Sun; Batman is Hades, god of the underworld; Wonder Woman is Athena, and so on. However, Morrison gives us a cue to delve further into Kabbalah and how it relates to Pico in the ten sephirot. In Kabbalah, the ten sephirot are beings that the Creator dispatches in creating the universe. They exist to distribute the will of the Creator, according to Yechiel Bar-Lev (The Song of Soul 73).
The Kabbalistic Tree of Life that Morrison is referring to, which takes the form of the lightning bolt, becomes an instant allegory for the symbol The Flash wears. For each of these ten sephiroth, we can cite examples of superheroes. While that can set us up for the criticism that we are treating superheroes as religious allegories, that notion is in fact there, and Morrison utilizes it in his autobiography and in his history of the medium. The Kabbalistic principles are just the beginning of the similarities that confirm Morrison as a syncretic. Frank Borchardt, in his article “The Magus as Renaissance Man” writes about Pico’s relationship with Kabbalah:
Since Pico was one of the handful of other Christian Hebraists and Cabalists active at the time, we can safely assume that their [Johannes Reuchlin] common interests played some part of the in the meeting. Reuchlin, in any case, knew and profoundly respected the works of Pico and cabalistic writing which Pico had translated from the Hebrew. (Borchardt 62)
Morrison decorates his house with passages from Kabbalah texts, texts that Pico probably translated. In a Rolling Stone interview, Morrison’s house is described as being a part of the “millionaire row,” a suburb of Glasgow.
“The latter implies that a magus, the moment he applied his knowledge to conjure spirits or predict the course of events or try to influence them, forfeited his credentials as a Renaissance magician.” (Borchardt 60) Morrison is an idealist, but his forays into magic are for the sake of creation, to create a symbolic meaning that he integrates into his work. On the surface, this practice appears selfish, but not because he is using this formula to gain a higher understanding; by putting it into comic book form; rather, he is creating an alchemical literature that introduces the reader to a higher form of creativity.
The point of this thesis is to connect the study of comic books, specifically superhero comics, to something that has deep philosophical roots. These roots give new meaning to a literary and philosophical renaissance currently taking place within comics, spearheaded by Morrison. By saying Pico’s Oration is a major influence, Morrison is bridging the gap between a seminal piece of Renaissance thinking and a modern form of expression. Morrison opens the floor to discussion of Pico in conjunction with the study of graphic narrative and so includes the entire medium. In the conclusion to Supergods, Morrison writes that he drew his work from Pico.
Pico’s Oration on the Dignity of Man is still regarded as the foundation stone of the “humanist” movement that strove to cast off the manacles of Church dogma, locked in place since the founding of St. Peter’s Basilica in AD 324, but for all its status as a humanist manifesto, the Oration is without a doubt urging us to reach far beyond the human, into the realms of angels and gods. It asks us to accept the superhuman as an undeniable fact of our nature, and the goal of our future evolution as people. (Morrison 414)
What Morrison is talking about, the push he makes in All-Star Superman, is the capability of a human being to live up to the highest ideals and to raise oneself to a higher order. The journey Superman goes on in the book is about his living up to his ideals and trying to permanently affect the lives of the people he has sworn to protect, even after he passes away. By living up to the highest humanistic ideological standard, Superman stands as a symbol for what humans are capable of if we live up to our core values. To live up to our ideals, which implicitly come from something higher than ourselves, means we attain the ability to become better. Superman does this with Lois Lane, when he gives her a potion and a suit that allow her to mimic his abilities for twenty-four hours, thus giving Lane the ability to see the world from his unique perspective. He does this again with Lex Luthor at the end of the series. This is the central theme within All-Star: that humans can ascend to a higher plane of existence if they embrace their core ideals. Morrison believes that Pico’s Oration details the core of Renaissance thought. In comic books, we can imagine whole worlds and build relationships amongst extraordinary beings and connect with them on a human level, and by creating these things we are able to do what God did.
The number of similarities between Pico’s beliefs and Morrison’s is large: both believe in magic that enhances man’s dignity and strengthens his will; the Oration provides a model for mankind’s ascent to a higher level of being; a higher consciousness is central to Morrison’s themes. Both are heavily influenced by Kabbalah; Pico is regarded as a syncretic, and, in a way that is parallel, as a comics writer Morrison is known for his style that is perfectly in step with his varied artistic partners. In this way, he never lets his tendencies as an individual get in the way of art, and by association the art tells the story he is attempting.
[More excerpts from my thesis: “All-Star Grant Morrison: Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Twenty-first Century Comics.” This may go on all summer, so please let me know if this is annoying you and I’ll stop. In the meantime, check out the Table of Contents.]
Since his first major work, for the following twenty-five years of his career, Morrison has written more creator-owned books than any of his contemporaries, and has provided memorable runs on the biggest corporately-owned superhero characters in comics from the Justice League, to Superman, Batman, and the X-Men. His work has been so intriguing that he has been the focus of three academic worksand a documentary. University of Massachusetts at Amherst English Professor Timothy Callahan’s book, Grant Morrison: The Early Years, establishes a discussion of the Scottish writer’s early work and how it grew from the pages of 2000AD and thrust him onto the American comic book shore with his best-selling Batman: Arkham Asylum and Animal Man. Callahan takes us right up to Morrison’s career in the mid-1990s where Patrick Meaney picks up the ball and runs with it in his book Our Sentence is Up, which studies Morrison’s masterpiece The Invisibles on an issue-by-issue basis. Both Meaney and Callahan’s works give us a view of Morrison’s talents, but the critical narrative previously ran out with Meaney’s work, which only focuses on The Invisibles, a series that ended in 2000.
What this essay will do is pick up where Meaney left off and discuss Morrison’s twenty-first century work, specifically focusing on his seminal run on All-Star Superman. We will do it with a focus on Renaissance philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, whom Morrison discusses at length in his autobiography Supergods as a seminal ingredient in all of his work. My intent is to show how Morrison uses the principles of Pico’s Oration on the Dignity of Man in his current work. Callahan brings us the early stages of Morrison’s career, where he largely worked with lower class (serf-like) characters like Animal Man and the freakish team of biological rejects called the Doom Patrol. Meaney examines Morrison’s most celebrated work, The Invisibles, which establishes the model that Morrison likes to work with. Following the end of The Invisibles, Morrison goes on to write forty-two issues of X-Men from May 2001 to March 2004, and provides what is largely seen as the best Superman story of the twenty-first century in All-Star Superman which ended its twelve issues in 2009. His artist is Frank Quitely, who is known for a high level of detail. We will conclude this chain in his historical autobiography Supergods and his rebooting of the comic that started the superhero movement, Action Comics, in September 2011.
Serious scholarship includes Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester’s thorough A Comics Studies Reader, which features essays from Charles Hatfield, W.J.T. Mitchell, and M. Thomas Inge. The great point of this book is that it serves as an excellent primer for introducing concepts serious comics scholars are grappling with. The only shortcoming is that besides an essay by Peter Coogan, it spends very little time discussing superheroes, and one would think that a reader involving comics studies would cover all of the ground as sufficiently as possible. Rather than focusing on the distinct genres within comics, the editors divide the book by aesthetic and technical considerations: Craft, Art, and Form; Culture, Narrative, and Identity; Scrutiny and Evaluation.
There are a few notable and interesting pieces in the reader, but none that are particularly useful for the present essay. Inge gives us the story of Peanuts creator Charles Schultz and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Schultz, who grew up like Fitzgerald in St. Paul, Minnesota, was affected by Fitzgerald and admired him. Mitchell discusses the form of the comic book and how it need not be compared or utilized by other forms of mixed media narrative (specifically film) when discussing comic books because they are not like anything else.
“Gary Trudeau’s anti-cinematic, talky cartoon sequences in Doonesbury defy the normal privileging of the visual image as the place ‘where the action is’ on the cartoon page,” Mitchell writes in the Reader’s selection “Beyond Comparison” from Mitchell’s book Picture Theory (University of Chicago Press, 1994).
Mitchell does an excellent job of discussing the nature of Picture Theory as it relates to comics in this paragraph, going from the newspaper strip (Doonesbury) to Maus to the The Dark Knight Returns:
“Postmodern cartoon novels like Maus and The Dark Knight [Returns] employ a wide range of complex and self-reflective techniques. Maus attenuates visual access to its narrative by thickening its frame story (the dialogue of a holocaust survivor and his son is conspicuously uncinematic in its emphasis on speech) and by veiling the human body at all levels of the visual narrative with the figures of animals (Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Poles are pigs. The Dark Knight, by contrast, is highly cinematic and televisual, employing the full repertoire of motion picture and video rhetoric while continually breaking frames and foregrounding the apparatus of visual representation.” (Heer 117)
Mitchell takes a New Critical approach to comics. He focuses on the aesthetic elements: the dialogue, the panel structure, and the difference in genre (one non-fiction and superhero) giving us a view of two disparate genres in the medium. This is, however, using a literary-critical method on comics, and since comic books are not entirely literature nor pure art, taking a sole method of criticism and applying it to the medium is not going far enough. Though one might say that the critical methods employed depend on the academic background of the critic. A step further, however, would be a suggestion of using a method specific to comics that is a wholly original form of critical discussion.
A Comics Studies Reader does, however, serve as a primer for further reading of these authors in their books, particularly Inge’s Comics as Culture and Hatfield’s Alternative Comics. Inge’s work is a 1990 text that is somewhat outdated, but still a useful work of criticism. This book provides a reason why the study of comics is an important activity. In the introduction, Inge writes: “Comics serve as revealing reflectors of popular attitudes, tastes, and mores.” He discusses how comics have grown from long-distant stories of our historical culture: Dick Tracy was inspired by Sherlock Holmes and “Flash Gordon, Prince Valiant, Captain Marvel and the Fantastic Four draw on the heroic tradition to which Hercules, Samson, King Arthur, Beowulf, Davy Crockett and Paul Bunyan belong.” (Inge, xiv). Inge spends much of the text discussing the cultural roots of comics and gives a very complete look at how they became a twentieth-century cultural icon.
Spoilers beware: in the comic, Ozymandias’s quest to end the Cold War comes to fruition with his hatching a giant squid and dropping it on Manhattan, causing the populace to have such a mental breakdown that millions of Manhattanites die from psychic heart attacks. In the movie, energy-based Dr. Manhattan, played by Billy Crudup, has the ability to liquidate any form of matter. Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) manipulates him to create an engine of renewable energy based on Manhattan’s unique energy signature. Instead, Ozymandias uses the engine as a way to ignite a Hiroshima-sized explosion in Manhattan. The result is the same in both works: an attack so devastating that it unites Russia and the U.S. to form a relief effort, which effectively ends the Cold War.
In film there is a desire to make these comic book adaptations as realistic as possible, a hang-up that is counter-intuitive to comics. Dropping a giant squid that kills millions of New Yorkers in a film would lead to mass audience rejection and poor receipts. (It didn’t help anything, as the film adaptation was a fiscal and critical flop, whereas the book is widely considered to be one of the best works of literature in the twentieth century). Yet that giant cephalopod makes up a distinct aspect of what makes Watchmen a comic book—it is not restricted by a need to be realistic. Moore’s modus operandi, oddly enough, is to make comics’ characters more realistic than their predecessors, Moore wants these colorful characters to be deeply flawed people, which is a belief that Grant Morrison—writing in his memoir Supergods—abhors.