October 16th, 2010
Pree-zentin’ what will probably be the most comprehensive interview you read with Patrick Meaney, the director of
…this week, anyway.
1. So were you pooing yourself with excitement the whole time or only half the time? And were you wearing white trousers while you were doing it?
No white trousers for me on this one, I heard some stories that dissuaded me from them. As for the filming, I was definitely excited the whole time. During shooting itself, I would usually be in the zone of asking questions and keeping things flowing, it was the downtime that was really wild, when I thought about the fact that I was in Grant Morrison’s house, or just chilling with Grant Morrison. But, at the same time, he’s just a guy and you’re both there for a reason, so that kind of kept me from getting too fannish.
2. Was there an audience you had in mind prior to making the film? Was it difficult to make a film that could simultaneously appeal to the hardcore fanboys, the techno-magick freaks, and the (possibly
mythical) unfamiliar newbie viewers?
A lot of the cutting process revolved around trying to find the balance that would make the film work for all those different audiences. The fanboy in me definitely stressed a bit about barely covering New X-Men and Seven Soldiers since I remember watching Mindscape of Alan Moore and thinking “How could you only have one minute on Miracleman?” Similarly, there was some great stuff with Grant talking about how the kind of experiences that people like him and Philip K. Dick have had may be similar to the experiences that Jesus or Buddha had, but in our culture, we perceive them differently. He never implied he was like Jesus! But, more just putting some of the stranger experiences that have happened to him in context. So, I could have easily pulled the film in either direction.
But, ultimately that stuff didn’t make the film because as the editing went on, it became more and more about cutting anything that was just comics related or just magic related and didn’t contribute to a better understanding of Grant’s life, and the points at which the writing and magic intersect. And I think that was the key to reaching new viewers, was to make this a standalone story about one man’s life, that gains additional resonance depending on how much knowledge of his comics or magical practice you have.
In that sense, I see it as kind of like a comics crossover, in which his life story is the main event book, and every single comic he’s written is a branch off of that main story, which will enhance your understanding of his life story, but is not necessary.
3. When hunting down contributors and interviewees, how hard was it to strike a balance between seeking answers on ‘the man’ and ‘the work’ – was there a difficulty say in thinking ‘I should speak to Chris Weston’ vs. ‘I should speak to his mum’?
I tried to interview as many people as possible, both in the industry and out. I started out mainly thinking of people in comics, and after interviewing a lot of industry people at San Diego Comicon ’09, it became clear that even though they all do have unique stories and things to add, a lot of the artists that Grant works with have the same general knowledge base about him. So, that made me want to reach out to more eclectic people, like Douglas Rushkoff and Richard Metzger, who aren’t in comics, but have worked with Grant in other capacities.
And, probably the best resource to guide me in who to interview was just listening to who Grant would talk about, so if he mentions Dez Skinn when talking about his early comics work, I figured I should interview Dez. If he mentions Steve Cook, I should interview Steve.
4. Who was the most interesting person you talked to? Was there anyone whose insights into GMs work completely knocked you out?
The most exciting for me, besides Grant, was probably Frank Quitely, who, thanks to his scarce internet and convention presence, has assumed a legendary status in the eyes of myself and I’d imagine a lot of Morrison fans. It seems like all that exists is that one still of him from JLA: Earth 2. So, getting to meet him was pretty amazing, and he had a lot of great insights into working with Grant. But, there’s a lot of really interesting people. We talked to Mark Waid for about five minutes and pretty much everything he said made it into the film. Adam Mortimer, the director of the upcoming Sinatoro and a fellow former Barbelither had a lot of really interesting insight about Grant today.
5. The film notably spends some time on the semi-public feud that has existed between Morrison and Moore for the past 20 or so years. Why did you think that was worth leaving in? Why do you think it was a good idea to provide a forum for it? Do you think it’s of particular importance to either of these men’s lives and work, and more generally what are your feelings on the importance of the way these affairs are more publicly conducted nowadays?
It was definitely something I thought about asking before we interviewed him, and it came up naturally in conversation, and was something that Grant was passionate about, so it seemed appropriate to include. I think part of the reason Grant chose to be involved with the film was to clear the air about some of the gossip surrounding him, and the Moore “feud” is definitely one of those subjects.
I don’t think the ‘feud’ with Moore is a key part of his life necessarily, but it worked in the film to both give context to where comics were at the time, and define a bit of what made Grant’s work stand out then, and continue to stand out to this day, namely the way that Moore tried to take superheroes and bring them in to the real world, while Morrison set out to travel into the superhero world. So much of the film is about the blending of fiction and reality, and using fiction to create change in the real world that it seemed appropriate to set up this dichotomy. And, in the context of Grant’s life at that point, the story of him rebelling against a perceived authority figure and setting out on his own fit perfectly.
I don’t think the actual ‘feud’ is that important to their careers, but I think you can see a very interesting parallel evolution of Moore and Morrison’s creativity. Moore’s deconstructionist superhero work defined the industry for a long time, then Flex Mentallo and particularly JLA brought back Silver Age style craziness, and influenced Moore’s ABC line. Now, I’m sure Moore would never acknowledge any sort of influence from Morrison, but if Promethea had come out before The Invisibles, you’d have a ton of people saying that it was taking ideas from Moore.
As for general thoughts on ‘feuds’ within the industry, I think the Moore/Morrison thing has been good for Morrison at least since it keeps pushing him to do better and better work. But, more actually divisive arguments can be bad since it is such a small group of people and not every fight needs to be waged in public.
6. Amidst this picaresque, chronological autobio/’higher-fiction’ set-up, betwixt The Invisibles and a too-short, in my humble, section on The Filth there’s this sequence on Final Crisis which I can sort of
understand tonally and for the narrative upswing at the end, but as an adept in Morrisonology, I do find jarring chronologically and kind of… not dishonest, I understand documentarians to an extent… I’m just asking you to defend its placement there? Were you ever tempted to give voice to this naysaying, given how much is made of the divisive nature of the series? (I am conscious comics is particularly a “not in front of the children” business)
The reason it wound up there is that Grant’s discussion of Final Crisis focused on the worst feelings he had during his early 00s depression, and I feel like he pulled the inspiration for the work from that time, even if the work itself came later. We touch on the themes of Final Crisis again closer to the end, putting its upbeat ending in context.
I agree that it’s a bit dishonest chronologically, but it just felt right to me in the editing room, so I stuck with it.
In terms of giving a voice to the naysaying, I used Matt Fraction, Douglas Wolk and Tim Callahan talking about the negative reaction rather than an actual naysayer because I couldn’t find anyone who would give it the venom that people gave it on the internet. So, I think the naysaying and divisiveness is definitely conveyed even if no one outright says that they were the one talking negatively about it.
7. Grant’s ‘drifting’ best friend “talking shit” about him in the Scottish press is Mark Millar, right? Right. Aside from the story of how Grant met his wife, Kristan, Millar is notable primarily for his absence from the film; can you give us any context for this?
At one stage of the editing process, there were a few minutes on Grant and Millar, but because we were unable to interview Millar himself, it felt sort of out of place in the flow of the film, and integrating Millar throughout would be difficult to do with the material we had. We got some great stuff with Grant talking about his relationship with Mark, but it didn’t really add to the overall narrative of the film, so it wound up not making it in.
8. There’s some quite frank discussion of drug use in the doc, were you ever tempted to excise that element? Was Grant? (How much creative control did the subject of the film generally have?)
What Grant told us was basically a lot of people have had drug experiences, you could go out and do mushrooms right now, you don’t need to see a movie about a guy doing mushrooms. So, I tried to include drug related stories where the drugs actively influenced the creative process, and to give enough context for the person he was in the 90s without getting bogged down in story after story.
In terms of Grant’s creative control, he and Kristan had a look at various cuts and gave notes along the way. There were a few things they didn’t want included for personal reasons, and when we watched the film with Grant, he’d say if things were inaccurate. So, I think it was a good balance of them keeping us honest, while not dictating what the film should or should not be.
9. You’ve got Tim Callahan and Douglas Wolk, authors other than yourself of the other two most recent works on Morrison, providing some biographical and literary backgrounding – was there ever a
temptation to Nick Broomfield it and step in front of the camera yourself? You’ve also got Richard Metzger who published the first guide to The Invisibles through Disinfo; was there any contact with
Patrick Neighly, its author? Geoff Klock? Or even Tom Coates, who ran the Bomb website, which, frankly, did it better. Is Callahan’s significant part in the doc largely due to ease-of-access with you both involved and published through his(?) Sequart NFP org?
I never wanted to jump in front of the camera myself because I never wanted the documentary to have any authorial voice other than Grant’s. That’s why there’s no voiceover narration, and being the editor of the film as well, it would be a little too easy for me to say exactly what I need to convey whatever thematic point I was going after. I think it makes for a more effective film to let the points come out of Grant’s own words.
Now that you mention it, Tom Coates would have been perfect, but I never even thought about that. Neighly and Klock would also have been great interviews, but the names never really jumped to mind. I think Coates and Neighly are UK guys, so it would have been tougher to interview them.
Callahan’s connection to Sequart is one of the reasons he’s in there so much. When the film was nearing completion, we went up to his house and shot a whole bunch of bytes to bridge the gaps in the film and give the background that ‘newbies’ might need to keep up. He’s a great on camera presence and was able to convey a lot of ideas concisely so he was perfect for that kind of stuff. And, Sequart isn’t owned by him, it’s Julian Darius and Mike Phillips who run it, both executive producers on the project and invaluable throughout.
10. What was it like getting a look at his notebooks? I’d kill for a squizzle at those.
It was pretty awesome. Part of me was trying to focus on the filming, but another part of me was catching glimpses of his schedule for the upcoming months and noting, oh there’s a Bruce Wayne project in the works (which became Return of Bruce Wayne, but this was back in April 2009 before that was announced) and catching glimpses of some other ideas that never came to fruition.
And, it was really great to see all the color drawings, which were really beautiful. I wish I had time to do a really archival study of every page, but usually it was just Grant flipping through pages, showing us whatever he found interesting.
11. Given the simplistic way that Grant is represented sometimes – the space case, the crazy ideas guy – did you feel that you had a responsibility to help repair his reputation?
I think that’s a part of why he made the film, and after actually meeting him, it became clear that he’s not the guy from the Disinfo con, he’s a very relatable, funny, normal guy who also has these wild ideas and mind blowing experiences. And, that’s why in the Disinfocon section, I included him talking about that being a performance, to make it clear that the crazy guy is a part of him, but it’s not all of him.
Grant talked to us about how going forward, this film will be the public record of him as a person. So, it was important to try and accurately represent him as best as I could. I don’t think he needs to repair his reputation, I think it’s more about broadening and deepening peoples’ understanding of who Grant is.
12. Did hearing what Grant had to say about the intent behind his work encourage you to reassess your own critical reactions to it? After watching the doc a number of us are keen to reread Final Crisis/Flex Mentallo/All-Star Superman with Grant’s and other contributors’ comments in mind.
Definitely, just flipping through Flex Mentallo to pull the images to use in the film, I was shocked by how closely it tied in with the childhood experiences he was discussing. I had always loved the work, but found it esoteric and hard to grasp at times, now it makes so much more sense, and I feel like there’s a whole new lens for discussing it.
The other big one is Final Crisis and that abyss era stuff. Even though it’s not mentioned that much in the film, the end of New X-Men, and that corruption of the initial promise gains a whole new lens when you look at it through the context of how he’s feeling at the time.
13. Had I the talent, drive and resources you did, and being similarly such a massive fan (as I know you are from days back on Barbelith,) I’d be hugely likely to create what’s contemporarily, if literally
incorrectly, known as ‘hagiography’ in your position; I do think you’ve narrowly avoided doing so, but it will almost inevitably be described as such – are you content with the balance of the work in this regard? Was it viable for it to be any other way? How hard a line is this to tread as a fan?
At the start, I was trying to be a bit more objective and even and offer counter points on a lot of Grant’s statements, but as time went on, I decided that I would focus more on conveying Grant’s viewpoint, giving context for people to disagree, and let people make up their own mind rather than offer up a series of contrarian voices, particularly when so much of what he’s discussing is very subjective. I could put someone on screen saying they find it unlikely that Grant would be abducted in Kathmandu, but ultimately it’s up to you to decide the validity of his story.
And, a big part of why I avoided voiceover and a clear authorial voice is because I wanted it to be Grant’s own words, and let you judge him on his own terms. I think it’s definitely tough at times to find that balance because to me, someone talking about The Invisibles as a work that commented on the lives of everyone reading it makes total sense, but if you haven’t read it, it could sound like hyperbole. And if Grant said something that could sound overly boasting, like when he mentions that We3 made people cry, I included a byte of Amber Benson saying the book made her cry as evidence that he’s not just exaggerating things.
So, ultimately I’m happy with the balance. And, just from reading reviews and talking to people, it seems like a lot of Morrison skeptics and people who don’t know his work are leaving really intrigued and eager to check out more of his work. But, I could see how certain people may find it a bit too positive or worshipful to Grant.
14. What do you still not know about Grant Morrison? What is Grant Morrison interview question #1,000,000?
Seeing as Grant just joined Twitter, a good one I never asked would be to ask him why he never has maintained a real solid online presence, considering that could be such a great addition to a lot of the work he was doing with series like The Invisibles, and interaction with readers in the letter column of that book was such a part of the experience. Maybe this Twitter account will stick, but it feels like he’s been pretty resistant to consistently maintaining any of the various sites or online ventures he’s launched over the years.
15. We’ve known you since the early days of Barbelith, a community once-known for its fervent love of the man Morrison, and I think it’s fair to say that you were as much a Moz fan as the rest of us, so I
have to ask, what was it like meeting the man in the flesh and wallowing in his life? Do you feel any differently about him? (I do, to me it wrung some pathos out of the life of a man – sausage factory analogies notwithstanding – I’d only formerly purely and somewhat fannishly admired as a consistent creator of engaging and brilliant comics) They do say that you should never meet your heroes…
Before I met him, part of me was hoping that when I got to his house we’d all go on some wild adventure in the desert and make it to the fifth dimension. That didn’t happen, and there’s a tinge of disappointment there. But once I actually met him and re-calibrated my expectations, I think he lived up to what I’d hoped. He was a lot more work focused than I’d expected, but was really charming and funny, and I think that comes across in the film. And, talking with him was just a totally amazing experience, he had so many really interesting insights and a fascinating, totally different perspective than anyone else I’ve ever met. Just talking with him puts you into an altered state of mind.
There’s definitely a charge and excitement to meeting Grant, but at the same time, he is just a regular person and it’s hard to be absolutely in awe of someone when he’s offering you a can of Sprite or some Skittles. I was a bit concerned that after doing the book and the movie I’d be burned out on Grant’s work, but I still love reading his new stuff, and am able to engage as just a fan still.
16. Were you moved to follow this up with the Warren Ellis pic ‘Captured Ghosts’ because of – actually, I found this really surprising, because he often seems such a holy terror online – because of how very likeable and amenable, positively cuddly, he appeared? Before watching the film, I really didn’t think this was someone I’d like to spend time with in any fashion, beyond reading his comics, but his brief appearances gave me sharp volte-face. Are you carving a niche out for yourself as the go to guy for comic creator docs? What’s next for you?
It does seem to be a good niche. I think both Grant and Warren are fascinating people, and there’s a couple of other potential projects in various stages of development on subjects just as interesting. With Ellis, he seemed like a logical progression from Grant, as someone whose persona and legend are just as exciting as the work that he does.
I’m also trying to come at the Ellis film from a totally different artistic approach, and make it more funny, fast paced and postmodern. I’ve got ideas for sequences involving puppets, stop motion and all kinds of other things to make his story work.
Other than that, I’m working on a webseries called The Third Age, which is produced by much of the same team from the Grant film. One season has been released, and a second is in the works. So, that and the Ellis project are the big things on the horizon for me, as well as another possible book for Sequart, though that’s still in early stages. Beyond that, hopefully some more original fiction projects and whatever else comes my way.