Dr. Strange

Grant Morrison's the best writer in comics—and maybe the nuttiest

At the end of the '90s—around the time Morrison was included in Entertainment Weekly's list of the top 100 creative people in America, making him the first comic-book writer to be so mentioned—Morrison was creeping toward mainstream success. He lived out a fanboy's fantasy, penning Superman-Batman-Wonder Woman stories for JLA, DC Comics' long-running book featuring its best-known characters. By 2000, he was tapped by Quesada to resurrect Marvel's commercially viable but critically loathed X-Men title. Rechristened New X-Men and starring Cyclops and Wolverine and Professor X and other heroes Morrison loved as a child, the book now moves some 150,000 to 200,000 copies each month. And writing X-Men, especially in the shadow of the popular 2000 film and its forthcoming sequel, has made him a star at comic conventions, where he's swamped by acolytes seeking autographs. Walking through comic-con crowds is like "moving through glue," he says, though it sounds a little like "moovin tru gloo."

"More people are aware of me than ever before," he says. "It is the Marvel crowd of kids who didn't know my name before, no matter what I'd done. Writing the X-Men really makes a difference. There is definitely more glue per yard nowadays than there was last year, much more so. I think the DC audience is quite different and maybe a little bit more conservative. But the Marvel audience is quite...rabid is the kindest word."

But Morrison was revered well before his work on New X-Men, by a smaller but equally fanatical crowd—those who devoured his work in such books as The Invisibles and Doom Patrol and Flex Mentallo, all written for DC's adult-oriented line, Vertigo. They're the psychedelic daydreams, hallucinogenic poems and occasionally indecipherable visions of a writer who practices magic, insists he was abducted by aliens during a 1994 trip to Katmandu and once cornered a man dressed as Superman at a comic convention to chat him up for inspiration. He might be a little nuts, but it's part of his charm—the charisma of the slightly demented guy who, were he not working in comics, might be deemed a genius by more than a few thousand shut-ins loitering about in comic shops. More than once has Morrison referred to these books, filled with gruesome imagery and cross-dressing (and hermaphrodite) superheroes and trips back and forth through time and space, as autobiography—"my diaries," he says. "Comic books are the most purely magical form I am aware of. It is the best art form for doing sorcery."

Grant Morrison remains the only comic-book writer named to Entertainment Weekly’s list of the 100 most creative people alive, ever, anywhere. Something like that.
Grant Morrison remains the only comic-book writer named to Entertainment Weekly’s list of the 100 most creative people alive, ever, anywhere. Something like that.

His latest book for Vertigo is perhaps his most inexplicable yet: Titled The Filth, it's a seedy little comic book that makes you want to shower after reading it. The first issue, just in stores, begins as a booger-eater with a hideous comb-over named Greg Feely rifles though a magazine rack for jack-off material; he cleans up his jizz with "man-size tissues," only to wind up getting sucked off in the shower by a woman with the same grotesque haircut. Greg Feely, it turns out, is but a bag of bones housing Slade, an officer in a secret society called The Hand—an organization that stops "the world's back yard from stinking," that "wipes the arse of the world." Damned thing makes no sense—The Hand practices such things as the Venereal Arts and employs a Science Gestapo—but it's a hypnotizing read, as though someone turned The Invisibles (or, well, The Matrix) into the world's longest hard-core anti-porn message.

"Yeah, well, The Invisibles was filled with sexy, beautiful people, and The Filth is filled with ugly, hopeless people who can't get sex and all the sex is bad sex," Morrison says, laughing. "The fashions are ugly, and everything is wrong, but there is a kind of real heart to it, which The Invisibles doesn't have. The Invisibles is more like Vogue, and I just wanted The Filth filled with flapping comb-overs and hopelessly degraded paunches. I think it's funny, because it is basically about super spies—but the super spies are garbage men. Everything about it is kind of taking the worst aspects of existence and kind of turning it into super-computer-generated DVD glamour."

Morrison can feel the tug of Hollywood, which does now to comics guys what it has done to novelists for decades—lures them with promises of gold, then lines their pockets with lead. He insists The Filth will become a feature film in five years' time—or some time after he gets The Invisibles on the big screen, something he's been working on for years. He's also just signed a deal with DreamWorks to write a non-comics-related film; it will instead be a Halloween story for children.

"I am following the superguys into celluloid," Morrison says, sounding like Clark Kent about to up-up-and-away. "But the next jump is off the screen and into real life. That is going to be when it starts to get interesting. Another reason I love comics is because I think they are so far ahead of what's about to happen to the human race. I mean, here we have cloning technology; we have genetic engineering. We have all kinds of interesting things on the horizon, and it won't be too long before the first superperson climbs out of his tank. I mean, it is not science fiction anymore."

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