So I was at the second Glasgow Comic Con at the weekend there and it looks as if I may have returned with a genuine scoop. I had a quick scour of the Interweb to see if there was much chat about Grant Morrison’s much-heralded Multiversity project and its spin-off titles, and apart from a few lines about his Pax American collaboration with Frank Quitely, it doesn’t look as if there’s much out there. Until now. Someone may have to update a Wikipedia page or something.
Grant took to the stage on Saturday afternoon with Frank, and here’s what they had to say about Pax Americana and Multiversity…
Grant Morrison: “It’s been like Calculus. I’m doing this series next year called Multiversity with superheroes from different parallel universes and one of them was the Charlton characters. Since the Watchmen were originally based on the Charlton characters we wanted to do a book about the Charlton characters that updated the storytelling techniques from Watchmen.
“We tried to find a new way to do it. It’s stuff like instead of a nine-panel grid we have am eight-panel grid and it’s all base on musical harmonics, the rhyming frequency of the DC Universe. I’m really excited by this, it’s all connected grids, it’s like a mathematical puzzle. But again it’s something only the two of us could have done together, no-one else could have done this.
“I don’t want to say too much because I’ve been promising this since 2008 and it’s still not out until next year. So beyond what I explained it’s an eight-issue series re-introducing the whole concept of the DC Multiverse. I went back to the books and I read those first Flash stories where the (Silver Age) Flash was reading stories about the old(Golden Age) Flash. And I thought it would be cool if the universes could communicate through comics in different realities.
“There’s all kinds of things like the Nazi Justice League, there’s a kind of 90s version of the Justice League where they’ve all grown up and have nothing to do, they’ve fixed the Earth so they have these big battle re-enactments and they sit around reading magazines. So there’s a whole bunch of worlds completely unlike one another. It’s a bit of a puzzle box but if it works out it should be great.
“There’s the Multiversity title itself, which is a framing book, then there’s the Society of Superheroes, SOS, which is a pulp version of the DC characters. Then there’s The Just which is a world where they are celebrities. There’s a Captain Marvel book called Thunder World. Then there’s Pax obviously, then Master Men which is a fascist Justice League. And then there’s a final book at the end and one in the middle.”
Frank Quietly: “Generally I find it easy working with Grant’s scripts. What I learned form the first time I worked with him on Flex Mentallo it’s not always easy when you get the first half-dozen pages of script in. It’s not always easy to know how good something is going to be when it’s finished. But with Grant, what we end up with is always worth the time, it’s always worth the investment. None of the projects have actually been the same. What we’re working on now, Pax Americana, is actually the most labour-intensive collaboration yet.
“When I get a script, on my short-sighted way I think this is amazing but it’s pretty complicated. I know it will get easier when I read it and re-read it and then what happens is when I start working on it, y’kmow do I need to phone or email or get together and discuss it? So it’s funny, some of the things like JLA for instance, was much more like ‘Here’s the script’ and then I would send Grant the roughs and he would be like ‘That’s perfect, or could you change this’. Whereas with We3 and Pax Americana it’s been much more complex, much more involved but I think it will be a great result when it’s finished, it’s shaping up really well.
“When I got the Flex scripts in I really loved them, didn’t get everything about them but loved them. But in a way it was just a great opportunity and I had this great script to work on and I did the very best I could. Looking back on it I can see there’s a synchronicity there that I wasn’t really aware of at the time. And each of the projects have been different. On one hand it’s the more we work together the more in synch we are. I think that’s part of it but it’s also the fact that Grant gives me a script that’s quite brilliant and then I’ll spend as long and work as hard as I have to, to make it as good as I can.”
The chat turned to how their first collaboration, Flex Mentallo, and how they got together.
Grant: “I was reading Electric Soup and his work looked like Dudley D Watkins and I thought ‘I’d love to see this guy drawing American comics and American superheroes.’ It was the notion of Watkins doing Superman, that was so cool. That was the root of it. And he didn’t know much about the American comics, that made it much more interesting. It made the costumes look convincing, that much more real.”
Frank: “I didn’t realise that the fact I knew so little about it was part of the appeal for you. until some time after it.”
Grant: “It made it look new. If one of those American comic book guys had done it, then it would have looked very specific, the costumes would have harked back to the 60s or 40s. What you did was create this world that was complete in itself, where the costumes fitted in that world, it wasn’t trying to be post-modern, it wasn’t a pastiche of the past. It was more organic, shall we say.”
Frank: “What was much more interesting for me was the fact that, y’know when you’re a wee guy and you’re watching a film you’re not meant to be watching and you’re not getting it all? That’s what it was like when I got the scripts in for Flex Mentallo. And I read the four issues as they came out. I didn’t read the four issues together until about four or five years ago. I was actually taking four of my comps to somebody and I read them on the plane and I didn’t realise how much of it I had missed when I was actually doing it.”
Grant: “It took three years to do, so from the beginning tot the end, there was a different life for everyone. We got caught up in other stuff as well. I was doing Justice League.
“Earth 2, that came right at the end of my run on JLA. And he was back and available so we did this Justice League 96-page book to finish out my run. I really like it, there’s this mirror thing, the symmetry, the number two that runs all the way through it, so it’s got a funny kind of structure that I quite like. And I love these evil Justice League characters, a guy getting off with Superman’s girlfriend on top of the roof while Superman is watching and getting off on that. Those were great to write and again to have Frank do those characters in that world, create those characters in that 3-D environment , it’s a comic world created by the artist on the page and you can go inside and walk around that corner or go to that hill on the background.”
Frank: “The choice is usually work with Grant or work with someone else so Grant’s always the better choice. Or what sometimes happens is Grant will say ‘I’ve got a couple of things’ and he’ll run them past me to see which ones I’m most interested in.
Grant: “There’s certain things like Superman or We3 where it seemed like no-one else could do this so I had this idea of what could be done and I knew no-one else could carry the nuances in All-Star Superman, or in We3 that kinetic, highly edited camerawork.”
They were asked about their motivation to keep trying new things in comics.
Grant: “I don’t know if I see it in that motivational way, it’s just you get bored and you’ve done something before. Sometimes I might read something I’ve done and see a little seed of development that I hadn’t thought of. I think it happens naturally, it’s really that simple. We haven’t had four-dimensional or five-dimensional grids in comics, okay let’s try it and see what happens. A murder and a murder investigation happens simultaneously on the same background across three different time frames.”
Frank: “When he says ‘Let’s the two of us try this out see what happens’ what he means is ‘Let me describe how I want you to draw it!’”
Will we ever see Zenith reprinted again?
Grant: “It might never happen. I don’t deal with any of that stuff. We’ll see what we can do.”
Would you ever do Animal Man again?
Grant: “I’ve said my bit on that one and I think they’re taking it in an interesting new direction. So probably never again.”
Will you ever work with My Chemical Romance again?
Grant: “Me and Gerard are doing a kind of musical piece for this thing in Las Vegas. Beyond that we just hang out, though we always want to do something.”
What’s your advice for starting out?
Frank: “It sounds really obvious but just try and do your very, very best work all the time. Don’t try and keep your special tricks or your best work for some special project, just do your best work all the time, because you can’t go back and re-do it.”
Grant: “It’s the same thing. There’s more commercial pressure on up-and-coming writers to fit in with certain structures that have been defined and I grew up in a world where things were a lot different, with new worlds, and speculative sci-fi, where you were allowed to just go mental and do stories that didn’t have beginnings or ends or middles. If you want to be a commercial writer you have to learn all that stuff. It’s fun to learn but the thing you’ve got to do is put yourself into the work, your experience. Nobody else has lived your life in the history of billions of years of the universe, no-one has seen through those specs, so your job, the only thing you’ve got is to bring that to your work so people get a flavour of what it’s like to live that life.”
Now that you’ve done Supergods would you write another book?
Grant: “I might write another book. I don’t think I’d do it on superheroes, I think I’ve burned the fuse out on that one but I’m talking to the agent and there could be another book, fiction or non-fiction.”
What’s your inspiration?
Grant: “My inspiration is whatever is happening, what’s my mum doing, my friends, people I meet in the street, and a lot of it comes across in my head as these luminous superhero dramas. So if someone is splitting up with someone else I think ‘What would happen if Batman split up with Robin, or whoever.’ Everything is grist for the mill.”
What’s your philosophy of life?
Frank: “Every Friday night one o f my Electric Soup pals, the two of us we discuss our philosophy of life and it’s an ongoing process. I suppose my philosophy of life would be ‘This is it’”.
Grant: “I don’t suppose I have a philosophy of life other than don’t eat guys like Aquaman if they wash up on the beach.”