Saturday, December 20, 2008

Grant Morrison - "In every style and fashion" part 1

Grant Morrison has always been an inventive storyteller, with something of a heady and ambiguous note to his scripts. This made his already ambitious comics something of a hard thing to get for a large portion of the audience. Yet, it seems that as his profile has been increased, that the complaints have gotten louder, to the point that now, when he writes DC's flagship titles in a very stylized way, even some of his old-time fans are protesting. So how did Morrison end up with his current narrative tics that cause such controversy?

the Early years

The most acclaimed and popular of Morrison's British works, and what eventually brought him to attention of DC comics, was "Zenith". Starting in 1987, "Zenith" was serialized in four "phases", story lines that ran in the US weekly anthology "2000 AD". It consisted of Morrison and artist Steve Yeowell turning the genre conventions upside down, while presenting the readers with a superhero acting like a rockstar. "Zenith" was a complex tale, consisting of monsters straight from the stories of P.H. Lovecraft invading the bodies of superheroes, along the way tying together everything from Captain America homages to rock stars and magic. In its third phase, "Zenith" spotlighted a "Crisis"-like event, gathering homages to most of UK's comic book heroes, which is seemingly what made the American superhero publisher seek him out.

Benefiting from the attention Alan Moore had gained to the UK writers, Morrison was asked to pitch a reinvention of one of DC's superheroes. He opted for "Animal man", producing a 1988 mini-series that remade the character as an animal activist. DC chose to continue with the series, but Morrison had much more ambitious plans. Plotting a course for the next two years on the title, the writer went in for a very ambitious post-modern take, taking the previously light-hearted meta fictional elements of Silver Age to the extreme. The stories were penciled mainly by Chas Truog, starting the trend of fast and sketchy artists illustrating Morrison's stories.

Still, despite not opting to pair him with an A-list penciler, DC liked Morrison's approach so much, they made him a writer of another concurrent ongoing title, "the Doom patrol". Starting in 1989, Morrison, aided by Richard Cased on the art, did his take on one of the weirdest superhero teams, digging in whole-heartedly at the characters' core as freaks and outsiders, all the while employing even more elaborate literary techniques. Still, despite all of the philosophical themes that he exposed his readers to, exploring the comparisons between reality and fiction, Morrison still stuck to the genre conventions, building all of his narrative structures atop the traditional superhero storytelling conventions.

Taking these multi-year epic stories into account, it's interesting how a simple tale, serialized in Trident (a British anthology title at the time), can shed a lot of light on Morrison's creative process. "St. Swithin's day is a short semi-autobiographical story, illustrated by Paul Grist in an alternate style that brings to mind Hernandez brothers and other independent comics at the time. A very moody and sincere piece, "St. Swithin's day" reads like a stream of conscience piece, dealing front and center with a position of a young man in Thatcher's Britain. Thus, it stands in stark contrast to Morrison's superhero deconstructions and the heavily detailed and layered approach that has characterized so much of his work before and since.

"Arkham asylum", a Batman graphic novel Morrison wrote and Dave McKean gorgeously painted is perhaps the best example of the state his writing style at the time. The story is rich with details and allusions, common to all of Morrison's work that just bursts with creativity, and yet a lot of ideas are shown briefly in passing, as he maintains the basic plot, that of Batman trying to find his way out of the lunatic asylum his enemies have barricaded themselves into.

No comments: