Notable Quotable 01: Grant Morrison x PopImage

June 15th, 2009 by | Tags: , ,

Grant Morrison gave a great interview to PopImage shortly after he left Marvel in 03/04. The whole thing is a good read, but my favorite bit is on page three:

As for all this talk I keep hearing about how ‘ordinary people’ can’t handle the weird layouts in comics – well, time for another micro-rant, but that’s like your granddad saying he can’t handle all the scary, fast-moving information on Top of the Pops and there’s really only one answer. Fuck off, granddad. If you’re too stupid to read a comic page, you shouldn’t be trying to read comic books and probably don’t. As creative people, I feel we need to call time on the relentless watering down of comics design and storytelling possibilities in some misguided attempt to appeal to people who WILL NEVER BE INTERESTED in looking at or buying hand-drawn superhero comic books.

This will surprise absolutely no one, but I agree with Grant here. No caveats, even. Even with the “if you’re too stupid to read a comic page, you shouldn’t be trying to read comics.” I didn’t like his “channel zapping” approach in Final Crisis. I don’t think it came off anywhere near as well as Morrison expected it to, but I could respect the idea behind it. I liked seeing a comic where the reader had to do a bit of the work and interpret what was going on themselves, and giant blocks of exposition were delivered in a way that wasn’t just a bunch of people standing in a room. If you think about why Wonder Woman, Batwoman, Catwoman, and Giganta are called Furies for half a second, you’ll get it. You don’t need that box that says “Wonder Woman is evil now, and leads the reincarnated Female Furies.”

Still, thoughts? Is Morrison being fair?

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13 comments to “Notable Quotable 01: Grant Morrison x PopImage”

  1. I agree with him 100%.

  2. It does depend on the artist he works with.

    Morrison usually fairs better with artists on his creator owned work; Quitley, Stewart, Jimenez and Bond are all excellent storytellers.

    You can see it on titles with a revolving crew, the New X-men work with Quitely vs. everybody else, or JH Williams vs. Tony Daniel & Kubert’s work on Batman. Final Crisis had the same thing, JG Jones’ sequential work paled in comparison to Doug Mahnke’s.

  3. I think Morrison attempts to use comics to their fullest extent. If he can get a piece of exposition across in the art itself, he will, leaving details in the script for the artist to follow. This can be jarring since we’re used to comics writers who approach comics like novels, carrying a lot of the narrative in the dialogue alone.

    This does put a lot of onus on the artist, and it’s telling that most of his critically-acclaimed stuff has been with a hand-picked artist. I can remember an interview with him (possibly the same Popimage interview you linked) where he voiced displeasure over Sean Phillips in particular for leaving half his scripted ideas out of his art.

  4. Is he being fair? Yes, but with one caveat: that the artist be competant enough to tell a story that can be followed even with an odd layout. Quitely is very, very good at this, but compare him to early Image stuff where artists without a tenth of his design sensibilities would try something “experimental” and you’d get something approaching unreadable for the sake of having diamond-shaped panels.

  5. I absolutely agree. If anything, panel lay-outs like Quitely’s or JH Williams should be raising the bar for the rest of the industry. I think the reaction of new readers is much more likely to be the opposite: innovative layouts and unique storytelling techniques point out what makes comics such a singular medium. It’s not just illustrated narrative; as Moore and Gibbons should us in Watchmen, in good comics, the text and the arts together become greater than the sum of their parts.

  6. I’m always surprised, for some reason, at how big of a dick Morrison comes off as in interviews. Perhaps I’m burned out a little on the counterculture, but for someone going on and on about how many new exciting and awesome things he’s doing, and how original and innovative everything should be, to then turn around and start citing every cliched innovator of the past 100 years or so and the people we should be looking at for examples… well, it comes off as a little myopic.

    I’m all for complex narratives, neat panel arrangement, etc., but using “I’m new and cool! Look, Opera, not movies as an inspiration!” as justification for some pretty uninspired work… Eh. I’d rather read comics that I enjoy and will actually get something out of, you know?

    This is not to say I don’t enjoy a lot of his work. I really do genuinely love some of his books. But spending so much time talking yourself up as the awesome go to guy everyone should see as brilliant? You’d better be able to back it up, and unfortunatly, much of his work falls short in that regard.

  7. There are basic rules of page design. I don’t know them all, because I’m not an artist. But, you know how in older comics sometimes they’d have to put an arrow to show you which panel to read next because the layout was so weak that you wouldn’t figure it out on your own? That’s bad design. The arrow is nice, but nicer is not needing the arrow.

    Something you see in a LOT of Bendis books is two-page spreads where small panels go horizontally across the whole width, and invariably there’s no indication (such as a “widescreen” image across the top, or a panel that stretches across the between-page gutters) that we’re randomly breaking the page-at-a-time standard. Also on all two-page spreads: If you’re writing something that is already planned to be collected, you cannot put important information, whether in the image or any text at all, smack in the center because any trade makes it unreadable without destroying the book. Another thing I saw from Bendis books for many years. (I know he doesn’t draw the things, but the guy seems to love love love causing talky two-page spreads.)

    Also, the image style of randomly making you turn your book sideways? Lame. I didn’t read those Image books, so maybe there was a single case where that choice worked well and enhanced the story. I sure never saw it.

    There’s a lot of bad layout out there breaking the simple rules. On the other hand, creative layouts that play with panel design and borders and layouts? Steve Rude, Matt Baker (those little round panels, stuff like that), Gene Colan, Will freakin’ Eisner … originality in design is not a “new” thing scaring away Grant’s grandpappy. While I will agree with Morrison’s statement on the face of it, I have to say that it is the kind of statement that can be used to excuse not “creative” design but piss-poor design and layout.

  8. I agree with him, with one caveat: There’s a difference between “selling out” and trying to cater to everyone, which pleases no one in the end, and courting newcomers who WOULD be interested, who WANT to be interested. I’m sure Morrison agrees with this idea.

    Trying to appeal to someone who thinks all “escapist” literature is shit just won’t work. Making Robin bust up a drug ring and deal with child molestation every issue won’t change that, and more comic book professionals just need to accept this. Not everything can be for everybody all the time. That doesn’t mean that superhero comics should just be insular, for people who’ve been following them for years. But on the other hand, that also doesn’t mean character development and plotlines should be discarded in favour of constant reboots and attempts to make sure people who only know the absolute pop culture basics of the characters won’t ever be slightly confused.

    Is it that people, in general trust comics a bit less than other mediums? Often, people will trust that what’s going on in a confusing movie or television show, will be explained down the line. However, if a comic is a bit confusing, it’s just insular and for guys in hot sauce stained Daredevil t-shirts. Am I right? Or just reading something that’s not there?

  9. @Graham: I’ve never really noticed Grant Morrison coming across as a dick, with the possible exception of interviews around the time of the last couple of issues of Final Crisis. He’s just very excited to talk about his own ideas, and the things that inspired them. Then again, that’s part of his job. It wouldn’t be very good if he came on and said “My new comic’s ok, I suppose.”

    I’m just happy that someone in comics is happy to work within the medium, rather than writing a movie pitch disguised as a comic.

    As for calling up the cliched influences, well it happens in a lot of pop art. Every kid who picks up a guitar and plays pop music at some point has to acknowledge The Beatles, and everyone who works in Superhero comics at some point trips over Kirby. That said, I don’t hear a lot of creators in modern day superhero comics name-checking Arno Drake, or hell Lein Wein.

  10. @Paul Wilson: I’ll fully admit that hearing the words outloud, versus reading them might change things a little bit. I don’t fault him for being excited about his work, or wanting to convince people to buy it, but at the same time, having actually sat down and read “The Filth,” for example, there’s quite the disconnect between what it’s about and what he says it’s about.

    I completely agree that its wonderful he’s not simply using the medium to propel himself into a screenwriter’s job, but at the same time, arguing for insularity isn’t exactly the way to retain job security.

    Cliche wise, the difference, I suppose, is that when someone name drops the Beatles as an influence, that person tends to not to pretend that they are the only one who’s ever heard of this wonderful band who are so awesome and underappreciated and no one has tried to do anything like them. Kerouac and Wilde, for example, aren’t exactly obscure or unimitated. Again, this could be from simply seeing it on the page, rather than hearing it with all the intonation and body language, but that’s the way I read it.

  11. @Graham: Like I said above, I don’t think Morrison was arguing for insularity so much as saying that superhero comics should be allowed to do what they do best. Also, that creators shouldn’t try so damn hard to sell to people who will never be interested. The comics should speak for, and be themselves.

  12. @Graham: I don’t see him arguing for insularity. He’s arguing that the only way for comics to flourish as an artform is for them to do things that comics do well, not to limit themselves to aping another form.

    I’m missing the interview where he claims he’s the only one who’s ever heard of Kirby though. Morrison just seems to want to take Kirby’s concepts to their logical conclusion. Better that than let them languish as supporting characters or in the occasional all-too-reverential series that manages to sell about a dozen issues before folding.

  13. @Guy Smiley: Bendis does that on purpose a lot of the time. Since he doesn’t always have direct control over ad placement, he gets around it by making two-page layouts where they aren’t necessarily needed, but wants to have a page-flip surprise of some sort. By having a two-page spread, the publisher is forced to have the ad after it, so he can still have that page-flip, rather than have an ad stuck between the pages (if they were laid out individually), then having the surprise page be on the right side after one of those. But yeah, there’s a lot of times where it isn’t obvious that it’s a two-page spread.