To the uninitiated, comics are often the subject of disdainful condescension, if not the target of outright ridicule; but many people are finding that a good number of today's comics are actually written for literate adults. One of those writers pushing the boundaries of this graphic medium is Grant Morrison. This Scottish writer, who produces works almost exclusively for DC, is famous for taking a comic and bringing it into the realm of serious fiction through rather unusual methods. His plots, which often explore the darker sides of human nature, are quite convoluted -- the storyline often winds its way through several layers of reality and temporal distortion. Common themes include the nature of identity and the subconscious, the unchartable movement of secret societies, the conflict between control and rebellion, and the emotional states of paranoia and alienation. The volume of Morrison's work is quite large, but I will mention a few that have distinct Borgesian overtones. (I would add the Marquis de Sade, William S. Burroughs, Philip Larkin, James Joyce, Carlos Castaneda, and Douglas Hofstadter as other large influences on his ideas and style.)
A comic which started life as a simple tale about a man who could steal the powers of animals, it experienced a profound metamorphosis while under the pen of Morrison. While still working in the framework of a "crime-fighting superhero," Morrison gradually added different levels of complexity to the main character as well as the plot. By the end of his celebrated run on the book, he turned the comic into a self-referential work of metafiction where the main character spent his days trying to grasp the true nature of his reality -- that of being a comic book character, forever locked in a struggle with an author -- Grant Morrison -- who possessed godlike powers and an entirely different system of morals.
Considered by many to be Morrison's masterpiece, he picked the series up at issue 19 and sadly left after 63. During his run of 44 issues he took the existing (and in my opinion, rather cheesy) story of a bunch of crime-fighting misfits, and utterly destroyed the world around them, replacing it with a very strange series of excursions into other realities. Apropos of Borges, the world of the Doom Patrol is filled with a host of surreal horrors: sinister cults that speak in anagrams, recursive books that are humans that are secrets, hungry paintings that hide different levels of reality, alien heresiarchs imagined into being by dying women, and even a fictional world -- Orqwith -- slowly absorbing the real world into itself, a very Tlönist concept, indeed! Even his villains are stamped with the unusual, from existential artists on a dada rampage, to ancient spirits displaced by metempsychosis, kept alive by the collective pain of a wall of pinned butterflies.
Certainly his most distinctly "Borgesian" work, in an interview in Amazing Heroes #176 (February 1990) he indeed cites Borges to be a major influence in his work on Doom Patrol. The following is an excerpt from that interview, conducted by Mike Maddox at Morrison's home in Glasgow:
AH: Yeah. And we haven't even mentioned Borges yet, and Orqwith.
Morrison: "Tlön Uqbar, Orbis Tertius?"
AH: Obvious references in the Orqwith story in "Doom Patrol."
Morrison: I had a dream where I was on a train going through a horrible bone-like station. The name on the platform said "Orqwith," so I'd thought I'd use it. Also, part of this dream was that this fictitious world was infiltrating parts of itself into our world. But like you say, it's got a lot to do with stealing work of a blind Argentinian writer.
AH: I'm afraid I stopped reading after "The Garden of Forking Paths."
Morrison: So you haven't finished Labyrinths?
AH: I did read '"Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" and the one about Don Quixote.
Morrison: I think he's wonderful. I just have baths in this sort of thing. That was one of the things I wanted to Introduce in Doom Patrol. All those strange paradoxes and philosophical curios.
AH: Could you tell us something about the language of that one? "Grimmer be fond brevities. Curdle your pilgrimage."
Morrison: I arrived at that after playing around with the spellcheck on the processor. I'd spell words wrongly and see what the computer suggested I should replace them with. Some of the other oddities were done by simply cutting up books and throwing the pieces in the air, like Burroughs. . . . I also keep a dream diary as well, which helps. I always dream about secret societies, which is ideal when you're writing super-hero comics -- you've always got these great names. There's one, The Cult of the Unwritten Book, who will turn up in Doom Patrol. Then there are the Pale Police, who have eggshell helmets and are assassins. Before the kill someone, they ritualistically draw the victim's thumbprint onto their masks. Ideal, really.
Morrison used his comic format as a stomping ground of wild ideas, some of which were delightfully absurd, and some of which still give me the willies at night.
Morrison's latest excursion into the surreal, this series lasted some 64 issues and formed a self-contained universe. It tells the story of warring secret societies, UFO infiltration, metaphysical excursions, sex and drugs as doors of perception, government conspiracies, a sentient and multidimensional London, and just about everything else he could think of, all brewed up into the tale of the Invisibles, a cabal of seditious revolutionaries trying to rewire reality. It's like the Illuminatus!trilogy mixed with Foucault's Pendulum with a shot of methedrine, gunpowder, and poetry. Influenced by J. L. Borges, H. P. Lovecraft, Michael Moorcock, Terrence McKenna, Timothy Leary, and others, The Invisibles is essentially an anarchist work that paints the Marquis de Sade as a hero and John Lennon as a god. This comic is not for anybody -- but is certainly one of the most rewarding on the market.
Doom Patrols Chapter 1 -- Steven Shaviro's online book -- "a theoretical fiction about postmodernism and popular culture." Chapter one is entitled "Grant Morrison."
The Bomb -- An excellent resource on The Invisibles.
Morrison Comixography -- A blibiography of all Morrison's comics and graphic novels.
Selected Works by Grant Morrison
Grant Morrison, et al (Special Order)
Doom Patrol: Crawling from the Wreckage
Grant Morrison / Paperback / Published 1992
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The Mystery Play: a graphic novel
Grant Morrison (Special Order)
The Invisibles: Say You Want a Revolution (Vertigo)
Grant Morrison, et al / Paperback / Published 1996
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The Invisibles: Bloody Hell in America
Morrison Grant, et al / Paperback / Published 1998
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The Invisibles: Counting to None
Grant Morrison / Paperback / Published 1999
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The Invisibles: Kissing Mister Quimper
by Grant Morrison, et al / Paperback / Published 2000
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