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Interviews with Grant MorrisonBarbelith Interviews » Interview with an Umpire
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BY: Even Children's programmes, was much more powerful; The Tomorrow People for example.
GM: Ace of Wands - he was brilliant, he looked like Jerry Cornelius, he was like a magician.
BY: Was he one of the main guys in it?
GM: He was the main guy in it. He had two assistants who solved all these fantastical problems and fought guys from other dimensions and stuff - it was brilliant. It was like Doctor Strange except he was a stage magician.
BY: I have vague memories because I'd watch it as a toddler with my big brother.
GM: Aye. that was a good one. Sky as well.
BY: Sky! Yeah I remember that a little. Getting covered up by leaves or something like that, I seem to remember.
GM: Glastonbury Tor.
BY: Was there some sort of Old Father Time guy in that?
GM: I dunno. But the guy in it was the most bizarrely beautiful human being ever seen.
BY: A really pale blonde guy?
GM: He was just a good-looking guy. Big kinda luscious lips. God knows what happened to him. He was probably taken to prison and given an iron mask.
BY: Is he going to be in Marvel Boy 2? When is that coming out by the way?
GM: Next year.
BY: Is it the first Ultimate title?
GM: Could Be. We'll see what happens. (laughs)
BY: So just if it fits, aye?
GM: Nah, there was always....With S.H.I.E.L.D, you can see all the links.
BY: Well that was it for me. I'd not read many Marvel comics traditionally and when I read Marvel Boy I thought, 'this isn't the Marvel Universe I was expecting' and I thought there had been a sea change and you were almost kinda laying the ground rules. What I noticed in the previous issue of X-Men was small letters, this is really sad, I noticed it was in lower case letters and I thought, 'Ultimization!'
GM: Yeah. It's driving me mad. They keep asking to put on those captions to tell you where you are. But they get them wrong - like, 'The Eurotunnel, Paris'. (laughs)
BY: (laughs) - I didn't know it was that long!
GM: Its from The Authority, y'know. I just don't think they're relevant - I don't understand why it's become so voguish, it's become a house style.
BY: What about thought balloons? What're your opinions?
GM: I like them. I've used them in a lot of different ways but right now people don't like them.
BY: That was Watchmen wasn't it? It was Alan Moore's fault.
GM: No. Bryan Talbot was doing it in 77.
BY: Yeah, okay....I don't rate Luther Arkwright.
GM: I was very young and we were good mates and I just thought it was fantastic.
BY: Yeah I can imagine that but now looking at it as a piece of fiction do you think it holds up?
GM: Ah dunno. I haven't read it for a while. I think it's interesting. I think it stands up as something that created a lot of techniques that people have been using for a long time.
BY: It's just so serious.
GM: It is very serious. It's kinda like one of those albums, what kinda album would it be, 70's...
BY: Its prog-rock isn't it. Rainbow or something.
GM: I think there is a really interesting deviation there because there was the Arts Lab strands and The Arts School strand. And I always felt more, even when I was living here I always hung out at the Art School club and it was why, when I befriended Brendan, I was so excited or when Jamie Hewlett and those guys came along, the Art School Boys. And then with the Arts Lab, which I always felt was people like Bryan Talbot and Alan Moore and I kinda liked them but I always felt there was that prog-rock thing, Dark Side of the Moon element to the whole thing. It was like these earnest bearded actors of the 70s...
BY: This is the generation just ahead of you?
GM: Yeah, of it course it is. I was into punk rock. I used to go to meetings for Near Myths and they'd all be hippies sitting there.
BY: Did you spit on them?
GM: No, I wouldn't. Because I was a very young, quiet (laughs) punk rocker! And so yeah, I like Bryan Talbot's work. It kinda resonated with stuff I was into. He used to freak me out because I didn't drink or take any drugs and I'd sit in these rooms with these hippie guys smoking dope all night until you'd be senseless. (laughs)
BY: Sounds great.
GM: Sounds great now, but back then it was the most appalling thing I could think of, a total anathema. So I never connected in the same way. It was like when I read Strange Days and when I read Deadline I just thought, 'Thank God these people are here. These are the people I have befriended most, or got on with most, or spent most time with.
BY: I mean I had that feeling with stuff that you had done without a doubt. When Zenith started in 2000AD I was like, 'This is just so fuckin' good. It's absolutely brilliant. Y'know, it was superbly plotted, fantastic artwork, great dialogue, it seemed fully formed and I found that quite unusual in way because you'd done a few future shocks or something, as far as I knew anyway-
GM: Zenith had been around for years. So it was ready to go.
BY: To a certain extent you could retro-fit an argument which says it was a premeditated assault on the American industry, in that you wanted to write in America so you wrote about a British Superhero with a huge universe behind him and this was your key into the marketplace. Is that fair to say?
GM: Ach no. It was just that I liked Superheroes. I don't think it was as planned as that. Though obviously with hindsight it seems like a (laughs) brilliant strategy. I was just into superheroes. That was my thing, which is what people find naive about my interest but those are the comics I read. I tried reading Love and Rockets and those kind of things and I tried reading Jimmy Corrigan but it doesn't thrill me. It doesn't give me a buzz.
BY: Jimmy Corrigan, I think I can rate, but I was never into Love and Rockets; the art yeah, but not the stories.
GM: They're good, but again I'd rather just be, I like superhero comics, I don't know what it is. It's just that they press certain buttons, they deal with ideas and when they're good they're best dealt with in that form.
BY: I think in Britain the rejection of the superhero is because they look ridiculous.
GM: That's why from Zenith onwards we just stopped having that y'know. Except when I felt it was fun to bring it back, like in JLA. We needed a dose of it after we'd slipped into trenchcoats and stubble. Those kind of Duran Duran things.
BY: It seems really immature now when you look back at the post-Dark Knight era.
GM: It was always guys hunting down the murderers of transvestites.
BY: Aye!(laughs)
GM: There was a great one - It was some killer guy who had to go in these tranny bars all dressed up and y'know that way when you draw a muscle man and just put tights on it? Y'know it was really suspect and bizarre (laughs) Now that was a typical eighties comic I felt. The guy would be a serial killer who would cut off the faces of trannies and wear them as hats or something. Y'know these stupid fuckin' Silence of the Lambs style motivations.
BY: That's Orlando you're talking about! (the face-wearing killer in The Invisibles)
GM: (laughs) - He was meant to be one of them. One of these daft guys in the serial killer movies where they've got worked out modus operandi and books hidden under the bed and they spend ages cutting you to bits and then make your family watch. It was ridiculous. (laughs)
BY: Yeah. It was ridiculous and I'm glad that all came to an end but the reason Watchmen etc. might have been accepted in Britain at the time was because it was the death of the superhero.
GM: It was because they took the piss out of it. Again, the difference between me and that strand of it, was they really wanted to be taken seriously; it was very important for them to be taken seriously. Deservedly so, the works are really good but I just wanted to talk to people like I said, and to be entertained. I grew up on the Warlock comics and Steve Englehart's Doctor Strange. There's something more freewheeling, probably better drugs, than the kind of plodding stuff which I really got tired of. After I'd seen Strange Days I was so tired. (with everything else)
BY: I found Strange Days myself when Forbidden Planet (in Glasgow) opened; it was in the back issue bins. I saw it and it had Paradax on the cover - I'd read about Paradax and wanted to find it - but this was an older comic. 'Strange Days'. And the colour y'know, I think you said it yourself, the kind of psychedelic flash of acid pink and yellow.
GM: It was just brilliant. Blue and Yellow.
BY: In amongst all the Don McGregor grey shit and you're just like, 'this is awesome! What is this incredible entity in my hand?'
GM: I met Brendan before I'd seen his work. I just got on with him. He came up to me because he liked what I was wearing at the time; the whole thing was basically we liked the pose each other was striking. Then when I read his and Pete's comics I just thought that other stuff couldn't compete for sheer artistry, sheer beauty; it seemed so lumpen and again it was the Arts School versus the Arts Lab and the Art School Boys had it every time. Oasis versus Blur. Blur won it in the end.
BY: I suppose, aye. Never could stand Damon Albarn though.
GM: They're the ones that ended up as long term cult.
BY: Maybe I'm being unfair because these days I've kinda adopted your whole idea of pretension as not being a bad thing. When I was growing up, the whole idea was that pretentiousness was this really bad thing!
GM: You grew up in the court of Louis the fourteenth? (laughs)
BY: (laughs) - I think you'd said, 'What's wrong with pretence?'
GM: I was constantly defensive because I was seen as pretentious and I was really pissed of. I'm not prententious, I'm pretty hard headed.
BY: But we're always pretending.
GM: Yeah. Of course. I began to see, it was the days of Morrissey and Morrissey taught me a lot by saying you could take all your defects and turn it into an aesthetic which is what I was doing at that time and the idea came, 'Yeah, why not be pretentious?'. I used to go to these comic conventions wearing purple velvet frock coats and frilly shirts and leather trousers and people hated me. John Wagner hated me, ' Oh you're so vain, Grant'; I'd be waving a hankie at him, going, 'Don't you just love it John!' (laughs)
BY: John Wagner? He's like a sheriff or something.
GM: Yeah. Talking about being on the sea. Capstans and the ropes. Y'know just waving this lace hankie. It was just a pose for me, I grew up here. You don't fuckin' wave lace hankies here but in the world of comics I could pretend to be that Oscar Wildean pain in the arse.. And I just found it very amusing and liberating. It got me into a lot of trouble. But again, that's the sense of humour that we've not quite talked about yet; people don't get the joke. (laughs). I'm just doing a job that I enjoy but which involves quite a bit of vulgar self-promotion, so...surround yourself with this persona to get people to look at you.
BY: The Pornographic humour in The Filth is hilarious as far as I'm concerned but I think some people would find it distasteful.
GM: Every time I use the word rape in a sentence people freak out. 'Get a life. Go and work in a rape crisis centre and shut up. Do you really care that much cos these are just words that don't have anything to do with real people.' Stuff like that. People are really conservative and very easily offended in a way I've never known before and again in a way it contrasts quite heavily with the comics' community and the general feeling back in the early nineties where irony was very easily understood. Y'know me and Mark Millar used to do the most outrageous interviews and say the most ridiculous things and it was absorbed and accepted and seen to be entertaining as it was intended to be. And now you can't say anything. You mention Osama Bin Laden and someone goes mental. You mention sex; someone goes mental. You bring up any taboo subject and somebody goes mental. I mean you come from Glasgow, you know what people talk about, you know the sick jokes in the pub and that's what I miss: They don't get the joke.
BY: You mentioned Bin Laden. You came up with quite a kind of humorous but also serious response to September 11th on your website. You were talking about strategies to win, basically. To get your enemies to beg for mercy - make friends with your enemies and the whole philosophy behind that and I noticed it didn't stay up very long on the website.
Kristan: It is on the website.
BY: Archived, aye. But I just wondered was here any pressure to remove it because you've got Marvel slapping the twin towers logo onto all their comics and you might have thought, 'I don't want to alienate my readers'?
GM: Yeah. We were getting all kinds of shit coming in. I was called an Arabist by someone!
BY: (laughs)
GM: I don't know what that is! (laughs)
Kristan: There was so much negative response to it that Grant had to write a reply to the critics which is why it was instantly stuck into the archives and the new one was up. It wasn't because of any calls from Marvel. It was actually because about fifty people wrote in some supporting, some very strongly against and threatening all sorts, 'We won't buy your comics again', retailers pulling out, not selling his comics-
BY: 'Ya Arabist!'
Kristan: That was basically what it was.
GM: I wrote this whole thing and I feel that I can't put it up now. I wrote this big thing about the reason that they did it was because DC cancelled The Authority-
BY: (laughs. Actually, almost chokes!)
GM: Bin Laden has discovered these comics and is really excited because it's the only place he can see his dreams acted out on a monthly basis. The landmarks of the western world destroyed.
BY: Has he heard of Marvel Boy at all?
GM: (laughs) - It was all about the man in the Kandahar comic shop where Bin Laden comes to get his comics on a Saturday, usually it'd be for The Authority. So it's Bin Laden saying, 'Unless you reinstate Mark Millar as writer we will have no choice but to attack the West again'....I can't put that up because I feel someone will take offence-
BY: Well The Americans' themselves are now starting to satirise it and laugh about it. It was pretty awesome. I just watched it (the twin tower assault) the other night on this-
GM: Deluxe Edition! (laughs)
BY: (laughs)
Kristan: DVD!
BY: Yeah, a leather bound DVD! - shocking! - but it is almost like that y'know, 'One Year On!' and all this kinda stuff.
Kristan: And it's the wrong week!
BY: (laughs) - yeah it's started early! But it was mad to see it again because they hardly show it. It's incredible really. Did it ground any of the spectacle you've created in your comics? Did it make you think any more about the outrageous acts of mass destruction that you'd created? Or at least your perception of them?
GM: Not so much. I'd already moved on for the X-Men cos I was thinking about this pacifist thing already. Because I'd seen, just purely as a watcher of trends, I'd realised that whole trend for The Authority style punk mass destruction was beginning to wind down and I was thinking, 'What is beyond that? What would be an interesting way to move forward?', and the idea was of rescue workers and that kind o approach came in. So I was already think past that. The destruction of Genosha was supposed to be a farewell to that. What you have is this terrible event of which all kinds of social changes proceed. So that was the way I was thinking anyway. The fact that that issue of the X-Men came out the week before and it has the image of the fist going through the building is just typical. I don't know what everyone else thinks. It seems to have created all kinds of weird comics.
BY: X-Men? Oh sorry, the event, 911?
GM: Yeah.
BY: Did you feel moved to write some heartfelt comment? A lot of comics' writers and artists have responded to the event.
GM: No. Some of them were really good. I thought, "I wish I could've thought of that!' (laughs) No. I just felt I had nothing to say. I wasn't there. All I could do was offer some preposterous eulogy to show off my writing skills, which didn't seem appropriate.
BY: It seemed beyond that kind of interpretation in a way-
GM: I was writing to my friends, 'Are you okay?' - to me that seemed to be the most important thing to be doing.

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