Grant Morrison at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

(Grant Morrison in conversation at the Edinburgh International Book Festival at the weekend, all pics from my Flickr)

This weekend I enjoyed a late evening literary bash at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as Scots superstar comics scribe Grant Morrison took the stage in front of a packed audience, which, I’m delighted to note, had a pretty good gender mix (so much for the oft-repeated but simpyl wrong mantra that comics are only for boys…). In fact later on when I was getting my own copy of his new Supergods book (part history of superheroes, part autobiography, very interesting – out now from our friends at Jonathan Cape) I mentioned to Grant how well his recent signing at our Glasgow store (a location he knows well) had gone (he spent over three hours happily signing for everyone who patiently lined up round the block to see him) and he commented that there too and at other events to promote the new work he’s been really pleased to note how large a proportion of the audience are female.

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It was, as you’d probably expect from one of the more consistently inventive writers in the medium, a pretty interesting talk, with Grant elaborating on some of the themes in Supergods, such as taking the superhero figures that have been the industry mainstay for eight decades as ‘real’. By this he didn’t mean real as in actual superbeings walking (or leaping tall buildings) among us, but that the effect and inspiration such characters can have on readers, that is real. And as Grant continued he brought together one of the arguments he’s proposed before and in the book, that with the convergence of humans with their constantly progressing technology it may only a matter of time until ordinary people in future generations will have ‘superpowers’ and abilities beyond those natural evolution gave us, with a look at one of the possible causes of recent unrest we’ve witnessed in UK cities, pointing out that some youth don’t care about society because they feel no connection to it, abandoned by it and with no future – what of a future where those kids grow up to have these new scientifically enhanced powers? Surely, he argued, the heroes we’ve grown up with, Superman, Batman and the rest, offer up a decent role model of how to behave responsibly with powers and abilities. Perhaps one day when superhuman abilities are commonplace that generation will look for role models and guidance on how to deal with their enhanced abilities and they could do worse than look back to our superheroes.

(cover to Supergods: Our World in the Age of Superheroes by Grant Morrison, published Jonathan Cape)

With DC’s imminent reboot of their universe with fity two new issue ones he was asked about reworking classic characters and why it seemed that Superman seems to be remade fairly frequently while Batman, for all the ups and downs creators have put him through (including Grant himself, of course) still tends to retain his backstory more. Grant put this down to the fact that Superman seems to require more re-imagining than Batman and as a character seemed more open to it as well, while Batman’s more complicated back-story and universe simply serves the character so well that although every generation makes changes, it doesn’t need radical overhauling, it works too well. He was also asked about Wonder Woman; in the book he discusses how the earliest strips of our Amazonian were rife with S&M elements, many of which reflected her creator Marston’s own sexual interests (having had a look at a memo Marston wrote, usually locked in a secure DC vault, Grant’s opinion was that Martson was certainly a bit bizarre on some of his sexual preferences and kinks). And yet it seemed these bondage and sexual elements were clearly an important part of her make-up, he said, noting how quickly Wonder Woman faltered after Marston’s passing, how that took something important out of the equation that makes her work. Asked about how he intended to approach this classic but often very hard to write for character, Grant couldn’t elaborate too much for the obvious reason that it is a work in progress. He did tell the audience that he was fairly confident he had found a way to incorporate those original sexual elements back into the world of Wonder Woman but without being sleazy or exploitative – not an easy trick to pull off, he acknowledged with a smile, but he feels he has a handle on how to approach her and hopefully 2012 will let us all read that result for ourselves.

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It was a great event, taking in iconic characters that have lasted decades (as Grant said, you can’t kill the superheroes, even in the wake of Watchmen in the ‘Dark Ages’ of comics of troubled, screwed up characters, when a lot of folks thought that was game over for the traditional hero, they came back. And they always will, the superhero was designed to take on all assaults and problems, after all), treating the comics universes as real, almost like a virtual universe but made of paper (a theme he elaborates on in Supergods), magic and meta fiction, the influence of Hollywood’s interest in comics (perhaps making too many writers try to show that they can write a Hollywood style script for their comic with one eye to being optioned and maybe being asked to become a screenwriter; part of his response has been to try and devolve more power to the artists again on layouts and design of pages, rather than the writer dictating too much on that, telling his artists to to go back to enjoying using those devices that only comics can do rather than trying to be ‘cinematic’ – play with the perspectives and slicing up of time that only a comic strip can do convincingly), gender and just why we still feel compelled to tell and read tales of superheroes. The talk was pretty good natured throughout, with plenty of humour and the queue for the signing afterwards stretched out the tent and down the walkway; it took me almost an hour to get my own books signed and when I left the end of the line still hadn’t even made it into the signing tent! Undaunted Grant was happily signing away and chatting to each and every reader. Hugely enjoyable talk from one of our best writers. Thanks to the press crew at the Book Fest for being kind enough to sneak me into the talk.

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