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Comic book writer Grant Morrison on 'Supergods,' his history & philosophy of superheroes

SUPERGODS: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human
SUPERGODS: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human
By Grant Morrison

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In 'Supergods,' comic book writer Grant Morrison talks philosophy, his own personal story and traces the history of comics. He likens the life of comics to life in general. Morrison argues that, in the modern era, comics have finally grown up. He spoke with KPCC's "AirTalk."

Comics used to be huge sellers, but Morrison says that sales began going down in the 1970s as comics lost their bright-eyed optimism and began tackling the headlines in very adult comics. Characters like Green Lantern would deal with civil rights, pollution and drug addiction.

"What that did unfortunately," says Morrison, "was to alienate the huge audience of children."

Morrison broke into comics as part of what he calls "the Dark Age" of comics in the 1980s and continues in the subsequent era he labels "the Renaissance Age" beginning in the mid-'90s and continuing through today.

"We were coming out of punk rock and the alternative art scene and theater and poetry," says Morrison, "so I think we brought a kind of literary dimension and also a dimension of anarchism, which kind of refreshed the U.S. superheroes of the time."

Morrison says that, in the modern era, writers began to treat superheroes with less of a real world lens and more as ideas. Morrison says they began to think, "Maybe it's better to treat them as what they are, as huge symbols of human potential."

Morrison says that comics and superheroes have grown up, and that comics in pop culture are part of that. "We've got a nice girlfriend called 'Hollywood' now, and she takes us to better parties."

Superheroes are starting to become real, Morrison says. He talked about some in the real world, such as Seattle's Phoenix Jones, who are putting on costumes and fighting crime. "The superheroes have left behind their original homes of the comic book," says Morrison, "and really they're entering the real world." Morrison says that children will look back at these comics and movies for more direct role models as the real world becomes more like comics.

Morrison also says that one advantage comics have is the ability to respond to issues quicker than a movie or TV show. "A movie takes two years, five years to make. Even a TV show takes a long time to make. A comic can be written and draw and on the stands in three months, which means we can respond to news."

He says that one reason he thinks comics are becoming more popular in pop culture today is "the mass media narrative is one of apocalypse," with issues like global warming and overpopulation posing threats to society. "I think the superhero's risen up almost as an imaginative response to that."

For more of Morrison's thoughts on superheroes and his own story, he'll be speaking at Pasadena's Vroman's Bookstore Friday evening at 7 p.m. You can read a review of his book over at Comics Alliance.

You can also watch an 80-minute documentary feature, "Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods," below:

- Mike Roe