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Waiting For Tommy XXIII
Interview with Grant Morrison
RICHARD: Okay, so let's take your ambitions for superheroes. You once said that Superman should be selling a million, and given the opportunity that's where you'd take it. Is that goal still achievable, given that Marvel's best-seller -- X-Men, subject of one blockbuster and an upcoming sequel, has struggled with sales of late?

GRANT: I don't think comic books are in trouble but I'm no longer convinced that we can raise sales appreciably on these items. I think they're clearly becoming a niche market, like poetry, but with more hand-to-hand combat. The glossy, overly-expensive, hand-drawn periodicals we're now used to are such luxury aesthetic items that it's unlikely they will ever sell in quantity again. If they could be made much cheaper or else packaged as 200 page shinies, it might help, but compared to a game, a lad's mag, a CD or a DVD, a typical comic book is just too damn expensive and esoteric for most non-specialist consumers.

I still think comics will survive and thrive and that the work will be of a much higher and purer standard, so it's not all gloom and doom - it's unlikely that many young people will want to pursue this as a career when other options are open, but it will always be an outlet for maverick and anti-authoritarian talents who want to see their work published almost unedited.

SUPERMAN should be selling a million, yes. In fact, the comic should be selling lots more than a million - perhaps a million six hundred thousand two hundred and fifteen or thereabouts. The Superman symbol - like the Mickey Mouse head and the Coca Cola logo - is one of the single most familiar and instantly recognisable brand logos on the planet, but there does seem to be an inexplicable unwillingness to exploit the obvious potential. Comics have yet to find a zealot willing to market today's very different product to new demographic areas. I have to drop the blame squarely into the empty coffers of the promotional departments at the major companies. Unfortunately, I only have time to write the stories and have no real control over imaginative marketing and promotion. If I did, Superman WOULD sell millions.

RICHARD: Well then, is there any truth to the rumour that Superman is indeed where you're headed shortly? And is that only because DC refused to publish LeSexy?

GRANT: I just completed New X Men #152 so I'm not 'headed' anywhere at the moment. Your sources are shite, Johnston.

RICHARD: They usually are. Most people don't notice.

GRANT: I'm so far in advance on my X-deadlines (152 won't be published until summer 2004) that I can now take a break to travel, start some new projects and focus on the movie work.

RICHARD: And Superman?

GRANT: I love Superman and have a lot of ideas about what I'd do, but my priority at the moment is to create some new material and continue to explore new media. I'd also like to help all the starving children of the world by sending them to live on the moon. Lifespan is short but the view's unbeatable...

RICHARD: And LeSexy?

GRANT: DC didn't to publish LeSexy because Karen Berger felt it was a bit dark and parochial for her tastes. British comedy, unlike the American variant, tends to focus on self-important losers (Basil Fawlty, Captain Mainwaring, Rigsby, Alan Partridge, etc.) and when I tried to create a British sitcomic for an American publisher, it didn't stick. If I choose to do any work on Superman it'll be because I have a good story, not because Eddie LeSexy wasn't upbeat enough to appear as MAY on the Vertigo calendar.

If someone wants to do a British humour comic aimed at the Brass Eye/Big Train/League of Gentlemen/The Office audience...I have the perfect story. In the end, I may adapt the scripts for TV and try again there. It started out as a TV idea.

RICHARD: I'd buy that. No seriously. Anyone got some venture capital out there? Jamie Boardman, you're at Rebellion now, if you're reading this, pass that idea upstairs. Who knows, might help smooth over things with Grant. Okay, more on that later. Returning to an earlier point, trying to rephrase it to make myself sound more clever than I clearly am, you've stated that your current fascination with superheroes is, in part, based around what we will soon be able to do with our own bodies, augmentation to superheroic levels. Just how much is this post-rationalised justification and equivocation for taking advantage of the opportunity to create easier works that pay a stack of cash and open doors, but don't pack the literary punch of, say, Mystery Play or The New Adventures Of Hitler?

GRANT: None of it. I've been writing superhero stories which deal with politics, culture and human evolution since the days of Zenith and before. This is hardly bandwagon jumping.

As for the cash vs. culture argument, to be honest, it's not really any easier to write X-Men than it is to write something like Mystery Play. The X-Men is as 'deep' intellectually, mythically and symbolically as Mystery Play or any of the other works, if not more so. In fact, X-Men is definitely more allegorical and hermetic than Mystery Play - X-Men tells a surface story, then a secondary story about change and mutation, then a third symbolic story about the current world political situation, on top of a fourth symbolic strand about personalities and issues in the current comics scene and a fifth symbolic level of magic and intent where the White Queen, Jean Grey and Scott Summers are the figures on the Tarot card 'The Lovers' but MOVING in a drama instead of static as an image...and so on, past all this stuff I deliberately put in there and out to the equally valid interpretations and correspondences readers are able to bring to the stories.

Writing mainstream comics doesn't pay a stack of easy cash - let's get that out the way as a possible motivation for writing comics. If you have a good imagination and can write tons of them (which will take up most of the hours in your day) you can make a very comfy living but the page rates don't really match inflation and the royalties haven't been particularly impressive since the early '90s. The days of immense Madonna-style salaries are gone unless you're Frank Miller perhaps and even then I'm not so sure about all the rumours. Most of the creators left in the business right now are doing it because they love the form, they like the applause, and it pays well enough to support the wife and weans.

I make more actual cash on books like Mystery Play or Kill Your Boyfriend, which still bring in regular royalty checks and option inquiries, so the 'literary' works you refer to are the real cash cows in the end. Working with company characters tends to be a labor of love with no great reward at sunset when the new guy is shunted into place to goose sales up notch or two.

I do 'literary' stuff all the time - in fact I'm one of the few mainstream comics creators who does so on a regular basis. Doing company franchise stories has never got in the way of creating my own properties and I do the franchise stuff because I genuinely love the free play my imagination has in those little ongoing, living continuities. I love the huge symbolic dramas I can create using primal figures like Wonder Woman and the Hulk. To me, there is absolutely no question that these worlds and these characters demand my full intelligence, skill and attention as a writer.

Continued here...

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