Some fans have taken to calling comic book writer Grant Morrison, “the God of All Comics.” And while that title is not to be taken too seriously, his work certainly is. The renowned and prolific author of such titles as DC Comics’ flagship JLA, Marvel Comics’ New X-Men, his own creations, including We3 and The Filth, and now Virgin Comics’ online series MBX (based on the Hindu myths of the Mahabharata) has long pondered the mysteries of life and come to a number of his own conclusions. In this interview Morrison talks about how his writing, particularly his quirky and spiritual Invisibles espionage series, directly affects his own life, which is, in turn, connected to all other lives across time.
PW Comics Week: You are a practicing magician, with your comics works sometimes taken as your spells. For you, what relationship do magic and mysticism and religion and spirituality have?
Grant Morrison: Big question. But I guess it is intrinsic to my life. They obviously are all important to me, and it all defines how I see the world. It’s a big deal to me, which is why it turns up in all the stories I do, because I’m constantly thinking about that stuff. As a human being on Earth, as someone given a brain, you have to start asking these questions, you know? We live and we die, and there’s interesting questions to be asked about all that.
PWCW: Is there a particular relationship you see between all of that and comics as a medium?
GM: Comics specifically seem to be quite magical to me—in the sense that they are directly drawn onto paper. They relate back to the very first drawings that people did on cave walls, and people believe now that those things were meant to be magical, that by drawing and creating a model of the bison, you could affect what happened to the real bison. Your hunt would be more successful the next day. So the idea of drawing and creating representations is the very first notion that we had of magic, that you could make an image of something and affect the image and, in turn, affect the reality of the thing. Like sympathetic magic, when you make, for instance, a little doll of someone and then stab it, they will experience something. So that idea of representation, I think, is the first magical idea, and comics is still very close to that.
The thing I love about comics is the actual guy sitting there—with pens and tools and drawing all this stuff in a little room. Actually working on the paper directly with pencils. There’s something really quite strange about that, I feel.
PWCW:“Strange” in that it carries some particular qualities?
GM: “Strange” in the sense that I think there’s so much concentration that goes into the point of those pencils and that line that it’s a magical act. It’s a Zen thing to sit and actually create a comic book. It’s very hands-on. I think it’s got a magical element to it, anyway, and so, for me, it became a way to do voodoo, using... Well, I could create things in the comics that would have affects in my own real life. I found that it would work.
PWCW: You were ill at one point [during the writing of The Invisibles].
GM: Yeah, that was just one of the things. This character thought that his face had been eaten away, then three months later my face actually gets a hole eaten in it! I’m in the hospital dying in almost the same way the character was dying. So then I figured, “Okay, well, let’s give him a good time!” [chuckles] As soon as I got out of the hospital, I started writing the character with a great sex life, and suddenly my own life took off. I really began to feel I was on to something.
PWCW: I also want to ask about Virgin Comics. Many of their titles have focused on the sacred myths of Hinduism, a topic dear to certain Invisibles’ hearts. Did that play into your decision to write for them, and what role might that play with MBX?
GM: Oh, completely. They wanted me to do something with them, but I couldn’t do comics because I’m exclusive to DC for comics right now. So, we came up with this notion of doing the MBX thing online. And it came out my interest in that mythology. Two years ago, I did that panel with Deepak Chopra [father of Virgin Comics founder Gotham Chopra], and we were talking about superheroes and certain artists.
PWCW: How far back does your interest in Hinduism go?
GM: Way back, to when I was a teenager. I was always interested in myths growing up. So, first I got into some Roman myths, then I was interested in Norse, then Celtic, then I started spreading to all the other mythologies. Because they were like comics, you know! [MBX is] also something new for me. Because I don’t know if I wanted to do this as a comic, because I do a lot of comics. But do to something new I haven’t done before—which is the online content—just seemed like a challenge.
PWCW: In several of your works, you presented alternative afterlives. In JLA, you have the most Judeo-Christian-Islamic version with Zauriel in heaven. In New X-Men, you had Jean Grey in a posthumous “white hot room.” And in Animal Man, there’s the inexistence of the multiverse characters, the death and undeath of Buddy’s family, and even character Limbo. I’m curious as to your own views of the afterlife. Where are you going when this is all wrapped up?
GM: Just waking up, basically. There isn’t an afterlife, per se, as far as I’m concerned. Without going into huge detail, my own opinion of the world, which is, to me, just from studying the basics of things... There’s one organism that lives in the planet Earth, one living thing, and it’s three billion years old. And we’re all connected through time to the first mitochondrial DNA cell that appeared in the ocean three and a half billion years ago; that cell has divided through time, and that cell is in every one of your cells still dividing. So we all contain part of this primordial cell.
PWCW: That’s very much like the Hindu concept that we’re all part of a larger thing, isn't it?
GM: Yeah! Because it’s the obvious, isn’t it? Again, this isn’t a mystical concept, because I’m not a mystical person sometimes. I got into magic to see if it was real. If someone says, “Ok, a demon will appear if you do this spell,” I just say, “Bullshit.” So, I did this spell, and then the demon appeared. So I had to revise my vision of what the world was and how it worked. Again, that’s another element of magic for me, trying to figure out, why do these things happen—what are we doing to our nervous systems to make us believe a demon has entered the room? It became to me about the actual “nuts and bolts” of it, not the fantastic thing or the mystic thing or the names of angels. I became interested in what’s actually going on.
PWCW: But you tried it out, and a demon did appear?
GM: And it wasn’t anything like I expected a demon to be. It was a gravitational point that pulled everything in the room toward it. It really, actually, made you feel like you were sick. It wasn’t really like anything I believed a demon might be, but it had an actual effect.
PWCW: It’s rather empirical. You’re testing it out.
GM: Yeah, I got into the point of view of a cynic. The same thing happened when I had this huge, bizarre, seemingly alien-abduction experience in Katmandu. I had to subject it to the same rational scrutiny. Because some bizarre things occur in your nervous system that changes the way you think. So whether it’s real or not—whether actual objective aliens or demons or angels became a reality, because the changes that were occurring inside my nervous system and inside my brain were so real and undeniable—whatever caused them to actually slip into mind and all was enough to trigger massive psychological changes by believing in this stuff. By allowing myself to be introduced to it.
Going back to the start again, I was talking about this entity. It’s not in a Buddhist or mystical way to say we are all one; it’s actually quite literal. You know, as I say, in order for you to be here today, you had to have been 10 years old, right? But you can’t take me to where you were 10 years old. You can’t even point to where you were 10 years old.
PWCW: So you’re not dealing in any metaphor here.
GM: No, I’m not. I’m being empirical. In order to be here, you had to have been 10. Somewhere in time, you’re still 10 years old in order to be here today. And if you take that apart, somewhere in time you’re actually two years old, and somewhere in time that you can’t point to right now, you’re coming out of your mother’s womb. Imagine the beauty of that: back in your mother’s womb, back where you become a cell, and that divides in half into a sperm cell and an egg cell. And then back to your mother and father.
So if you take this whole thing back three million years, there’s only one entity on the planet, right? And we’re all part of it, like a hand has fingers. Except this hand is multifractal; it’s got deer over here and humans over here, and each one does a different thing. Dogs smell the world better, so they work as the sensory organ for smell. Humans think and think in patterns, so we’re that part of the organism that makes patterns. And it winks at itself and identifies itself, all this one thing on the planet...
PWCW: And that’s the “short answer.”
GM: Well, yeah, you asked about death. So, this thing has not died yet. Even though people die, those are like skin cells. Your body, however long it lives, has billion of skin cells come off of it every day. Each one of those cells was once a living, thriving individual with its own little architecture, its own little job to do—its own infections to fight and what probably, if it could think at all, was using your consciousness to think. Who knows? What did it think of itself? “I’m a cell. I’m an individual. I’m special. I’m the fireman here. If there’s trouble, I go get rid of it.” Then one day it just sloughs off, flakes away. I mean, the body hasn’t died, the person hasn’t died. And I think it’s the same for us and this large body that we’re actually cells in. What happens when you shrivel away, when you get old, it’s the same as the skin cell.
PWCW: But the entity is still there.
GM: The entity is still there. And what I think is that our consciousness is actually its consciousness. Like matter, like energy, consciousness can’t be created or destroyed. It doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t fit the way the world or the universe works. So I have to assume maybe consciousness ismore present than we assume it is. Consciousness, rather than being something that we have, is something we participate in. The same way that your cell is you until it’s just a dead, dry thing, going back to death, I don’t think that there’s an afterlife at all. When the giant organism grows up and becomes an adult, that’s the afterlife. I think we’re part of a larval entity; it lives in the planet Earth, it consumes the planet Earth as another part of its development in the same way a caterpillar eats leaves. If you watch the caterpillar, it looks like it’s destroying its environment, but it’s not. It’s actually just feeding to change into a butterfly. And I think that’s what’s going on with our planet right now.