Grant Morrison: Psychedelic Superhero

Page 2 of 3

As he ages, Morrison looks increasingly like Professor X, the hairless, psychic leader of the X-Men – which happens to be one of the many comic books he's written over the years (the winged character Zoë Kravitz plays in this summer's X-Men: First Class is his creation). Like the professor, he's comfortable as a mentor and guru, in his case both to other comic-book writers and to rock stars, teaching Robbie Williams about magic and becoming close friends with My Chemical Romance's Gerard Way, helping shape the direction of that band's last album. "I definitely learned so much from him," says Way. "It takes courage to go into the commercial arena and say, 'Let's push this, let's make something crazy.'"

Growing up, Grant didn't have to look far for a flawed-but-powerful hero. His father, Walter Morrison, was a militant pacifist and well-known leftist activist in Glasgow who frequently faced police harassment. "He was a known figure, but he had a secret identity and everything," says Morrison, "a name he used when he'd leave these anti-nuclear messages." But Walter's devotion to his causes left the family without much money and tore his marriage apart. Grant's parents divorced when he was on the cusp of adolescence, and his world turned dark. He had won a scholarship to an elite boys' school, but the long commute left him without a social life. He spent his free time trying to write and draw his own versions of the American comic books that had illuminated his childhood world.

He was rejected by art school and ended up skipping college altogether, spending his post-high-school years playing in punk bands while quickly picking up professional work in U.K. comics, which he treated as the minor leagues. He broke through in America in 1988 – part of a wave of glamorous, groundbreaking U.K. writers that also included Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore – by reviving an obscure DC Comics superhero named Animal Man and inserting himself as the villain of the piece. Animal Man slowly realizes he is fictional, and in one infamous sequence, gazes out from the cage of his comic-book panel and yelps, "I can see you!" at the reader. The character ends up meeting Morrison, who apologizes for killing Animal Man's family in an earlier issue, and brings them back to life. As Morrison saw it, he had invented a "fiction suit" that allowed him to enter the comic-book universe, and he had no intention of taking it off. "I was trying to become fictional," he says, "because I had all these mad ideas."

Morrison made his first real money with 1989's wildly popular graphic novel Arkham Asylum — a surreal, psychosexually rich tale of Batman and the Joker that informed Heath Ledger's unhinged take on the character. "The mainstream superhero stuff in a lot of ways has been more experimental than the stuff I've done for myself," says Morrison, who's also been writing monthly Batman comics since 2006. "It's going to look good in the context of 70 years of Batman – I've tied a knot in it that will be there forever, and that's as meaningful as anything I'll do."

Morrison had just hit his thirties, and Bat-cash in hand, he was ready to have the kind of fun that had eluded him in his teens. He traveled the world, visiting India, Thailand, Bali, New Zealand, Nepal. He started wearing leather and vinyl, shaved his balding head and abandoned a lifetime of sobriety, dropping acid, shrooms and Ecstasy, smoking hash. In Katmandu, he had a spiritual experience that has guided his work ever since, a revelatory vision from some kind of fifth-dimensional perspective. He saw the universe from the outside, met silvery bloblike entities who explained the connectedness of all life on Earth. "I felt it was a higher intelligence, and there's no proof it wasn't," he says. "I remember space and time being just a flat surface."

It wasn't merely a drug thing. "I was only on a little lentil-size piece of hash, and that won't give you that experience – God knows I've tried," adds Morrison, who knows how insane all of this sounds. "I was utterly sure for a long time after that when I died I would just wake up there, like looking up from a video game, realizing you're in your room, but now I don't feel like that anymore."

Morrison never considered "pulling an L. Ron Hubbard on this stuff." Instead, he just kept writing comic books. He put as much as he could of this experience into The Invisibles, a brain-bending comic-book series he created about mystic kung-fu-fighting adventurers, which seemed like an obvious influence on The Matrix when it hit theaters five years later. "I was told by people on the set that Invisibles books were passed around for visual reference," says Morrison, who wouldn't have minded some credit. The Invisibles starred a bald, leather-clad guy called King Mob who looked just like Morrison. He tried to blur the lines between himself and the character, adopting King Mob's lifestyle and fetish wear. "I became the character," he says, "and he was copying me instead of me copying him." Around this time, a young Gerard Way, then an intern at DC Comics, encountered Morrison. "I saw Grant, and he was King Mob," Way says. "He had actualized into this piece of fiction, and I was like, 'Oh, my God, that's what I have to do.' That's what started me on my path."

But by Morrison's account, the connection with King Mob turned on him: After the character hallucinated that his face was ravaged by bacteria, Morrison's own cheek fell prey to a staph infection, which spread and put him in the hospital, nearly killing him. (That much is definitely real: The scar is still there on his pale, stubbly cheek.) So he decided to use the apparent voodoo bond to his advantage, setting King Mob up with hot women, making him rich and successful.

Another Invisibles character, the transvestite Lord Fanny, also drew from Morrison's life. In the bedroom of his town house, near a painting by Emil Schult of Kraftwerk, is a female mannequin wearing a purple coat and white-feather boa over a shiny black bodysuit. They belong to Morrison – he used to wear them while doing magic, based on a shamanistic belief that demons won't recognize you in ladies' clothes. "I was a pretty sexy tranny," he says. "It was a complete turn-on, but I was using it as an energy to try to manipulate it."

Morrison was into some dark stuff at the time, trying to summon monsters from the work of H.P. Lovecraft. "You can say I'm fucking nuts," he says, "but anyone can find these rituals online, and if you're too scared to do them, you're the one who believes in the devil, not me."

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Culture Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.