What are Alan Moore’s thoughts on Grant Morrison?
When asked during a fan Q&A in 2011, Moore explained.
QUESTION TO ALAN MOORE: 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?
ALAN MOORE’S RESPONSE: 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. […]
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.
Grant Morrison, however, strongly contested this.
GRANT MORRISON: Doing my own approximation of the “in” style to get gigs on Marvel UK books was, I thought, a demonstration of my range, versatility and adaptability to trends, not the declaration of some singular influence it has subsequently been distorted into over four decades – mostly by Alan Moore. […]
It’s hard not to be a little insulted by Moore’s comments that he recommended me to Karen Berger. […]
I don’t believe I ever tried to get ‘famous’ by insulting Alan Moore. It doesn’t seem the most likely route to celebrity. […]
Why the made-up stories about me? […]
As I’ve said, it’s far easier to make the argument that Moore […] continues to indulge in clear, persistent, and often successful attempts to injure my reputation, for reasons of his own.
In 2018, Morrison made headlines with a different narrative, stating that his opinion of Watchmen had caused the whole thing.
GRANT MORRISON: I was the first person to say Watchmen wasn’t very good – in fact, the only person to ever say that. And that made him angry so then I would get worse. I said that Watchmen was the 300-page equivalent of a sixth-form poem. […] I think it genuinely upset him. Alan Moore didn’t speak to me after that.
So what’s really going on here?
In effort to sort this all out somewhat, I’ve taken a look back at Grant Morrison’s career, focusing on where it overlaps with Moore’s.
Gathering as many direct quotes from Morrison, Moore, and relevant industry professionals as possible, I kept in mind the following questions:
- How much, if any, of Morrison’s work is derivative of Moore’s?
- Did Moore recommend Morrison to DC Comics editor Karen Berger?
- Did Morrison go on to say unpleasant things about Moore in fanzines?
- Was Moore just upset that Morrison didn’t like Watchmen?
Part 1: Grant Morrison’s First Ten Years of Comics (1978-1987)
Before breaking into the British comics mainstream, a young Grant Morrison tried his hand at three projects that didn’t quite land him an audience: Near Myths, Starblazer, and Captain Clyde.
Near Myths (1978)
Morrison’s first comics work was a five-page strip for Near Myths #2 in 1978, an underground Scottish anthology.
GRANT MORRISON: I didn’t get into Art College and there was nothing to do.
I left school at eighteen and went straight onto welfare for eight years.
When I was eighteen I got involved with these guys at Near Myths, which was an undergroundy kind of thing and they said ‘We’ll let you do something for ten pounds a page.’
It was run by this collection of hippies who said, “Hey, let’s bring out this magazine and waste all the money that we’ve saved,” and they did. The good thing was that they were willing to take anybody on, because they were so open.
My own stuff wasn’t really about anything. It was a collection of panels, with some symbolic stuff and a lot of nonsense.
Really bizarre, subjective adolescent fantasy world stuff. […] It was completely unreadable,but it was good to be able to do that at the time.
[It] didn’t sell at all, of course, and the magazine disappeared down the toilet after five issues.
GRANT MORRISON: I saw an advert, in the Sunday Post of all places. D.C. Thomson were looking for science fiction writers to work on a new series they were planning, so I just wrote off and sent them a synopsis which was accepted straight away. I’d included some illustrations of the characters and they asked me to draw the story as well.
I think they regretted it afterwards. It took a long while to do; I was working on it all day and night and sending in these notes saying “Please excuse me, I think I’ve developed glaucoma so it may take another few weeks.”
Although his work on Starblazer was uncredited, and he describes the pay as “ludicrously small,” Morrison was able to learn about storytelling mechanics from the experience.
GRANT MORRISON: In complete contrast to Near Myths, the Starblazer work taught me a lot about the disciplines of plot structure.
Captain Clyde (1979)
In 1979, Morrison was given Captain Clyde, a comic strip for a local Scottish newspaper.
GRANT MORRISON: Sheer nepotism really—my dad knew the guys on the paper.
The idea was given to me by Colin Tough, then editor of the Govan Press. […] Tough came up with the name and some vague ideas of what he wanted. […] Since I was on the dole, I decided that Captain Clyde should just be a young man without a job who happens to pick up super powers.
I’m not really sure of the exact reasoning behind the decision to stop the strip but I can guess at a few of the factors involved. I think the lack of public response was a major part of it. […] In addition to this, a new editor took over from Colin Tough.
Morrison Gives Up on Comics and Plays in a Band
GRANT MORRISON: So I stopped reading comics and got into punk, and it took over my life. […] There weren’t any comics worth reading, anyway. 2000 AD had come out but I thought it was a pile of crap.
Maybe making music was a better option after all. I had to earn a living and find a place for myself somehow in this ungenerous world. Unsure where to turn, I gave up on comics and concentrated on building up the Mixers.
At twenty-four, well beyond any awkward geek years, I was still convinced my life was ebbing away with nothing much to show for it. […] The Mixers, meanwhile, were spinning in multicolored circles, devolving to nothing more than posters, threats, and endless vague rehearsals with a carousel of drummers who never stuck around, smelling out lack of commitment to actually playing live. I was still on the dole and living at home.
While my back was turned, as so often happened in those miserable teenage years, something wonderful happened.
Warrior came out and I saw what Alan Moore was doing, V for Vendetta specifically, and it was just as serious as anything I might do in a film or a book, and I just figured I’d do comics.
I’d given up on comics ever making any progress until I picked up Warrior in 1982. Captain Clyde was coming to an end and I had serious doubts about the worth of continuing in comics – then I saw that Alan was attempting all the things I thought would never be attempted and my interest was fired all over again.
GRANT MORRISON: I didn’t do much for a long time because I was playing in a band. I didn’t think anything was going to happen because of the high hopes I had for Near Myths, which just fell apart. Then when Warrior came out [featuring Alan Moore’s Marvelman and V for Vendetta], and Alan Moore started scripting, I thought I’d get back in and work my way up.
I was drawn back to comics. For me, Marvelman was the next stage. […] It looked like a good time to get back into the scrum. Perhaps at last, this could be a way of making enough money to quite the dole and get noticed.
I was doing the odd DC Thomson Starblazer and contributing to all sorts of independent projects that never made it past the planning stage.
I’m bangin’ on doors and tryin’ to get work. One or two things would get published, but you’d go by for a year and nothing would get done and then I’d do a little thing, but I wasn’t working, I was on the dole. It was desperation, sheer fuckin’ desperation.
Morrison Breaks Into British Mainstream Comics (1985)
With this newfound focus, Morrison pushed forward by basically following in Alan Moore’s publication footsteps.
Morrison’s break came in 1985 with a four-page Liberators strip in the final issue of Warrior, just as it folded (the anthology that had previously published Moore’s Marvelman and V for Vendetta).
Morrison followed this in 1986 with:
- A prose story for Captain Britain (a comic that Moore had written in 1982)
- A couple of stories for Doctor Who Magazine (a magazine that Moore had written for in 1980)
- A few backup stories in a comic based on the toy line Zoids, which Morrison described at the time as “probably the closest I’ll come to something like Watchmen; I put everything into it.”
2000 AD’s Future Shocks (1986)
Morrison’s real foot-in-the-door moment was getting reoccurring work on 2000 AD’s Future Shock in 1986, a twist ending sci-fi strip that had served as a proving ground for many comics creators entering the British mainstream (including Moore in 1981).
QUESTION TO MORRISON: You were unemployed for a long time before you started writing for 2000 AD in 1986. What were you doing in all that time?
MORRISON’S RESPONSE: I was unemployed for 8 years. […] If I hadn’t still been living at home with my parent at the time I think I would have starved to death after the first week. My getting into 20000 AD was the result of an act of desperation. […] I just kept sending them stuff and needling away until they finally gave me something to do.
FROM THE BOOK GRANT MORRISON: COMBINING THE WORLDS OF CONTEMPORARY COMICS BY MARC SINGER: Morrison arrived at 2000 AD at an auspicious moment. The core group of writers and artists who had built the anthology into a smash hit—Pat Mills, Kevin O’Neill, Dave Gibbons, Alan Moore, and others—were being lured away by American publishers who could afford to pay royalties, and 2000 AD had to bring in a second generation of talent to replace them.
GRANT MORRISON: I didn’t ever read 2000 AD when I was younger. I wasn’t particularly interested in comics at that time. I’d seen 2000 AD and I was aware of Judge Dredd but it just seemed like a load of old toss, as far as I was concerned. First time I actually read one was in 1985, when I was trying to get work and someone loaned me a pile of Alan Moore Future Shocks to give me some idea of what was required.
In exile at my dad’s place, I wrote the first of seventeen Future Shocks stories as my apprenticeship with 2000 AD. These were short, done-in-one science fiction stories—anything from a single page to five pages long—with O. Henry twist or shock endings. Like so many others, I honed my skills on these odd little haiku-like pieces.
Elizabeth Sandifer, author of The Last War in Albion, analyzes the Future Shock strips Morrison wrote for 2000 AD:
ELIZABTH SANDIFER: There is no way to reasonably deny the fact that Morrison’s short pieces for 2000 AD owe a heavy debt to Alan Moore. “Hotel Harry Felix,” features an alien life form that takes the form of thoughts and ideas, a concept Moore had already explored in “Eureka.” His second, “The Alteration,” is a two-pager featuring a man on the run who is caught by monsters and turns into one, only to have it turn out that he was actually a monster who had contracted “humanitis” and was being cured, a joke not entirely dissimilar to Moore’s two-page “Return of the Thing.” […]
“Fair Exchange” uses the same joke that concludes [Moore’s] “D.R. and Quinch Have Fun on Earth” of a comedic misunderstanding in which an alien is presented with something that is secretly rude graffiti in its native language, while the two-part “Fruitcake and Veg” is a more or less straightforward repeat of the basic joke of D.R. & Quinch, including a section where the narrator reflects, “People say to me, ‘Mr. Sweet, what is it that makes you commit senseless and irresponsible acts of wanton destruction? What made you become the deranged homicidal maniac we’ve come to know and love? Well it’s a fair question. So I always give them a fair answer. I say it’s my upbringing, I tell them society’s to blame… and then I blow ‘em up!”
And the similarities continue right up to Morrison’s final Future Shock, “Big Trouble for Blast Barclay,” a Flash Gordon riff that echoes Moore’s “The Regrettable Ruse of Rocket Redglare.” […] All told, out of fifteen short pieces Morrison wrote for 2000 AD, around half have pronounced similarities with Moore’s work. […]
Morrison makes no secret of the fact that his return to comics was inspired by Moore’s work on Marvelman and […] it’s telling that Morrison largely recreated the specific path of Moore’s ascent while writing comics visibly in the same basic mould as Moore’s. But more than it reveals anything about Morrison’s creative faculties this simply reveals that fact that Morrison was a shrewd businessman. He saw that Moore was having more career success than any other writer in the history of the British comics industry and engineered a career that would give him the same success.
GRANT MORRISON: There’s a sort of apprenticeship, you’re forced to do Future Shocks (notoriously tedious one-off filler sci-fi stories). It used to be you had to do them for two years but I only did it for a year, fortunately.
GRANT MORRISON: They usually get you to do two years of work on [Future Shocks] before you’re let loose on a proper strip. Fortunately, just as I was running out of ideas for short stories with twist endings, they asked me if I wanted to do 2000 AD’s first superhero series. Brendan McCarthy had done a lot of sketches and was looking for a writer to develop them, so we talked about it at last year’s Birmingham Con. Steve McManus (former editor of 2000 AD), had been keen on doing a superhero character for some time. So it was a combination of all these things that led me to do Zenith. It took me 6 months to come up with something.
GRANT MORRISON: Zenith can trace a little – not all – of its influence to [Alan Moore’s] Marvelman and Captain Britain both of which I loved.
GRANT MORRISON: Originally it was a real grim story, closer to the mood of Watchmen, with an alternative world history and various generations of superheroes […] but we decided to downplay the parallel world angle and to concentrate on making it more light-hearted and disposable, so that it wouldn’t really be covering the same territory as Alan and Dave’s stuff.
Morrison used plot points and themes from Watchmen, declaring that Zenith was written “again, as a reaction to what Alan’s done in Watchmen.”
GRANT MORRISON: Watchmen had its “Keane Act” banning superhero activity, and Zenith had the International Superhuman Test Ban Treaty.
Zenith’s first book is titled “Tygers,” the name of the William Blake poem featured in Watchmen #5.
It starts out with a member of a retired superhero team being mysteriously attacked (the same way Watchmen begins).
The second book’s villain is a wealthy celebrity industrialist who hatches a plan to kill millions of people with the intention of tricking humanity into saving it from itself (the same way Watchmen ends).
GRANT MORRISON: Zenith was intended to be as dumb, sexy, and disposable as an eighties pop single: Alan Moore remixed by Stock Aitken Waterman.
But these weren’t Morrison’s only influences for Zenith. The most direct influence was from a source much closer to the series itself.
Brendan McCarthy, the artist who designed Zenith’s characters, and was originally set to draw the series, left the project once Morrison had started turning in scripts, feeling that Morrison’s scripts were too derivative.
BRENDAN MCCARTHY: Back in the day, the only new thought on superheroes were from Alan Moore in his version of Marvelman. I didn’t particularly like the strip (finding it a continuation of the wordy, purple ‘Don McGregor’ school of writing) and wanted to make my own, new statement about the superhero concept. I invented Paradax! In the early 80s, and asked the question, ‘what would it be like if an ordinary guy down the road became a superhero?’, which over 30 years ago, was a fairly novel approach: He would drink, smoke pot, fuck girls, watch himself being interviewed on TV, be an annoying self-infatuated asshole obsessed with stardom, have a manager, and take the money and run. […]
In tone, it was throwaway, sexy, breezy, a bit like a catchy pop single disguising a big fuck-off statement (like the Sex Pistols’ singles)…” […]
Grant approached me to draw the Zenith strip he was pitching to 2000AD, and initially I was quite interested. I designed a bunch of characters from his pitch, but as I read the full scripts later on, I saw that he was lifting quite a lot from Paradax!. The other story elements in Zenith, apart from the Paradax-inspired ‘media superbrat’ stuff seemed like the usual comics fare – ‘super soldiers’ and all that magick/Dr Who stuff he was into. That bored me, as I’d heard it all before… I couldn’t see the upside of illustrating a strip that was essentially ripping off my own original thought, so I passed on drawing it. Let me stress, that Steve Yeowell drew it far better than I would have. His work was really good, and he was absolutely the right guy for the job.
When I see it written that Zenith was some sort of brand new take on superheroes, the ‘first of the celebrity superbrats’ etc, well, I do tend to spit out my cawfee… Even the ‘magickal’ stuff in Zenith wasn’t original (2000AD had to pay off some artist for having his stuff ripped off later on in the series). […]
Zenith is a pretty good strip, but it is derivative of my own Paradax! Material.
Years, later, Morrison would basically admit to this.
GRANT MORRISON: I take things from everywhere. I use loads of quotes. I use a lot of ‘samples,’ like in Hip Hop, just inserted into the text from songs, or plays and things. Most of the time I don’t think people will notice. Doom Patrol has lines from Sonic Youth and the Shamen, all sorts of things. The Red Jack issue of Doom Patrol was stacked full of things from Peter Barnes’s ‘The Ruling Class,’ for instance. I don’t have to do this; it just gives me a certain joy. […] Zenith was done deliberately like that. A scratch-mix super-hero.
Nevertheless, Morrison was quite proud of Zenith at the time.
GRANT MORRISON: I think it’s just that Zenith is in 2000 AD at a time when we’re the only good thing in it. It’s true. I would like to be in a comic that is full of great strips, but at the moment it’s just us.
The images above are the property of their respective owners and are presented here for not-for-profit, educational purposes only, under the fair use doctrine of the copyright laws of the United States of America. The lyrics at the very top are from the song “Blame It On The Tetons” by Modest Mouse.