Interview with Grant Morrison
(by Etan Ilfeld)
Grant Morrison is one of the greatest visual storytellers of our time. His prolific body of work is influenced by his practice of chaos magic and spans media such as comics, films, theatre, productions and videogames. He is the creator of The Invisibles and The Filth, and has written stories for Superman, Batman and X- Men.
From an ontological perspective, do you view the universe as chaotic?… Do you believe in God? Alan Moore says that the world is rudderless and that nobody has complete control.
“At least in a conspiracy theory someone is in charge, but even in a universe that is completely chaotic devoid of God, consciousness itself makes meaning and our biological minds enable us to comprehend the mind of the universe. We don’t have souls or go to heaven. However, we are all part of a macro organism; I think that a rock also experiences a primitive form of consciousness, but humans are able to create more meaning. If you can look at a chair and it’s more than a chair—such as the Throne of Odin—then you’ve created a magical act, which has infused meaning into a material object.
How about reincarnation?
“I don’t think that there’s such a thing as reincarnation, but I do think that we’re all connected and that nothing completely vanishes. The peeled skin cells of Jesus, become absorbed in the earth, and may nourish a plant later on that is fed on by an animal. While we only move in direction through time, the past is always part of the present, and nothing completely vanishes. The notion of Gaia doesn’t need to be approached mystically, but can be recognized through the wonder of the complexity of the world. We’re all part of the same thing, and the product of the stars.”
You’ve got several transgender characters in your writings, in particular Fanny in The Invisibles, and you’ve been known to cross-dress.
Do you think that in the next hundred years, do you think that an actor might be able to win an Oscar for both best actor and best actress? This might involve a sex change since Oscars are based on the gender of the actor rather than the character that is portrayed (e.g. Cate Blanchett won best supporting actress for playing Bob Dylan, and Hillary Swan won best actress for Boys Don’t Cry).
“I think that at some point they will need to ratify a third sex. I think that computer generated actors will take over acting before such an event happens; in twenty years, the video-games industry and movie industry will merge, and we’ll all get to be the actors in movies.”
Iron Man and Batman are the most popular super-heroes, and represent capitalist heroes. Superman and Spiderman are not wealthy and tend to represent a more socialist perspective. What’s the correlation between the current popularity of the libertarian superhero?
in as many single bounds as it takes to a world beyond ours, threatened by overpopulation, mass species extinction, environmental degradation, hunger and explotation?
Superman and his pals would figure a way out of any stupid cul-de-sac we could find ourselves in-and we made Superman, after all. All it takes is that one magic world”. pp. 415-416, Supergods
“Superman was created as the champion of the oppressed and of the masses. Today people are obsessed with notions of individuality, and the idea that everyone can be recognized as a genius via a reality TV show or a successful blog. Our culture has aggrandized the capitalist self-made figure, which is why superheroes in this phase tend to be billionaires; for example, Batman has a butler. Nevertheless, I think that this is just a phase, and that at some point, the socialistic superheroes such as Superman—with a boss—will rise once again; in the 70’s the superhero was a cosmic seeker, but contemporary superheroes reflect the ultra-materialistic nature of contemporary society
In your book, you mention that the Green Lantern recalls the Tibetan book of the Dead, both in terms of his wardrobe and ring. Can you extrapolate on that?
“The Green Lantern is embedded with the Buddhist notion of a wish-fulfilling gem, and alternating states of consciousness inspired by varying gems. It’s like the philosopher’s stone—a consciousness operated stone.”
The gods of writing vary in cultures from Ganesha and Mercury to Thoth and Hermes. As a writer, you seem to be enchanted with these archetypes.
“Writing is an ancient form of casting spells. The technology of writing enabled people to share thoughts and ideas down through centuries, and enabled you to ‘talk’ to someone who hasn’t been born yet. Reading a scroll can enable you to hear the voices of past kings and thinkers. God exists on the pages of the book, such as in the Bible or the Quran. God is the Word rather than been out in some imaginary heaven.”
People all too often read words literally and forget the distinction between the signifier and the signified.
“Words are slippery. Deeds tell you what type of a person someone really is, but words can motivate actions. I think that our civilization needs to communicate more upbeat stories. If we keep telling ourselves that the world is doomed, it will become doomed, but if we celebrate our creative potential, we have the power to inspire a more positive future.”
You as a person have become this highly mystified persona. How do you live life on a daily basis and when do you usually go to sleep?
“I live a peaceful life in the country side and go to bed around midnight, and get up for breakfast at normal hours. I hardly watch television (although I do like Doctor Who), but most of the content on television is boring—watching the sky is more interesting”.
Do you read a good amount?
“I read some fiction, and a lot of non-fiction, which I use for research towards my writing. I like reading scientific content such as string theory. I get Scientific American and New Scientist, which keep me up to date on the scientific establishment.”
Are you concerned with the damage that technology is doing to the environment?
“I don’t believe that our consumption is as big a problem as many of the environmentalists believe. Our complex organism is meant to consume, and my craziest idea, perhaps, is that the planet can recover from our consumption, which is just part of our metamorphoses. I think that there are too many fear-mongers out there that aren’t able to understand the complexities of our meta-organism. Humans are part of nature and so, anything that we create is a part of nature: a power station is as natural as a beaver dam.”
Do you believe that there is such a thing as evilness in the world?
“I think that there is such a thing as evil on a small scale, but that it disappears on a large scale. Evil is like a temporary sickness; I think that we experience evil as a form of inoculation, such that the mega-entity that comprises of all living things, becomes resistant to forms of evil in the future. Consciousness is the closest we get to God, and to the universe looking itself in the mirror. However, the capacity for evil coincides with consciousness.”
Excerpts from Supergods:
Flash embodies Hermes/Mercury with this winged heels and hat as the ultimate messenger and a god of writing and language. Previous
– Grant Morrison loves visiting Watkins Books where he has bought many inspirational books.
– Morrison’s mother read tea leaves. Uncle Billy gave him Crowley’s Book of Thoth
and a tarot deck. Morrison experimented with Crowley’s rituals, studied Jung, and subscribed to The Lamp of Thoth magazine, which got him into chaos magic.
– As a teenager he was into punk rock and got enticed by chaos magic, which he felt resonated with punk aesthetics and enabled a more modern approach to magic. Instead of using Greek or Roman gods, Morrison synthesized fictional characters into Crowley’s rituals, replacing Hermes with contemporary superheroes such as the Flash.
– The Flash is Morrison’s favorite superhero.
– Right after his father died, Morrison performed a Tibetan meditation, the tonglin, to assist his father’s spiritual transition to the next stage.
– Morrison believes in Iain Spence’s Sekhmet Hypothesis, which follows the correlation between the solar magnetic field and popular culture. When the sun’s magnetic polarity flips every eleven years, cultural trends shift from a ‘hippie’ energy to a ‘punk’ energy: 1966 to 1977 was hippie, 1977 to 1988 was punk, 1988 to 1999 was hippie, 1999 to 2010 was punk, and 2010 to 2021 will be a hippie phase for humanity.
– Used a Ouiji board with Daniel Vallely to write Bible John: A Forensic Meditation
– He mixes surrealism into his art and loves to experiment and transgress the boundaries of traditional ‘thought-spectrum.
– Comic book history can be broken down into the following phases, paralleling the growth of a human life:
The Golden Age: a complete suspension of disbelief like a child.
The Silver Age: like a ten to twleve year old, who starts to question and doubt the world.
The Dark Age: teenage years, when things fall apart and are filled with irony; the rise of anti-heroes.
Many superheroes are magical reincarnations of ancient superheroes: Captain Marvel would be summoned by proclaiming say Shazam: an acronym for “the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury […] All of this made Marvel the first occult—or, perhaps more accurately, Hermetic—superhero; Marvel was the magus in tights, empowered by angels and the divine.” page 33
Also, Captain Marvel was created through the magical incantation “Kimota!” (‘atomik’ in reverse).
Superheroes are just as real as anything else: “They were so real they had lives that were longer than any human life. They were more real than I was They say most human names an biographies are forgotten after four generations, but even the most obscure Golden Age supehero is likely to have a life nad a renown that will last as long as trademarks are revived […] characters outlived real people, including their creators.” page 220
“In so many ways, we’re already superhuman. Being extraordinary is so much a part of our heritage as human beings that we often overlook what we’ve done and how very unique it all is.” page 115
“We are already divine magicians, already supergods. Why shouldn’t we use all our brilliance to leap in as many single bounds as it takes to a world beyond ours, threatened by overpopulation, mass species extinction, environmental degradation, hunger and explotation? Superman and his pals would figure a way out of any stupid cul-de-sac we could find ourselves in—and we made Superman, after all. All it takes is that one magic word.” Pages 415-416
About the emergence of a life force within a story: “When I was halfway through the seven-year process of writing The Invisibles, I found several characters actively resisting direction I’d planned for them. It was a disorienting, fascinating experience, and I eventually had to give in and let the story lead me to places I night not have chosen to go. How could a story come to life? It seemed ridiculous, but it occurred to me that perhaps, like a beehive or a sponge colony, I’d put enough information into my model world to trigger emergent complexity […] and even to become self-aware.” page 119
During a trip to Kathmandu, Grant Morrison experienced an epiphany, a moment of transcendental enlightenment: “there were what I can describe only as ‘presences’ emerging from the walls and furniture. Perhaps someone would call these rippling, dribbling blobs of pure holographic meta-materials angels or extraterrestrials. They were made of what might have been mercury or flowing liquid chrome […] Whatever it was, I had fully entered a space that felt both vaulted and enclosed, like an immense cathedral but also infinite in horizon.” pages 261-263
After his epiphany, Morrison was transformed: “I was now able to ‘see’ 5-D perspective. It became impossible to look at a cup, for instance, without seeing it as the visible surface of something much bigger and even more astounding; something that was winding back through its progress toward my table and beyond, back through its manufacture. The cup was a string that, if it could be followed back throught time, had an immediate physical connection origins in prehistoric clay beds created by the weathering of primordial rocks composed of elements spun from a coooling star that was itself one blazing spark of an unimaginable still occurring explosion at the dawn of tiem and being […] Even when we die, our physical process continues; centuries reduce our bodies ot dust, recycling every atom so that the air you breathe might contain a particle that was once Napoleon. An atom of iron in your body might once have spilled from the blow of Jesus Christ.” pages 274-275
On how he healed his cat, Tom: “I held my hand over a photograph of Tom and fervently asked the ‘healers and helpers on the Other Side’ to work their magic through me […] I saw foggy white mist around my fingertips that came with a surge of emotion that brought tears to my eyes […] when the biopsy results came in, he was fine. There was, inexplicably, no trace of the alleged cancerous lumps in his stomach, and the bone growth in his jaw was benign.” page 286
Right after his father died, Morrison performed a Tibetan meditation, the tonglin, to assist his father’s spiritual transition to the next stage.
On the power of stories: “A story can make us angry enough to change the world. We know that medical placebos work when a trusted authority figure, in the form of a doctor, simply tells us they will. There is even a ‘nocebo’ concept to explain why some people get sick or dige when they are cursed by a witch doctor or wrongly diagnosted by a medical doctor. We know that hypnosis works. There is observable evidence to suggest that what we believe to be true directly affects how we live.” page 409
Grant Morrison, interview, issue 28, supergods