Comparing Morrison Con to Dundee Comic Book day is pretty lazy and has definitely already been done. However, being incredibly lazy, I shall hop on the bandwagon. After all, the line-ups were frighteningly similar and both star Grant Morrison. Not to mention the uncanny similarities between Las Vegas and Dundee (okay, I made that part up).
If I had gone to Morrison Con, I would’ve taken a plane. I might have talked about being patted down by a scary-looking woman at security or my baggage exceeding weight restrictions due to half of my comic collection being stuffed inside. As I set off for Dundee instead, my journey went a little differently. Instead of a plane, I boarded a particularly swanky double-decker Megabus. We didn’t cruise at forty-thousand feet but we did go via Broxden roundabout – so, you know, everyone’s a winner.
Arriving in Las Vegas Dundee, I headed straight for Dundee University’s Tower Building. Upon arrival, I saw a couple of nervous-looking boys clutching copies of Batman Incorporated and muttering something about Scott Snyder. Having sussed out that I am not a local Dundonian, they asked if I was here especially for the Comic Book Day. I smiled and nodded, adding that all I had to do was utter the words “Grant Morrison” to get the day off work. “It’s cool that people in your work know who Grant Morrison is,” one of them replied. Ha.
The whole affair was very relaxed. Morrison was being mic-ed up as we filed in and took our seats in the lecture theatre. Reminding myself that I wasn’t actually in a lecture (and therefore would not need to sit in the back to Tweet about how bored I was) I took a second row seat. Dr Scott Murray, professor at Dundee University, introduced the event and led an opening interview with Morrison; where he spoke about starting out, finding himself as a writer and his affinity with DC. Morrison did mention that once he had finished a run with a particular character, he tended not to want to return to that character years later. Batman is the obvious exception to this, Morrison admitting that the Dark Knight was just “too sexy” to walk away from. Despite his career beginning with Dundee-based publisher DC Thompson, Morrison revealed that he never actually set foot in Dundee – instead meeting his editors in Glasgow’s Queen Street Station, where briefs would pushed across the table in brown envelopes.
(“More space combat!” – Morrison reveals the solid criticism of his work by editors in the early days of his career)
With the audience was offered the chance to ask their own questions, Morrison talked about how his early editor’s criticisms of his work seemed to be the lack of space combat. “My work would come back with ‘needs more space combat’ scrawled across it,” he laughed, eyes sparkling. One fan remarked that Morrison’s work had a distinguishable anti-establishment theme – was this a deliberate route taken by the writer? Morrison smiled politely and, forgetting his earlier promise not to swear, replied, “… I just met the fucking queen”. Elaborating on this, Morrison explained that he did not consider himself to have an anti-establishment mentality – believing that we, as society, had created the establishment ourselves. Instead, he explains, he chooses to be simply “anti-bastard”. “Bastards can crop up anywhere, they can be part of any social scene,” he explains, “So it’s easier just to hate bastards”. His advice to budding comic book writers? Manic laughter and simply: “Buy a gun”.
Following Morrison was Rian Hughes, who delivered a slick presentation that demonstrated his focus in graphic design. An attendee pipped up and asked if Hughes had an opinion on DC’s new corporate logo. Hughers confirmed that he did, before laughing and shaking his head when asked if he’d like to share his opinion. In the context of his work with Morrison, he demonstrated the design the Batman Incorporated logos in various stages of the creative process and his work on the Flex Mentallo covers (each of the Flex covers mimics an era of comics). He also showed examples of his most recent work with DC, including a Batman project that is still very hush-hush, and his own typography business.
Fraser Irving then took to the floor, quick to explain that he was an artist and did not have the same eloquence or way with words as Grant. “I often use words out of context”, said Irving, “Potato”. A self-confessed technophobe, Irving spoke about his growth as an artist and how he struggled to get to a place in his career where he was happy with the work he was producing. Now happily acquainted with digital tools, he referred to the “Irving mist”, a specific graphic design tool he uses frequently and makes a lot of his recent work instantly attributable to him (sure enough, this aforementioned mist is most recently, and particularly effectively, displayed in Batman Incorporated #0). Irving is now able to talk happily and proudly about work throughout his career – and quite rightly so.
Frank Quitely and Grant Morrison are probably the best known creative team of the collaborators we’ve seen today. Their work together on Batman and Robin and Flex Mentallo shows the evident spark that occurs whenever they get together. Taking to the floor, Quitely reveals that he is the only artist present today that has not made the transition from paper to digital – at least, not entirely. Turning to technology to do his cover work, Quitely admits to still using graphite for the line work on his finished pages. When asked if there were any characters that he hadn’t work on that he would like to, Quitely listed Spiderman, Hulk and Daredevil.
(Watch this space?)
Cameron Stewart was the only non-Brit to speak today. Apologising for his accent in a room full of fast-talking mumbling Scots and a few Englishman might seem unnecessary, but he does it anyway. Stewart happily admits that his work is almost entirely digital these days, a process he feels allows him to be more carefree and experimental with his art – while also getting the job done a lot more quickly. He also reveals that he manages to finish twenty-two pages in a fortnight which, when producing the work that Stewart does, is an extremely admirable feat for an artist.
Finally, best known for his work on 2000 AD, Peter Docherty (who replaced Jill Thompson) was the last panel to take to the floor. Instantly likable and refreshing unpolished, Docherty talked how he prefers doing his own colouring – or, as he puts it,“pissing on my own work” – rather than relinquishing control of his art. Nothing bothers him more than other people doing a shoddy job of colouring his own work. Docherty talked through the process of recolouring Flex Mentallo and, like the other artists present, his evolution from paper to digital.
Las Vegas, Dundee certainly isn’t. Dundee might lack the glamour and bright lights of Vegas, but instead it promised something special: an intimate audience, a tight-knit group of speakers and a group of some of the biggest talent in comics today. At the end of the day, no matter what which corner of the world you find yourself in, Grant Morrison will always be Grant Morrison – and comic writers, artists and fans will always be the most interesting company to keep on a Sunday afternoon. Viva la Dundee.
The University of Dundee offer a post-graduate qualification (MLitt) in Comic Studies, which is currently the only course of its kind in the UK. For more information, please visit their site here. Photos courtesy of one of my FP Glasgow regulars – Gary Gray – he thought to snap some pictures, while I was simply sitting there in awe of the incredibly talent speakers, so cheers to him for that.