Home Comics Grant Morrison Fight! Grant Morrison vs Chris Ware

Fight! Grant Morrison vs Chris Ware


Well, not really a fight, more of a strafing run, since it’s unlikely Chris Ware will ever be asked about Grant Morrison in an interview. While on his voluble book publicity tour, Scottish superstar Grant Morrison continues to drop quotable bombs to be picked up by websites worldwide. Today the battlefield is Rolling Stone, where he comes clean on Chris Ware; the Acme Novelty Library genius, known for his grim vivisection of human futility, is not Morrison’s cuppa Earl Grey tea.

I can appreciate someone like Chris Ware for his artistry, which I think is beautiful, but I think his attitude stinks, it just seems to be the attitude of somebody really privileged, and honestly, try living here, try living on an Indian reservation and shut up, and really seeing all that nihilistic stuff, it really makes me angry, it’s unhelpful to all of us, and it’s coming from people who have money and success to talk like that and bring those aspects of the way we live in favor of all the others, and it’s indefensible.

So I never liked that stuff, I always thought that I had a real Scottish working class thing against the fact that these were done by privileged American college kids, and they were telling me the world was flat. “You’re telling me the world is flat, pal?” And it’s not helpful, it doesn’t get us anywhere. OK, so it is, then what? What are you going to do about it, college kid? My book wasn’t academic. I can’t take on those Comics Journal guys, they flattened me, as they did, it’s just defensive, smartass kids.

Later on, Morrison is asked again about his actual feud with Mark Millar:

He still lives in Glasgow, is there a chance of bumping into him?
There’s a very good chance of running into him, and I hope I’m going 100 miles an hour when it happens.

Oh no, he didn’t!

In a longer profile, we get to see more of that Morrison magic:
In the center of Morrison’s high-ceilinged living room is a blood-red leather couch, paired with a fuzzy crimson rug that looks to have been made from the fur of a poached-and-skinned Elmo; a silkscreen image of what appears to be a female ghost hangs above the fireplace; on a table in the corner sits a hypnotic, unnerving painting of a pentagramish figure etched with quotes from both the Kabbalah and Orson Welles’ The Shadow radio drama – the work of a freaky outsider artist named Paul Laffoley. “He’s a fascinating guy,” Morrison says. “He had to have his foot amputated, and he wears a huge clawed lion’s foot that screws into his leg.”

  1. “He had to have his foot amputated, and he wears a huge clawed lion’s foot that screws into his leg.”

    I couldn’t resist Googling it, even though I wasn’t too hopeful of finding it – but, success! It’s pretty awesome.

  2. I’m not really sure what Morrison means here, but I can say this: I have had a copy of Acme Novelty Library for years and its one of very, very, very few GN’s I’ve ever started and never managed to finish.

  3. I like Grant Morrison’s work (and though I’ve only met him once, I liked him a lot, too), but I think he’s TOTALLY misreading Chris Ware’s work.

    Ware once said that Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid On Earth was a story about the world’s beauty told from the point of view of someone completely unable to see it (I’m quoting from something on the Comics Reporter here).

    So the jaundiced perspective, and the so-called nihilistic privileged attitude is a comment on that character and perhaps on the culture he is a part of rather than a true representation of how the author feels.

    Not everything will appeal to everyone, of course, but I think Grant’s just missing a layer in his reading here.

  4. “but I think Grant’s just missing a layer in his reading here.”

    Grant “more layers than an onion eating a millefeuille” Morrison?

    Or maybe he’s right about Chris “oh woe is me, I’m so universally praised that I’m depressed” Ware?

  5. Wow. Just…wow. I do not understand that attack on Chris Ware. I’ve seen him speak a couple of times and the last thing he struck me as was a privileged college kid dripping with money and success but claiming nihilism.

    I just do not understand where that comes from, and I find it pretty distasteful that Morrison would make those assumptions about Ware, seemingly projecting the attitudes found in some of Ware’s characters on Ware himself.

  6. I don’t get “privileged” from Chris Ware’s work but I do get “effete.” I wouldn’t mind “nihilistic” all by itself but effete nihilism really doesn’t have anything to say beyond, “Ooh, look at my fahncy deconstructions, aren’t I brilliant!”

    As far as separating the author from his characters, that’s important, no question. But I did glean a “jaundiced perspective” from the remarks made by Ware and Clowes in a magazine called MEAN several years ago, where they were both ragging on photorealistic comics and talking about how the medium had been ruined by Milton Caniff (paraphrase approximate).

  7. Chris hardly grew up privileged, has worked since long before he left school, and his comics, like Morrison’s, are more complex than any dismissive summary statement can muster.

    That said, I don’t think you can really take criticism tossed off in a Rolling Stone interview too seriously. The biggest thing is that the work itself ultimately stands in clear opposition to such a characterization.

    The one sad thing is that some people will take that statement to heart and miss out on the work of one of the best cartoonists as a result. Or decide that Morrison is a knob and deny themselves his comics.

  8. Thanks, BEAT, for the wonderfully dopey headline here. Keeping Comix Alive For Adolescents—or the Adolescent Mentality, anyways…

  9. Right on, Tom.

    Chris Ware is doing things with comics that I’ve never seen before, using all sorts of techniques to tell a story that are literally unique to comics. And his own personality, humility or “effeteness” don’t diminish how brilliant his work is.

    And at the same time, Grant Morrison writes fantastic superhero comics. What he’s trying to do, the ground he’s breaking and the kinds of stories he’s telling, is in a totally different universe from Ware’s.

    So to hear that he may not be sympathetic to it or interested in it makes a lot of sense. But they’re both doing great work, and I feel lucky to read both of their stuff.

  10. Pfft. “Morrison vs. Ware”? Different Comics weight Classes, different Comics Federation organisations, different Comics fighting strenghts and limitations.

    I’m more interested in the matchup of “Morrison vs. Millar”, myself. Now there’s a Comics fight I’d like to see… discussed.

    (With the ‘winner’ going on to face Warren Ellis.)

  11. I seem to remember a big chunk of The Invisibles being about shaking off false dichotomies, so it’s disappointing to see Morrison engage in one here. However, I wouldn’t go after his statement by bringing up Ware’s work or pre-comics employment history specifically. “Chris Ware” seems to be a stand-in for an entire school of comics–a sweeping generalization about the entire category of middle-aged-white-American art comics as imagined by Morrison that is mostly wrong…but carries a grain of truth. There are occasionally navel-gazing, indulgently nihilistic, first-world-problems (or perhaps most unforgivably, anti-superhero wonder) elements in some of those comics, just as there is formal genius, human understanding and thematic complexity that Morrison seemingly dismisses. But an interview like that is an invitation to be glib, and that just how the quote reads. It says more about Morrison than Clowes, Ware, et al. He almost seems to acknowledge that by referencing the “Scottish working class” chip on his shoulder. The TCJ college smartasses aren’t the ones being defensive here.

    I’m with Matthew, though. I’m glad the comics landscape is varied enough for both Ware and Morrison to be so successful at what they do, and that I get to read them both.

  12. I knew that quote sounded familiar. He’s used it before.

    “I really like Chris Ware formally, he’s formally brilliant. The black humour is at a pitch where I can enjoy it just for the sheer nastiness of it, the black depth of it. But what worries me is that there’s so many of those American guys – and I have this problem with the Fantagraphics books, not all of them, but most of them – is that there’s a lot of really bad ones, I think.
    They live in the most privileged, the most wonderful country in the world, and they keep writing about how shitty their lives are, and I’m sorry, I come from Scotland, I come from a place where no one’s got work, no one’s got money, and I’m reading these Americans in California telling me that life is shit, and it’s like, Get Therapy, y’know, I don’t want to read your comics, ‘cos you’re boring bastards. And there’s nothing fun, there’s nothing empowering or useful in that. You know, I love Dan Clowes’ stuff, when he was doing Velvet Glove, and Ghost World, but when he writes that stuff, this is who I hate, because Dan Clowes walks in and says “I hate that kid over there because she’s got a big arse, and I hate that one… it’s like, shut up, shut the fuck up, keep it to yourself, that means nothing to me, it’s just attacking humanity for no good reason, do something. And the good thing about him is, he does, but a lot of these Fantagraphics guys do nothing but “I hate this!”, nihilistic, pointless… But like I say, these guys are living in California…”


  13. “I always thought that I had a real Scottish working class thing…”

    I can’t speak for the Scots, the working class where I come from all share the Ware-ish view that life is futile. Of course that’s coupled with “So yah might as well get drunk and fuck as much as you can!” so maybe Morrison forgot the first part.

  14. One can take the quote as Grant stating that he doesn’t really care for what, or better yet who, Wares’ work speaks for.

    It sounds like Grants’ take on a lot of 90’s grunge music, which to a certain extent, has similar sensibilities to Ware and Co.’s work. Atleast Grants’ generalization of them.

    Even if Ware doesn’t fit that profile of life sucks alt-comics artists, they’re are plenty out there.

    Many of whom are WAY more dismissive of superhero comics than Grant comes off as being of their work.

  15. Hell yeah!
    Indie comics stink! Not because they have poor craft but because they have a horrible world view and are made by snotty privileged white people who hate themselves, but hate everyone else more.

    “In a world, I’m reliably told, that’s going to the dogs, the real mischief, the real punk rock rebellion, is a snarling, ‘fuck you’ positivity and optimism. Violent optimism in the face of all evidence to the contrary is the Alpha form of outrage these days. It really freaks people out.” – Grant Morrison

    Hell yeah! Go Grant Morrison!

  16. One aspect of this is that both grunge and the caricature of alt comics to which Morrison is reacting are the antithesis of his world view as expressed in his sense of fashion. His question seems to be: When it is possible to use the imagination to make up stories about anything, why would someone make up stories about people failing in bad clothes? Losing, failing to communicate, wasting potential, being average, getting old, wearing sweatshirts and facial hair–these are all deeply unfashionable. I may be reading into his comments, but he seems to be saying that by going Raymond Carver instead of Jack Kirby, all the unnamed lit comics people wrapped up his invented California Chris Ware are somehow betraying their imaginations.

    From his quotes and the book, I think Morrison’s working class origins are just that, his Smallville, an authentically grounded past from which evolves the contemporary comics writing global superhero in a Donna Karan costume. In his world, you move away from Smallville to Metropolis and start being fabulous. He doesn’t seem inclined to engage with art about people who aren’t able to leave Smallville and reinvent themselves, or don’t even recognize it as an option. And to extend the analogy, class seems to be his Kryptonite, as expressed by his conjuring of fat and happy Golden State American altcomix whiners and college boy critics as the Enemy. (All this said, the guy is my favorite superhero comics writer; any issue of anything he writes is the first thing I read, and am most likely to reread, any given week. Actually, I’m glad he’s got actual opinions whether I agree or not. almost everyone else at his level in corporate comics seems to have had that capacity surgically removed.)

  17. Cole Moore Odell is my new favorite guy. Actual reasoned critical thinking! I didn’t know we were still allowed to do that in a comments section!

    Those are really good points, Cole.

  18. Also, to criticize the Chris Wares of the world for focusing on pessimism to the exclusion of other ways of looking at the world is a bit like condemning ZZ Top for failing to release a hip hop album. There are lots of bands out there. No one has to be solely responsible for representing the totality of human experience, and there’s no shame in doing what you’re good at.

  19. And I’d again like to point out that Chris Ware’s work is not pessimistic, at least not to me. It’s brutal and harsh, but my reaction to these characters being represented so fully and baldly is to love them more, to feel more exposed myself, and to realize I need to be more permissive of and understanding of my own faults and others’.

    The effect on me is always one of positivity; and I have to say, it’s pretty rare that I read superhero comics that fill me with positivity. More often I feel ripped off or lied to. That’s not to say that Grant Morrison’s work makes me feel that way but to point out that tights and capes are not inherently more positive than record stores and trucker caps.

  20. I guess it’s a Hollywood thing; he who maketh the loudest noise writeth the mosteth screenplaytheth, or something.

    At any rate, I’m sure Grant Morrison is smart enough to realize that even his superhero comics have yet to evolve beyond the part where the guy that does the best job of hitting the other guy is the good guy and wins — the Charles Atlas model for making the world a better place.

  21. Chris Ware was born in the one true heaven on earth: Omaha, Nebraska.

    And Dan Clowes was born in, and grew up around that toddlin’ town, Chicago, Illinois before escaping to Oakland.

    Interesting how Morrison’s blanket “California Comics” examples are drawn from these two Midwest creators… I wonder what are his thoughts on emblematic “New York” Indie cartoonists Gabrielle Bell and Adrian Tomine?
    Would their privileged-First-World comics complaints play even worse than Ware’s and Clowes?

    (And has Morrison read LOCAS and PALOMAR?)

    And the remark about his real Scottish working class thing brought up an observation made at the “UK Invasion” panel this year at Comic-Con: there with Alan Grant, Garth Ennis, Dave Gibbons, John Higgins and David Lloyd— Morrison sure was the nattiest dresser of the lot, as the panelists spoke of trying to impart their working-class roots and political views in their work…

  22. Ware has lived in Chicago for a number of years and does to this day. Acme Novelty Library was a serial in the weekly “New City” beginning in the early ’90’s.

  23. Wow. Who knew that Grant Morrison had an inferiority complex? But, apparently so. There really is no other reason to sweepingly dismiss entire categories of art and music, other than the fear that if they are doing something right, then you must be doing something wrong. It isn’t a zero-sum game, Grant, and everyone’s got something to say. Not everyone from America or even California is privleged, are you kidding me? And anyway, being privileged does not mean that your problems are irrelevant or that you have nothing to say. These things are pretty obvious to anyone who thinks about them for more than five minutes; you would pretty much have to feel threatened by these types of art to be lumping them altogether and throwing them over your shoulder.

  24. “you would pretty much have to feel threatened by these types of art to be lumping them altogether and throwing them over your shoulder.”

    So all the alt-comic drones who crap on super-hero books are “threatened” by them? Good to know.


  25. sigh. Children, children.
    So apples doesn’t like oranges. What am I supposed to be taking away from this?
    I like Chris Ware’s work. Who cares?
    I’m not into superhero comics- and I know nothing about Grant Morrison. Does anyone care? I’m sure he’s a very good writer.
    A google search on him mostly a brought up a bunch of similar trash talk and photos of him preening and posing like some kind of rock star. That’s enough for me.
    “…his attitude stinks.”

  26. “Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches

    Had bellies with stars.

    The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.”

    Cole wins the internet today.

    And I agree with Tom, a RS interview is not where I tend to look for nuanced criticism of comics (but if you don’t follow Matt Taibbi’s writings religiously I hate you). But I would love to hear a fuller critique of Ware’s work from Morrison (and vice-versa).

  27. @MBunge You sailed entirely past my point into the opposite conclusion. “It isn’t a zero-sum game.” There are some awesome superhero comics that I have read. Yes, most of them are not very good. I could say the same thing about anything. However, most of the good superhero comics I have seen do not come from the Big Two publishers for obvious reasons that they are overly managed and controlled.

  28. I applaud Morrison’s positivity on his outlook of the imagination and creativity but it’s so disheartening to see one creator tear down another one is such a needless fashion.

    With the terrible shape the medium is currently in, why say such shitty things to a mainstream outlet? Since the article is written in part to his new book, it’s apparent Morrison has a huge chip on his shoulder that he writes characters that others deem as juvenile and anti-intellectual.

    There is tons of self indulgent pretentious works in indy comics. To single out a creator who has evolved the medium in the way Ware has only to emphasize on privilege is tactless.

  29. I’ve never bought into the “what have you got to complain about?” mindset. There’s sadness and depression and beauty at all levels of society. There’s always someone in the world better off than you and someone worse off, all you can do is tell your story the way you feel it. Chris does this with great imagination and Grant seems to be missing the point.
    But you can’t explain a joke to someone and have it have any impact, they either get it or they don’t and the same goes with Ware’s work. Both are great artists in the medium and we’re lucky to have them.

  30. Well, if no one else is going to comment on this part, it’s up to me:

    “So I never liked that stuff, I always thought that I had a real Scottish working class thing against the fact that these were done by privileged American college kids, and they were telling me the world was flat. “You’re telling me the world is flat, pal?” And it’s not helpful, it doesn’t get us anywhere. OK, so it is, then what? What are you going to do about it, college kid? My book wasn’t academic. I can’t take on those Comics Journal guys, they flattened me, as they did, it’s just defensive, smartass kids.”

    Based on this, clearly Grant’s attitude is not the fault of Chris Ware.

    It’s the fault of the Comics Journal.

    That brings the tally up to 46,299 offenses, for anyone not keeping count.

    Joke. (Sort of.)

  31. Two interesting and related bits from Morrison’s Rolling Stone profile and Q&A:

    “People say kids can’t understand the difference between fact and fiction, but that’s bullshit,” he says. “Kids understand that real crabs don’t sing like the ones in The Little Mermaid. But you give an adult fiction, and the adult starts asking really fucking dumb questions like ‘How does Superman fly? How do those eyebeams work? Who pumps the Batmobile’s tires?’ It’s a fucking made-up story, you idiot! Nobody pumps the tires!”


    I found one in the back there and I couldn’t believe. I pick it up and there are fucking two rapes in it and I suddenly think how many times has somebody been raped in an Alan Moore story? And I couldn’t find a single one where someone wasn’t raped except for Tom Strong, which I believe was a pastiche. We know Alan Moore isn’t a misogynist but fuck, he’s obsessed with rape. I managed to do thirty years in comics without any rape!

    One reason why rapes occur in stories, especially superhero ones, is that they’re traumatic experiences. They humanize the superheroes and expose vulnerabilities. Adults enjoy fantasies as much as kids do, but they have more appreciation for realistic people in fantastic situations. Writing those situations well is harder than reducing the people and their situations to symbols, toys, or a collection of special effects.


  32. @ed
    “And has Morrison read LOCAS and PALOMAR?”

    From that same 2007 interview:

    “S. What about Love and Rockets, have you read that sort of thing?
    G. I read it when it first came out but then it no longer seemed relevant after a certain point.”

  33. “G. I read it when it first came out but then it no longer seemed relevant after a certain point.”

    Which is fucking insane. LOVE AND ROCKETS becomes more and more relevant every year–how many comics are really about aging and family and loss and the evolution of relationships?

  34. When TCJ gave Rozum’s Xombi a bad review I wanted to drive a car into their website . i think GM is probably just upset from so many indie people saying Superheroes suck. Like Love and Rockets did. Now lets all smoke pot and save the world.

  35. “And the remark about his real Scottish working class thing brought up an observation made at the “UK Invasion” panel this year at Comic-Con: there with Alan Grant, Garth Ennis, Dave Gibbons, John Higgins and David Lloyd— Morrison sure was the nattiest dresser of the lot, as the panelists spoke of trying to impart their working-class roots and political views in their work…”

    Was Alan Grant actually there? I thought other articles said it was Alan Davis.

  36. Reading Ware’s interview in TCJ, he definitely comes off as a snob, especially with regards to music. He implies that anyone who doesn’t worship ragtime and/or who enjoys listening to (big laugh) Led Zeppelin is an idiot, moron, cultural subliterate or worse. The mutual giggling between him and Groth came off as both angry and sad.

    (Me, I’m not a huge fan of either. But I certainly wouldn’t prejudge someone who is.)

    Given that the interview is several years old now, I hope he’s become more tolerant and mature; and realizes people’s tastes in various arts are just what they enjoy, and rarely have anything to do with intellectual capacity or education. (Imagine the same attitude with food: anyone who’s enjoyed movie popcorn, a fast food meal or a candy bar is a moron.) ;-)

  37. @George Bush (not that one)

    The Comics Journal’s website also wrote a multi- part meditation and appreciation on The Invisibles. They also interviewed Geoff Johns. To dismiss the whole website for onething you don’t agree on is to be just another annoying fanboy.

    What’s so wrong with writing about discomfort and depression? What’s wrong with writing about people who beat each other up? Nothing. They’re both forms of valid emotion worthy of being expressed in comics.

    Personally, I find Ware to be the more capable story-teller. His understanding of page design, reading mechanics, buld-up, and character nuance far surpass Morrisson’s, who seems to only rely on motifs rather than people these days to tell his stories (which are only as good as his artist). He’s stated he only reads his friend’s work now (I. E. DC.), so it makes sense. I kinda wish he would still read alt-comix. It helps to be grounded in the mundane. That’s probably why St. Swinthins Day was so good. And true, I do find Ware to be tiring, but his grasp on the medium to be far more enriching and encompassing.

    Its really depressing. The more I read about Supergods, the more it comes off as a big fat suckoff for DC. A shame too, he seems to have become what people always thought he wouldn’t ever be. Bah.

  38. P. S. Love and Rockets never said superheroes suck. Jamie even did a long multi-part recently. They just say superheroes suck nowadays. (They adore old Marvel and Spiderman). And who hasn’t said that?

  39. Mr. Pa:

    We should remember that Morrison’s comment doesn’t completely come out of thin air: the interviewer doesn’t meantion Ware or the JOURNAL, but references the opinion of some elitists that the medium ought to grow away from superheroes. While it’s true that the JOURNAL does sometimes review or comment favorably on superheroes, it’s also true that Gary Groth famously defined the magazine’s credo in terms of “advocacy,” and that he has expressed a negative take on the genre’s prospects. That may signify more than any single negative review.

    I agree with you that all forms of expression are equally valid, and will now try to *PLUG* my essay “Clash of the Mythologies,” which should appear on the SEQUART site in a week or so. It says much the same thing and takes Morrison to task for one of his remarks, so that he doesn’t come off any better than the Journalistas.

    LOVE AND ROCKETS is a special case: they can’t help but ironize superheroes when it’s the Locas in super-drag. But I give them many points for expressing even a nostalgic affection for non-cool mostly-forgotten supertypes like the Lee Elias BLACK CAT.

  40. Donny: Are these the Nazis, Walter?
    Walter Sobchak: No, Donny, these men are nihilists. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

    -The Big Lebowski

  41. Superheroes don’t suck, but they can be very juvenile, since most of them were intended to be read by children. I think Morrison has built up his entire career trying to write juvenile power fantasies for adults and that strikes many non-superhero fans as weird or a sign of psychological immaturity.

    Chris Ware’s stories can be deliberately uncomfortable to read about, while Morrison is all about comforting the reader. Their works can’t really be fairly compared when their artistic intents are opposites of each other.

    It might be better to say that Grant Morrison’s drug-induced optimism nor Chris Ware’s depressive realism are extreme outlooks/attitudes and can not coexist well.

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