Press "Enter" to skip to content

Grant Morrison: Open Mic

The Revolution is Now
© Grant Morrison.
Publicado originalmente en Newsarama.com el 6 de Junio de 2000.

– – – – – – – – – –

Comics.

Just when you think you’ve managed to leave them behind, there they are, fuming like Saigon under a rotten haze of sour ink-smog. Those streets thronged with freakish, child-eyed cartoon-men making stuff up, under their breath, ‘for money.’ Pimps of the imagination with their druggy beards and shaved heads and funny voices and the stupid, self-important opinions they bray down every witless ear. This city twisted backwards, haunted by the bright, the damaged and deranged, where the word ‘genius’ is daubed on each garbage sack regardless of what’s inside.

The nauseating, static density of ‘mainstream,’ the pompous, art school Gen-X whining of ‘alternative.’ And all the tired little fishes with their weird faces, feeding on one another in shrinking pools of mud and ugly weed. No-one’s even looking anymore as the frenzy of extinction plays itself out in a revolting churn of nostalgic recreations, fevered regurgitations. The water frothing red and blue and yellow until you want to be sick just to add to the mess.

Comics.

Here they are again, like a bad sex fantasy you told your doctor about in confidence and now he’s called the police…

Let’s face it, we’ve all woken up at one time or another feeling weird about comics, haven’t we? Late night donkey sweats all over, mmm? Skeleton thoughts at 3am. Clammy rumours from the id: Is it really curtains for everything we care about? Are we genuinely too weird to show our faces in public? Why am we always carrying a plastic bag? Why, indeed, attempt to write ‘something positive’ about the viability of the comic book business when everyone knows sales are falling and falling faster than did Lucifer from Heaven’s battlements?

What’s left to say about the horrific deathbed decline of the once spunky little Golden Age scrapper who became the wide-eyed Silver Age child and the surly, brilliant, frustrated adolescent of the ‘Dark Age’ just gone?

It’s so easy not to challenge the received wisdom that we are marginalised cultural grotesques haunting the fringes of reality. Everyone KNOWS comics are for retards, don’t they?

But just imagine me in my Anthony Robbins mask for the day. Naked, unashamed and come not to bury comics but to praise ‘em till they squeal like hogs.

Observe the chilling Neuro-Linguistic Rictus spread all across my face when I look you in the eye and tell you that there is NOTHING WRONG with the ‘comics industry.’ In fact, we can have our new comics boom RIGHT HERE and RIGHT NOW and will, whether we want it or not.

Here is wisdom: this comic book business, like most others, has been in the grip of huge cyclical processes since the 1930s If you look at it long term, the waxy booms and wany busts come and go like caribou populations, as easy to predict and prepare for as the changing seasons or the phases of the moon.

We`re now tunneling through a typical end-of-the-century anxiety glacier during which comforting retreats into the styles and attitudes of the past have enjoyed a brief vogue. Six months over the line, with the last century retreating into memory-mist, this short-term solution to the problem of keeping comics afloat through the recent slump now appears tired and cynical, like an old Mafia Don leafing through the Family album again and again, realising he’s killed everyone in the pictures.

In this depressing closed-circuit future ‘The Market’ is depicted as a huddle of balding, opinionated bachelors, mollycoddled like gross adult babies while they snack on the latest in a series of good old-fashioned four-color thrills designed to make them feel normal. Run this dismal scenario to its limits and all hope is lost; the dinosaurs of the medium play out their monstrous cannibal lusts until ultimately every recycled idea is ground down to entropic paste and the last of the titans falls over, dead of sheer pointlessness.

In this supercharged, hyperkinetic rapid-fix world, people want to be constantly entertained and will take that entertainment in whatever form is available, including comics.

It’s a heartening picture but thankfully, there are many paths in the winding Garden of Destiny and there’s probably still time to avoid this particular road to heck if we stop being so miserable.

The truth is that most people actually LIKE comic books and will happily read them if they are given material tailored to their tastes. I’ve tried this simple test on hairdressers, accountants, martial artists, stoners, anarchists, teachers, doctors, dentists and others, from all sides of the track.

Even the lowliest superhero comics are often more intelligent, more adult and more sophisticated than the average soap opera; dance record or TV quiz show. If comic books were as freely available and as aggressively promoted as CDs, DVDs, lifestyle magazines and computer games, they would be consumed in the same quantities, believe me.

Video games are not killing comics any more than TV could kill movies (and anytime someone trots out the argument that the computer screen is replacing the printed page, tell ‘em you can’t catch cancer from sitting too long in front of a comic book). In this supercharged, hyperkinetic rapid-fix world, people want to be constantly entertained and will take that entertainment in whatever form is available, including comics (portable, easy to read, bright, poppy and at least as diverting as most novels, TV shows or movies).

The 60-year-deep comics archive is already vast, eclectic and inspiring – from Pulitzer prize-winners all the way to no-brainer blockbusters with every possible shade between – and the potential for the future is even greater. There is quite simply something here for everyone to enjoy.

Which means it’s time the ‘industry’ and fandom jettisoned the self-conscious teenage embarrassment that still hovers round the notion of enjoying comic books. I have nothing against the collectors end of the comic-buying market – no-one, after all, would condemn the sports and the recording industries as havens of eternal geekery based on the obsessions of those few hardcore enthusiasts who carefully seal and catalogue their football programmes and rare vinyl – but we would do well to stop mistaking the collectors for ‘the market.’

Which means, why deliberately target a shrinking pool of consumers when the ACTUAL ‘market’ is bigger than it has EVER BEEN? At a time when movie special effects and a generation of directors breast fed on Marvel and DC have taken ideas once only available to comics or sci-fi nerds and placed them at the gibbering, molten heart of the mass culture furnace – Buffy, Angel, The Matrix, X-Files, Playstation, Pokemon, comic books. All becomes One in the dayglo smear of buzzing, superheated PopMedia. So why aren’t we claiming our seat at the global table, proudly waving our favourite comics, our masterpieces, our teenage angst-outs, our brilliant yarns, our smut, our philosophical treatises and our glorious drawings? Why are we glooming out and deliberately ignoring all those hungry faces in the street and on the train? Millions of them. Whole nations of eager consumers.

Trust me: by the laws of cyclical progression comics are about to become ‘cool’ again.”

THAT’S THE MARKET RIGHT THERE. The good times are right around the corner…if we can just be bothered walking that far.

There is no problem with the talent. There is no problem with the market. The problem lies solely in the area of marketing. If people can be made to believe Pokemon products are cool, they can be made to collect Green Lantern. If people can be made to take Harry Potter seriously, they can be made to take Warren Ellis seriously. We need people who can sell comics to the public. We need new people in editorial and management positions, people with a little drive, a lot of money and a mission to put these books back into the arena of mass pop culture.

Trust me: by the laws of cyclical progression comics are about to become ‘cool’ again. Join in and help hasten the process by figuring out ways to promote the comics we all like and spread them out into the hands of the people who want to read them. Soon you will see even more articles and stories about comic books and their creators in the mainstream press. There will be an increased public interest in superheroes, mutants, freaks and outcasts.

Comic books will attract a new, curious audience and begin to sell in unexpected numbers. This approaching wave of mainstream interest and high sales is going be more widespread even than it was in the mid-80s to early 90s but it won’t be of any more long-term proposition than it was last time unless we think of ways to cultivate and keep the new audience.

This will happen with or without your support but wouldn’t it be nice if, when the world arrives on our doorstep again, they find a confident, diverse and innovative comic book industry with its eye on the future, instead of a crowd of whining divisive nerds who can’t wait to retreat into the shadows and start bickering again when the spotlight passes? Wouldn’t it be nice if this time we could use the boom to build a new context for the wider appreciation of ALL types of comic books? In an increasingly image-dominated culture that shouldn’t be hard to do.

Me, I want comic creators to be as big as rock stars.

I have my own plans. What about you?

This is simple: if you really hate comics so badly you want to see them die, then keep filling the message boards with frustrated, ignorant bile (I’ve been reading some of this stuff and a lot of guys out there really need to get laid or take up meditation).

Otherwise, let’s have a momentary ceasefire to figure out ways of rebuilding the profile of the entire comics medium.

The responsibility is with us; we all know how awful it is and how crap comics are. We’ve all heard that tired old song of self-loathing long enough and it’s getting to be a real drag. If you think there’s no hope then please f*** off, die quietly and prove yourself right.

Me, I want comic creators to be as big as rock stars. I want comic books reviewed by the mainstream. I want all the cool, intelligent, friendly comics fans I know to be given the respect they deserve. I want comics to join the human race again after too long pretending to be the global village idiot.

You heard me, brothers and sisters in despair. Remember that shit you honestly believed because you thought Stan was talking to YOU personally and not just huckstering every shmuck with 12 cents to waste on the origin of Spider-Man? Think power, think responsibility and realise above all that if we want a thriving comics medium, overflowing with creative work in every genre and non-genre, if we’d like to represent a field whose imaginative talents and cushy jobs are the envy of every sane and civilised human being then WE alone must lay the foundation stones of paradise.

And let’s face the truth with a braver face than Neanderthal Man – those last few hundred thousand of us who genuinely care about it one way or another might REALLY be all that stand between comic books and their prophesied extinction so we’d better start using our mighty imaginations to think fast.

Along with a growing number of other creators and fans, I believe it’s time to get militant if we’re really concerned about the implications of falling sales. I believe it¹s time to ditch the old negative images and the self-imposed limitations which have left comic books shuffling in the cultural corner like a shy wallflower who doesn`t realise how beautiful and desirable they’d be if they only just stood up, straight, took off the glasses and SMILED at people for once.

Are the accounts managers and teenage girls who veg out in front of Ally McBeal or the latest DVD release any more or any less ‘geeky’ than the comic fan sneaking his perversion home in a bag for guilty consumption behind closed doors? Are the spotty fans of Britney Spears less spotty than the spotty fans of Avengers? Why do people take Lara Croft seriously but not Superman?

I haven’t feel geeky or dumb since I was 17. I don’t feel marginalised or outmoded and neither should anyone else in this thriving, multiplex society. When will successful, creative, intelligent people stop thinking of themselves as childlike outsiders and start engaging with the real high-stakes world?

Wake up fanboy, wake up fangirl.

Don’t you want to rule the world?