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Friday, 01 May 2009

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Rich Puchalsky

"Because in the end every Grant Morrison story is about Grant Morrison writing stories. "

I haven't read 70% of Morrison's bibliography -- mostly I've read Animal Man, Doom Patrol, and a few smaller Vertigo things -- but that was his formative period. And what I think that you're missing is that writing superhero comics that are about yourself writing stories was transformed by Vertigo into a sort of comics subgenre. It becomes something more than an individual artistic rut; it's more like taking John Le Carre and asking why he doesn't stop writing spy novels.

Even considering it as subgenre, would James Joyce get stuck like that? No. But no one in comics is James Joyce.

But you have to take it seriously that Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison -- three of comics' best writers, I'd say -- all like to do variations of the same thing. That has to turn it into something more than Morrison's individual tic.

Stephen Frug

Hmmm... I like Morrison. This isn't a full defense, but a few random questions:

1) What about We3? That, I think, has to be said as being something other than Morrison writing about Morrison. I lot of people think it's one of his best works (I'd put it on tier two, I think, but it's good (albeit, yeah, sentimental.))

2) What about Morrison's humor? One of the reasons I like Doom Patrol so much is that it's just so damn funny. I mean, the Brotherhood of *Dada*? Holy Dr. Pepper instead of Holy Water?

3) I'm curious if you've read Marc Singer's late, lamented blog (link here: http://notthebeastmaster.typepad.com/weblog/ ). He's one of the best writers on Morrison I know, and I'm curious what you'd make of him.

SF

SEK

...but that was his formative period. And what I think that you're missing is that writing superhero comics that are about yourself writing stories was transformed by Vertigo into a sort of comics subgenre.

I'm not missing that at all: what I'm identifying as a problem is the fact that he seems trapped in that period.

It becomes something more than an individual artistic rut; it's more like taking John Le Carre and asking why he doesn't stop writing spy novels.

Or why he won't stop writing variations of the same spy novel.

But you have to take it seriously that Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison -- three of comics' best writers, I'd say -- all like to do variations of the same thing. That has to turn it into something more than Morrison's individual tic.

They've all explored it, but none so tenaciously (or exclusively) as Morrison. What I've half-written for today addresses this via a comparison between Morrison's Batman R.I.P. and Gaiman's What Ever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Gaiman knows the difference between the story being the story and the story being a story, as with the prelude to Doll's House, for example. The act of storytelling needs foregrounding on occasion, not all occasions. There's a joylessness to reading a Morrison story in which the characters never become more than characters even within their own fiction.

What about We3? That, I think, has to be said as being something other than Morrison writing about Morrison. I lot of people think it's one of his best works

I'm going to address this later, but material like We3 works because it's bounded (the same holds for the first 10 issues of All Star Superman); but when DC gives him the keys to the entire kingdom and he takes it upon himself to tackle every continuity error in all its glorious erroneousness, he spins wildly out of control. I've just started going through that blog---which, damn it, of course I found after it went dark---but I love this:

All this could be forgiven if the series added up to something more than a sheaf of character designs and continuity notes for a story that gets outlined rather than told.

That hints at 1) why academic-oriented comic-folk are attracted to him and 2) why his recent work reads so joyless. But now I'm going to spend the morning reading through Singer's blog. Thanks a lot, Frug! (No, seriously, thanks a lot. Great stuff that is.) One last note:

What about Morrison's humor? One of the reasons I like Doom Patrol so much is that it's just so damn funny. I mean, the Brotherhood of *Dada*? Holy Dr. Pepper instead of Holy Water?

It's disappeared, hasn't it? The Doom Patrol material's damn funny at times, as is Animal Man, but it's also occasionally poignant and moving, and his recent stuff isn't either of those either. In fact, he's far too quick to stuff King Mob-style exposition in Superman's mouth for five panels and that just doesn't work.

Dominic

Seaguy is quite a departure...

SEK

That's one of the ones I wasn't able to put my hands on; that said, even if it's a departure, wouldn't it be a departure from an established late-period Morrison standard? (Because I could very well be wrong, what with 70 not being the same as 100 percent.)

Rich Puchalsky

"They've all explored it, but none so tenaciously (or exclusively) as Morrison. "

My theory, based on Animal Man / Doom Patrol, is that Morrison's problem is with narrative as such. At the end of even a Vertigo run, there's a tying-up gesture. Morrison really isn't about that, so his tying-up gestures end up being escapes into metanarrative. Making it about Morrison writing stories means that it can't end, at least not while he's still writing stories.

Ahistoricality

variations of the same thing.

Like "1001 Arabian Nights," "Chuck Amock" and a dozen other classics. At this point, doing it badly isn't really a sign of distinction.

Rich Puchalsky

Your comment may be a bit too cryptic for me to understand, Ahistoricality, but I think by "variations of the same thing" you're referring back to my mention of the Vertigo syndrome. I don't understand how 1001 Arabian Nights really does this. Do the people in the stories ever Scheherazade ever interrupt or end their stories by themselves acknowledging Scheherazade as their creator? There's a big difference between bumping things up to to the top level (i.e. saying "This is a story, and you're not going to hear the end of it until tomorrow") and making the top level pervade all the others (i.e. having Scheherazade appear within the stories and stories-within-stories, having perhaps a story-within-story end by the character saying "But Scheherazade has pleased the king now, so there's no need for my story to go on -- my life stops here").

There's a difference between a storyteller and a demiurge. The demiurge, in this kind of fiction:

* often appears as a character;
* works out more or less obviously their own writing problems through their characters;
* meditates on their flaws as a creator.

For instance, the Sandman issue where Dr. Dee torments four characters at a diner. Dee is a stand-in for Gaiman, and the issue is about his distaste that the kind of writing that he does requires melodramatic horror (among other things). That's established pretty well by the text itself, his comments on it, and so on, but most certainly by the opening sequence where a waitress muses on what stories she would write about the people there if she were a writer -- she'd give them all happy lives. The rest of the issue implicit says that that would be boring -- or, at least, not suitably dramatic enough for the genre -- and that what people want, or at least all that Gaiman knows how to make them want, is people being tormented. It's really a touchstone issue for the Vertigo writers, I think.

bbass

To what extent can you ignore this if the story works on its own terms, though? It's definitely a tic / recurring motif, but in stuff like the Coyote Passion, it's a story that seems to work on its own terms and is also ridiculously funny, despite the obligatory incorporation of GM as the creator-god of the metafictional universe. Is it just that considered as a whole, GM's body of work can't be "canon" because it keeps harping on this one theme?

Ahistoricality

Rich, I'll have to go back to Dr. Dee at some point, because I don't buy the idea of Dee as standing for Gaiman, at least not without a good second look. I'll say this, though: There's nothing inherently more interesting about Dee's stories than the waitresses; they're really two sides of the same coin.

Wally

I have this half-baked theory that Morrison is Ellis if Ellis had no friends, Gaiman is Morrison if Morrison sat in the corners at parties and didn't get to sleep with all the interesting sensitive girls in black because they were assfucking Alan Moore in the pantry (Moore is Sim if Sim had seen a snake instead of a uterus when he went mad), Ellis is Ennis if he hadn't been beaten as a child...

No.

Actually I have a half-baked theory about the aforementioned Britpunk comics writers' obsessive "coolness == illusion-shattering narrative transcendence" bullshit, with King Mob and the super-white fella from Planetary and Moore's Constantine and the Hunter Semi-Thompson from Transmetropolitan being basically identical embodiments of the same impulse that produces endless variations on the same 'everything is connected' freshman-dorm Illuminatus! knockoff (RAW R.I.P.) and Morrison's disdain for the medium's genre norms, but fuck it, I'm back from a Catholic wedding in Chicago and need to go punch a child, tell you later man.

Martin Wisse

I can't help but feel that much of what Morrison has been doing as a writer working on these big DC universe projects the last five years or so is driven by boredom at the standard superhero story, that his flight into meta-textuality is an escape from having to take Batman seriously as a character. In a way it's similar to Moore's slumming on various Liefeld projects a decade earlier, which also went meta from the start.

His creator owned projects seem to suffer much less from overwhelming metatextuality.

SEK

BBass:

To what extent can you ignore this if the story works on its own terms

Excellent point, and sort of what I was getting at with Animal Man, which did work on its own terms: I don't think we can ignore the meta-fictional elements when the story works, I think we do ignore them (at least to the extent that they don't actively annoy us).

Wally, I'll deal with you shortly.

Martin:

I can't help but feel that much of what Morrison has been doing as a writer working on these big DC universe projects the last five years or so is driven by boredom at the standard superhero story, that his flight into meta-textuality is an escape from having to take Batman seriously as a character. In a way it's similar to Moore's slumming on various Liefeld projects a decade earlier, which also went meta from the start.

I don't think Moore slummed on Supreme: he was genuinely interested in futzing around with Superman more than DC ever let him, so he took the opportunity when Liefeld offered it. (Though I hope the script included specific directions for the number and placement of feet.) Nor do I think Morrison's particularly bored by the genre --- seems more like the opposite, like he's addicted to and regularly overdoses on it. I'm still working on that other Morrison post, though, and I'll address this some more in it.

SJG

You do a pretty good job of describing the varying styles of Morrison's metatextuality. I think you can get to the bottom of his usage of the device by understanding he's a sigil magician. He wrote an article for Disinformation about sigil magic and why it's the best kind of pop-culture/corporate magic. By using his works as a canvas for his sigils, he implants tulpas into the minds of all readers and draws power(or something else?) from them. Usually they are pictographic but can be a repeated succession of words like a mantra. He often describes Invisibles as a hypersigil. The metatexual device is just him describing what he's doing to the reader. He talks about this a bunch in his discussion panels as well.
As to the validity of sigils? I've never tried it, but a great number of western esotericists and occultists throughout the ages have stood by this sort of magic. Buddhist and qigong masters acknowledge it but say that it is a low form of magic, the stuff of ordinary people, but not necessarily demonic or black magic.

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