Talking With Gods opens with footage of an announcer introducing Grant Morrison at a comic convention as the ‘rock star’ of comics. Director Patrick Meaney then cuts to a shot of the writer sitting in the Lotus position, looking serene. Very quickly the familiar associations comic fans may have with Morrison are summarised by this sequence – a modern-day Ziggy Stardust of the funny pages, segueing into the esoteric mystic. Talking With Gods even feels like a mid-90s MTV production at first, all strobe lighting and cutting back and forth between excitable talking heads, a style that was popular during Morrison’s cultish hay-day as the creator of The Invisibles and Doom Patrol.
However, Meaney’s film is soon revealed to have a different approach in mind. “I think doing the film gave him an opportunity to present a different image of himself,” Meaney explains,”more of a normal guy, going through normal stuff, but filtering it through a mind filled with crazy ideas and unique takes on the world. Even as someone who had read a lot of interviews with him, hearing him actually talk about an alien abduction or magic ritual made it feel much more down to Earth and relatable than just seeing the words.” The film does make for a surprisingly intimate portrayal of the inscrutable Morrison, stripping away the enfant terrible reputation that has informed the common perception of him over the years. Meaney’s documentary, along with the writer’s own recent semi-autobiographical work Supergods, has done a lot to help lift the veil from the individual behind the alien abduction stories and *that* magickal rite hosted in the letters page of The Invisibles (helpfully illustrated by Rich Johnston in the film with hand gestures). What emerges is the story of a lonely young man who embraced the potential of his own imagination to become more confident in himself.
In fact one of the more interesting moments in the film is when Morrison self-applies the term ‘supergeek’ to describe himself as a teenager, revealing that this is why he feels some common cause with the fans he meets at conventions. Instead of being some disaffected hipster whose cultish cachet won him runs on JLA and X-Men, he evidences a genuine love of superheroes rooted in his childhood devotion to comics. Morrison discusses in the film how he grew up terrified of the atomic bomb, an impression formed by having been born during the Cold War and having a father who was passionate about nuclear disarmament. His fears were calmed by the thought that if the bomb were to be dropped, Superman would stop it from destroying the world. That merging of fiction and reality became the key theme of his adult work. Meaney dedicates a section of the film to showing how the rare Morrison work Flex Mentallo demonstrates this – “I think Flex Mentallo is the best distillation of everything that makes him special as a writer” says Meaney. “It’s extremely autobiographical and emotional, but also huge and cosmic, and explains the reason why so much of his work is focused on superheroes. Flex presents the idea of the superhero as a model for the future of humanity, an idea that’s motivated nearly all his superhero work since then.”
Of course Morrison is known not just for introducing novel themes and ideas into superhero comics, but also for his professed ability to perform magick – that’s magick with a ‘k’, in line with the theories of ‘The Beast’ himself Aleister Crowley surrounding transformative acts of ‘will’ instead of sleight of hand.
“This was one of the elements of Grant’s work work/life that interested me the most going into the film” recalls Meaney, explaining that he believes magick was a way for Morrison to set the goals he wanted to achieve in life. But it is by no means a doctrine, or a series of set rules that he follows. “He doesn’t approach magic as something that’s a certainty, or something you really need to learn and master before trying. He’s very much about experimenting, and seeing what works for you. It’s not codified – he did things, saw what worked and kept doing them.” The combination of creative energy and personal reinvention had its peak with The Invisibles, an action-thriller-sf-conspiracy series that managed to attract a devoted following who were as enthralled by the mind-bending stories as they were the writer’s use of his own life experiences to inform the narrative.
Having already written a book for Sequart Publishing on The Invisibles titled Our Sentence Is Up (the very last line of the series), Meaney is evidently a confirmed fan of Morrison’s. “It can be a bit embarrassing to admit when I’m supposed to be an ‘objective documentarian,’ but Grant is pretty much my idol.” That familiarity with Morrison’s writing eases the delivery of a lot of the information in the film regarding his unusual lifestyle and how it affected his developing career. The overall tone of Talking With Gods is non-judgemental, engaged, taking Morrison’s wildest claims at face value and investigating how they relate to the life he has lived.
However, within comic fandom itself Morrison is regarded as an extremely divisive figure. The tensions between would-be fellow travellers and readers who resented his introducing of such concepts as ‘chicken Sentinels’ into New X-Men, or more pivotally, his entire approach to the storyline of Final Crisis, brought a lot of those tensions to a head. Morrison is still visibly smarting from the reception of that series when interviewed by Meaney. “A lot of people seem to have a strong resistance to thinking about their entertainment”, he suggests “ and struggle with ambiguity and mystery. You can see this in peoples’ desire for ‘answers’ from shows like Lost, or the anger people felt at the end of The Sopranos. Grant is someone whose works give you more, the more you examine and engage with them. Something like Seven Soldiers is explicitly designed to be pored over for new connections and parallels between the various miniseries.” Indeed while books like Final Crisis did inspire a great deal of online criticism, they also led to a number of websites and fan forum discussions dedicated to unravelling the meaning behind the super-compressed narrative. Morrison will always provoke extreme reactions from people, but then provocation is one of his writerly tools.
The co-producers of the film Sequart, in association with Respect! Films, have moved on from publishing scholarly discussions around comics and the accumulated history of the industry, with this their first step into further documentary film-making. “Sequart has been around for about five years,” notes Meaney, “they’re a publisher focused on making books, and now films, that analyze and explore comics in a serious, but accessible way. There hasn’t been a lot of substantive comics analysis, and Sequart is all about digging into these works and talking about what they have to say.” Meaney also revealed that his next film with the company, Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts, will premiere at the Napa Valley Film Festival in November and the release will be accompanied by two books on Ellis’ Planetary and Transmetropolitan.
As for Morrison he has a film of his own planned. “Grant’s currently writing the script for a film called Sinataro, which will be independently financed and directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer, a longtime fan and friend of Grant’s. So, that’s going to be a pretty pure download of Morrison on screen. Word is the script is almost done and it should go into production fairly soon.” There’s no escaping him – the man who talks with gods is here to stay.