I was reading this interesting blog the other day about Grant Morrison’s zzzzenith.com which raises some interesting points, including Morrison’s use of rape in the strip, however there is a link to this article which discuss this New Statesman interview between Morrison and Laura Sneddon. Best to read all this so you get an idea of the context, so while you’re doing that I’ll go and make a nice cup of tea.
Got through all that? Good.
The problems lie in the New Statesmen interview which ducks and dives asking Morrison important questions and although the 4th Letter blog linked above covers most of the issues with the interview there’s some things worth picking up they missed, for example:
Some of those same fans were astonished that a writer with such an anti-establishment reputation – The Invisibles regularly makes any list of anarchist reading material – would accept a gong from old Elizabeth, without any apparent plans to blow up the palace. Suffice to say, the MBE news got a bit of a reaction.
“There always is, isn’t there?” Morrison laughs. “There’s been such a reaction over the last year to everything I’ve said or done!”
Which is followed up later in the piece:
“I just felt it’s really nice to be acknowledged at all!” he laughs. “I was so shocked… I don’t even know who put me up for it. Is it some weird Lib Dem guy who’s been reading The Invisibles all these years?”
It seemed to me like many of the detractors were coming from a distinctly middle class perspective.
“I couldn’t help notice that myself,” Morrison says. “There’s a particular miasma of totems and taboos surrounding contact with the trappings of high privilege that appears to arise from specifically middle class prejudices. In Glasgow, there’s also an element of working class sectarian bias in the condemnation, so it’s not all about the middle. I noticed also that previous histrionic public refusals of medals and honours had achieved exactly nothing.”
“To me, the Queen can’t help who she is any more than anybody else can. I’m more of a nihilist to be honest, none of it means anything to me. This is an object that will in fifty years be lying on a table in a flea market. I don’t have kids, it’s going nowhere. So to me, I don’t attach all those values to it, and again maybe that’s a class thing you know, I’m starting to see more things in terms of class all the time.
“I still feel the same way I do about the monarchy, the class system, about everything I’ve ever written, about everything I will write. So the idea that it doesn’t change anything, that people can be so wound up by something that has no effective meaning in the world kinda says it all to me.
“It’s okay because it’s no biggie, honestly you’re not buying into anything – because you can’t. By your intrinsic nature, who you are and where you were born, you can’t buy into that system. They don’t get it, you know, we’ll never buy into it. We’re the common people, as Jarvis Cocker said, and they’ll never understand that.”
I’ve a major problem with Morrison saying that previous public rejections of honours achieved nothing (as a child of the 60’s, Morrison should be aware that John Lennon’s return of his MBE helped define his role in the peace movement), or that those pointing out the massive inconsistency with someone who has set themselves up with such an anti-establishment persona over the last 30 years would take an MBE, and not just that, an MBE from a coalition government doing it’s best to make people’s lives a living hell though policies such as the bedroom tax, or the ATOS screening of disabled people.
The poet Benjamin Zephaniah when writing about why he refused an OBE, said this:
Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought. I get angry when I hear that word “empire”; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised. It is because of this concept of empire that my British education led me to believe that the history of black people started with slavery and that we were born slaves, and should therefore be grateful that we were given freedom by our caring white masters. It is because of this idea of empire that black people like myself don’t even know our true names or our true historical culture. I am not one of those who are obsessed with their roots, and I’m certainly not suffering from a crisis of identity; my obsession is about the future and the political rights of all people. Benjamin Zephaniah OBE – no way Mr Blair, no way Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire.
Zephaniah refused an OBE to make a point to himself personally. It was against all of his own principles, not to mention his ethics, to take an honour from the very people he stood against, which highlights the fact that refusing an honour is a point of moral principle for people. Later on in that piece Zepahaniah says this:
I’ve never heard of a holder of the OBE openly criticising the monarchy. They are officially friends, and that’s what this cool Britannia project is about. It gives OBEs to cool rock stars, successful businesswomen and blacks who would be militant in order to give the impression that it is inclusive. Then these rock stars, successful women, and ex-militants write to me with the OBE after their name as if I should be impressed. I’m not. Quite the opposite – you’ve been had.
Those who think the Cool Britannia project died with Blair are mistaken, and both Gordon Brown and now, David Cameron, ensure they got easy publicity for honouring certain people to make the system seem more inclusive as Zephanaih pointed out when he wrote his reply in the Blair era, which leads us to Morrison’s acceptance of an honour which supports an Empire, a Monarchy and a government that is standing against everything he’s made a point of supporting for decades. By accepting an MBE, he supports the actions of the Empire. He supports the actions of government. You cannot take these things and not become part of the establishment as this is the point of the honours system as it’s to welcome you into the establishment, rather than being recognised by your peers for your writing.
It’s also sad that Sneddon never pulls, or has pulled in subsequent interviews, Morrison up for this massive inconsistency. Instead we get this insultingly patronising nonsense about ‘middle class critics’ which is sixth form political thinking at it’s worst however Sneddon does have somewhat of a reputation for being a vocal Morrison cheerleader that’s somewhat more overblown than fans think, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. For someone who gets so much good access to Morrison it’s a pity much of it’s wasted helping him build his own myth rather than asking serious questions.
So the point of this is to ask a question as to who exactly Grant Morrison is anyway and when did he really become such an establishment figure?
I first met Morrison at a Glasgow comic mart in the early 1980’s. I had no idea who he was but was later told by a mate that he’d had some comics published and was trying to get into Dez Skinn’s good books as Warrior was hot, and he was struggling to get a toehold in comics. I’d then see him regularly in one of the several comic shops to be found in Glasgow in the 80’s buying comics, or just hanging around talking to people which is eventually where he’d be found when most of Glasgow’s comic buying population settled upon shopping at AKA Books & Comics. It was here that Grant would find a sympathetic ear with the likes of John McShane, one-third owner of AKA, but it was with one of the so-called ‘AKA Crowd’, Jim Clements that Grant found a kindred soul not to mention someone who would talk and listen til the cows came home.
That Grant Morrison was a decent funny bloke struggling to have one good break. He had a healthy self-depreciating sense of humour who could laugh at the fact that everything he seemed to work on was cancelled. He could talk politics which was like most of us in Glasgow at the time, very much working class socialism, or he could happily chat away with Jim about Louis Carroll.
By the time I moved away from Glasgow in early 1988, Grant was making a success of himself finally with Zenith in 2000AD, not to mention DC Comics had hired him to do an Animal Man mini-series, which had quickly turned into an ongoing series once DC realised the quality of script Morrison was giving them, then there was Arkham Asylum, a Batman graphic novel born of those long chats between Grant and Jim Clements. Morrison had pretty much made it in 1987/88 after what had been an awful period of struggle and failure to get somewhere in the industry.
Fast forward a few years and Morrison is doing interviews with Mark Millar for Scottish newspapers where he’s talking about ‘old men living in castles’ (a snide reference to Alan Grant) and generally being an enormous arsehole which was part of this public persona he and Millar were using at that time in the early 90’s. He’d already spent a year or two starting to build up a public persona as this L’enfant terrible so he could attack and shake up the establishment in his Speakeasy columns. Much of those columns were funny and they did need to say things about an industry seriously in flux at the time, but there was also a lot of pretty venomous comments which hit a peak with his and Millar’s interview.
Throughout the 90’s Morrison spent a lot of time allowing fans to build his persona for him, especially on the increasingly popular internet forums growing up around his work, so by the dawn of the 21st century Morrison had carved himself out a reputation as the leading writer of mainstream comics along with Alan Moore who Morrison had engineered a rivalry with during his time writing columns for Speakeasy. Both writers were still at this time very much still seen as anti-establishment figures, and with Morrison’s The Filth it was clear where Morrison had drawn his line in the sand with himself and the establishment.
It also happened to be Morrison’s last great work in comics. After this something seemed to leave him creatively as he’s almost exclusively worked within the superhero genre for the last decade, unlike Alan Moore who has left superheroes behind him to such an extent that when Moore talks about superheroes now, it’s in the same tone of voice and attitude as one would when talking about an old girlfriend who ran away with one of your best mates but every now and then sends you pictures of them both fucking just to stick the knife in.
With Morrison he genuinely seems to love superheroes which is fine, but it feels like a very talented man taking some easy money to write average Batman stories, or painfully clumsy Superman stories where he says he’s taken Superman back his working class roots in what was another move to set himself up as anti-establishment.
Why then has Morrison become so firmly part of the establishment? I firmly believe it’s because he’s allowed the mythology he built up around himself to be something he believes to be true, not to mention that when confronted by fawning interviewers and fans, it’s very hard to say, knock back an MBE, when you know the Americans for example will love it, and it does help open certain doors then of course there’s his problematic comments in Supergods.
The comments which damn Morrison are these:
If you listen to the right voices, you’ll hear and believe what I heard and believed growing up in this business, and it won’t be long before a dark and evil fairy tale unfolds: the grim cautionary fable of two innocent seventeen-year-old boys seduced by the forked tongues of cartoon fat-cat capitalists and top-hatted bloodsuckers. In this Hollywood tragedy, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are depicted as doe-eyed ingénues in a world of razor-toothed predators.
The truth, as ever, is less dramatic. The deal was done in 1938, before Superman boomed. Siegel and Shuster were both twenty-three when they sold the copyright to Superman. They had worked together for several years in the cutthroat world of pulp periodical publishing, and, like so many artists, musicians, and entertainers, they were creating a product to sell. Superman was a foot in the door, a potential break that might put them in demand as big-time pop content providers. Superman was a sacrifice to the gods of commercial success. If my own understanding of the creative mind carries any weight, I’d suspect that both Siegel and Shuster imagined they’d create other, better characters.
It’s spoken like a companyman which Morrison was at this point, but it’s also written through Morrison himself never had to struggle with financial or ownership problems, which is hardly the case. There’s an excellent review of Supergods by Paul Gravett where he guts Morrison’s assertions by actually using history rather than as Morrison has, his own assumptions based upon his current situation.
The idea as well that a writer today can pull in $20k a week which is coming from a man who has a home in Scotland and Los Angeles is probably a realistic figure, not to mention it puts paid to the idea of Morrison as a common man still railing against the establishment that many of his most vocal fans proclaim him to be. It’s hard to rail against an establishment when you’re turning over in a week what many people earn in a year & in effect, you’ve made yourself a brand so you can market yourself to that fanbase who unquestioningly lap up whatever product you turn out.
The answer to the question ‘who is Grant Morrison anyway?’ is that he’s made himself a brand after spending a decade or so railing against brands and capitalism, he’s firmly and comfortably embraced it with all the trappings that brings, so he doesn’t see the MBE as him condoning government policy or an unfair or outdated monarchy, but as a recognition for his work which would be fine if it didn’t come with all the baggage it does as you can’t say that you don’t buy into it or it’s meaningless because it isn’t. It just makes Morrison out to be politically naive with an ignorance of history at best, wilfully manipulative & a liar at worst.
I still think Morrison is an excellent writer, albeit one who has spent around a decade on cruise control going from one massive paycheque to another, but when you market yourself (and allow others to market yourself) expect to have people question your motives & point out the obvious two-faced hypocrisy in some of those motives. If Morrison came out saying ‘actually, I like making loads of money and all the buzz from having fans fawn over me’ I’d buy that rather than what we have at the moment which is sleight of hand reasoning so he can have his cake and eat it.