One was this Q-and-A style interview conducted by Brian Hiatt for Rolling Stone, which accompanied a sizable feature on Morrison for the magazine online.
In that Q-and-A, Morrison discussed Alan Moore, Mark Millar, rape and misogyny in comics, and non-superhero comics, among other topics, and his comments set off some alarm bells. Here, for example, is The Comics Journal’s Dan Nadel responding to Morrison’s conflation and dismissal of non-superhero comics as Chris Ware and “those Comics Journal guys." And here is David Brothers responding to Morrison’s statement that he never wrote about rape in his 30 years of comics-writing, as well as calling him out on an even more troubling thing he said in another interview about Supergods.
That was an interview with Kiel Phegley for Comic Book Resources, in which he said something quite unfortunate about Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster and Superman.
Here’s the exchange in full:
From Siegel and Shuster through later chapters on Kirby or Jim Starlin, you cover a lot of the creative life of the people behind comics and how one informs the other, and you make some particular observations about Siegel and Shuster's desires as artists as well as professionals. There's so much chatter over the lawsuits over Superman and what not, but for you, did you feel like the characters transcend some of those debates on their own terms, or is that creative personality something that informs how our whole industry works even to today?As I’ve said before, it’s an extremely unfortunate statement coming from Morrison, and he probably should've stopped talking when he hit the bit about not really being interested in the subject, or not being comfortable talking about it.
Well, to me it's never been honestly what's interesting about this stuff. I think the stories outlast all of those complications. You look at the people who created those characters, and they're all dead. But the characters will still be around in 50 years probably – at least the best of them will. So I try not to concern myself with that. These are deals made in times before I was even born. I can say from experience that young creative people tend to sell rights to things because they want to get noticed. They want to sell their work and to be commercial. Then when they grow up and get a bit smarter, they suddenly realize it maybe wasn't so good and that the adults have it real nice. [Laughs] But still, it's kind of the world. I wouldn't want to comment on that because it was something I wasn't around for. I can't tell why they decided to do what they did. Obviously Bob Kane came in at the same age and got a very different deal and profited hugely from Batman's success. So who knows? They were boys of the same age, but maybe some of them were more keen to sell the rights than others. It all just takes a different business head.
I was hoping he had merely misspoke—perhaps he was jetlagged, and in the middle of some terrible press junket where he was doing phone interview after phone interview?—and one of the reasons I was looking forward to sitting down with Supergods was to see how he dealt with the issue in the context of the book.
Unfortunately, Morrison’s treatment of Siegel and Shuster’s treatment is even more depressing in context; far from not wanting to comment on something that happened before he was born or not being interested in the subject, he devotes several paragraphs providing a counter-narrative to the conventional wisdom that the young creators got screwed over by the savvy and experienced suits at National Comics.
The single most troubling line in the whole 420-page volume comes in a paragraph assessing the influence of the first Superman comic story to see publication by National Comics:
By the time the first Superman story concluded, thirteen pages after its breathtaking opening scene, our hero apprehended no fewer than five lawbreakers and taken a moment to root out corruption in the US Senate. Every new reveal made both the individual story and the overall concept seem even more exciting. It gave the medium a character innovation to call its own. He gave the world the first superhero.It’s that last sentence. Read it again, paying special attention to the pronoun that it begins with. He, not they.
Superman, not Siegel and Shuster.
In a way, it can perhaps be seen as in keeping with Morrison’s view of the evolution of the superhero as a concept that’s really real, even if Superman exists mostly in the 2-D reality of printed pages of DC comics (with occasional excursions outside of his home universe and into 3- and 4-D reality). But it’s a solidification of the idea that the character’s the thing, not the creator. In Morrison’s shamanic view as expressed there, it’s as if Superman came to Siegel and Shuster as divine inspiration, and used them to introduce himself to our perception of reality, as if they were in the throes of the comics-making equivalent of automatic writing.
Morrison talks up Siegel and Shuster’s considerable talents at great length, devoting almost an entire chapter to the first Superman story and the cover of the first issue of Action Comics, but the effect of that pronoun choice is heartbreaking.
And it gets worse.
After a paragraph in which Morrison notes the two young artists’ struggles to come up with an idea and sell it, he notes that with Superman they “struck gold” and that they sold all the rights to National Comics for $130:
If you listen to the right voices, you’ll hear and believe what I heard and believed growing up in this business, and it won’t be long before a dark and evil fairy tale unfolds: the grim cautionary fable of two innocent seventeen-year-old boys seduced by the forked tongues of cartoon fat-cat capitalists and top-hatted bloodsuckers. In this Hollywood tragedy, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are depicted as doe-eyed ingénues in a world of razor-toothed predators.Morrison then notes in a parenthetical statement a paragraph later that in 1975, bad publicity pressured Warner Bros. to award Siegel and Shuster $20,000 per year, in addition to creator credit on everything Superman.
The truth, as ever, is less dramatic. The deal was done in 1938, before Superman boomed. Siegel and Shuster were both twenty-three when they sold the copyright to Superman. They had worked together for several years in the cutthroat world of pulp periodical publishing, and, like so many artists, musicians, and entertainers, they were creating a product to sell. Superman was a foot in the door, a potential break that might put them in demand as big-time pop content providers. Superman was a sacrifice to the gods of commercial success. If my own understanding of the creative mind carries any weight, I’d suspect that both Siegel and Shuster imagined they’d create other, better characters.
“I’m sure it helped, but as an example of how far the business has come,” Morrison then writes, “Today a prolific and popular comics writer could make the same amount in a week.”
Holy shit. Twenty-thousand dollars…in a week?
Is that what Morrison pulls down? Because he’s one of the four most popular superhero comic book writers (along with Geoff Johns, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar), and perhaps the third most prolific of the four.
Wait. That can’t possibly be right. Because 52 times $20,000 is $1,040,000 dollars. That’s a million bucks a year. Is Grant Morrison a fucking millionaire? Because, if so, that makes his dismissal of Shuster and Siegel’s screwing over seem not just impolitic—given his current gig writing Action Comics and the success he’s had with the character in JLA and All-Star Superman—but almost monstrous.
Morrison is, by the way, super-rich, which makes his statements about art comics in Rolling Stone seem even worse in context as well.
Here it is again:
There have been histories of comic books, but your book Supergods is all superheroes. It's a counter-narrative to the idea that comics need to outgrow this superhero stuff.He first made it big with original graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Ground, which he says is “the bestselling original graphic novel of all time.”
I can appreciate someone like Chris Ware for his artistry, which I think is beautiful, but I think his attitude stinks, it just seems to be the attitude of somebody really privileged, and honestly, try living here, try living on an Indian reservation and shut up, and really seeing all that nihilistic stuff, it really makes me angry, it's unhelpful to all of us, and it's coming from people who have money and success to talk like that and bring those aspects of the way we live in favor of all the others, and it's indefensible.
So I never liked that stuff, I always thought that I had a real Scottish working class thing against the fact that these were done by privileged American college kids, and they were telling me the world was flat. "You're telling me the world is flat, pal?" And it's not helpful, it doesn't get us anywhere. OK, so it is, then what? What are you going to do about it, college kid? My book wasn't academic. I can't take on those Comics Journalguys, they flattened me, as they did, it's just defensive, smartass kids.
It took him a month to write, he says, and before it went on sale, “Karen Berger called to tell me I was rich. Initial orders were for 120,000 copies, with Dave and me on a dollar royalty for each.
That’s $120,000 right out of the gate, and the book still sells well over 20 years later. While Morrison doesn’t say how much he’s worth or anything, it’s clear that after Arkham Asylum, he wasn’t merely able to simply live off writing comics (the dream of most artists; to make enough doing what they love to not have a day job any longer), to not simply live comfortably writing comics, but to live luxuriously off of them, being able to take spur of the moment vacations to exotic locations whenever he was feeling bored.
He was 27-years-old.
Sneering at Chris Ware for being someone really privileged with money and success, or for the people who make comics that aren’t superhero comics as a bunch of privileged American college students sounds a bit silly, coming from someone who made $120,000 in a month for writing a comic book script.
Morrison’s (financial) fortunes only increased after that early point in his career, as well. A three-issue stint writing Spawn during the ‘90s boom brought him “another mini-fortune” and, while sales of comics have slid ever since, with hits like his Batman Inc or Final Crisis doing, at their best, in the neighborhood of 100,000 units a month, and considering how much of his work is in print in trade form (just about all of it), Morrison is probably doing pretty all right for himself.
Regardless of how working class his roots might have been, he’s clearly not so working class now, and hasn’t been for a good 25 years now, so it’s a bizarre thing to call out the poor bastards writing, drawing, lettering and in some cases even publishing their own goddam comic books.
To be fair—fairer than he seems to be to Siegel, Shuster and other Golden Age artists who just started to get their due in the last decade or so, fairer than he is to Ware and company—I don’t think Morrison reads, or is even vaguely aware of non-superhero literature and art comics at all after he himself hit it big and started working for DC Comics in the late eighties. (Still, it’s so…weird that he took Hiatt’s prompting that the celebration of the superhero above all else is sort of counter to a popular narrative to just jump on Chris Ware, and associate Ware with non-superhero comics, as if he was the only guy making comics that DC and Marvel didn’t publish).
Supergods is tailored to superhero discussion, so much so that when listing the big names writing consecutive issues of Spawn during Todd MacFarlane’s inspired stunt freelance writer hiring in 1993, he mentions Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Frank Miller, but neglects to mention Dave Sim. Scott Pilgrim and Bryan Lee O’Malley are mentioned at the tail end of a discussion of superhero movies. The name Robert Crumb appears once, and is used in comparison to Frank Quietely’s art style. And that’s about it for Morrison’s discussion of comics outside the superhero reservation.
His history of comics seems narrow because his subject is superheroes, of course, but even that narrow subject is narrowed even further by limiting the discussion to mainstream, corporate American comics (with digressions into British comics, where they influence his career).
That is, “superhero” as Morrison defines it means Marvel, DC, ‘90s Image, and Hollywood blockbusters, essentially. It ignores manga, it ignores the rise of the graphic novel (aside form noting that Jenette Khan and Karen Berger anticipated it, and that Akrham Asylum capitalized on it by essentially getting there first), it ignores mini-comics and it ignores webcomics—not even engaging the superheroes of those aspects of the medium and industry, or the warping effect that those big, driving forces had on the Marvel/DC super-comic that is his main focus.
Naturally Chris Ware/privileged American college kid comics don’t come up in the book, and I suppose that’s why Morrison seems ignorant of what they are, who makes them, and whether his working-class formative years, the first three decades of his life, are more working-class than the likes of Ware’s or not.
Reading his book though, it’s clear Morrison is crazy rich by Guys Who Make Comics standards, and he looks and sounds foolish clucking about Ware looking at the gutter instead of looking at the stars because Ware’s so rich and famous he should devote his wealth and fame to something more positive.
Almost as foolish as he does essentially saying that Shuster and Siegel got what they deserved. Morrison would certainly lose a working-class roots-off against Shuster, sitting in his kitchen wearing a coat and gloves because it was so damn cold and his family couldn’t afford heat, drawing on the back of butcher paper or strips of wallpaper because they couldn’t afford paper.