Grant Morrison knows that comic books are a little silly. Perhaps that’s what makes him one of the greatest writers the genre’s known. “Batman is fundamentally stupid,” he says. “But it’s brilliant – he’s the greatest pop-art hero ever.”
The Scottish writer, who’s speaking at the Sydney Opera House next week, has built a reputation for questioning the premise of iconic characters (like Batman), while being true to the genre. “You have to do it within the rules of the story: Batman always wins,” he says. “But in order to shake up the reader, it’s important to question the foundations.”
He believes the ever-shifting symbolic power of superheroes lets them reflect society’s fears and aspirations. “Over the past 70 years, some of the best expressions of human fantasies, desires and needs have come through comic books, and they should be looked at seriously,” says Morrison. “Stuff like The Avengers and all those post-9/11 movies, that’s America dealing with its trauma in the same way that Japan dealt with its trauma through Godzilla.”
The comic’s simple format, says Morrison, gives the medium the ability to react in a way that’s akin to live performance. All it takes is someone with a script and a pencil. He argues that this makes the comic the most vital form of our time. “Comics are the best medium for representing what’s going on because they’re very easy to create,” he explains. “I’m just trying to reflect what I’ve seen on the news, or things I hate, or what the fuck Miley Cyrus is up to.”
But while Morrison’s willing to deal with whatever’s going on in pop, he acknowledges that superhero culture goes back long before the comics. “An Aboriginal artist will go back and refresh the painting on the wall of the cave to keep these stories alive,” he explains. “Each generation does its own version, but they’re all basically telling the same story.”
Grant Morrison speaks at the Sydney Opera House on October 5 as part of the Graphic Festival.