In-Depth on Grant Morrison's Legendary ANNIHILATOR
Grant Morrison's name carries a lot of weight in the comic book industry. Whether his name initially inspires his reinventing Marvel's X-Men or giving DC's Batman a son, a full hero's journey, and even a franchise, the writer hopes his true legacy will be in his creator-owned work.
After recently announcing that once his Batman, Inc. and Multiversity series are completed he'll be retiring from Work-for-Hire (at least for an extended leave of absence), Morrison has wasted no time in getting to work on all-new properties created and owned by himself. Happy, with art by co-creator Darick Robertson recently premiered at Image Comics and is already in development as a film. Next up for Morrison is a re-teaming with his old All-Star Superman editor Bob Schreck at Legendary Comics for an all-new limited series: Annihilator.
No, that's not a villainous despot set to rule the world, as the title actually refers to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. The book is a story as much about Los Angeles and the Hollywood way of life for a writer as it is about a villain chasing after a hero. With twists and bends that may make even the Morrison faithful's heads spin, the writer may have actually been holding back with past work.
The story centers around Ray Spass, a Hollywood writer tasked with creating a big tentpole scifi film who has terrible writer's block. After a faustian deal, Spass finds himself face-to-face with the main character of his screenplay, Max, and sets off on an adventure with the character. There's one other thing, he also has to keep writing, as his deadline is literally killing him in the form of a brain tumor. We warned you this was a bit nutty.
To find out more about the new series, Newsarama sat down with Morrison at New York Comic Con for a roundtable interview. [Note: Most questions are Newsarama's but some are from other outlets; we're marking all with the generic "Nrama" for simplicity's sake.]
Newsarama: The main character, "Spass"...
Grant Morrison: Pronounced "Space!" That's the gag. When police pull him up they say "Mister Spazz?" and he says "No, Space! Not Spazz!" so that's his name, Ray Spass, as in ray of light.
Nrama: I'm glad I could work that in for you then!
Morrison: That's pretty good, you got that straight away! (laughs)
Nrama: So, he has a brain tumor - how much ambiguity does that give to the adventures he has with Max, as to what's real and what he might just be hallucinating?
Morrison: This isn't like in Happy or Joe the Barbarian where it's Ambiguous. It's quite clear that Max Nomax is real, it's just "how can that possibly be?" The tumor he has in his head is a packet of information, or at least that's what he's told. So if he doesn't write down the story, he dies of a brain tumor. If he does write the story he unloads the information from the brain tumor and saves his own life, and saves the universe.
So that's kind of the problem he's got - he's got like four days to finish the screenplay or die. And I think we've all been there, haven't we? (laughs)
Nrama: So are you drawing on some of the experience that you've had?
Morrison: Well of course I've never had a deadly brain tumor, and let's hope that never happens, but I've definitely had to deal with the pressures of a deadline.
Nrama: You went high-concept with All-Star Superman but now seem to be shying away from caped heroes, how does it feel to be working with those concepts without a superhero attached?
Morrison: Well it's been fun! Obviously working with a superhero is easy, because they come with this emotional baggage, and in this way you're trying to create new characters, trying to make sure people get into it as quickly as possible in the first issue. I've got to say it's been a lot of fun. For the last ten years I've done superhero books almost exclusively. So yeah, it's just been great, you're absolutely right. I'm trying to take the same sensibility of a superhero story, and the big moments and the big beats and the big images and transfer it to a different kind of story.
Nrama: Do you feel like it throws you at all, without a safety net? A lot of what you do when you're working with Batman or Superman is mining that history and making it work, here you're creating your own history.
Morrison: Yeah, it's kind of why I like it! As fun as it is to have those emotional connections with Superman and Batman, as you say, you don't have to introduce the characters. You can throw them on page one, and depending on what's happening, people will respond. If Batman's in trouble, then their entire childhood's in trouble.
So this one is about making people feel that by the end of twenty pages. It takes a different kind of skill, but it's as much fun if not more.
Nrama: Because of the relationship with Legendary have you given thought about how this would translate to screen?
Morrison: Originally it was created as the notion of - I wanted to do a comics story about Hollywood. So ultimately, yeah, if you're going to do that kind of story you want a story that would translate, but that wasn't the important thing here. It was about doing a comic about movies. If it becomes a movie in the end, that would be fantastic. It would be a good movie, I'm sure! But it's not about that, it's about these six issues.
Nrama: Because it's a comic about movies and about Hollywood, does that inform the way that you're writing it? Does it change some of the storytelling methods you might be using?
Morrison: Yeah, I've been trying to do a lot of new stuff, just based on, again, because it's a movie and how you can use the page. Since WE3 I've been interested in this idea about a three dimensional page, where animals don't have to just sit on a surface, they can kind of float in a three dimensional space. So it's a lot more of that kind of stuff, and going into things, tunneling into things. You'll see what I mean. Probably when it comes out, it'll just look like an ordinary comic! (laughs) But this is all the thinking that was going into it.
And also trying to tell stories that are a little more… I've been thinking a lot about trailers, because trailers cut out all the boring shit! So I wanted to cut all the boring shit out of it. So there's kind of an influence in the way stories are told through trailers. "DUNNNN… This is John. John has 24 hours to live." So there's a certain sense of hugeness in the way that I tell the story.
Nrama: Does that allow you to have the emotional beats at the same time?
Morrison: Oh yeah. It's just moving the way you feel life. Your own life, if you put our lives in television it would be boring. But the way you feel it, every moment is epic. Every one is something big. So I'm trying to get that feeling of the "small" being double-page spreads!
Nrama: Have there been any specific movies that you watched to jazz you up in the creative process?
Morrison: For this one, no, I've actually not seen a lot of movies cause I've been working too hard for the last two years.
The thing that actually got me excited was this book of astronomy, that's where I got the name. They think that at the center of our galaxy is a black hole and the whole thing revolves around it. This supermassive black hole is the center of the entire galaxy, and it's called "the great annihilator," that's what astronomers have called it. And if it was anything in TV, it was a science program where they did a great annihilator - oh f*#&, that's the name! Don't call something "annihilator," you're missing out on this.
So the whole thing is centered around this great black hole, but no films. Which is ridiculous, I can't think of a single film that inspired it, except for 2001.
Nrama: Can you talk a bit more about this story's origin as a comic book?
Morrison: Rian Hughes challenged me to design something as intricate as Watchmen, and I said "No way!"
But I went away and I got into this idea of doing something based around a black hole and the thing in the guy's brain. So it came from that challenge from Rian Hughes.
Nrama: You said something interesting in the announcement, that this is a "love story." The two main characters are a writer and his creation come to life, is that who the love story is between, and are you talking in a traditional sense or a more conceptual sense?
Morrison: There are several love stories in it. There's a story between Ray and a girl he once went out with which uhh, it went to hell. There's a love story between Max Nomax and his… I wouldn't want to call it his girlfriend because it's more than that, but there's a major character who's frozen in the story, and he's trying to bring her back to life, he's vowed to find the cure for death in order to save her. And there's a love story in it, yeah, between the writer and his creation of vice-versa.
Nrama: Moving over to your editor, Bob, I wanted to ask you a question…
Bob Schreck: Can I say something first? I want to say something kind of corny, but it's true, absolutely true.
For me, I'm a big fan. My first convention in this city was in 1969, I was there before there were comic book stores. The great thing about being an editor is you're in at the ground level, you're watching the foundation go in and you're discovering the story before anybody else. So it's really trippy to be here today.
When I saw Devil's Backbone the first time, I got goosebumps. I'm a part of Legendary and I'm a huge Godzilla fan. When I got married a few months ago, my ring bearer was a friend of mine in a full size Godzilla suit (laughs). But I got to see the Godzilla trailer they showed at San Diego Comic-Con, I didn't get to see it then, but I got to see it in Burbank a couple of weeks ago… and guess what, I got goosebumps.
Well last year, when Grant, and Kristin, and I, sat down in San Diego and he started telling me the story of Annihilator, I looked over first at my assistant and guess what - we both had goosebumps. Hand to God, we both went "oh Christ we're going to get to do this?" It was a series of dreams come true that we wind up with "woah, we get to play." And it was a great time doing All-Star Superman, but this is even more fun because it's his toy. It's just wow.
Nrama: When you're working with a "high concept" guy like Grant Morrison, how much hands-on editing do you wind up doing?
Schreck: I taught him everything there is to know about Superman. (laughs) He was clueless!
When I work with a guy like Grant, or Jim Lee, or Miller, or anybody. These are guys who know their craft inside out, and they know the subject matter inside out. When I work with somebody who's younger and green and coming up in the business, I'm the house inspector, I check the struts. Or I go, wow, your fly is open and this isn't working! Or What do you mean by this?
But when you're working with someone like Grant the best thing to do is get the hell out of the way and let them do what they do absolutely perfectly. And the occasional clearing of the throat to go "gee, is that what you meant?" Sometimes they'll go "that's exactly what I meant" and I'll say "Okay, never mind!" Or sometimes they'll say "let me shave that, let me clarify that."
It's really minor. I've been saying this for years, the hardest part about working on All-Star Superman was getting Frank Quitely his checks. I said "he draws like a monster, let's pay him!" Invoicing, that's what was difficult. The rest of it was a joy.