Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chris Weston
Where we get a little dirty dealing with Grant Morrison and Chris Weston’s The Filth and try out best to work out the following: What does “mean” mean? What type of pornography do you like? And which side should you pick in the great big old Moore / Morrison beef?
Yeah – but what does it all mean?
Coke vs Pepsi. Left vs Right. Batman vs Superman. Alan Moore vs Grant Morrison.
Sure – if you wanna be all holier than tho then you can say that why do we always have to have these conflicts – the choices between the two things. Can’t we like both? The world is a big place. The colours are on a spectrum. Why do we always have to choose a side?
To which I say: shut up. I’m trying my best to frame the damn debate here.
As I’m sure I’ve already said: I’ve been an Alan Moore kid from way back. He got his ringed fingers into my brain at an early age and never really released his grip: and so Grant Morrison I’ve always felt a little wary of. I mean – The Invisibles is and was and remains his big magnum opus right? It collects his essence – it’s his “wank-a-thon.” And while there is a part of me that realises that maybe it would be an interesting book to do a book club on – I mean: I dunno – it kinda annoys me: it leaves me feeling frustrated in all the wrong ways: and kinda like with Love & Rockets (which we talked about in the Judge Dredd thingie) – seeing the enthusiastic and semi-religious responses of some of my friends and those online and people I’ve met doing the Barbican Comic Forum (it’s the way the say “The Invisibles” with this far-away glassy look in their eyes – like they’re describing the first time they let God into their lives or whatever): I mean – I feel like there’s this amazing party going on and yet no matter how many times I try to read it – I just can’t get into it / see what all the fuss is about: which yeah – leads me to cry”bullshit,” shake my fist from the outside say things like: “Grant Morrison comics are like magic eye pictures.”
But then (voice softens) – then there’s The Filth. Which – hey – if you wanna do the “what are your Top 10 favourite comics of all time” kinda thing – is way up there as things which are just totally great and awesome and make me feel a little scared to write about – because I don’t think I can properly do it justice and I really really wanna do it some kinda justice / get down into words and understand some of the reasons why I love it so much (so yeah – you know: no pressure).
As a way in maybe: I’ve heard from a few of people here and there at the Barbican Comic Forum that The Filth “doesn’t really make sense” or – even better – “Oh yeah – I’ve read it: but what does it all mean?” Which yeah – if you’ve been paying attention at all: is something that interests me a great deal. Because yeah jezz – what does The Filth mean anyway?
David (along with Richard Evans) left some nice/smart/cool comments at the bottom of the Brain teeth / Endless nameless part 1: High-Rise and “It’s all subjective” thingie I wrote (is it showing off to post the link again?): which got in thinking in all sorts of ways – but especially especially this bit: “this paragraph comes dangerously close to reducing prose/poetry (the latter being your favourite, I know, but bear with me – “words on a page”) to pure information. There’s meaning in Ballard’s work – as I suggested in my reaction to the movie, High Rise as a novel collapses the social into the biological, the architectural into the internal, and in doing so suggests that our grand schemes may have more in common with our base reactions and desires than we might like to think – but this would be trite and commonplace were it not for how it’s conveyed.” And yeah – I feel like I agree completely and totally with that assessment. Like: pretty much anytime anyone is like: “well – this is what that all means.” I tend to switch off. Because – come on: comics and films and books and etc aren’t just codes to be cracked to get to the secret message. That’s boring and dull and everything wrong with everything: it’s the juice with no juice left. But then – how to balance that with the impulse and desire and damnit – deep seated need – to get to describing how and why things effect you? To not just say – well yeah: this is what The Filth means but rather to try to get to – well – this is what The Filth means to me. Well hey – maybe it’s just that? To try not to aim for the Deep Truth Objective: but instead settle for the smaller and more personal subjective? Just a: this is what I think.
And so Sally can wait / she knows it’s too late / as we’re walking on by
Her soul slides away / but don’t look back in anger / I heard you say
So erm yeah: I did DJing at a wedding this weekend. Friend of a friend. Playing songs that people like. Much fun. Good times.
The groom requested that I close the night out with Don’t Look Back in Anger (tune) and – man – yeah. Good choice. Lots of drunk people grabbing hold of each other, arms aloft, shouting out the chorus at the top of their lungs – I mean: it’s what Oasis was made for right? Plus the fact – like: how many years ago did it come out? I remember it from when I was a kid. Oh my god – how did we all get so old? But what the fuck – that’s what being alive is about – no?
I couldn’t say if it was the words or the music or the fact that they had a tequila bar and we’d all been drinking all day (come on – it’s a wedding): but singing along it all felt so right and so very fucking meaningful.
VOICE IN MY HEAD: “Ok. Yeah sure. But what does it all mean? Who is this Sally? Where are we walking to? And her soul is doing what now? Sliding away? What does that even mean? Come on now.”
Well ok Voice in my Head – I get why you’re saying that: but I think your understanding of how stuff is a little bit messed up: like you’re being all “Literally” but I don’t think that’s how humans work (or at least I don’t think that’s how I work: and seeing how I’m the only human that I have exclusive interior access to – then I guess I’ll just have to extrapolate from myself): see it’s not about the literal meaning of stuff – it’s about the way that things will suggest things and (ooh – here’s a good word) trigger thoughts and emotions and whatever inside you.
I mean: there’s an interesting conflict here I guess between two different trajectories: on the one hand this sense of wanting to know the reasons why something makes you feel or think a certain way (with Don’t Look Back in Anger – I guess it’s the suggestiveness of the lyrics, the alcohol, the age of the song, lots of human voices all singing the same thing) and on the other hand the “what does it literally mean” angle (see: the Voice in my Head above).
Like: at the risk of turning this into a debate about Lost (yeah yeah ok – we get it: you didn’t like how it ended – get over it already): but for me I (mostly) enjoyed how it skirted the line between doing all this massively evocative stuff (giant statues in the jungle? yes please) and then trying to appease / deliberately frustrate the “but does it literally mean?” crowd who wanted – what? – to know who built the statue? and when? and for what reasons? and what materials did they use? and was it slave labour? and were the slaves well treated?
For me this kind of approach reached it’s zenith with The Martian film that was so concerned with being as scientifically accurate as possible (how did this happen? and how did he do this?) that it kinda missed out on getting across the cool and evocative experience of what it would feel like to be all alone on an alien planet (one review I read kinda hit the nail on the head when it said: when Matt Damon talks about getting a message to his parents – it feels less like someone accepting the idea of their own death and more like crossing something off a “Things to do list”). Like: I guess it’s about choosing between the different types of reasons: the reasons of why stuff happens in the story (this is bad – and worse: boring and even worse: how everyone seems to criticize and understand stuff nowadays: “well – they didn’t explain this bit or why that happened or whatever”) and the reasons why the story makes you react in a certain way (this is much better and more the sort of thing we should we doing – yes? yes!).
What does this all have to do with The Filth? (HA!)
Well – I haven’t actually sat down to read it yet. I brought myself a new copy because I lent my old copy to someone and never got it back: SCREW YOU DUDE: but my new copy is the “brand new deluxe” version (what does that mean?) and I’m scared to take it out of the wrapper because it feels like it should an event or something and well yeah – I thought it would be interesting to write out some of the things I was thinking before I started reading it. Because yeah – you know: what does it all mean and etc?
Spread it on your flowers Greg.
Can you imagine if The Filth had been like most of Morrison’s other series? Issues coming out increasingly late, with artwork by artists that either don’t understand or don’t care about the script? This comic was pretty much incomprehensible as it was in it’s monthly format but as chapters of a book it works well. And what does the end mean? It’s the nihilist joke, God is a load of shit, but this takes the shit and turns it into something good, it takes the emptiness and puts something of value there. There’s certainly filler there, despite harvesting the ink to make sentient comics to mine for tech the whole comics subplot could be taken out and no-one would care, Adam is so peripheral a character that his realisation that he is a villain isn’t really profound but more ho-hum. But rereading it recently brought flashbacks to the Summer of Paedogeddon, where I think a lot of mostly men were concerned about how they behaved in public spaces where children were for fear of falling victim to the latest media-conflated hysteria.
But unlike a lot of Morrison’s other work he chooses a theme here and sticks to it and doesn’t get too distracted by other things. Where The Invisibles wanders off the trail in the second half of the second series and never really finds it’s way back, where Seaguy was just bullshit, where Multiversity needs me to summon up the enthusiasm to reread it all just in case I was mistaken when I first read it as just him rewriting Final Crisis with all the good bits taken out, The Filth comes in, shits on your carpet and tells you no, it’s not caviar, it’s shit, but it’s really profound shit and then goes on to prove it. Probably one of the best comics of its decade I’d say.
A D Jameson website
Joel just sent me a lovely little note, inviting me to join this discussion about The Filth. I fear however I must decline because while my schedule is currently empty of all engagements and obligations, I do not care to read or discuss The Filth. To put the matter plainly, I am none too fond of Mr. Grant Morrison, having thought for some time now that he’s an overrated blowhard. Mind you I’ll grant (heh heh) that the man has had some good ideas on occasion, although it’s always been my impression that he’s pinched those ideas from other places. I’ve read a lot of Mr. Morrison’s comics over the years (a lot!), and would even confess under tickle torture to enjoying a few of them—possibly two—the same way that I’ve enjoyed, say, stray sentences in Chuck Palahniuk novels, and the concluding notes in a handful of songs by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But I’ve never been particularly impressed by any of them; instead, if anything, I’ve always come away from the experience 1) feeling sad and 2) thinking that this Grant Morrison fellow has somehow succeeded as a writer despite not knowing much of anything about the craft of writing, which happens to be a subject of dear importance to me. Indeed, I wouldn’t go so far as to call what Grant Morrison does writing. There’s a reason why he has become my go-to example of someone who, instead of skillfully constructing dramatic narratives, merely states his cool ideas—which again always strike me as being more borrowed than freshly conceived—directly to his readers via dialogue. Which is to say, I’ve never read anything by Mr. Morrison that I appreciate on the level of literary craft. Maybe if he just tweeted his cool ideas, as well as links to the places where he found them, I would follow him on Twitter. But even then I probably wouldn’t, since he seems like the type of person who would spam my Twitter feed with nonsense, most of it self-aggrandizing. Because Grant Morrison, like far too many people these days, has become extremely successful by relentlessly promoting himself—his personal brand—despite that brand being, when you take three seconds to peek inside the pinstriped suit, mostly hollow. (In that regard, he reminds me of the man who will soon be America’s next president.)
He is thus in short not the sort of person I’m looking to read more comics by, not when there are thousands of other comics I haven’t read, many of them by much better artists (i.e., people committed to the craft of making comics). Beyond this, I barely even read comics anymore, the unique circumstances of my life having led me to spend more time with movies and prose fiction. And there are thousands of movies and works of prose fiction that I’d rather spend my time enjoying than comics whose covers have the misfortune of being stamped with the name of the Scotsman Grant Morrison. And beyond even that, there exist thousands upon thousands of other artworks in other media—painting, sculpture, ballet, music, opera, theater, mime, shadow puppetry, cave painting, Jello molding, nose hair braiding, tattooing, banzai, origami, and so on—that I’d rather peruse before I considered touching, let alone reading, a comic sprung from the diseased mind of the jumped-up Sawney who insults this earth with his stride while being known both personally and professionally as “Grant Morrison.” Indeed, I’d rather watch TV than read more comics made by the man, and as Joel well knows, I mostly loathe watching TV, especially the programs Joel cherishes. (I would rather watch Lost—twice!—than read more Grant Morrison.) And even beyond that, there are countless things I could be doing with my time, such as going for walks, or playing with puppies, or feeding lambs clover, or letting butterflies land on my face, or eating paper, or drinking mint juleps, or riding up and down in elevators, or simply sitting in a chair, staring quietly into space, thinking about everything in creation that isn’t Grant Morrison—all of which sounds vastly preferable to me than picking up, paying for, opening, and then (shudder) actually reading words set to page by that grinning bald fellow.
In case I haven’t made my point clear, I don’t like Grant Morrison; I don’t want to think about Grant Morrison; I wish Grant Morrison would go away.
HOWEVER. That all having been said, if The Filth is in fact so amazingly terrifically stupendously well-wrought and awesome that, were I to not read it, then the quality of my regrettable life would suffer to a significant and painful degree—and only then!—I would be open—in theory—to considering reading a short essay that explained to me—concisely and intelligently and above all else persuasively—why I, a man who would rather do just about anything (including watch Lost!) than read a comic written by Grant Morrison, am in the wrong, and absolutely need to read it right away. But even then, I can already tell you that I would the whole time feel 1) suspicious that the person who wrote said essay were leading me astray, and 2) resentful that I had to spend yet more of my waking time and energy thinking about Grant Morrison. Which would no doubt put me in a foul mood for the remainder of the day.
Now if you’ll kindly excuse me, I’ve more than exhausted the amount of time I wish to spend thinking about Grant Morrison for the next decade, perhaps two decades. So. On 20 May 2036—but no sooner—I will set aside exactly ten minutes, during which time I will be open to considering reading a short essay that meets the requirements outlined above. And should that essay exist (doubtful), and should I read it (more doubtful), and should I find it convincing (extremely doubtful—though never let it be said that I don’t keep an open mind!), then two decades after that, on 20 May 2056, I will set aside exactly ten minutes to reading Grant Morrison’s comic book The Filth.
But may I be dead and buried long before such a calamity befalls me—for if not, I fear that those ten minutes with Grant will be what do me in.
Something that only recently occurred to me on rereading The Filth is how, despite the comics world being mostly dominated by entitled man-babies, despite most of the people who are allowed to make comics by the big gatekeepers of comics publishing being men and despite the fact that Morrison has a fairly terrible track record for writing decent female characters (Crazy Jane, erm… anyone else?) it’s surprising how masculine The Filth is. The few main characters are all male, and the neuroses and fears given form in this are specific to men and possibly then one specific man who was in his fifties when he wrote this, lives in Scotland and who’s name rhymes with Brant Borrison. Seeing as, following the ‘as above, so below’ mantra, the entire story is also just the story of a sad lonely man who tries to disassociate from the fact that he murders children and buries then in his back yard by pretending there is a ‘Bad Greg’ who does all these things while he’s away being a superspy, it’s not surprising, although does the ending then suggest he gets away with it all?
Adam D Jameson – log off
So aye, anyway, as Lawrence says, The Filth’s a stinky, grubby boy’s book. On an earlier version of The Matrix aka the Comics Internet, someone once made an argument about how it could only be the product of a very traditional sort of male childhood, one that had allowed for the experience of adolescence to be processed through crude/pure fantasies, detached from the reality of human biology.
I was never entirely convinced by that – I get a bit nervy about broad, sweeping statements and 80s stand up comedy routines about boys and girls – but there’s something there. A way into The Filth, maybe.
Still, if we’re going to talk about the neuroses of the book, or discuss the way it processes reality:
- Is there anything in the text that suggests there are actual dead kids in Greg Feely’s garden?
- If your answer is “well, his neighbours think that”, does this mean that the reality of our actions is determined purely/primarily by the perception of others?
- If so, how does this observation make you feel given that we can no longer think of the British Isles without thinking PedophIsles?
- Can we meaningfully transpose these thoughts to The Filth, with its desperate, pre-curdled fantasies and creepily othered doppelgangers?
- What does it mean that Greg/Ned’s most meaningful relationship is with his cat?
- Does this make anyone else think of Glaswegian rapper Loki’s lyrics? “talking to the cat, telling myself she’s a good listener/in denial about the fact she’s just a prisoner”
- Should more rappers talk about their cats – Y/N?
With regards to The Filth being readable only as an examination of Grant Morrison‘s neurosis:
- How much porn does Grant Morrison watch?
- How much of it involves pornographic parodies of characters that he’s spent the past 30 years of his life writing?
- Does he feel guilty about his viewing habits?
- If so, does he feel more guilty than he does when he thinks about original sin in the world of superhero comics?
- If you’ve answered any of the above questions, where did you get this information?
- What can you tell me about what’s happening in front of my monitor screen right now?
- Am I wanking as I type this?
- How does that possibility infect your reading of this email?
- Does it allow you to create a story about me and my neurosis?
- If so, could you feed that experience back into the comic?
- Would it help to do so while thinking about the way characters on one level of reality in The Filth manipulate those in the lower reality of the “pointless” superhero world sub-plot?
- Why do we spend so much time in the first half of the book watching characters through TV/CCTV/sci-fi TV screens?
- How do the multiple narrative outcomes scripted by LaPen fit into this?
- How does it all mean?
It’s fucking criminal that we’ve got this far into a discussion of The Filth without a single mention of the art team, so:
- If we don’t mention Chris Weston, Gary Erskine, Matt Hollingsworth and Carlos Segura do their contributions comic cease to exist?
- Does this allow us to better spend our time talking about the character of Grant Morrison?
- If so, what does it say about Grant Morrison as a comic book writer/living brand?
- What does it say about Chris Weston? Gary Erskine? Matt Hollingsworth? Segura Inc?
- Most importantly – because us are always more important than them – what does it say about this particular group of comics readers?
- Did you notice the difference in the colouring when Matt Hollingsworth left?
- Is this shift more or less appreciable in the shiny single issues or in the toilet paperback edition?
- Am I the only living soul to give a fuck about the paperstock used in the various editions of The Filth? (Wait, don’t answer this one!)
- Does the occasional stiffness of Chris Weston’s art serve to emphasise the Gerry Anderson influence in his designs?
- Does this give you the feeling that the characters are somehow being manipulated like perfect victims/puppets, or does it merely highlight a limitation of Weston’s craft?
- What’s Gary Erskine’s contribution to the overall effect of the book?
- Do his inks reinforce the ripe, bulging feel of Weston’s characters?
- And what about the Segura Inc covers?
- To what extent does the contrast between the clinical covers and the grotesque interior art frame your experience of The Filth?
- Is this framing more or less annoying than the one I’ve tried to provide by sending you all of these questions?
Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!
(Or you know: a comic discussion group thingie – whatever – same thing).
So erm yeah stuff.
I’ve gotta admit (as much as David won’t like this): I feel like I totally get where Adam is coming from. Like: right at the start of this I mentioned the whole Moore / Morrison divide and even tho I know that’s all bullshit and the world is full of pluralities as opposed to good and evil “choose your side” type stuff – I do still kinda believe in it (sigh at myself) and I’m totally I’m a Moore-man through and through: and yeah – Grant Morrison has always kinda smelled like snake oil to me. I mean – just to pick out a small part of it: Moore has the appearance at least of being incredibly skeptical of being famous and getting big and being a global comics superstar (if that’s not a contradiction in terms?) you know – he used his fame and notoriety to write a brick of a comic about Jack the Ripper, and pornography about Wendy, Dorothy and Alice and the million words of Jerusalem: while Grant Morrison has done what? Batman and Superman and Various Movie Pitches Masquerading as Comics (I’m looking at you Annihilator).
And I say all this and cheer on every bit of Morrison bashing I see and yet but and but and but
The Filth is one of the best comics I’ve ever read (and – *ahem* – in case it’s not already obvious: I’ve read a shit load of comics).
So: Adam – when I saw your thing about how you would consider “reading a short essay that explained to me—concisely and intelligently and above all else persuasively—why I, a man who would rather do just about anything (including watch Lost!) than read a comic written by Grant Morrison, am in the wrong, and absolutely need to read it right away” I was all like – ooooh. That sounds like a challenge and something that I kinda want to write (ha!). But then – I dunno – thinking it over more: I mean: what would this short essay even look like? And is it just me – but I’ve always felt kinda uneasy about stuff that is trying to persuade me something (or at least persuade me in an obvious and naked way: like there is an Alan Moore quote (him again!) that says something like all art is propaganda – which yeah is totally true: but just means that I like my propaganda to be subtle you know?).
I’m trying to think of that thing that happens in music sometimes where a band will write a song that sounds totally unlike them and it’s also the best thing that they’ve done. But the only example that comes to mind is Blur and Song 2 which ok yeah – I guess works. Because: man – imagine hearing that song without knowing anything about Blur. You’d be like: fuck – these guys are like a compact Nirvana. Fucking RAWK. And then instead – once you get in – you find it’s all big houses in the country or whatever. Like The Filth is like that – it’s Morrison’s Song 2. The book that someone like me (who is suspicious as hell of Morrison and his whole deal as much / as more than anyone) and can still be like: I mean yeah: this book is amazing and you should read it.
I actually started writing this before David sent out all his questions (are you cosplaying as The Riddler David?) but yes just to say and to underline: Chris Weston. Chris Weston. Chris Weston. Who is basically one of my (if not THE) favourite artists of forever. Canon Fodder anyone? And basically one of the best splash pages of all time (where Canon Fodder meets God):
I mean – I’m not the type to stick art / pages from comic books up on my walls: but if I was: then I think this would be a very strong contender.
So yeah: maybe it would be better to think of The Filth as less a Grant Morrison Joint and more a Chris Weston Presentation? Or then again – I dunno – maybe it’s a collaborative medium? And maybe there’s a reason why Radiohead > Thom Yorke’s solo stuff?
Altho The Eraser is a very cool album.
It gets you down
You’re just playing a part
Heh, nah man, hating on Grant Morrison comics is fair (if obviously wrong – my pals on Mindless Ones have more better thoughts on his work and thus “win”), preferring Alan Moore is understandable (he’s a great writer and Providence if proof that he’s still got it, but he was also a total cunce to my pal so I’ll hold off from making him a saint just yet).
I just wish I had a time machine so I could stop Adam from joining a conversation to tell people that he wouldn’t be joining a conversation, reckon I could have saved him a few precious minutes of his life if I’d just had the opportunity to whisper two words in his ear: “log off”.
If only people had told me more often to do the same… what would I do with all that time, if I hadn’t stayed up stroking myself sore in front of all those dirty webcomics?
Getting back to The Filth – contra Joel, it’s actually none-more-Morrison comic, right? Bald assassin-cum-author stand in goes on an adventure through different levels of clashing reality, finds himself bound up in a series of conspiracies that might be an expression of a higher cosmic order or a side-effect of the fact that you smoked yer da’s ashes last night, trips over some fourth wall bursting adventures in superhero micro-universes, it’s… pretty much everything Morrison’s ever written, eh?
But for all the surface mess, it’s one of his tidier works though, and it’s also also – and thank fuck for that divine splash Joel, it’s beautiful! – a none-more-Weston comic too.
I’ve got to re-read The Filth (been years since I have) and collect my thoughts before I share them. When I do, I shall return!
But before I do, I just want to address AD Jameson’s untethered rant. It registers as cheeky and snarky, eh? But y’know Jameson sure is MAD isn’t he? I mean, all those words just to say how much he hates Grant Morrison? All those words just to shit on the author and say absolutely nothing else? Look, I know this is supposed to be a safe space with which to speak one’s mind freely, but I also thought it was a critical space though which a serious discussion could be had about comics. Jameson has done his best to damage the credibility of this book club, but thankfully the rest of the good folks here are well-reasoned, even-keeled, articulate, and decent folk. I read his LONG trolling entry and quite literally thought I had somehow found my way onto 4Chan or the comments section of BleedingCool.
I get if you don’t like Grant Morrison, I totally get it. But the sheer ANGER people have about Grant Morrison bewilders me. As does the Grant Morrison/Alan Moore feud. For my money Moore and Morrison are two of the best writers ever in the comics biz. Yet, Morrison gets so much vitriol while Moore gets so much praise. Funny, because while Morrison has done his best to positively contribute to the comics world, collaborating with and showcasing some of the best artists on the planet and engaging with fans, Alan Moore has done the opposite. For all the inane and horrible (and offensive) bullshit that Alan Moore has said in interviews over the past several years—dissing his own fanbase and especially his claims that he hasn’t read superhero comics in decades because he wrote all the good ones and therefore no one else should anymore—I’m astonished that more people haven’t turned their backs on HIM! In my humble opinion, he’s been more of a snake-oil salesman (or should I say moon-and-serpent salesman) than anyone else lately. And he certainly isn’t a hero for leaving the Big Two and only doing creator-owned stuff. It’s not like he left because he’s anti-capitalist or something. The old codger actually thinks that he’s been personally slighted! But I digress.
Joel and Lawrence made some fantastic points. So did David, especially with his list of questions. I’ll go into The Filth with these in mind. As always, I am excited to actually read and talk about comics with y’all. Please, no more trolls, thanks. See you again soon! xo
A D Jameson website
Hi everybody, but especially David Allison and Collin Colsher,
I’m sorry that my email offended you. It’s true what they say: humor and subtlety are the first things lost on the internet.
I’ve already read THE FILTH. I read it when it came out, back in … 2002? I liked it fine, if I recall. I’ve read a lot of comics by Grant Morrison; I grew up reading Vertigo comics. And I’ve liked many things about Morrison’s work, even as I’ve also not liked other things. These days, he’s not really someone I think about all that much. (The last thing I read by him was probably NEW X-MEN / ALL-STAR SUPERMAN.) That’s how life goes, in my experience: there’s only so much time, and even some artists I once thought the world of have disappeared into the background. (Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump’s HIGH-RISE, for instance, have had me thinking this week about how devoted I used to be to Peter Greenaway’s films, none of which I’ve seen in forever. Similarly, I haven’t read anything by Ballard since the ’90s.)
Maybe later, if I have the time, I could track down a copy of THE FILTH and try and say something about it. But I probably won’t, which I’m sure will disappoint no one.
My email was really for Joel’s benefit, and the whole point of it was to prod him into writing something more cogent about why he likes THE FILTH and thinks others should read it. And that was it. I thought, given the sarcastic and “offensive” nature of Morrison’s work, my own cheeky insincerity would come through.Obviously that wasn’t the case, and I apologize again for having offended.
Joel, please feel free to delete my emails from this thread should you like, and should you have the power to do so and you / everyone else thinks that’s for the best. (Alternatively, feel free to let them stand as a warning to all that this list isn’t the place for such attempts at humor.) And if my email has damaged this list, or violated its decorum (again, not my intention, but a possibility I take seriously), then I will unsubscribe.
Sorry I called you a troll, Adam. (And sorry if I called you anything else!) I think we got off on the wrong foot. No hard feelings? I certainly don’t want the two newbies (you and I) to come in here—as boorish Americans no less—and rock the boat too much. Or maybe that was Joel’s secret intention. 😉
I think people get really up in arms either defending Grant Morrison or trashing him. And both sides of the debate are goddamn fiery. It’s a mug’s game though. I love Grant Morrison, I won’t lie. Maybe it’s that. Or maybe I wasn’t ready for your satiric piece before I’d had my morning coffee and settled into the day-to-day. But in any case you are definitely welcome here. Don’t let us bully you away! You certainly have brass balls introducing yourself the way you did, and that alone is commendable.
Kindest (and sincerest) wishes back at ya.
Will I sound conceited if I say that all this is kinda exactly what I was talking about?
Or actually: maybe what I mean is – I blame all of this on Grant Morrison.
Like: maybe it’s all a matter of trying to get ahead and “make it” in a competitive marketplace (oh actually – ok: I guess I’m blaming capitalism again – to the surprise of no one I guess?): so yeah it makes sense for writers to cultivate themselves a persona or brand or whatever. So they’re not just someone that writes words – but they’re a lifestyle to be brought into. So it’s not just “A Person’s Name” – but something with (here we go) Meaning.
I mean – I guess for comics newbies just starting out – if they see “Grant Morrison” on the cover of a book then it probably doesn’t even register. But for those of us up to our necks in the ink (thanks David) you know: the “Grant” and the “Morrison” has import and a whole bunch of expectations and feelings and whatever all tied up with it.
So yeah – I mean I know that Adam is – what’s the saying? – mean and ugly enough to stand up for himself (actually – that’s not true: I’ve seen photos of him and he’s actually a very handsome man – damn his hide): but hey – I thought his anti-Morrison rant was actually pretty funny: and was all writing good with his words. But also yeah – if you want to diss the idea of a Grant Morrison book – or hell: even the idea of Grant Morrison himself – then I think that’s a perfectly valid response seeing how Grant (as with so many others – I’m looking at you especially Alan Moore) has propagated this idea of himself as being – well you know: all the stuff that being “Grant Morrison” is (edgy and cool and anti-establishment and experimental and etc). So much so that I would argue (not that there’s any way to test this in real life): that there is a big difference (for those of us in the know) between reading a comic with his name on the cover and reading a comic where it just says “Greg Feely” or whatever. Or other words: “Grant Morrison” is part of the meaning of the book (and of every book he writes).
Which I guess helps to explain why (seeing how I’m mostly anti-Morrison myself) I kinda view The Filth as “not really a Morrison kinda book.” Like David said it’s actually a none-more-Morrison comic with the main guy “bald assassin-cum-author stand in” only well yeah – Greg Feely is no King Mob and I just can’t seem to reconcile the thought that Grant “Mr Magick Cool Drug UFO Explorer” Morrison would or could ever equate himself with a guy like Greg who seems to be everything that the idea of Grant Morrison isn’t. In fact I’d say that if anyone was a Morrison avatar then it would be Spartacus Hughes who’s way more controlling and “kick-ass” – like the pleasure cruise ship is basically the DC Universe with Morrison/Hughes twisting and molding it for his own sick ends – right?
If we have to pick sides on the Moore/Morrison beef, I’ll probs back the latter. Never really understood the argument that Morrison is a fraud or a copyist, since his comics feel like some of the most sui generis I have read. To try and unpack that a little, I picked up the Filth from my local library just as I was getting started with comics, got about half way through and gave up. It’s now one of my favourite comics ever, but I really had to persevere with it and basically learn how to read it. This applied to a lot of Morrison’s books, actually. And it seems to me that The Filth makes fewer concessions to a broad audience (unlike something like New X-Men and Doom Patrol, which still have something of the Chris Claremont stylee superhero soap-opera feel to it). So I agree with David (and against Joel?) that it’s more Morrison that most Morrison books.
Trying to remember why I gave up on the Filth back then, I think it may have had something to do with my inability to deal with the compression. I was into a lot of Bendis comics at the time, and I think a lot of that was because his books had the feel of great US TV (West Wing, Ally McBeal, Buffy etc), which I had grown up watching and was already comfortable with. Bendis is like TV in panels – one six issue trade reading like one 45 minute episode, with character-building bits, action bits, quips etc. For someone working his way into the comics form, it was familiar – easy to get into.
Morrison comics were therefore a massive challenge, as the compression requires you to focus on every stray detail in order to understand the plot, never mind anything else. I remember finding Final Crisis tough for the same sorts of reasons. For some people this might be a flaw. I prefer to see it as a different way to use the form, one that’s ultimately more interesting than the serial, unflashy competence you find in most big two comics. The Filth stretches conventional plotting to breaking point. Watching a creator confident enough to warp his narrative in every direction they want, and demanding that the audience follow them, is in its own way just as captivating as a pro-storyteller carrying you all the way through a story so expertly that you don’t realise or care how the magic is made.
Why is it worth reading? I’ll have a go. The Filth is founded on the opposition between the filthy things we dream about (Morrison apparently consumed a lot of porn when writing it, as David attests) and how we repress those things – ‘the filth’ being slang for the police. In that respect it’s a lot like Blue Velvet, whose villains cannot control their desires, and whose heroes are tempted by that freedom, but ultimately manage to pull away from it and live happy American apple pie lives. The Hand literally personify the processes by which we stamp out the antisocial (or “anti-person”) urges that will make living with each other impossible. For someone who unabashedly celebrated anarchic freedom in the face of ethical and political authority in the Invisibles, that’s an curious little turnaround.
That would be interesting enough if it was that simple, but the book also contains a lot of rage against that repressive (civilizing, if you like) figure of authority. Ned Slade is an artificial “parapersonality” imposed on the unassuming Greg Feely (or maybe it’s the other way around?). That sense of being manipulated by external forces (all those CCTV cameras) is prevalent. For me, that’s a metaphor for the way we are conditioned by the things around us, and pick up “the rules” of morality by observing and monitoring each other. For me, Greg Feely is raging against an inevitable process. Society and its demands will never leave him alone, no matter how much he would like to seal himself away from it. That final metaphor: it’s a filthy thing, authority, but the peace it creates allows for beautiful things to grow. (tl;dr: The Filth is about abandoning anarchism for liberalism discuss…)
Just to pick up on one of David’s questions RE the art team: in which issue did Hollingsworth leave? I’m in the process of becoming a bit of a Hollingsworth devotee, and on this read through I did pick up on how drastically the colours change as Greg turns into Ned. I own the toilet paper trade, and perhaps that dulls the impact a bit (although the cheapness also feels somehow appropriate for the ugly smutty subject matter…) In any case, the garish pinks and reds, the vomity yellows and greens, used as the background to the panels in the fantasy world add up to quite a big part of the look and feel of the book Imo, so for me Hollingsworth is a bit of an (unsung?) hero for the work he did on it.
I’ve tried to read the Filth a few times but always seem to lose interest in the story and just end up gazing at Chris Weston’s wonderful sordid cybertech art. He really is one of the best artists in comics and woefully underrated; his stuff has the solidity and believability of someone like Dave Gibbons but a fevered intensity of its very own. I also like the way he continues to return to 2000 ad as a labour of love from time to time. This interview with him from a few years ago is definitely worth a listen. Weston is very likeable and enthusiastic and has lots of good annecdotes including a great story about how he got his break in comics with the help of someone extremely notorious (sort of)
Am I allowed to admit that re-reading The Filth was a little bit disappointing?
I mean: don’t get me wrong. There’s wasn’t any part of it that I actively disliked or anything. But I think that maybe talking it up on here so much pushed it past the point where it was possible to live up to the hype.
Also: I think for myself at least the best time for comics and books and films and stuff is the first time around when it’s all fresh and shiny and new. I mean yeah – sure there’s the slowly starting to understand things and getting it fixed in your mind but I guess my main thrill is that getting that rush of sensation for the very first time. The rollercoaster thrill of “what’s going to happen next?”
(also – wait – is this just me? but does the “Deluxe” edition start on the wrong page? the “Smoking’s like violence” bit – I thought that starts on the right hand side – no?? But then Issue 1 still ends on the left hand page – which means? erm – they added a page somewhere? Or is that just me? Feels like I’m taking crazy pills here).
One of my favourite bits of The Filth which hasn’t got a mention yet (and is the only bit that is actually purely Grant Morrison) is the introduction bit – which yes is totally fantastic (even if it swipe the idea from Spiritualized) – especially especially this line which I don’t think I totally got when I first read it but rings more and more true with me all the time (and would go a long way to summing up all my thoughts about Meaning and etc): “Metaphor is one of a group of problem-solving medicines known as figures of speech which are normally used to treat literal thinking and other diseases.”
Which I guess is why I feel uneasy about saying: oh yeah – well this is what I think it’s all about: because then I guess I’m collapsing the possibilities into boring old certainities. Transmututing metaphors into literal thought. But with that said – I mean yeah: it’s all about scale isn’t it? Like: I’m not sure I go much into the idea of “themes” – but The Filth is riddled with large things being small and small things being large – with the big twist being that ninth gear dimensional jump isn’t a jump to another parallel world dimension thing – but is a jump to a different dimension of size. The Hand is just an immune system. I-Life evolved beyond the end of the book and then going back in time to the start (just like the whole Leo Quintum is Lex Luthor thing from All Star Superman).
For anyone wondering or concerned, have no fear. Adam and I have been privately communicating “off-the-record” and all is well. We’ve discovered that we are fellow fiery Pennsylvanians (small world!), which means we were destined to be combative and then realize we were actually besties. Glad to know him and call him a friend!
THE FILTH. It’s easy to see the influences of Robert Anton Wilson’s’s Illuminatus Trilogy, Terence McKenna, The Matrix, cyberpunk, etc…, but there are a ton of much more recent things that owe so much to The Filth that don’t usually get linked to it. I’m thinking David Wong, Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, or even Black Mirror. In specific regard to Dollhouse, there are a lot of parallels to the complex and murky sex politics at work in The Filth, although, unlike in Dollhouse, they mostly occur in the background. The question of “what is consent after we’ve voluntarily given away control of our own psyche or physical body” is prevalent, but since any examination of these questions is tantamount to navigating through a philosophical minefield, I don’t have the answers. Out of all the bizarre characters in The Filth, I still find Sharon Jones to be one of the most fascinating, despite the fact that she is such a bit player. She represents the woman thrown in the fridge over and over and over (right up to her horrific crack pipe demise), which seems ugly but highlights something sinister not only within the comics industry but in media (and in real life too).
Of course, this all reflects the pornography aspect of The Filth, which is very out-of-the-mind-of Grant Morrison circa 2002-2003 and topical to that era as well. It’s not that long ago, but it’s also AGES AGO. In 2002-2003, porn was in a transition phase, still existing in magazines and films, but quickly becoming an internet only thing. Plus, because The Filth looks at porn through Morrison’s personal lens—which is interesting because our porn-watching habits are SO personal that they often probably don’t make sense to others—we get the author’s very specific version of “generalized pornography.” It’s dark and shameful and snuffy. Even the use of the word “hardcore” in regard to porn registers very 1990s or early 2000s, and more repugnantly than favorably. And it sounds like such ancient terminology too. “Orson Welles of Hardcore,” for example, sounds silly now, no? The Anders Klymaxx-Tex Porneau issues are deliberately over-the-top—like 8mm, Body Double, bits of Videodrome or something—akin to the sinister black mass type of porn that was coded as “evil” from the 1600s up to the late 20th century. It really screams “sex-negative,” and I know that’s the point, but in a 2016 environment that is much more “sex-positive” and open, where we have come a long way in regard to sexual acceptance, it somewhat affects a current reading of The Filth in a very damning way. (But maybe I think this way because I live in the queer-poly-kink-friendly bubble of New York City? I know that much of America and the UK are still back-ass-ward and downright puritanical when it comes to sex, but overall we’ve gotten better as a society, no?)
Is The Filth really sex-negative, though? The world of Morrison’s Filth seems to be one where all porn is bad. There is zero representation of feminist porn, sex-affirmative porn, etc… Does this mean that Morrison only views the sex industry and sex workers with apprehension and fear? Is this Morrison’s shame hanging out and flapping in the breeze? Or is this merely part of the story—a perspective of the characters? Maybe Ned just wasn’t into that stuff? Or maybe there wasn’t any of that available way back in 2002? I guess I’m the “fairy-boy critic” or “feminist arguing about exploitation and what it all means” now, aren’t I? And look, no answers to speak of at the end of the paragraph.
Then again, seeing Miami with the giant strap-on fuck the shit out of the redneck Texas porn king to save the day does seem pretty feminist and a sex-positive conclusion to that part of the narrative. Actually, everything Miami does is the epitome of feminist powerhouse and sex goddess, so that’s good, eh? If Morrison had read Wilhelm Reich and/or Carol Queen before writing this (and he might have), then their fresh influence surely would have helped frame sex in a more positive light, meaning that Morrison’s portrayal of sex in the narrative must have been deliberate and calculated. It’s hard to say anything definitively.
In any case, The Filth pushes all sex-criticism aside all with amazing giant sperm flying across Los Angeles, spearing every empty womb in sight. Chris Weston (sorry I haven’t mentioned his brilliance more) is at his best in the chaotic sperm-monster sequence and in the Porneau orgy scenes. The Filth is just as much Weston’s fucked up baby as Morrison’s.
The Filth is dense and requires multiple readings in order to get even a small scope of the full picture. The layers peel away and, just when you think they won’t (or can’t) anymore, they peel again. This infinitely layered narrative-style has always been one of Morrison’s greatest strengths. It’s one of the reasons I return to his works time and time again and am uniquely rewarded each time. However, paradoxically, The Filth is dense yet somehow seems like one of his more accessible works… or maybe not? In the end, you think you know what it all means, but you really don’t. Damn, I guess I take it back. Lawrence mentioned earlier that, as single comic book issues, the story is incomprehensible. Very true. They only really work effectively as chapters, read back to back. This is not the kind of thing you can easily step away from and come back to days later.
GRANT MORRISON is at the center of almost every Grant Morrison story, undeniably. And if you don’t like “Morrison The Person” then you probably will be more critical of his works and fight against them. This goes hand in hand with the criticism of Morrison in which folks trash him because his creator-owned stuff isn’t as “strong” as his non-creator-owned stuff. Morrison’s X-Men, Batman, JLA, Superman, Animal Man, andDoom Patrol are THE BEST those titles have ever offered in the past thirty years. I’ll be damned if that isn’t worth something. I’m also not sold on The Filth succeeding because it caters to the anti-Morrison camp as a “non-Morrisonian Morrison” story. I think it’s good because of all the reasons everyone has talked about above. Period. People have always shit on Morrison for being some kind of corporate stooge. I hate this argument too. It’s like he was the great hope of the industry, the one that was supposed to change the Big Two from the inside and muddy the mainstream with his magickal mind-fuckery. Why was this ever the case? (Google “Matt Seneca and Grant Morrison” as a prime example of this lame and whiny critique.) The Filth is an extension of how Morrison does shake things up big-time, but stays within the confines of the mainstream corporate comics world. (I know it’s Vertigo, but it’s still corporate.) The Filth is an obvious thematic precursor to Final Crisis and The Multiversity, with its meta-narratives and industry self-loathing—(shitting on the continuity-makers and world-builders of the mega-conglomerates’ comic book companies who endlessly maintain the banal “status-Q”, yet being a part of it all at the same time i.e. raging against the machine which you are a part of) …but I loved Rage Against the Machine in spite of their contradictions and hypocrisy too.
I think my favourite thing about The Filth is how it ends.
Like I know people have been saying it’s Morrison at his most Morrison-ness but thinking it over I would say that for me Morrison’s most salient feature is the way his endings kinda slip into ninth gear and get all buggy and weird and experimental and strange: when the stargate opens up and the narrative is swallowed whole and smeared across the event horizon of some unseen black hole of everything. Or actually – maybe it would just be easier to say: things stop making sense.
Examples: well – there’s the end of The Invisibles where he gets a different artist to do a different page and what’s going on just kinda breaks down into some kinda incomprehensible narrative gloop. The end of The Return of Bruce Wayne where his cape has come alive to kill him? But it’s also a hyper virus from the future? Or something? The end of Joe the Barbarian (which up until then seems like it’s being pretty straight) where the ghost of a knight slips in through the wall or something? Pretty much all of Seaguy. Or that bit in his Batman run when he meets the big boss Spiral guy and it’s all cut up and out of order so reading it kinda feels like you’re having a stroke (altho actually – that bit is kinda cool). Like: for those of you who’ve read him – you know what I’m talking about right? The bit where he just kinda waves his arms about and goes: “wooblywooowoo!”
And well yeah – The Filth isn’t like that. I mean: even tho the rest of the book is all pretty gonzo and crazy and out there – the last issue/chapter or whatever – instead of getting more extreme and avant garde everything just kinda settles and gets quiet in a really cool way.
Like first off – there’s the big “final baddy” show-down with LaPen and Mother Dirt which I think is the best version of it’s type I’ve ever seen (and kinda reminds me of the end of The Lego Movie? Or is that just me?). Like: when the hero meets the final big baddie it go one of two ways: first way is that they’re pure evil and you have a big fight and then it’s just punching and violence solves everything which well – helps to enforce the Status:Q of everything. It’s all about who is bigger and can punch harder. etc. Very bad. And kinda boring. And not that satisying.
But then trying to do the lower expectations then is kinda crap too. I mean – if you say that you thought the end of Kill Bill 2 was cool then I will call you a liar. Same thing with Matrix Reloaded (“Ergo, concordantly, vis-a-vis… You know what, I have no idea what the hell I’m saying, I just thought it would make me sound cool.“).
But there is a very small sweet spot inbetween that (for me anyway) The Filth hits dead on. There’s no punchy punchy. And LaPen doesn’t live up to her French National Front namesake: but I think it’s all mostly because of the Mother Dirt climax which (altho it doesn’t have Weston go all out on his crazy crazy visuals as I kinda wish he had done – like is it just me or does Mother Dirt feel a little bit truncated?) has the punchline that the whole book has been leading up to: “I don’t care; you took everything I had. And I wanted an explanation. Wanted it all to make sense but it’s just shit. What am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to do with this?”
And then – even cooler. Slipping down a few gears more – back into “ordinary life” and those students from before and the story of the monkey paw on the train-tracks which yeah works for some many reasons: kinda makes you feel like there’s stories and worlds happening outside of the world that you’ve just seen. That Greg’s life has had knock-on effects to all other things that you’re not aware of.
And then there’s this disembodied voice (who’s saying this?) which brings everything altogether even more than the Mother Dirt speech: “Scale’s the next big frontier, they say. You can power a whole city with the energy in a human cell. Only humans could make something kinder and better than themselves–that makes them smarter than God in my opinion… Like anti-bodies in the great big body of nature except antibodies don’t get sad like we do. Because they know their place.” Which – fuck it man – almost makes me cry.
And then yeah – “Open hailing frequencies. We have love” and Greg walking into the subway (wait a second: is that a BDSM reference?). It’s a nice understated way to end a book – which I think makes it a rarity amongst Grant Morrison stuff. And the effect it has on me – I mean: not this time round. But one of the times before that – it was this kinda quiet uplifting feeling. Like a gently ascending tone poem that gets higher and lighter the more it goes. And this feeling of having gone through all of the nasty shit contained in the book – but having come out of the other side and feeling – purified. Like bathing in toxins and coming out feeling cleaner. Washed by The Filth.