Grant Morrison, earlier this year
by Laura Sneddon
Over the last few weeks, my good friend Pádraig Ó Méalóid has been writing a series of articles about Alan Moore and Superfolks, which became an edgeways look at the long running friction between Moore and fellow writer, Grant Morrison. While Moore has previously spoken out about his thoughts on Morrison in various interviews, Morrison has generally kept quiet on the issue. There have been occasional barbs of course, and plenty of praise, but very little on the actual facts of the matter.
The popularity of Pádraig’s articles perhaps suggests there is a demand for such information however, and many of the comments certainly demonstrate a lack of adequate knowledge of the facts. Now who could possibly shine a light on this topic…? Ah, hang on, I know just the fella.
Behold then, a remix edition of Alan Moore and Superfolks Part 3: The Strange Case of Grant Morrison and Alan Moore, where we cut and splice the original article – with Pádraig’s blessing I hasten to add! – with Grant Morrison’s own voice. Some bright hard fact-saliva, as one man would put it, and it is sorely needed. Whatever your stance on Moore, Morrison-bashing is rather rife, and quite unfair when you are aware of both sides of the story.
As to my own credentials, I have interviewed both men more than once in the past, and enjoy many of the works of both, but have had very different experiences with the two men on both a personal and professional level. I freely admit then my bias towards Morrison, as Pádraig does for Moore. But enough of me, let’s get on with the remix. All Grant’s words are in red font for ease of reading:
Hope the following rather massive info-dump helps clarify a few things. I also hope this may explain why I’ve sometimes felt myself to be the victim of a genuine grudge that seems quite staggering in its sincerity and longevity. Reading the comments section following “The Strange Case of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison” I can’t help but note how heavily my detractors rely on a total lack of research, gross distortions of historical fact, and playground name-calling to support their alleged points.
Not that I expect this to make much difference but the opportunity to separate fact from fantasy is a welcome one. Pádraig quotes from Alan Moore discussing me during a webchat earlier this year without challenging even the most obvious and basic of the many historical inaccuracies and contradictions in Moore’s assertions. In fact, Moore’s recollections are completely unreliable and I wouldn’t mind having some facts put on record, once and for all.
Thanks to Pádraig for allowing me to respond directly to his piece and to Laura for bringing it to my attention and offering me space on The Beat to get some things off my medal-heavy chest.
Originally, when I set out to look into the various allegations about Alan Moore and Robert Mayer’s Superfolks, I thought it was going to be a comparatively straightforward piece to write. Just read the book, find out what people had said, and attempt to match the two of them up together. What could be easier, I asked myself? Ten thousand words and nearly a year later, I find that I could not have been more wrong. However, doing the research is at least half the fun, I’ve always said. Much of the fascination of writing about things like this is that you never know what you’re going to find out. And one of the things that I found out was that I really needed to know more about the animosity between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, as it seemed to be a constantly recurring aspect of the story of Moore and Superfolks.
So, to go back to where I started, back to the beginning of the piece called Alan Moore and Superfolks: Part 1 – The Case for the Prosecution, there’s that piece from Grant Morrison’s Drivel column in Speakeasy #111 (July 1990), where he talks about reading Superfolks, and makes it really quite clear that he thinks – or pretends to think – that Alan Moore plundered the book for ideas. But this isn’t by any means the beginning of their – for want of a better word – relationship.
But what is the beginning of that relationship? There are two different versions of this, depending on who you listen to.
Not entirely. One “version” is supported by incontrovertible facts and verifiable research. The other relies on demonstrable errors. Beginning with the latter -
So, first there’s Alan Moore’s version of events, which I’ve transcribed from the webchat he did for the Harvey Pekar statue Kickstarter. One of the questioners asked,
You are somewhat surprisingly not the only acclaimed comics writer from the UK to also be a vocal magician. Obviously I’m talking about Grant Morrison here, who has never been terribly shy about his views on you or your work. Can we possibly draw you out on your views of him and his work?
To which Moore replied,
Well, let me see… The reason I haven’t spoken about Grant Morrison generally is because I’m not very interested in him, and I don’t really want to get involved with a writer of his calibre in some sort of squabble. But, for the record, since you asked: the first time I met him, he was an aspiring comics writer from Glasgow, I was up there doing a signing or something. They asked if I could perhaps – if they could invite a local comics writer who was a big admirer of mine along to the dinner. So I said yeah. This was I think the only time that I met him to speak to. He said how much he admired my work, how it had inspired him to want to be a comics writer. And I wished him the best of luck, I told him I’d look out for his work. When I saw that work in 2000 AD I thought ‘Well, this seems as if it’s a bit of a cross between Captain Britain and Marvelman, but that’s probably something that he’ll grow out of.’ -
Let’s start with “an aspiring writer…”
The usually well-informed Moore’s grasp of the facts is a little shaky here but the truth is well documented and, as can be quickly verified, my first professionally published comic book work “Time Is A Four-Letter Word” appeared in the independent adult sci-fi comic “Near Myths” in October 1978 (written and drawn by me, the story was/is, amusingly enough, based around the simultaneity of time concept Alan Moore himself is so fond of these days and which informs his in-progress novel “Jerusalem”). By 1979, I was also contributing stories on a regular basis to DC Thomson’s ‘Starblazer’ series and I’d begun a three year stint writing and drawing ‘Captain Clyde’, a weekly half-page newspaper strip about a lo-fi “realistic” Glasgow superhero. “Captain Clyde” ran in three newspapers. I was even a guest on panels at comics conventions.
In October 1978, Alan Moore had sold one illustration – a drawing of Elvis Costello to NME – and had not yet achieved any recognition in the comics business. In 1979, he was doing unpaid humour cartoons for the underground paper “The Back Street Bugle”. I didn’t read his name in a byline until 1982, by which time I’d been a professional writer for almost five years. Using the miracle of computer technology, you can verify any of these dates right now, if you choose to.
It’s true that Moore’s work in “Warrior” and “The Daredevils”, combined with the rising excitement of the early ’80s comics boom in Britain, galvanized me into refocusing and taking my existing comics career more seriously at a time (1982) when the music career I’d tried to pursue was spinning in circles but I hope even the most devoted of his readers might understand why I’ve grown tired of the widely-accepted, continually-reinforced belief that Moore’s work either predated my own or that he inspired or encouraged me to enter the comics field when it’s hardly a chore to fact-check the relevant publication dates.
So I’ll repeat until maybe one day it sticks; I was already a professional writer/artist in the late ’70s, doing work-for-hire at DC Thomson alongside “creator-owned” sci-fi and superhero comics. This was at the same time as people like Bryan Talbot, Peter Milligan, Brendan McCarthy, and Brett Ewins, making us some of the earliest exemplars of the British new wave. If Alan Moore had never come along, if he’d given up halfway through his ground-breaking turn on “St. Pancras Panda”, we would all still have written and drawn our comics. We published our own fanzines, and small press outlets were popping up everywhere. “2000 AD” was at a peak. Marvel UK was in a period of expansion and innovation. I’d already submitted art and story samples several times to both DC and Marvel, along with a pitch for a crossover entitled “Second Coming” to DC’s New Talent Programme in 1982. I was on the files and I didn’t stop angling for work. DC would have found all of us, with or without Alan Moore, who seems curiously unable or unwilling to acknowledge that he was part of a spontaneous movement not its driving force or sole font of creativity.
- It was on that basis that I recommended him to Karen Berger when she was starting [indecipherable speech – Vertigo?]. -
It’s hard not to be a little insulted by Moore’s comments that he recommended me to Karen Berger for, what he has described on more than one occasion, and with a fairly extravagant degree of solipsistic self-regard, as a “proposed Alan Moore farm with Vertigo Comics”, seemingly unable to imagine veteran writers like Peter Milligan, me and others as anything more than extensions of his own self-image. See here-
- or here -
However, as five minutes research will confirm, the Vertigo imprint was established in 1993, by which time Alan Moore had fallen out with DC over the “For Mature Readers” ratings system and quit doing new work for them (I believe his split with DC occurred in 1987). I had already been working there for six years doing “Animal Man”, “Doom Patrol”, “Arkham Asylum”, “Gothic”, “Hellblazer” and “Kid Eternity”. I had a good relationship with Karen Berger and was a fairly obvious choice for her to call when she conceived the Vertigo imprint. No other recommendation was necessary. It ought to go without saying that none of us were told to write like Alan Moore – nor did we – and that this is an out-and-out lie.
Far more significantly, much of the material that fed into early Vertigo was originated by the creators and by Editor Art Young for the proposed Touchmark imprint of creator-owned adult comics he’d been assigned to put together under the aegis of Disney, of all things. Coincidentally gay-themed series like Peter Milligan’s “Enigma” and my own “Sebastian 0″ – which actually grew out of a pitch for a revamp of IPC’s “Janus Stark” character – were commissioned by Art for publication at Touchmark, not by Karen Berger. When Touchmark experienced a failure to launch, Art was re-hired by DC and brought his portfolio of projects to Vertigo. At no point was Alan Moore involved in any of this.
Again, why the fibs, other than to reinforce once more the fantasy of me – and indeed every other Vertigo writer – in a junior or subordinate position to himself?
As Moore points out, the work I did on “Zenith” 25 years ago can trace a little – not all – of its influence to “Marvelman” and “Captain Britain” both of which I loved; my own introduction to the first volume of “Zenith”, published in 1988, admits as much, while also listing the book’s many other touchstones.
- Then there started a kind of, a strange campaign of things in fanzines where he was expressing his opinions of me, as you put it. He later explained this as saying that when he started writing, he felt that he wasn’t famous enough, and that a good way of becoming famous would be to say nasty things about me. Which I suppose is a tactic – although not one that, of course, I’m likely to appreciate. So at that point I decided, after I’d seen a couple of his things and they seemed incredibly derivative, I just decided to stop bothering reading his work. And that’s largely sort of proven successful. But, there still seems to be this kind of [indecipherable speech] that I know. -
I don’t believe I ever tried to get “famous” by insulting Alan Moore. It doesn’t seem the most likely route to celebrity.
The commercial work I was doing in the early 1980s wasn’t much like the kind of material I wrote and drew for myself, or for indie publication. To get work with Marvel UK and “2000AD” I suppressed my esoteric and surrealist tendencies and tried to imitate popular styles – in order to secure paying jobs in the comics mainstream. There is a reason those pieces were written in a vaguely Alan Moore-ish style and it’s because I was trying to sell to companies who thought Moore was the sine qua non of the bees knees and those stories were my take on what I figured they were looking for. I also did a good Chris Claremont and a semi-passable Douglas Adams. My personal work from the same time is written in a very different style, and is more in the vein of ‘Doom Patrol’ or ‘The Invisibles’. You don’t have to take my word for this: it can be verified by looking at the ‘Near Myths’ material or stuff like the “Famine” strip in “Food For Thought” from 1985. It can even be gleaned by looking at the clear difference between the first four “Animal Man” issues and the fifth – “The Coyote Gospel” story Pádraig mentions – and subsequent issues.
Doing my own approximation of the “in” style to get gigs on Marvel UK books was, I thought, a demonstration of my range, versatility and adaptability to trends, not the declaration of some singular influence it has subsequently been distorted into over four decades – mostly by Alan Moore and his supporters, in what can sometimes feel like a never-ending campaign to undermine my personal achievements and successes and to cast me, at all times, in a subsidiary role to the Master.
Furthermore to suggest, as Moore does, that subsequent work of mine, including the balance of “Animal Man”, “Doom Patrol”, “Flex Mentallo”, “JLA”, “The Invisibles”, “New X-Men”, “Seven Soldiers”, “Batman”, “All-Star Superman” etc. was equally indebted to “Captain Britain” and “Marvelman” means either one of two things: that he’s read the work in question and is again deliberately distorting the facts for reasons known only to himself – or that he hasn’t read it at all, in which case he’s in no position to comment surely?
(I do know that Alan Moore has read a lot more of my work than he pretends to – one of his former collaborators quite innocently revealed as much to me a few years ago, confirming my own suspicions – but until Moore himself comes clean about it that will have to remain in the realm of hearsay.)
- And, as far as I know, he’s the only bone of contention between me and Michael Moorcock. Michael Moorcock is a sweet sweet man – I believe he has only ever written one letter of complain to a publisher over the appropriation of his work, that was to DC Comics over Grant Morrison, so the only bone of contention between me and Michael Moorcock is which of us Grant Morrison is ripping off the most. I say that it’s Michael Moorcock, he says it’s me. We’ve nearly come to blows over it, but I’m reluctant to let it go that far, because, I’m probably more nimble than Moorcock – I’ve got a few years on him, I’m probably faster, but Moorcock is huge, he’s like a bear. He could just like take my arm off with one sweep of his paw, so we’ll let that go undecided for the moment. But, those are pretty much my thoughts on Grant Morrison, and hopefully now I’ve explained that I won’t have to mention his name again.
Why would he feel qualified, on the basis of the “couple” of things of mine he claims to have read a long time ago, to insist that not only do I rip him off on a regular basis but his friend Michael Moorcock too? Can anyone tell me from which Michael Moorcock novels “Zenith” and “Animal Man” were plagiarized? (And if Moorcock made any complaints to DC in the ’90s, I never heard about them. I had no idea there was any beef with Moorcock until Pop Image’s Jonathan Ellis drew my attention to it in 2004).
As an important aside in this discussion, Moorcock’s spurious allegations of creative theft are based on exactly TEN pages of material in issues 17-19 of “The Invisibles”. These pages were explicitly presented as a Moorcock pastiche – or more strictly a pastiche of my own Gideon Stargrave stories from “Near Myths”, which were heavily but not entirely influenced by Moorcock and J.G Ballard – occurring in the head of the fictional character King Mob. King Mob actually talks about his obsession with Jerry Cornelius within the story and I reference Moorcock’s work as an inspiration for these pages in the letters column of issue 17.
Not content with deliberately misinterpreting a mere ten pages of my fifteen hundred page comic series, Moorcock – this “sweet, sweet man” – continues to this day to jeer and spit abuse. Here’s Alan Moore’s mate Michael Moorcock –
- describing me as “a sticky-fingered tea leaf” (!) and talking about having me “duffed over”.
“I’ve read the work of Grant Morrison twice. Once when I wrote it. Once when he wrote it. As far as I’m concerned my image of Grant Morrison is of someone wearing a mask, a flat hat and a striped jersey and carrying a bag marked SWAG.”
Leaving aside his own appropriation of entire swathes of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Harry Blyth, Moorcock fails to convince that he’s read any aspect of my “work” even once, let alone twice. He has so far failed to back up the casual slander with any actual evidence or examples of when he found the time to write “The Invisibles”, “St. Swithin’s Day”, “The New Adventures of Hitler”, “We3″, “The Filth”, “Kill Your Boyfriend”, “Mystery Play”, “Seaguy” or “Joe the Barbarian” to name just a few. In a 34-year career, I’ve also written long-running DC and Marvel series, plays, screenplays, video games, short stories and a book; all of which, if Michael Moorcock is to be believed, were written by him. Except for the bits I stole from Alan Moore!
Allow me to demonstrate how easy it is to play this dangerous game:
I’ll start by pointing out how various interviews in which I talked about my practice of Chaos Magic during the 1980s and early ’90s clearly played into Alan Moore’s decision to declare himself a magician in 1993. Next, with censorious authority, I’ll point to my own “Doom Patrol” #53 and claim it gave him the idea for his “1963″ project at Image, released a year later. I’ll suggest that Moore’s take on “Supreme” was a lot more like my take on “Animal Man” than “Zenith” was like “Marvelman” or “Captain Britain” – The Supremacy in “Supreme” is a fairly blatant copy of the Comic Book Limbo concept I introduced in “Animal Man” seven years earlier and the Moore book’s wider meta-fictional concerns also covered territory well-trodden by “Animal Man”. “LOEG: Century” with its apocalypse/moonchild plot occurring over three time periods cannot help but recall the apocalypse/moonchild plotline running over three time periods in “The Invisibles” fifteen years previously – with Orlando playing the Lord Fanny role, if you fancy. I could go on and on here, with “convincing” examples, but you get the idea. I’ll wind up with some condescending comment about how I figured he’d grow out of the rip-off magic and metafiction nonsense then wryly conclude that there’s not much chance of that now he’s nudging 60.
The above is at least as plausible as Alan Moore’s outlandish attempts to claim that my entire career rests on two stories he wrote 30 years ago.
As Ed Brubaker pointed out in the comments section of Part 2 of Pádraig’s series of articles, all writers are influenced by all kinds of things, including one another, all the time. The wider issues around plagiarism, influence, ownership and appropriation – especially in the context of the “IP”-driven corporate vision of creativity – are definitely worth further discussion but I’d like to keep this narrowed down to Pádraig’s essay and specifically Alan Moore’s comments about me.
However, as evidence that I’m not alone before the jury, Moore has charged and found guilty the entire mainstream comics industry of living off his leftovers for 30 years here -
- and in other interviews which relentlessly position his own oeuvre as the source of all our Niles. No-one would begrudge him his own obvious influences if he didn’t feel compelled to lecture the rest of us from a moral high ground he occupies dishonestly -
Moore includes Geoff Johns among the “parasites” and “raccoons” rooting through his trash. Why? Because Johns seasoned his own epic expansion of the Green Lantern mythos with a couple of minor elements from Moore’s Green Lantern short story “Tygers” (1986) – a story that was itself created to make sense of a plot hole in the 1959 Green Lantern origin by Gardner Fox!
So, in fact, both Moore and Johns were simply doing their work-for-hire jobs by adding to and expanding upon the many-authored quilt that is DC, and specifically Green Lantern, continuity. In a shared narrative universe, such as those of DC or Marvel, any element introduced into the continuity surely becomes part of the backstory and is therefore available to other writers to build upon or incorporate. Johns’ Green Lantern work and the “Blackest Night” story in particular would have worked as well without any reference to “Tygers”, in fact. Why the sneering, dehumanizing putdown? Who chastises a man for the unspeakable crime of synthesizing prior elements of Green Lantern’s back story into his own fresh and personal creative vision for the character, m’lud?
Would Moore have appreciated a comparison to vermin snuffling among Gardner Fox’s garbage for treats when he brought Fox’s Floronic Man back from the archives to feature in a “Swamp Thing” (Len Wein’s trash!) story? What obsessive snouting around in the municipal tip does “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” reduce to if we regard Alan Moore’s endeavours through the same unforgiving lens he applies to Geoff Johns’ work?
Geoff Johns like the rest of us, has his own identifiable obsessions as a writer. He has his own interests, his own points of view, and his own way of articulating his ideas via his chosen medium. I know for a fact that Geoff has seen and done and endured things in his life that Alan Moore is unlikely ever to experience, yet Moore automatically brands him creatively bankrupt and tries to insists that Johns’ imagination is so low on fuel, it relies for sustenance on his own. If I can speak up for a friend, Geoff Johns, like the rest of us, like anyone who picks up a pen to earn a living, has plenty to say and, with all respect, he doesn’t need Alan Moore’s help to say it.
Excuse the fit of editorializing there. It had to happen. Let’s return to the facts in this “Strange Case” -
The other version of the story comes from Patrick Meaney’s Talking with Gods documentary, where Morrison says,
I remember reading V for Vendetta and thinking, this is what I wanted to do, this is the way comics should be. One of the first things I did was go down to see Dez Skinn in London, the publisher of Warrior I had taking this story, which was a Kid Marvelman spec script, and he bought it straight away so, again, that was a really good jump for me. Then Alan Moore had it spiked, and said it was never to be published. Thus began our slight antagonism, which has persisted until this very day. They asked me to continue Marvelman because Moore had fallen out with everyone in the magazine, and taken away his script, and they said ‘Would you follow this up?’ And to me that was just like, oh my God – the idea of getting to do Marvelman, following Alan Moore, ‘I’m the only person in the world who’d really do this right,’ and I was well up for it. I didn’t want to do it without Moore’s permission, and I wrote to him and said, ‘They’ve asked me to do this, but obviously I really respect you work, and I wouldn’t want to mess anything up, but I don’t want anyone else to do it, and mess it up.’ And he sent me back this really weird letter, and I remember the opening of it, it said, ‘I don’t want this to sound like the softly hissed tones of a mafia hitman, but back off.’ And the letter was all, ‘but you can’t do this,’ you know, ‘we’re much more popular than you, and if you do this, your career will be over,’ and it was really quite threatening, you know, so I didn’t do it, but I ended up doing some little bit of work for Warrior.
It’s hard to put exact dates on either of these versions, but presumably Moore’s story happened before Morrison’s, and, given that Morrison’s story refers to Moore having stopped writing Marvelman for Warrior this puts the date at some point between August 1984, when Moore’s last Marvelman story appeared, in Warrior #21, and February 1985, when Warrior #26, the last issue, came out, – containing the Morrison-scripted “The Liberators: Night Moves” incidentally. So the meeting in Glasgow between Moore and Morrison must have happened at some point between the first issue of Warrior in March 1982 and Moore’s last story, in August 1984. The exact timing in possibly not that important, but I like to nail these things down if I can!
The timing is very important because Moore met me not once but many times – the first at a comic mart in Glasgow’s McLellan Galleries (in ’83, I think) when I gave him a copy of my music fanzine “Bombs Away Batman!” which contained positive reviews of his strips in “Warrior” and “2000AD”. The second time was at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow in 1984 where I recommended William McIllvaney’s “Laidlaw” novels to him. On both occasions, and whatever he may have thought then or now, I was not an ‘aspiring writer’ but a many times published one, as can easily be checked.
In the company of Bryan Talbot, I spoke briefly with Moore again at a comic convention in Birmingham in 1986, by which time we had corresponded on the subject of “Marvelman”, and when we met for a fourth time at the dinner he semi-recalls (in Glasgow during the “Watchmen” Graphitti Editions tour in 1987, when he and Dave Gibbons signed a copy of their book for my mum), I was a full-time professional, working for “2000 AD” – and DC too by that point – not an aspiring writer (I also met and spoke with him after that – the last time we were in a room together was at the Angouleme comics festival in 1990 but by then he would no longer communicate with me, even by semaphore).
When Moore says “They asked if I could perhaps – if they could invite a local comics writer who was a big admirer of mine along to the dinner.”, the careful, self-aggrandizing, phrasing suggests not only that Moore had no idea who I was but that some special privilege had been accorded me when, in fact, the meal was organized by John McShane, who ran AKA Books and Comics in Glasgow at the time. I spent two afternoons a week hanging around John’s shop talking comics, and as a friend and a fellow professional who knew Moore and respected his work, he naturally invited me along to the dinner as a guest. This mysterious “local comics writer” was, in fact, someone Alan Moore knew, had met, and had even exchanged letters with previously, as outlined above. A fellow professional, in fact.
I remember talking to him about becoming a vegetarian – ‘sometimes you can’t live with the contradictions, Grant’… – which suggests I’d started work on “Animal Man”. I kept detailed diaries from 1978 – 93 and I can check the exact dates but “Arkham Asylum” was also written in 1987. I was far from up-and-coming at the point in time Moore cites.Why the made-up stories about me?
Meanwhile, Morrison’s own star was on the rise. He started writing Zenith for 2000 AD in August 1987, after various other work here and there in UK comics, and this was his breakthrough work. I didn’t come across him myself until later on, when he was writing Animal Man for DC Comics, and still think that The Coyote Gospel from Animal Man #5 is one of the single best things ever put on a page, by anyone. It was during this time that Morrison, as Moore put it, had ‘a strange campaign of things in fanzines where he was expressing his opinions of me […]. He later explained this as saying that when he started writing, he felt that he wasn’t famous enough, and that a good way of becoming famous would be to say nasty things about me’ Morrison himself refers to this too, in his book Supergods where he says,
High-contrast Western manga art by my Zoids partner Steve Yeowell made Zenith’s world a frantic modernist blur of speed lines and contemporary fashions and haircuts. We announced to the world that Zenith was intended to be as dumb, sexy, and disposable as an eighties pop single: Alan Moore remixed by Stock Aitken Waterman. Keeping all the self-awareness outside the story, we used interviews and forewords to admit to our sources. In them we praised creative theft and plagiarism, quoted the French playwright Antonin Artaud and sneeringly suggested that the likes of Watchmen were pompous, stuffy, and buttock-clenchingly dour. The shock tactics I’d brought with me from the music world, delivered with the snotty whippet-thin snideness of the hipster, had helped me carve out a niche for myself as comics’ enfant terrible, and Steve was happy to play along as the handsome nice one with nothing controversial to say.
My public persona was punk to the rotten core. Outspoken and mean spirited, I freely expressed contempt for the behind-the-scenes world of comics professionals, which seemed unglamorous and overwhelmingly masculine by comparison to the club and music scenes. My life was rich, and my circle of friends and family was secure enough that I could afford to play a demonic role at work. Reading interviews from the time makes my blood run cold these days, but the trash talk seemed to be working, and I was rapidly making a name for myself. Being young, good-looking, and cocky forgave many sins, a huge hit British superhero strip did the rest and proved I could back up the big talk
Talking about this more recently, in David Bishop’s Thrill-Power Overload: Thirty Years of 2000 AD (Rebellion, UK, June 2007), -
Sorry to interrupt here, but an interview from 2007 can’t have appeared “more recently” than the extract from “Supergods”, published in 2011, without the aid of string theory.
- Morrison recalls being asked by the editorial people at 2000 AD to come up with an idea for a British superhero strip, he said,
[Zenith] was very much a reaction against torment superheroes. Dark Knight is a brilliant piece of Reagan-era fiction and Watchmen is very, very clever in its architecture, but both books felt pompous and concept albumy to me as a young man in the 80s. I wanted to do something a little less self conscious perhaps, or to align myself with a different current of thinking. I had grown bored with the dull ‘realism’ of the grim ‘n’ gritty school. Brendan [McCarthy]‘s work was so unique, so personal and inspirational that I was completely blown away and converted utterly to the McCarthy method – tell the truth on to the page and let your psyche all hang out. At the same time… I wanted some ‘realistic’ aspects to my story. I decided to make it about the superficial things I was into at the time: clothes, records, TV shows. Instead of creating an aspirational superhero, I gave Zenith all of my worst, most venal traits. I wanted to create a postcard from the 80s, but I also thought that if I did it without the prevailing captions and thought boxes the strip might stand up quite well on its own.
My own opinion of what happened, and how I feel about it, has changed quite a bit since I started writing these three pieces. Yes, I have a lot of sympathy for Alan Moore about the things that were being said about him, but I think that it’s pretty obvious there was more than an element of the japester, the trickster, about Morrison’s writing, in particular the piece he wrote about Superfolks in his Drivel column in Speakeasy in 1990, which he makes all the more obvious in his end piece.
There was more than just an “…element of the japester, the trickster…” to “Drivel”. As may be deduced from one or all of the following clues:
- the title.
The accompanying photograph of me sneering, stripped to the waist wearing a rather pretty necklace, and flipping a ‘V’-sign.
Photo Used in Drivel Column
The over-the-top, bitchy and camp style of the writing –
- “Drivel” was a monthly, scurrilous, humour, gossip, and opinion column in “Speakeasy”, the leading British comics magazine in 1990 when the piece in question was written. I had a brief from my editor Stuart Greene and I mostly stuck to it, except when I used “Drivel” to indulge in William Burroughs-style “cut-up” experiments. My fee for the column went to Blue Cross, so all that manufactured bile wasn’t wasted and helped make the lives of some rescue animals a little more comfortable on a monthly basis. Otherwise, the persona I adopted for “Drivel” was an exaggerated caricature partly inspired by the Morrissey interviews I enjoyed reading. The whole point of the column – which was one of the magazine’s most popular features, incidentally – was to take the piss out of the comics scene at the time.
Alan Moore was only one of the many, many targets of “Drivel” and he came off lightly in comparison to some others – with whom I am still on friendly terms. The main target of the satire in “Drivel” was myself and if anyone’s reputation has suffered as a result of people in other lands and different times presenting as indictable some daft words written in jest, I’d suggest it’s been mine.
In defense of my 30 year old self, he had an editorial mandate to amuse and provoke, unlike the 59 year old Alan Moore who insults, condemns and hurls baseless accusations at his contemporaries and their work in almost every interview he gives. I find it tragic but quite pertinent to this piece that the loudest voice in our business – the one that carries the furthest and is taken most seriously by the mainstream media – is the one that offers nothing but contempt and denunciation, with barely a single good word to say about any of the many accomplished and individual writers currently working in mainstream comics, let alone the wealth of brilliant indie creators.
Does he ever, for instance, use his high media profile to do anything other than steer potential readers away from modern comic books and their creators – while over-playing his own achievements and placing himself centre stage at every turn? How hard would it be to say something encouraging, positive, or hopeful about the generally improved standard of writing in all comic books these days? Or at least say nothing at all.
And if I may untangle the logic behind so much of his hectoring: Moore constantly reiterates the idea that all modern comics are copied from stuff he did in the ’80s – and they’re all rubbish!
Is he genuinely saying that his influence has been entirely malignant? If he actually believed that, I’d almost feel sorry for him. I see my own influence all over the place and I’m quite chuffed.
I’d also like to point out that that was over twenty years ago now, a long time to have something like that hanging over you, and this applies equally to both of them: Moore is still having it used as a stick to beat him with, and Morrison may wish that a not-terribly-serious piece he wrote as a young man, and which has cast a much longer shadow than anyone could ever have expected, would simply go away. (And, indeed, having someone like me digging it up one more time can hardly help in that, although I’m hoping that this might get to be the final, and definitive, word on the subject…)
I also imagine that having someone get in touch to offer to take over writing his first major piece of work probably wasn’t received terribly well, and it’s hard to blame Moore for that, either.
For a broader picture of what was happening with Alan Moore and “Warrior” at the time, I suggest asking Alan Davis (another on Moore’s list of excommunicated former collaborators) or Dez Skinn for their recollections. I’m sure it’ll be in one of those George Khoury books about Marvelman. I wasn’t part of all that.
But in many ways Morrison was only doing what Moore had done before him. I can certainly recognise the punk spirit in some of what Morrison says – I’m less than 100 days older than Morrison, and I do recall that rule #1 in punk was that everything that went before was rubbish. In hindsight, of course, there is much that was discarded that has since been reappraised, and found not to be so dreadful after all! In much the same way, when Morrison says, ‘Reading interviews from the time makes my blood run cold these days’, I imagine that one of the things he’s particularly referring to is his treatment of Moore in those early articles.
My blood runs cold because I am no longer a young man but an increasingly decrepit 52 year old with a lot less arrogance, a lot more life experience, and a bit more compassion for people, even the ones I don’t particularly like. With the wisdom of hindsight, I wish I could tell my younger self that in the future, no matter how much he thought he’d changed or matured, “Drivel” would always return.
These days, if I aim a barb at Moore, and I sometimes do, it’s generally as revenge for having my attention drawn to some latest interview or other. I know there’s a lot more to him than the contemptuous, patronising Scorpionic mask – we’re all just people and we all do the same daft people shit and all that – but it’s the face I’ve been exposed to more often than not, so I’m afraid my view of Alan Moore has a somewhat negative bias that deepens every time he opens his mouth to preach hellfire and damnation on the comics business and its benighted labour force.
Having said that, I learned long ago to separate my antipathy toward the man’s expressed opinions from my enjoyment of his work and I’ve been very complimentary about that work over the decades. Conversely, I can guarantee you will search in vain for a single positive comment about me or my work coming from Alan Moore’s direction – in spite of our obvious shared areas of interest.
I certainly think that Morrison may now regret some of his earlier actions but, particularly in this Internet age, nothing is gone, and everything is remembered. It is interesting, I think, that in his book Supergods - which itself seems to actually reflect the title of Superfolks - he doesn’t actually mention Superfolks in relation to his or Moore’s work, but in the context of having been an inspiration for Pixar’s The Incredibles Even so, Supergods has the line “Behold, I teach you the superman: He is this lightning, he is this madness!” by Friedrich Nietzsche as its epigraph, the same as Superfolks did, and Marvelman didn’t. Is this all some sort of strange cosmic coincidence, or is Morrison trying to tell us something? Honestly, I have no idea.
The structure of “Supergods” is roughly based on the Qabalistic idea of the “Lightning Flash” – the zig-zagging magician’s path from the lowest material sphere of Malkuth/the material world via the various sephiroth or spheres to the highest spiritual sphere known as Kether in this system. In the same way, the book moves from the earthy foundations of the early chapters, with their focus on physicality, to the speculations, philosophies and “higher” considerations of the concluding chapters.
I chose this structure for a couple of obvious reasons – firstly, because the superhero as a figure unites the mundane and the divine and secondly because every time a new “age” of comics was said to begin, I noted that it tended to be announced by a superhero wearing a lightning bolt insignia, or descended from one (as Marvelman from Captain Marvel), or came with iconic references to lightning, thunderbolts and electricity. My favourite superhero is The Flash and his emblem is a stylized, simplified echo of the right-to-left zapping course of the Qabala flash.
I was very aware of the irony of re-using that hoary old Nietzsche quote but there was, quite simply, no more apposite epigraph for “Supergods”, I hope you’ll agree.
The title of the book, by the way, is not a reference to “Superfolks” but to David Bowie’s song “The Supermen” which includes the lines “and supergod dies…”.
So, what do I think, in the end? I think, first, that, although Grant Morrison poked fun at Alan Moore with regard to Superfolks he certainly didn’t mean it to be taken as seriously as it was, or for it to become a big stick to beat Moore with.
Pádraig will need to offer more convincing evidence that my 1990 “Speakeasy” column has done the slightest harm to Alan Moore’s sales or his reputation. I’ll wager that less than 2% of the readers of “Watchmen” – still the world’s best-selling graphic novel – have heard of “Superfolks”, let alone “Speakeasy” or “Drivel” (although the proportion is likely to rise if people keep drawing attention to this very minor issue – currently it’s an item on MTV Geek). As I’ve said, it’s far easier to make the argument that Moore, along with powerful allies like Michael Moorcock, continues to indulge in clear, persistent, and often successful attempts to injure my reputation, for reasons of his own.
And I really think it’s a shame that Alan Moore has such difficulty moving on from things like this, because he’s done his own share of saying mean things about Morrison, to this day. I genuinely love Moore’s work, and one of the things I love most is the sense of compassion, of redemption, that is in much of it, but reading over these pieces, it’s hard not to see Moore as the one who is perpetuating this, rather than Morrison, who only ever has good things to say about Moore’s work these days. It’s not that I don’t think that Moore has good reason to do the things he does, just that it can be difficult sometimes to see that your gods have feet of clay. In the end, though, I still love his work, and still admire him enormously as a person and as a creator. I don’t read as much of Grant Morrison’s work as I used to, mostly because I finally decided that I was giving up on superheroes for good a few years back -
By only reading my work-for-hire superhero comics from 20 years ago, I feel Pádraig has missed out on most of the important stuff of my career. I hope he’ll try “The Invisibles”, “The Filth”, “All-Star Superman”, “We3″ and “Seaguy” at least.
- but his work on Animal Man and Doom Patrol is still some of the best work ever done in mainstream comics, and I think that people give him a hard time which he definitely doesn’t deserve. I probably fall into that category myself, although I think I may go rethink some of those ideas now. After all, it’s never too late to change your mind.
There is one final thing I want to clear up, seeing as it came up here: Whatever happened to that Kid Marvelman story that Grant Morrison sold to Dez Skinn?
Dez Skinn, in Talking With Gods said about Morrison,
He was such a quiet unassuming kind of guy when he’d come into the office, he was more like a fan than a professional, you know, very shy, very timid-seeming, but his work was the absolute opposite, it was totally out there, even his early stuff. I thought it was a really nice little five-pager but Alan, like any creator, I guess, who owns material, didn’t want anybody else touching his material.
And here’s Dez again, this time talking in George Khoury’s Kimota! – The Marvelman Companion,
Grant did submit a Kid Marvelman story, about a discussion between Kid Marvelman and a Catholic priest, and it was quite fascinating because Kid Marvelman argued a very good case against organised religion. Nobody was flying, no beams from anyone’s eyes, but a bloody clever script, clever enough that I sent it to Alan Moore for his opinion. Alan’s reply was, ‘Nobody else writes Marvelman.’ And I said to Grant, ‘I’m sorry, he’s jealously hanging on to this one.’
There is a long-standing rumour that the story was published in Fusion #4, a Scottish comics fanzine, but the piece in question, called ‘The Devil and Johnny Bates,’ was actually an article about Kid Marvelman by someone else. None the less, Morrison did draw two covers for Fusion including the one for #4, both of which are reproduced here. Yes, that is Kid Marvelman on the cover of #4, and Marvelman himself on the cover of #6. But that Kid Marvelman story never did get to see print, it seems. Which is a shame.
I probably have the only surviving copy of the script. One day I’ll look it out and put it online. I seem to remember it being quite good but I made the teenage mod Johnny Bates look exactly like me, forever damning myself as Moore’s Devil!
[Top photo courtesy of Jonathan Mayo]