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UPDATE: Podcast described below now live and can be listened to or downloaded here.
Last Sunday I had a wonderful time doing another podcast for the excellent Deconstructing Comics (the two previous I did are here and here). I guest there whenever I can. In this case I got the chance to talk with Troy Belford about my very favorite Grant Morrison(and Frank Quitely, and this was where I first fell in love with his work) comic, the one & only FLEX MENTALLO.

Along with THE FILTH(which came up a lot, and how one is the mirror of the other) I consider this the very best, and in this case most positive, thing Morrison has ever done. The talk went on for something like 2.5 hours. There is a chance it might be split into two episodes--Tim Young is still reviewing it. We covered a lot of philosophical ground, and spoke about acid, surrealism and a lot more.

This comic lends itself to that. Just speaking of it seems to reveal layers and layers, and is an example of everything that is best and unique about Morrison. My contention is that this is more a ritual than a comic, designed to heal the reader.

One point--and I don't want to go on about this too much because it's much better explicated in the podcast once it's live--is that we have a wrong idea of "escapism." The word "escape" implies a state previous of being imprisoned, trapped. What we CALL escapism--which I call "trappism"(different from the older use of the term)--is often actually just a way to make yourself further trapped in mind and body, sucked into a hermetic comics world(think the worst kind of comics fan, the classic "basement dude"--Superboy Prime as he ended up for instance; the kind of person who knows the names of the X-Men better than their own relatives, who buys all the merch, who writes angry comments about comics ALL THE TIME) which allows him to not only never deal with his own life or progress as a human being, but in fact, never truly grow up, and yet also to lose touch with the pure joy as a child that brought him there in the first place. The "darkening" of superhero comics, in some ways, seals this. And makes you comfortable with the walls of your cell.

True escapism allows you to actually escape, to grow, to heal. Morrison believes we create superheroes as a tool to help ourselves become more than ourselves, and should not use them instead as a means to hide. This is the reason that, if Superman does not stand for hope, he's of no use. Because that is what he is FOR. If superheroes only drag us down to the worst in ourselves, then they have no point. (note: I do NOT mean superheroes as synonymous with comics--I mean here specifically them and their function) There are other things more appropriate to that. That's not what superheroes are for. At the same time, "positive' or "joyful" do not equal "shallow," necessarily, either, a hard thing for us to apprehend, but true.(And some might blame Moore for this, but I don't. I blame Miller, to start with. Underneath, WATCHMEN is about the best rising from the worst; think of Laurie, and Manhattan coming to believe in miracles because of her)

This is the sequence I focus most on, to me a VERY important sequence. And also to me, exactly the reason every single comics reader should read FLEX at least once.

This is the end point of a long multileveled hallucination a depressed rock star, Wallace Sage, who when a lonely kid created Flex in his handmade comics at home(as first explained in DOOM PATROL when Flex first appeared, though the connection between that Wallace & this one is tenuous; I do think it's the same Flex--first created by Grant with Mike Dringenberg, Richard Case, and Kelley Jones, and also Steve Yeowell--each drew Flex in a different phase but I'm assuming Morrison designed him; obviously he comes from the most ubiquitous comics ad ever, and that's pertinent) and comics fan(Morrison claims this is his version of himself had he continued in music, though in fact, he looks like Quitely) who believes he's killed himself with pills, and is ranting all this to what he thinks is a suicide hotline. All his thoughts become characters. And all the characters are him. (look at Flex and the detective. Versions of the same face. A use of the way that comics characters, like ones drawn by Kirby or Swan, often all had the same features in the old days. The Hoaxer is the exception. That would be Morrison's "fiction suit" this time)

Forget cynicism, forget snickers, and just let this sink in. Here is the sequence, with a few comments. (scans are from the original, not the recolored new version)

The Big Bad reveals himself, and he's here to tell Flex that the world is shit and that this is realistic. I believe this sequence is the crux of what the book is trying to say, and to accomplish. Note too, as mentioned, that the detective's face is like Flex's face, just a different version of it. There's a reason. All are different levels of Wallace himself.


We darken our heroes to kill them, to avoid aspiring, to destroy our imaginations, to do what we THINK is "growing up." And damage ourselves, and kill ourselves, in the process. We decide poison is what we want.


The Hoaxer is our imagination, that which allows us to escape any trap. And he has words for Wallace. Not to destroy him.

To save him.


Sometimes a cigar is but a cigar. Sometimes a superhero is just a superhero. And sometimes you just need to get out of the house.



Look at the light he read comics by as a kid. Also the trigger for the return of something, more clear when you read the book. Realizing that there is something valuable to an adult about the pure present-tense joy that only kids can feel face to face. Something that is not destroyed when you become an adult, just buried.

Only an adolescent little boy would confuse realism with pessimism.

Page left out for limits. There were never any batteries in the phone(and it was always just him talking anyway).

Meet some girls

What was the magic word? If only he could remember.

What is the sound you make when you're in this moment, when you feel joy, when you don't think but just ARE? When you in fact are one with the best part of what it was like to be a kid, before you thought you had to forget it to be an adult, to be "serious"?

The word is simple.

Ha.

The word is "Ha."

The sound of unselfconscious joy. The sound of...laughter.

Elaborated MUCH more in the podcast. I will of course post the link when live. Next time we talked about maybe doing Gerber's HOWARD THE DUCK. And that one is one I truly, truly love.

UPDATE: Tim Young tells me this: The DECONSTRUCTING COMICS episode examining Grant Morrison's FLEX MENTALLO with Troy Belford and myself will be up on Monday, Aug. 20 for your listening pleasure, and I hope you all enjoy it(link will be posted when it comes). It was a hell of a lot of fun. And it's a double-length episode, two hours--was 2.5 but only some unimportant stuff was removed to smooth it a bit. Still long. But FLEX deserved it.

This will NOT be your usual comics podcast, but DECONSTRUCTING COMICS never is.
_____________________


If you have a moment, why not have a look at my new(and old) comics & writing at:

Bottomless Studio: the comics & writing of John Linton Roberson

Date: 2012-08-06 12:56 pm (UTC)
mrosa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mrosa
It's a fair point. But to clarify what I've said: I said that SUPERHEROES are not really the place for that. I said we have other avenues for that.

Watchmen and especially Miracleman seemed like excellent avenues to explore politics, economics, utopianism and totalitarianism. Morrison's problem is that he's possessive of the superhero genre; he thinks he owns it; he has deep-rooted ideas of what superheroes are and he frowns when others don't want to play by his rules.

I am speaking only of this particular work and what it has to say about that particular genre. Because this particular genre DOES affect people. Otherwise this site would not exist, correct? I don't see lots of Joe Sacco or Los Bros being posted here. I'd love that, if so. And this book, IMO, simply explores THAT.

Ever since there's a popular culture, people have always preferred escapist fiction to confronting the real world. Flex Mentallo is not saying anything particularly original, it's just illustrating and ancient and tragic truth - people prefer being reassured all the time than being shown the inevitable reality of their harsh lives. As Umberto Eco wrote, if literature teaches us anything, it's that we're all going to die.

I would also say this: Maybe he has not done anything heroic. But have you? Have I? Have most writers in comics? In any genre? What has Dan Clowes done to help the world, say? Or Chris Ware? (both of whom I actually like more than any superhero writer) But their art is in fact all they are meant to create. Should all artists drop their work and go work in Africa or something?

But of course I haven't. I'm an ordinary human being, with an ordinary sense of human decency, vulnerable to all the flaws a normal human being is capable of. If I had lived during the Third Reich, I probably would have joined the Nazi Party like million others. The difference is that I'm capable of enough self-scrutiny and mental honesty to admit that, unlike other people who say that if they had lived in Hitler's Germany, they would have heroically fought the Nazis, of course they would have. Like George Orwell wrote of Gandhi, that kind of nobility is the stuff of saints not men.

The matter here is not whether I or Dan Clowes have done something heroic - I've done my share of good deeds to other people, like anyone else. The point is that no writer but Grant Morrison, and self-help gurus, claims that their texts can make people morally better. Fiction is not for that. Clowes and Ware don't want to make me a better person, they're just expressing some ideas about the human condition. But Morrison in recent years has become a self-help guru full of ideas about how superheroes can make your life better. And if he's going to say that, then maybe his own life should set an example. He's a hypocrite and his hypocrisy taints all his moralizing fiction, especially Flex Mentallo.

You know who's a hero? Alan Moore's a hero. It's not because of his stance of creators right, it's not because he's not afraid to talk about corporate comics where his 'peers' remain silent. It's because of this: when Awesome Comics folded, Moore had lots of artists dependent on him for work - they had bills and mortgages to pay. So what did Alan Moore do? He creates ABC, but he doesn't own Tom Strong and Promethea and Top 10. Why? Because he gave up his rights in return for up-front money so that his artists could get the money faster. That's right, the man who vowed never to work for DC again because of a creators right dispute, when he had to choose between helping artists and retaining rights to his own creations, he chose the artists. For the second time in his life he had to see his own creations taken away from him. I can only imagine how horrible that must have been for him. But that's the kind of hero he is, and he doesn't brag about it, he doesn't mention it in every little interview he gives, most people don't even know this.

So when I read Morrison say this:

"I'm sorry that people were discouraged, but anyone who expects me to take any stronger "stand" on this issue are going to be disappointed. I'm not the leader of a political party. I'm a freelance commercial writer who sells stories to pay the bills. I'm not an employee of any company except for the one run by me and my wife. I'm not a role model or the figurehead for any movement. I don't doubt that corporations can be underhanded, and I feel sorry for anyone who genuinely gets caught out. We live in a world where every day involves multiple negotiations with corporate power in one way or another, and all I can say is, enlist a lawyer to go through any contract before you sign it. Or self-publish."

I feel very disgusted. Moore isn't a political leader either, he's a freelance writer too, and yet he has a basic human decency that Grant-superheroes-teach-us-important-moral-values-Morrison has never shown to possess. So you want to believe in Flex Mentallo? Do so.

I prefer to re-read Portnoy's Complaint, Alex Portnoy isn't half as loathsome as Mr. Morrison.

Re: PS

Date: 2012-08-06 08:54 pm (UTC)
mrosa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mrosa
Well, he also did Animal Man.

Re: PS

Date: 2012-08-06 01:39 pm (UTC)
mrosa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mrosa
But for me it's irrelevant if someone writes superheroes or not; the question for me is that Morrison doesn't have the final word on how superheroes should be written. He has a narrow view of what they should be, but no one's obliged to treat them the same way.

Re: PS

Date: 2012-08-06 08:59 pm (UTC)
mrosa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mrosa
I didn't say you said it was a final word. But after reading his interviews and comics and Supergods, I do believe he thinks he has the final world on superheroes - he thinks he knows what's best for them, he's intolerant of different views about them. And that's relevant in this conversation because that mentality is all over Flex Mentallo.

And mind you, I've criticised Morrison for many things but never for taking drugs. I don't care about that at all, I only care about his comics and his statements about comics.

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