GRANT MORRISON Wages War Using Indian Mythology for 18 DAYS
If you’ve seen advance images of Mukesh Singh’s art on 18 Days, then you might suspect that this joint effort from Dynamite Entertainment and Liquid Comics coming August 2010 is going to be something special. Add the fact that the writer is Grant Morrison, and that suspicion is quickly confirmed. We had the chance to ask Morrison about the project, his interest in mythology in general, and why he chose to focus on this epic war between the members of one extended family.
With that answered, we turn it over to the inimitable Grant Morrison.
Newsarama: What was your first exposure to The Mahabharata ? What kind of impact did it make on you at the time?
Grant Morrison: As a child I was obsessed with mythology of all kinds so I had a very basic grasp of the Mahabharata story. When I was a kid all mythology made a big impact on me. At the time I was starting The Invisibles, the Peter Brook stage version of Mahabharata was being shown on the BBC, so I got into that and I used the Mahabharata story there as a metaphor for the illusion of duality – this immense war between two vast opposing forces was actually conjured by a single person - an Indonesian dalang shadow puppeteer. I’ve visited India many times and travelled there on my own, mostly in the north and in the mountains – New Delhi, Agra and Ladakh – although I’ve also been in Goa during monsoon. It’s a country, a culture(s) and a people that I find endlessly fascinating, overwhelming and inspiring.
Nrama: Outside of being taught in specialized college courses and the occasional airing of BBC programs on PBS, mainstream American exposure to this story is relatively low. Is that a disadvantage for you with the audience here, or does it open opportunities in the storytelling?
Firstly it’s unbeatable on a level of sheer spectacle alone, involving 10 million combatants with super powers, flying machines, fantastic weaponry and immense battle-formations moving in the form of birds, lightning or flowers. The cast of characters – from the troubled Yudhish and mighty Bheema to tragic Karna and young, doomed Abimanyhu – is incomparable. The whole idea that the cataclysmic ending of an Age is brought about because Krishna is moved by the smallest of things - the tears on Draupadi’s cheeks – shows us how everything in the universe is intimately connected by the action of karma.
I like it because it’s less about Good vs. Evil in the traditional Western sense and more about dealing with compromise, anger, greed and fear. The very things which make its heroes great are the things which bring about their greatest defeats. It’s an immensely human story that acknowledges the weaknesses and failures of its heroes as often as it promotes their strengths and victories. Unlike the snarling, cackling irredeemable villains of Western melodrama, even the monstrous Duryodhana is a complex, ultimately sympathetic figure, while a character like Karna is quite simply heart-breaking in his inability to achieve the greatness of which he knows he’s capable.
For all these reasons, and more, I hope it will resonate particularly well with the comic book audience and with people who are unfamiliar with the origins of the story.
Morrison: Mostly for reasons of time. The Mahabharata is massive and its story could fill ten three hour long movies with very little breathing space. I was originally approached to break the whole thing down into animated segments, which could be collected into a 2-hour movie version, so clearly a lot had to go.
I chose to focus on the 18 Days of the Battle at the heart of the story and developed a technique that allowed us to ‘zoom out’ of characters in the midst of the action and into short impactful flashbacks that would show, in ironic counterpoint, how they wound up there. That allowed me to include important beats from earlier in the story without losing forward momentum.
While the epic Battlefield sequences stretch across the 18 Day war and grind out the grim, relentless, heroic and inevitable consequences of a cosmic war between supermen, the flashback inserts will reveal the stories behind the heroes, and the heroines they fight to defend or to possess. The more we learn, the less clear cut it all becomes….and that’s the ongoing charm of 18 Days.
Nrama: From preview art, it appears that you’ve opened the lid on science fiction and fantasy as it applies to your interpretation. What about this particular story lends itself to that kind of flexibility? Do you include the Bhagavad Gita, and was it difficult to decide how to represent that either way?
The Gita, with its direct, no-nonsense guide to living in the odd universe we all share, is at the very heart of the story, in the sense that everything else revolves around that moment when Krishna lays it on the line for Arjuna.
Nrama: What can you tell us about the art?
Nrama: If a reader isn’t familiar with the historical or cultural perspective behind 18 Days, what would you say to that person in order to get them to give it a look?
The War begins with the clash of super-titans, armed with incredible weaponry. The characters are huge, cool, easy to identify with, to cheer or hiss at. The stakes are high, as is the body count. The vistas are spectacular. We think we know who the bad guys are…and who the good guys are… In the Mahabharata, however, a character’s strength often proves to be his downfall or weakness -- This is not a Lord of the Rings or a Star Wars where the good guys win because they are right. The ‘good guys’ in 18 Days are forced to cheat and lie and break rules to win. Although it has fantastic, mythic trappings, this is a very modern story of realpolitik and the failure of ideals in the face of harsh truth. This epic ends with the destruction of a super-race of kingly humans and paves the way for the current Dark Age in which we live. The essential ambiguity, humanity and realism of these characters, set in this incredible world of the imagination, gives 18 Days its unique flavor. The tone is modern, gritty and emotionally real against a backdrop of techno-mythic super-war. In comic book terms, it does for ‘epic fantasy’ what Watchmen did for superheroes. 18 Days is scheduled to be released by Dynamite Entertainment and Liquid Entertainment in August 2010