Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods

Posted by on November 29th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Review by Nathan Wilson

 

 

Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods DVD
Released Nov. 22 by Halo 8
80 minutes; $19.95

It is somewhat fitting that in a documentary on Grant Morrison, one of a select few contemporary writers who has reinvigorated and breathed new life into an often stale and recycled superhero genre, that a definitive portrait of the author would be left open to interpretation. As a result, Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods does a fine job of humanizing him while simultaneously reinforcing a lot of the weirder and stranger elements that have embodied his varied career. The difference here, however, is that Morrison himself spends considerable time connecting his experiences with magic and sigils to his work, deflating the critics and readers who dismiss him as intentionally cryptic or difficult in the process.

Contrasting Morrison the Myth with Morrison the Reality, artist Steve Yeowell, who collaborated with Grant on the writer’s first script for 2000AD, Zenith, succinctly captured the essential significance of Morrison’s innovative abilities and the film. Yeowell recognized that Morrison’s “greatest creation in a lot of ways is himself.” For if the documentary succeeds in its goal, it is that nobody could be Grant Morrison 24/7, not even the author himself. Morrison jests, “whatever you think I am, that’s what I’m not.”

 


Page layouts for Batman RIP.

 

The film is organized primarily into three distinct periods of Morrison’s life — his upbringing and family, his break into mainstream comics, and how all of these have coalesced into shaping him and the stories he tells today. Director Patrick Meaney does a fantastic job presenting Morrison’s childhood, particularly through Grant’s own words about his parents, his father’s anti-nuclear crusades following his military service, and how these influenced certain sequences in The Invisibles. Very little social, political or cultural context is provided by Meaney for these events (as he instead relies on the rather “soft” analysis or assessment of comic news-site personalities). But Morrison’s own perspective on the impact that superhero comics had on his life, specifically on his comprehension of the power of ideas, allows audiences to connect with the often reclusive author in ways that are rarely conveyed in interviews or even through his own writings.

It was fascinating to learn about what comics drew Morrison’s attention during his formative years and how parental encouragement and support to read, write and draw instilled in him a sense of wonder and awe. If there is any limitation to the childhood segment, it is the awkward and sometimes disjointed transitions between Morrison’s interpretations and Tim Callahan’s or Rich Johnston’s attempts to contextualize Morrison’s early life to specific books such as Flex Mentallo. Fortunately, this is something that only resurfaces sporadically in the first half of the documentary. It is only after Morrison’s 1976 notoriety in the Scottish newspaper The Press for his original characters and stories, and the 1978 publication of Near Myths with the figure of Gideon Stargrave that Morrison as a constructed image or crafted persona begins to develop.

 


Frank Quitely holds pages from a Morrison script.

 

Following this break into the local comic scene and the subsequent move into the British comics industry with Warrior Magazine (the story with Alan Moore is very interesting) and later with 2000AD in the 1980s, Morrison is one of several post-Moore writers imported by DC Comics’ Karen Berger to reimagine the American comics scene. Here, Meaney delves deeper into Morrison’s creative process and outlook as the writer debated the popular darker Moore approach versus his own openly anti-Moore vision, which pushed the limits and boundaries of the comic medium. Morrison’s approach is seen in the way the barriers between fiction on the printed page and reality are shattered in Animal Man. We see Morrison discuss his various notebooks, sketches, panel layouts and story ideas and there seems to be a transformation from soft-spoken Scottish comic scribe into mystic poet. More elements of Morrison’s life become topics of exploration in Doom Patrol, but there is very little insight into Morrison’s designs for Arkham Asylum, the book that Berger claims “made his career.”

By far the strongest section of Talking With Gods is Meaney’s interviews with Morrison’s artistic collaborators on how they work with his various scripts. Phil Jimenez, Cameron Stewart, and Chris Weston all share a common frustration in wrestling with the scripts, admitting the perplexing nature of translating Morrison’s writings into visual sequences. Additional insight is provided by J.G. Jones and Freddie E. Williams II, who observe that there is simply “so much information” in Morrison’s scripts that it can mirror sensory overload. To combat this, some artists such as J.H. Williams III and Frank Quitely have benefited from direct correspondence and conversations with Morrison. Jimenez noted his own reluctance to speak with Morrison and Frazer Irving joked, “I like to reinforce the mystery of it. Maybe he’s too busy communing with the forces of the universe.” It is a testament not only to the prowess and abilities of the diverse artists who have worked with Morrison, but also to nature of Morrison’s approaches to writing that collaboration with him has elicited such varied responses while nevertheless sustaining a common thread.

 


Frazer Irving.

 

The final third of the documentary examines how Morrison’s enthusiasm and idealism expressed in The Invisibles and JLA took a darker turn toward the birth of the 21st century. Looking at what Morrison deems as the “post-traumatic superhero,” audiences get glimpses of the writer trapped by his own persona and image as Final Crisis is discussed. Additionally, Morrison reveals his role as a “barometer of the culture” around him and provides some interesting commentary on The Filth and the characters of Darkseid and Dr. Hurt in relation to events in his personal life. Not succumbing, however, to this darkness, Morrison rebounds and one of the most beautiful and honest moments in the film is his discussion of how he met his wife, Kristan and what she has meant to him both personally and professionally.

The film is best when it either relies primarily on Morrison’s narrative or interweaves perspectives from his varied artistic partners. Comments by fellow writers reveal very little, however, as they are prompted more as fans of Morrison’s writings than as peers for their serious or critical opinions of Morrison’s craft. Had these authors been given a platform similar to that provided the artists Meaney interviewed, a greater understanding and appreciation of Morrison as storyteller and craftsman could have been achieved. Audiences know quite well how comics changed Morrison’s life, but it would have been equally telling how Morrison has changed comics and comic writers. Regardless, Talking With Gods is an excellent first step in documenting the life and career of comic writers beyond being relegated to special features accompanying a DVD release of the latest summer, comic-book-inspired, Hollywood blockbuster. Alongside the 2009 The Write Environment: Comic Book Series one-shot DVD that interviewed Mark Waid, Marv Wolfman, and Geoff Johns, Talking With Gods achieves a delicate balance between fan-driven inquiry and serious, insightful discussion of Morrison’s controversial, yet highly engaging and thought-provoking career.

 

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One Response to “Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods”

  1. [...] The Comics Journal just published my review of Patrick Meaney’s new DVD Grant Morrison Talking With Gods here. [...]