Grant Morrison on Adapting the Mahabharata for Modern Audiences

Posted by on October 4th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

 

 

WILSON: Did you ask Mukesh Singh to generate original concept designs for what would become 18 Days to solicit as either a book or animated feature or was he attached to the project later on?

MORRISON: Mukesh was brought in by the guys at Liquid, Gotham and Sharad, so I hadn’t met him and I hadn’t really seen much of his artwork. He was drafted in basically as a concept designer for the animators when we were still in the process of trying do it as animation. All of that was done for them, but the work was so incredible, we decided to put it out as a book, because it seemed a shame to let it go to waste and not to be seen again.

WILSON: Will what audiences see in this book in terms of his designs be what is eventually delivered in the animation version?

MORRISON: Technically, these would be the production designs and the characters would look pretty much like that. I’m sure, in an animated thing, they’d be simplified to some extent, but at this stage we don’t even know what the project might become. There’s always the potential of doing this as a proper Lord of the Rings-style trilogy, so we’ll see what happens.

WILSON: Singh says that most of his images deviate from your descriptions but not in spirit. Do you agree?

MORRISON: The interesting thing about it is that none of the images deviated from my ideas at all, I felt. [Laughs.] He captured perfectly what I’d imagined or written or described so much better than I could have ever have done. For me, it was really an effective collaboration. Perhaps Mukesh felt that way, but certainly not for me. He nailed it in the image and in the spirit of the image, so yeah, I think he got it both ways, so maybe he’s being a little hard on himself if he thinks he didn’t.

WILSON: Back in May, you mentioned that 18 Days “in comic book terms, it does for ‘epic fantasy’ what Watchmen did for superheroes,” which is a pretty bold statement. Are you referring specifically to the hardcover or the final product? Do you see 18 Days as a comic? How do envision it alongside Watchmen in terms of intent and objectives?

MORRISON: I may have misled you with that. Because I was talking specifically to a comic-fan audience, I was trying to explain the Mahabharata itself in terms they might relate to, which was as a fantasy, as an epic story and to say that it was an epic story that was very different from the kind that we’re used to in the West and it had in some ways the relationship to ‘epic fantasy’ that Watchmen had to traditional superhero stories. It was a comparison that I had hoped comic readers would understand. I wasn’t suggesting at all that this book was like Watchmen. It was a way of trying to say to them that the Mahabharata was about big human feelings, it’s not just King Arthur, it’s not just Aragorn. [Laughs.] These are characters who exhibit human follies and who suffer terrible human failings, and lose because of their virtues. I thought that comic fans would understand it in terms of Watchmen which did something similar for the superhero.

WILSON: Since comic audiences are very singular in their own focus, very isolated as a readership, when you do a project like 18 Days, do you feel you have to contextualize it differently?

MORRISON: I felt I had to do it certainly for that specific audience. If I was talking to someone else, I’d try to frame it in different terms that are understandable to that audience. But no, I’ve always found that the people who read my works, certainly the people I meet at comic book conventions, are pretty literate and smart and a lot of cool kids in black [laughs], so I couldn’t lay any of that at their door certainly.

 

 

WILSON: As the official site still lists a Spring 2010 release date for the film, what is the status of 18 Days right now in terms of production? Will these be online episodes, a series of animated films, a feature length animated film? Will there be an additional book(s) that cover these other episodes?

MORRISON: I didn’t even know there was a date up there at all, so that’s hopeful. [Laughs.] I don’t know anything about it right now; I wasn’t even sure it was still ongoing. I’ve been talking about the book recently, so I haven’t been keeping up with what’s going on with the film.

WILSON: Will there be additional books or tales then?

MORRISON: No, that’s as far as we got before the project kind of stopped, so really that’s all there is so far apart from a very big, great thing which we didn’t put in the book because we thought it was too detailed and the unscrupulous could get a bunch of good ideas from it. [Laughs.] There was a complete breakdown of all the episodes, which was quite an impressive feat of collapsing the Mahabharata into 20 episodes, so that was the one thing that was left out, a big detailed document. Otherwise, there’s nothing else. If it came to nothing, which I’m not sure it will. I think when some Hollywood producers start to see the book and get an idea for how the book can work visually, we might see some more action on it, but until then I think the book is the record of all the work that’s gone into this project and perhaps there will be another edition incorporating the full series bible if nothing else happens with the material, but as I say, that’s it for now.

WILSON: With your experience on 18 Days, the recent news about film versions of All-Star Superman and Joe the Barbarian, and your upcoming Sinatoro movie project, what can you tell us about the differences in scripting, writing and your level of involvement in these productions versus that of comics? Is one more fulfilling than the other or simply a different venue in which to challenge yourself as an artist and creator? Does your approach to writing comics as opposed to film differ?

MORRISON: I think ultimately comics are the most fulfilling because of the lack of restraint. You know the great thing about comics is that they don’t have huge budgets and they don’t have 1,000 people handing in notes. [Laughs.] There’s kind of a direct contact between the brain and the page with comics which is quite satisfying, so I think they’re always the most fulfilling venue for self-expression — it’s almost like poetry except we make money from it — we don’t have a great deal of editorial interference and we get to say what we want. I like working in movies and TV because I can learn interesting techniques, those forms use tried and tested narrative structures designed to appeal to much wider audiences, so it’s like learning to write haiku [laughs] or triolets. And it’s really interesting to figure that stuff out, you know, the structures, and the way scenes work, because, for me, it all feeds back into the comics and gives me new things to play around with.

WILSON: What’s an example of something you’ve learned that you’ve taken from your TV and film experiences into comics?

MORRISON: The ways scenes are composed to escalate jeopardy, very structural things, technical things which as a writer, as someone who’s been doing it professionally for a long time, where you kind of do things quite naturally, can seem very novel and appealing. It was fun to read the rule book and be told what I was doing right and wrong according to some Ten Commandments somewhere and to learn to play the guitar properly [laughs], so there’s that. I really do enjoy learning all those little tricks of technique.

WILSON: Is it difficult to transition between these mediums and the different approaches to scripting? Do you have to tweak your technique at all?

MORRISON: There was always a new thing to learn, which made it all interesting. Back when I wrote plays, it was all about the language because a play is really just an audience sitting around a campfire with a couple of people enacting a story. [Laughs.] There’s not much going on in the way of fighting or special effects generally, so the language is what it’s all about and you focus on that. Or in cinema, it’s actually about the images and the emotive power of the images. Comics is a bit of a strange combination of language and image that can be read at the speed the reader chooses, so they all are very different kind of basic approaches. You tweak your technique certainly… “Tweak Your Technique” sounds like a good dance record. [Laughs.]

WILSON: I’m going to use that one! [Morrison laughs.]

 

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One Response to “Grant Morrison on Adapting the Mahabharata for Modern Audiences”

  1. […] 4, 2010 by bgc2 Here is a link to my interview with Grant Morrison at the Comics Journal about his new book with Dynamite […]