Originally, when I set out to look into the various allegations about Alan Moore and Robert Mayer’s Superfolks, I thought it was going to be a comparatively straightforward piece to write. Just read the book, find out what people had said, and attempt to match the two of them up together. What could be easier, I asked myself? Ten thousand words and nearly a year later, I find that I could not have been more wrong. However, doing the research is at least half the fun, I’ve always said. Much of the fascination of writing about things like this is that you never know what you’re going to find out. And one of the things that I found out was that I really needed to know more about the animosity between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, as it seemed to be a constantly recurring aspect of the story of Moore and Superfolks.
So, to go back to where I started, back to the beginning of the piece called Alan Moore and Superfolks: Part 1 – The Case for the Prosecution, there’s that piece from Grant Morrison’s Drivel column in Speakeasy #111 (July 1990), where he talks about reading Superfolks, and makes it really quite clear that he thinks – or pretends to think – that Alan Moore plundered the book for ideas. But this isn’t by any means the beginning of their – for want of a better word – relationship.
But what is the beginning of that relationship? There are two different versions of this, depending on who you listen to. So, first there’s Alan Moore’s version of events, which I’ve transcribed from the webchat he did for the Harvey Pekar statue Kickstarter. One of the questioners asked,
You are somewhat surprisingly not the only acclaimed comics writer from the UK to also be a vocal magician. Obviously I’m talking about Grant Morrison here, who has never been terribly shy about his views on you or your work. Can we possibly draw you out on your views of him and his work?
To which Moore replied,
Well, let me see… The reason I haven’t spoken about Grant Morrison generally is because I’m not very interested in him, and I don’t really want to get involved with a writer of his calibre in some sort of squabble. But, for the record, since you asked: the first time I met him, he was an aspiring comics writer from Glasgow, I was up there doing a signing or something. They asked if I could perhaps – if they could invite a local comics writer who was a big admirer of mine along to the dinner. So I said yeah. This was I think the only time that I met him to speak to. He said how much he admired my work, how it had inspired him to want to be a comics writer. And I wished him the best of luck, I told him I’d look out for his work. When I saw that work in 2000 AD I thought ‘Well, this seems as if it’s a bit of a cross between Captain Britain and Marvelman, but that’s probably something that he’ll grow out of.’ It was on that basis that I recommended him to Karen Berger when she was starting [indecipherable speech – Vertigo?].
Then there started a kind of, a strange campaign of things in fanzines where he was expressing his opinions of me, as you put it. He later explained this as saying that when he started writing, he felt that he wasn’t famous enough, and that a good way of becoming famous would be to say nasty things about me. Which I suppose is a tactic – although not one that, of course, I’m likely to appreciate. So at that point I decided, after I’d seen a couple of his things and they seemed incredibly derivative, I just decided to stop bothering reading his work. And that’s largely sort of proven successful. But, there still seems to be this kind of [indecipherable speech] that I know.
And, as far as I know, he’s the only bone of contention between me and Michael Moorcock. Michael Moorcock is a sweet sweet man – I believe he has only ever written one letter of complain to a publisher over the appropriation of his work, that was to DC Comics over Grant Morrison, so the only bone of contention between me and Michael Moorcock is which of us Grant Morrison is ripping off the most. I say that it’s Michael Moorcock, he says it’s me. We’ve nearly come to blows over it, but I’m reluctant to let it go that far, because, I’m probably more nimble than Moorcock – I’ve got a few years on him, I’m probably faster, but Moorcock is huge, he’s like a bear. He could just like take my arm off with one sweep of his paw, so we’ll let that go undecided for the moment. But, those are pretty much my thoughts on Grant Morrison, and hopefully now I’ve explained that I won’t have to mention his name again.
The other version of the story comes from Patrick Meaney’s Talking with Gods documentary, where Morrison says,
I remember reading V for Vendetta and thinking, this is what I wanted to do, this is the way comics should be. One of the first things I did was go down to see Dez Skinn in London, the publisher of Warrior. I had taking this story, which was a Kid Marvelman spec script, and he bought it straight away so, again, that was a really good jump for me. Then Alan Moore had it spiked, and said it was never to be published. Thus began our slight antagonism, which has persisted until this very day. They asked me to continue Marvelman, because Moore had fallen out with everyone in the magazine, and taken away his script, and they said ‘Would you follow this up?’ And to me that was just like, oh my God – the idea of getting to do Marvelman, following Alan Moore, ‘I’m the only person in the world who’d really do this right,’ and I was well up for it. I didn’t want to do it without Moore’s permission, and I wrote to him and said, ‘They’ve asked me to do this, but obviously I really respect you work, and I wouldn’t want to mess anything up, but I don’t want anyone else to do it, and mess it up.’ And he sent me back this really weird letter, and I remember the opening of it, it said, ‘I don’t want this to sound like the softly hissed tones of a mafia hitman, but back off.’ And the letter was all, ‘but you can’t do this,’ you know, ‘we’re much more popular than you, and if you do this, your career will be over,’ and it was really quite threatening, you know, so I didn’t do it, but I ended up doing some little bit of work for Warrior.
It’s hard to put exact dates on either of these versions, but presumably Moore’s story happened before Morrison’s, and, given that Morrison’s story refers to Moore having stopped writing Marvelman for Warrior, this puts the date at some point between August 1984, when Moore’s last Marvelman story appeared, in Warrior #21, and February 1985, when Warrior #26, the last issue, came out, containing the Morrison-scripted The Liberators: Night Moves, incidentally. So the meeting in Glasgow between Moore and Morrison must have happened at some point between the first issue of Warrior in March 1982 and Moore’s last story, in August 1984. The exact timing is possibly not that important, but I like to nail these things down if I can!
Meanwhile, Morrison’s own star was on the rise. He started writing Zenith for 2000 AD in August 1987, after various other work here and there in UK comics, and this was his breakthrough work. I didn’t come across him myself until later on, when he was writing Animal Man for DC Comics, and still think that The Coyote Gospel from Animal Man #5 is one of the single best things ever put on a page anywhere, by anyone. It was during this time that Morrison, as Moore put it, had ‘ a strange campaign of things in fanzines where he was expressing his opinions of me […]. He later explained this as saying that when he started writing, he felt that he wasn’t famous enough, and that a good way of becoming famous would be to say nasty things about me.’ Morrison himself refers to this too, in his book Supergods, where he says,
High-contrast Western manga art by my Zoids partner Steve Yeowell made Zenith’s world a frantic modernist blur of speed lines and contemporary fashions and haircuts. We announced to the world that Zenith was intended to be as dumb, sexy, and disposable as an eighties pop single: Alan Moore remixed by Stock Aitken Waterman. Keeping all the self-awareness outside the story, we used interviews and forewords to admit to our sources. In them we praised creative theft and plagiarism, quoted the French playwright Antonin Artaud and sneeringly suggested that the likes of Watchmen were pompous, stuffy, and buttock-clenchingly dour. The shock tactics I’d brought with me from the music world, delivered with the snotty whippet-thin snideness of the hipster, had helped me carve out a niche for myself as comics’ enfant terrible, and Steve was happy to play along as the handsome nice one with nothing controversial to say.
My public persona was punk to the rotten core. Outspoken and mean spirited, I freely expressed contempt for the behind-the-scenes world of comics professionals, which seemed unglamorous and overwhelmingly masculine by comparison to the club and music scenes. My life was rich, and my circle of friends and family was secure enough that I could afford to play a demonic role at work. Reading interviews from the time makes my blood run cold these days, but the trash talk seemed to be working, and I was rapidly making a name for myself. Being young, good-looking, and cocky forgave many sins, a huge hit British superhero strip did the rest and proved I could back up the big talk.
Talking about this more recently, in David Bishop’s Thrill-Power Overload: Thirty Years of 2000 AD (Rebellion, UK, June 2007), Morrison recalls being asked by the editorial people at 2000 AD to come up with an idea for a British superhero strip, he said,
[Zenith] was very much a reaction against torment superheroes. Dark Knight is a brilliant piece of Reagan-era fiction and Watchmen is very, very clever in its architecture, but both books felt pompous and concept albumy to me as a young man in the 80s. I wanted to do something a little less self conscious perhaps, or to align myself with a different current of thinking. I had grown bored with the dull ‘realism’ of the grim ‘n’ gritty school. Brendan [McCarthy]’s work was so unique, so personal and inspirational that I was completely blown away and converted utterly to the McCarthy method – tell the truth on to the page and let your psyche all hang out. At the same time… I wanted some ‘realistic’ aspects to my story. I decided to make it about the superficial things I was into at the time: clothes, records, TV shows. Instead of creating an aspirational superhero, I gave Zenith all of my worst, most venal traits. I wanted to create a postcard from the 80s, but I also thought that if I did it without the prevailing captions and thought boxes the strip might stand up quite well on its own.
My own opinion of what happened, and how I feel about it, has changed quite a bit since I started writing these three pieces. Yes, I have a lot of sympathy for Alan Moore about the things that were being said about him, but I think that it’s pretty obvious there was more than an element of the japester, the trickster, about Morrison’s writing, in particular the piece he wrote about Superfolks in his Drivel column in Speakeasy in 1990, which he makes all the more obvious in his end piece. I’d also like to point out that that was over twenty years ago now, a long time to have something like that hanging over you, and this applies equally to both of them: Moore is still having it used as a stick to beat him with, and Morrison may wish that a not-terribly-serious piece he wrote as a young man, and which has cast a much longer shadow than anyone could ever have expected, would simply go away. (And, indeed, having someone like me digging it up one more time can hardly help in that, although I’m hoping that this might get to be the final, and definitive, word on the subject…)
I also imagine that having someone get in touch to offer to take overwriting his first major piece of work probably wasn’t received terribly well, and it’s hard to blame Moore for that, either. But in many ways Morrison was only doing what Moore had done before him. I can certainly recognise the punk spirit in some of what Morrison says – I’m less than 100 days older than Morrison, and I do recall that rule #1 in punk was that everything that went before was rubbish. In hindsight, of course, there is much that was discarded that has since been reappraised, and found not to be so dreadful after all! In much the same way, when Morrison says, ‘Reading interviews from the time makes my blood run cold these days, I imagine that one of the things he’s particularly referring to is his treatment of Moore in those early articles.
I certainly think that Morrison may now regret some of his earlier actions but, particularly in this Internet age, nothing is gone, and everything is remembered. It is interesting, I think, that in his book Supergods – which itself seems to actually reflect the title of Superfolks – he doesn’t actually mention Superfolks in relation to his or Moore’s work, but only once, in the context of having been an inspiration for Pixar’s The Incredibles. Even so, Supergods has the line Behold, I teach you the superman: He is this lightning, he is this madness! by Friedrich Nietzsche as its epigraph, the same as Superfolks did, and Marvelman didn’t. Is this all some sort of strange cosmic coincidence, or is Morrison trying to tell us something? Honestly, I have no idea.
So, what do I think, in the end? I think, first, that, although Grant Morrison poked fun at Alan Moore with regard to Superfolks, he certainly didn’t mean it to be taken as seriously as it was, or for it to become a big stick to beat Moore with. And I really think it’s a shame that Alan Moore has such difficulty moving on from things like this, because he’s done his own share of saying mean things about Morrison, to this day. I genuinely love Moore’s work, and one of the things I love most is the sense of compassion, of redemption, that is in much of it, but reading over these pieces, it’s hard not to see Moore as the one who is perpetuating this, rather than Morrison, who only ever has good things to say about Moore’s work these days. It’s not that I don’t think that Moore has good reason to do the things he does, just that it can be difficult sometimes to see that your gods have feet of clay. In the end, though, I still love his work, and still admire him enormously as a person and as a creator. I don’t read as much of Grant Morrison’s work as I used to, mostly because I finally decided that I was giving up on superheroes for good a few years back, but his work on Animal Man and Doom Patrol is still some of the best work ever done in mainstream comics, and I think that people give him a hard time which he definitely doesn’t deserve. I probably fall into that category myself, although I think I may go rethink some of those ideas now. After all, it’s never too late to change your mind.
Dez Skinn, in Talking to Gods, said about Morrison,
He was such a quiet unassuming kind of guy when he’d come into the office, he was more like a fan than a professional, you know, very shy, very timid-seeming, but his work was the absolute opposite, it was totally out there, even his early stuff. I thought it was a really nice little five-pager but Alan, like any creator, I guess, who owns material, didn’t want anybody else touching his material.
And here’s Dez again, this time talking in George Khoury’s Kimota! – The Marvelman Companion:
Grant did submit a Kid Marvelman story, about a discussion between Kid Marvelman and a Catholic priest, and it was quite fascinating because Kid Marvelman argued a very good case against organised religion. Nobody was flying, no beams from anyone’s eyes, but a bloody clever script, clever enough that I sent it to Alan Moore for his opinion. Alan’s reply was, ‘Nobody else writes Marvelman.’ And I said to Grant, ‘I’m sorry, he’s jealously hanging on to this one.’
There is a long-standing rumour that the story was published in Fusion #4, a Scottish comics fanzine, but the piece in question, called ‘The Devil and Johnny Bates,’ was actually an article about Kid Marvelman by someone else. None the less, Morrison did draw two covers for Fusion, including the one for #4, both of which are reproduced here. Yes, that is Kid Marvelman on the cover of #4, and Marvelman himself on the cover of #6. But that Kid Marvelman story never did get to see print, it seems. Which is a shame. Who knows what the future hold, though? Not me!
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