“Life plus Significance equals Magic.” – Grant Morrison
I think I first became aware of Grant Morrison when he took over New X-men way back in 2001 (was it that long ago already? wow). I didn’t like it. He took my X-men, the X-men I grew up with, and he twisted them into something gritty and dark. I especially just couldn’t stand Frank Quitely’s art, which rendered these superheroes as doughy and wrinkled soft sacks of flesh, rather than the superhuman hardbodies we normally expect. Though, I guess we can’t blame Morrison (the writer) for Quitely’s art.
When it comes to comicbooks, I’ve somehow never really gotten into the habit of keeping track of which writers or artists I like and which I don’t, and which creators have done which storyarcs, or which titles. Apparently, now that I look it up, Grant Morrison is the guy who did New X-men, All-Star Superman, the acclaimed run on Animal Man, and The Invisibles, along with tons of other stuff, both super-major DC (Superman, Batman, JLA) and some Marvel, and more indy / only-in-the-UK stuff. He is not the guy behind “V for Vendetta” (that’s Alan Moore), and he is not the creator of Transmetropolitan, The Authority, and Planetary (that’s Warren Ellis).
Before a few nights ago, I think that more or less all I knew about Grant Morrison was that he is one of those British creators who stand out above the rest (above the Americans) as a particularly eccentric and genius comicbook writer, widely critically acclaimed and very popular among those who prefer an edgier comic – that, and a vague sense that I didn’t like him, though I couldn’t quite recall which things he had done. Of the major British Invasion comicbook writers, I felt that the only one I liked was Neil Gaiman – Neil Gaiman who is dark without being gritty (usually), and infuses magic and fantasy, and a sense of wonder, into everything he writes.
But, after watching “Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods” (available for who knows how long on Hulu), I am a total convert. Grant Morrison is amazing.
[OFF]hrs/Creative is a label for art events organized here in Honolulu by Prof. Jaimey Hamilton, and Jason Faris, mostly at thirtyninehotel, an awesome bar/artspace in Honolulu Chinatown. A few nights ago, OFFhrs hosted a screening of this documentary, and one about Warren Ellis, with the filmmakers present for Q&A and conversation. It was brilliant. My sincere thanks to Jaimey & Jason, to Patrick and Jordan for coming here and for being so personable and friendly and such, and to Gelareh, the owner of thirtyninehotel, for once again allowing the space to be used for awesome art events.
Grant Morrison, it turns out, is a pretty incredible character. First of all, he performs magic. I don’t mean stage illusions. I mean, hypersigils, rituals, communing with the spirits and seeing real effects in the world, magic. His uncle had a serious interest in Aleister Crowley (and the like), and Morrison apparently experimented with it, and found it to be effective, for him. His view of the world, the way he talks about magic, and multiple dimensions, about energies which we choose to make manifest as angels or demons, and about that one time he was abducted by aliens, but speaking about this in the most down-to-earth, pragmatic, practical, rational and sane way, it reminds me of things I was interested in back in high school, or in college – interests which I have allowed to fall by the wayside. But it’s not really about “interests.” It’s about a worldview. It’s about keeping an open mind, and having that creative thought process that Morrison has, that Neil Gaiman has, that allows you to see the world through the lenses of a myriad of myths and legends and traditional beliefs about magic & spirituality, that allows you to peel back the layers of the universe, to see what lies beyond. It’s about knowing and remembering a wide range of mythologies, folklores, fairy tales, and supernatural writings (e.g. Crowley), and actively incorporating these into your understanding of how the world works, and into your everyday life. But where Neil Gaiman’s work often tilts towards stories of supernatural or magical beings, who follow a different set of rules or make up their own rules, who are emotional and fickle, Morrison tilts more towards a “metaphysics of magic” sort of view, in which there aren’t individual personalities – gods, fairies – but rather spiritual energies which can be harnessed through tapping into the zeitgeist, through thought or meditation, or through simple rituals.
And Morrison does all of this without drugs or anything crazy like that. Or at least he did, in his earlier work, and, I gather, perhaps, he does so today, after passing through a spell in the 1990s or so when he did experiment with drugs. But, here’s the point – he’s not a druggie type. He’s a very centered type. He says he didn’t even try alcohol, let alone drugs, until a little later in life (around age 30), and that he first tried these things solely in order to better understand what other people, normal people, experienced in their lives. What their life experiences were. So that he could write stories that more convincingly spoke to real world experiences. Ironic, actually, to speak of “real world experiences,” when what we’re really talking about is real people, in the real world, having real hallucinations, dreams, visions, and other drugs/alcohol-related experiences.
Unlike most comicbook artists, Morrison, for a time, took a very direct involvement or engagement in the world of his comics. He dressed like the comicbook character he based on himself, King Mob, essentially allowing his life to be influenced by the character he himself created, which was originally based on himself to begin with. Is this what they call method acting? He dressed as King Mob, shaved his head, and sort of entered that world, and did some of the kinds of things King Mob would do, went to some of the kinds of places he would go, and in doing so, made the story not just about Morrison’s imagination, his assumptions of what certain experiences would be like, but rather made the story that much more real, for his having lived it. He may have gone too far, however, in tying himself to his character, because when a storyarc had that character falling seriously ill, Morrison found that he, himself, grew seriously ill, and, he claims, nearly died. The visions he experienced while in his sickbed were translated into the comicbook as King Mob’s experiences… And this is hardly the only time that resonances have manifested themselves in his life in this way.
Morrison is an inspiring figure. Like a self-help guru or something. Listening to him is literally inspiring. I feel inspired to do things, to take a new perspective on life. I bought the DVD the other night, because some of the quotes in this documentary are just incredible; and because the film overall is just a wonderfully thought-provoking film. Watching Grant Morrison talk about all the influences and interests that he pulls together into his stories – from magic to quantum physics – as well as all the things he sees or experiences or learns travels all over the world, makes me realize how little my work (my official work, i.e. my research, my scholarship) has anything to do with any of these sorts of ideas, and how little room there is for that in my work. The film makes me want to live a life like Grant Morrison’s, directly engaged in a more creative, open minded, frame of mind, incorporating ideas of magical resonances or parallel dimensions, or my interests in this or that time period or genre of story, anything I might see or learn from any different culture or period in history, traveling not just to Japan, but all around the world and incorporating any or all of that into my work, not just those things strictly related to early modern Japan. It makes me feel like I wish I were more of an artist. Scholars write about conceptualizations of the world, or of life, restricted down to a particular topic within history. We write about the literati ideal, or the Noh concept of yûgen and other sort of spiritual implications of the atmosphere created by a Noh performance, and we do so without the freedom, really, to incorporate anything or everything else in the world that might interest or influence us. We conceptualize these things, and write about them, while artists live them, re-live them, re-create them.
In the film, Grant Morrison says “I think as a writer, in a culture, all you can be is a barometer of that culture, and try and create work which is somehow reflective of all the influences around you. … It just seems to be that you can’t avoid these things and they make patterns.” This comment really spoke to me, and I wish, I really wish, that I could quote this, and cite this in my MA thesis. This is precisely the concept I want to refer to, the concept that I want to call “discourse” even though I really don’t understand what exactly Foucault or any of these other nutters were talking about with their super-big words and unnecessarily complex conceptual theoretical arguments. We cannot know what Hokusai or any other early modern Japanese artist had in mind, what they were thinking, what they were aiming for, what they were intending. But, to use art as a product of a certain culture, to use it as an indication of what people – in general, collectively, or on average – believed or assumed about the world around them, this concept, which I’d like to call “discourse,” as in the discursive impacts of the media, as in ‘heteronormative discourse’ as reinforced by TV, books, school lessons, parents, advertising, is crucial. Essential. Fundamental. Now I guess I just need to find someone else to cite for it, because I don’t think I can get away with citing Grant Morrison.
This is who Grant Morrison is, it would seem. Someone who is not just a brilliant writer. Not hardly a fuck-up who simply wishes to tear down the light and bright and good in our comicbooks to tell gritty stories just because gritty is cool (like a lot of early Image…). But, rather, he is someone who has that rare, amazing gift of taking in all these influences, all these ideas, and understanding them properly – I mean magic, and the complex conceptualizations of how invisible layers, magic, culture, emotion, humanity, all interact – and creating works which go beyond mere stories, but which reflect far deeper understandings, far deeper meaning. Stories which function, perhaps, as a hypersigil, not just reflecting our culture back at us, but pulling the cosmic threads to stimulate the movement of our culture in a particular direction.
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