Born January 31, 1960 (Glasgow, Scotland)
Grant Morrison is among a vanguard of writers who raised literary standards in the comics industry. In 1997, he became the first comic book writer to be included on Entertainment Weekly's list of the top 100 creative people in America. Although Morrison began writing comics at a time when many viewed comics as an inferior form of storytelling, he, along with writers Alan Moore, Peter Milligan, Jamie Delano, and Neil Gaiman, helped to change people's perception about the medium by creating works of high literary quality. Though Morrison's work is popular among young adults, its content is often very mature, with direct and sometimes explicit treatments of violence and sexuality.
Begins career as a teen
Little is known about Grant Morrison's youth. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on January 31, 1960, and "barely educated" at Mosspark Primary and Allan Glen's School for Boys, according to the Grant Morrison Web site. "I've wanted to be a professional writer since I was six years old and I would have written children's novels, plays or television dramas if the comics scene in the 1980s hadn't been so vibrant and inspiring," Morrison told Barb Lien-Cooper of Sequential Tart. Before he turned twenty, Morrison had already written his first comic series. He gained attention in England during the late 1970s as a writer for the short-lived science fiction anthology series Near Myths, and his first series, Gideon Stargrave, started in 1978. Although the series folded after only five issues, it brought Morrison to the attention of the editors at 2000AD, a successful British science fiction comic book.
"Everything I write is aimed at a hypothetical intelligent 14-year-old, who becomes more and more hypothetical with every passing year."
In the 1980s, 2000AD featured serials such as Judge Dredd, a fast-paced, violent series set in a post-apocalyptic twenty-second century.Dredd portrayed a new form of law and order, upheld by the 'Judges,' a group of lawmakers who ruthlessly serve as society's judge, jury, and executioner. 2000AD had built its popularity on the strength of such important writers and artists as Alan Moore, John Wagner, Alan Grant, Dave Gibbons, and Brian Bolland. But all of these creators would leave the series to work for American comic books companies like DC Comics, which offered better pay and working conditions. Upon their departure, 2000AD was in need of new talent.
A new group of writers and illustrators was soon hired, including Morrison, Peter Milligan, Garth Ennis (see entry), Glen Fabry, and Brendon McCarthy. Morrison quickly helped make 2000AD even more popular. Roger Sabin wrote in Comics, Comix, & Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art, "2000AD took on more of the look and feel of an American product. Its first overtly superhero strip appeared in 1986, in the form of the very popular Zenith (by Grant Morrison and Steve Yowell), while in terms of presentation, the comic now became more of a magazine, with glossy paper and fully painted artwork." Zenith is an adolescent superhero who uses his powers to help himself achieve pop star status, not to fight evil.
Zenith Books 1–5. (1988–90).
JLA 5 vols. (1997–2000).
New X-Men 5 vols. (2001–04).
Fantastic Four 1234 (2002).
Seven Soldiers of Victory (2005).
All-Star Superman (2005–).
Much of Grant Morrison's most influential work is for mature readers, including Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, The Filth, and The Invisibles.
Establishes his mastery of comics writing
The success of Zenith caught the attention of DC Comics, which offered Morrison a chance to revamp some of their lesser-known characters like the Doom Patrol and Animal Man. It was with these characters that Morrison would establish himself as a master among comic creators. In 1988, Morrison wrote his first work for DC Comics, a revamped version of Animal Man. Animal Man, who first appeared in the 1960s comic series Strange Adventures, was a minor character who had the ability to take on the characteristics of nearby animals. In his introduction to the first volume of theAnimal Man graphic novel series, Morrison wrote: "Initially Animal Man was conceived as a four-issue mini-series. My intention was to radicalize and realign the character of Buddy Baker and then leave him for someone else to pick up and develop."
However, Morrison continued working on the series, producing twenty-six issues. He was especially praised for his post-modern approach—he explores the use of time in his stories—to storytelling. In one issue, for example, Morrison explores a character's feelings about losing his family, and ends the story by reuniting him with his living family, as if the earlier part of the story had been a dream. Morrison also breaks what had been known as the "fourth wall" in comics; he enables his characters to ponder their existence as drawings on paper. He draws himself into the comic as well, speaking directly to Animal Man as well as to the reader. But more than exploring the technical aspects of comic book writing, Morrison "turned the book into an impassioned plea for animal rights," as Les Daniels observed in DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes. The success of Animal Man prompted DC Comics to offer Morrison the opportunity to work on more major characters, such as Batman.
Morrison's re-envisioning of the Batman character proved especially popular. In Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (1989), Morrison presents a dark and disturbing tale about one April Fools evening when the Batman is trapped alone in an insane asylum with a group of his enemies led by the Joker. This lavishly produced graphic novel was illustrated with macabre photorealist paintings by Dave McKean (see entry). Les Daniels noted that "Since the story was intended to present the hero as a symbolic construct, Batman is a shadowy figure, defined only in relationship to the evil he encounters." During Batman's pursuit of his enemies into the depths of the asylum, Morrison forces him to deal with some of the enduring anger that impels him to avenge evil. Sales of the graphic novel skyrocketed. The original hardcover graphic novel, expensively priced at $24.95, sold more than 182,000 copies (and another 85,000 copies were sold in paperback), helping to establish the graphic novel as a commercially viable publishing format. According to the Grant Morrison Web site, the series "has sold 500,000 copies worldwide and won numerous awards, making it the most successful original graphic novel to be published in America."
During this period, Morrison also began writing one of his most memorable works, Doom Patrol, a comic book series from the 1950s that was in desperate need of retooling. In 1989, Morrison took over as writer of the series, creating a four-part story titled "Crawling from the Wreckage." In his afterword to Doom Patrol: Crawling from the Wreckage, Morrison describes his approach to revamping the series: "When I sat down to work out what I wanted to do with this book, I decided straight away that I would attempt to restore the sense of the bizarre that made the original Doom Patrol so memorable. I wanted to reconnect with the fundamental, radical concept of the book—that here was a team composed of handi-capped (sic) people. These were no clean-limbed, wishfulfillment super-adolescents who could model Calvins [Calvin Klein jeans] in their spare time. This was a group of people with serious physical problems and, perhaps, one too many bats in the belfry."
Drawing on the original concept of the Doom Patrol as the world's strangest heroes, Morrison injected the series with a heavy dose of surrealism that was complemented by Richard Case's illustrations. Under Morrison's direction, the new superhero team includes Rebis, a radioactive character who is part man, part woman; Crazy Jane, a young woman with sixty-four separate personalities; and others. Sabin described the series as "A self-consciously weird revamp of an early 1960s superhero team-up story that took its surreal elements to the hilt." Indeed, Morrison drew inspiration from Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajer (1934–; see sidebar), and the result was one of the strangest and most original comic book series ever created. The success of Doom Patrol led to Morrison writing a number of other series for DC Comics, and its more adult-oriented imprint, Vertigo.
Hones his craft
In 1995, Morrsion began The Invisibles, considered by many to be his most important work to date. The lengthy storyline focuses on a secret, underground group of five guerrilla anarchists who travel through time combating the conspiracy forces in society that seek to control the masses and deny individuality. The series features many of Morrison's trademarks: absurdity, hip cultural references, surrealism, and conspiracy theories. Although the density of Morrison's text, noted for exploring a host of conspiracy theories, was difficult to read, The Invisibles developed a cult following of mature readers.
While The Invisibles came to represent the outer limits of the comic book market with its surrealistic, time-traveling, disjointed stories, DC Comics' Justice League of America (JLA), which Morrison took on in 1997, was one of the comic book industry's most iconic titles. Rechristening the series, Morrison and artist Howard Porter brought together the most powerful superheroes in the DC Universe—Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, and Superman—to create one of the most popular comic books of the late 1990s.
The success of JLA led to an exclusive contract with Marvel Comics to re-vamp the X-Men. In an interview with The Pulse!, Morrison describes his approach: "New X-Men was my brave attempt to rein in my natural exuberance and do my own updating of the '80s-style books I knew would be in vogue during the early years of the 21st century. I found it an interesting and instructive exercise and I grew to love the characters like my own seed, but it's not really my kind of storytelling in the end and I was desperate to get back to the head trip stuff I much prefer to write and read." Regardless, his work on the X-Men series proved to be even more popular than his run on JLA.
The Influence of Jan Svankmajer
"The movie-going world is split into two unequal camps," Anthony Lane wrote in the New Yorker: "those who have never heard of Jan Svankmajer, and those who happen upon his work and know that they have come face-to-face with genius." Grant Morrison falls into the latter category, noting the works Svankmajer as an important influence on his work, especially Doom Patrol. In his afterword to the graphic novel Doom Patrol: Crawling from the Wreckage, Morrison discusses Svankmajer and his influence on his work, noting, "The films are generally fairly short; they use a combination of live action and the animation of everyday objects; and they present a disturbing vision of a world set free from all logical constraints." This is the same formula Morrison uses in his comics.
Born September 4, 1934, in Prague, Svankmajer has become the best-known surrealist in the Czech Republic. He is best known for his unique approach to stop-motion technique and the surreal, nightmarish worlds that populate his films. Svankmajer's trademarks include the use of exaggerated sounds and sped-up sequences. His best-known film, Alice, is a feature-length adaptation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that is both disturbing and surreal. About his own work, Svankmajer told Time International that he and his wife/collaborator, Eva, "view what we do as a practical activity, just like sleep and food. We don't do art, we explore imagination."
Fantastic Four 1234, of 2002, became one of Morrison's most honored graphic novels. Each chapter of the story focuses on one member of the quartet as Morrison explores the inner hopes, dreams, and fears of each teammate. The artwork by Jae Lee is stylized and features innovative page layouts that fully complement Morrison's story. The original comic book mini-series was nominated for three Eisner Awards: Best Writer, Best Cover Artist, and Best Colorist. The series was also selected for the Society of Illustrators Annual Exhibition, the most prestigious mainstream illustration show and anthology.
Morrison returned to DC Comics to work on a number of series that included The Filth, the story of a government agency covertly working to keep society's troubles at bay. Published in 2004, The Filth marked a culmination of Morrison's work in comics with its combination of science fiction, surrealism, conspiracy theories, and social commentary. The Comics Journal described The Filth as "ambitious in a way that only a truly gifted writer can pull off. Like Watchmen before it, it is also one of those rare pieces of art that seduces the reader with sheer virtuosity." Publishers Weekly noted it for its "sheer audacity and density of ideas."
Writes a mega-series
In 2005, Morrison took on his biggest project yet: Seven Soldiers of Victory, a thirty-issue "mega-series" consisting of seven interlinked, four-issue miniseries and two "bookend" issues that introduce and conclude the series. Seven Soldiers of Victory features new and updated versions of such DC Comics characters as Mister Miracle, Klarion the Witch Boy, Zatanna, and the Shining Knight. Morrison delighted to work with these characters because, as he told Entertainment Weekly, "You can do anything you want with characters nobody cares about." And that, he did, writing a diverse blend of story styles from Arthurian legends to dark comedies. In a Newsarama interview, Morrison discusses Seven Soliders: "The characters I've done so far are all very different and come from different areas of the DCU [DC Comics Universe] so I've been moving from shiny scifi, to bloody crime, and from generational soap opera to robot action with little heed to commonality of theme or purpose.… I don't like to stick to one genre and this gives me a chance to mix it up a little. The only thing I'm consciously trying to do with all of these recreations is to widen the ethnic spread of DC's characters." The series has proven popular with comic book readers.
Additionally, in late 2005, DC Comics planned to release a new Superman series by Morrison, titled All-Star Superman. The series was not so much a revamping of Superman, but a presentation of an "iconic" Superman for new readers. As Morrison commented to Newsarama: "I don't think we need to 'make' Superman relevant. We just have to tell stories which resonate with human experience. The best Superman stories are fables about love, pride, shame, fear, death, friendship, etc. We can all relate to those big issues. Superman stories should represent huge, basic human dramas and human emotions, played out on a larger than life canvas." The series was eagerly anticipated and predicted to become his best-selling work.
While continuing his work on comics, Morrison also dabbled in other media. He authored the stage plays Red King Rising and Depravity, which, together, have been awarded a Fringe First Award, the Evening Standard Award for new drama, and the Independent Theatre Award for 1989. In 1999, he released Lovely Biscuits, a retrospective collection of short stories and theatre scripts. Morrison also worked on video games and motion pictures. And since 1979, he has been a practicing Chaos magician, a unique practice in which magic is used to reveal alternate realities.
For More Information
Daniels, Les. DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes. New York: Bulfinch Press, 1995.
Morrison, Grant. Doom Patrol: Crawling from the Wreckage. New York: DC Comics, 1992.
Sabin, Roger. Comics, Comix, & Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art. New York: Phaidon, 2001.
Entertainment Weekly (May 27, 2005): p. 144.
Lane, Anthony. "Kafka's Heir." New Yorker (October 31, 1994): p. 48.
Stojaspal, Jan. "Surreality Bites: Czech Provocateur Jan Svankmajer and His Wife Eva Plumb the Depths of Vision and Consciousness." Time International (June 28, 2004): p. 72.
Brady, Matt. "Interview with Grant Morrison." Newsarama.http://www.newsarama.com (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Contino, Jennifer M. "Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers." The Pulse!http://www.comicon.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=36;t=004150 (aaccessed on May 3, 2006).
Contino, Jennifer M. "Totally Grant Morrison." The Pulse! http://www.comicon.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic&f=36&t=001597 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Darius, Julian. "Grant Morrison Chronology." Sequart.http://www.sequart.com/grantmorrisonchronology.htm (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"The Grant Morrison Experience." DC Comics.http://www.dccomics.com/features/grant_morrison (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Lien-Cooper, Barb. "Punching Holes Through Time." Sequential Tart.http://www.sequentialtart.com/archive/aug02/gmorrison2.shtml (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Morrison, Grant. The Grant Morrison Homepage.http://www.grant-morrison.com (accessed on May 3, 2006).