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5/6 SMART ARTS #6
WHEN WE WEREN’T
Today’s Smart Arts presentation in our irregular series takes a wry and sometimes uncharacteristically oblong look at some of the cover drawings I did for fan publications back in the ‘80s when Jack the Ripper was at it like knives!
I drew a lot and did a ton of work for fan publications back in the day. These are two of a surprising number of fanzine cover illos I just dug out of the ‘archive’. At the time of these drawings my friends and I had spent years punkishly rejecting all mainstream media and pop music outlets in favour of making our own comics, music, clubs etc. If we could have made our own movies we would have and God knows we tried, using any and all available A/V equipment of a pre-digital age.
We simply declared mainstream culture bogus and made our own alternative. Amateurishness, a DIY aesthetic and personal expression were elevated to first revolutionary principles.
From Communication Blur or Juniper Beri-Beri to Speakeasy and The Lamp of Thoth, I got my grounding in music, magic, and comics from the best, the brightest, the youngest, wildest and the most vital voices of the scattered analogue underground of the time.
My latest work, the Xanaduum collage strip ‘In Xanaduum…’ (new episodes, with superheroes, coming next week!) is a deliberate return to these roots.
THE KIDS ARE A’RICHT
The first, from 1982, is a cover I did for the Glasgow Mod fanzine The Modernist, edited by the fabulous April, queen of the East End Mods. My band the Mixers shared a love of some ‘60s music with the Mod crew, but we were more arty and wilful and less allied to any movement and its rules.
Naturally, as soon as the clever, beautiful April and her friends took an interest in us, the ever perverse and self-sabotaging Mixers made a point of ditching the moptops, guardsman’s jackets, and target shirts in favour of leather jackets, spiky hair and black shades!
It took only one gig with the new look to devastate our developing Mod fanbase!
GALLERY artefact #055
© Grant Morrison 1982
I don’t remember if this cover ever made it to publication, but I like the combination of the strong dramatic figure – I’m guessing it was based on a photograph of Pete Townsend of The Who or perhaps Paul Weller judging by the shoes – along with my take on Lichtenstein’s famous Russ Heath rip-off pop art masterpiece WHAAM! The inevitable ‘80s Letratone adds to the effect.
The result, I like to think, is a simple and effective statement of Mod purpose!
DREAMING OF DR. OCTOPUS
From a few years later comes the next curio unearthed from my ever-giving upstairs cupboard and its decades-thick bounty of drawings, tapes and diaries.
I was never a big fan of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. I’m a great admirer of Eisner’s creative talent and innovations but I came to The Spirit late with no nostalgic hook to the material.
For that reason, I’ve drawn the Spirit only twice, I believe – once for the fanzine Fantasy Advertiser (later Comics Advertiser). FA/CA had something of a hard-on for Eisner, so the best way to get a spot illustration included in the latest issue was to draw the Spirit, which I did when I had the man himself reacting to a frenzied attack in a sewer by a knife-wielding page 3 girl.
My second, and more accomplished attempt was for AKA, the fanzine outlet of the AKA comic book store in Glasgow’s Virginia Galleries, run by John McShane and partners - an early gathering place for the writers and artists of the flourishing Scottish comics scene in the 1980s; me, Millar, Quitely, Gary Erskine, Dom Regan and others…
McShane was a massive Eisner fan and especially treasured the personal connection he’d made with the comics pioneer. In return, Eisner was a big supporter of the AKA crew and made a point of showing up as a guest at various local conventions organised by the team.
My drawing here was done for the back page of an 8-page Eisner tribute ‘insert’ from 1985. I suspect this may have accompanied a convention issue of AKA at which Eisner was the star guest. Historians can set me right.
Aside from my drawing there are pin-ups and 1-page strips from Tony O’Donnell (my Abraxas collaborator from the Near Myths days) and local legend Tom Campbell.
Aforementioned comics historians may be especially interested in the inside cover -which has an original illustration by the late, inimitable Kevin O’Neil – and perhaps more so by the insert’s main feature, an all-new 3-page appreciation of Eisner by none other than Alan Moore, entitled The Pioneering Spirit. Something of an intriguing rarity for enthusiasts, I expect.
I chose to draw a typical Eisner’s femmes fatale as they seemed to me to be the most memorable characters. This reduced The Spirit himself to a shadow on the wall behind her.
GALLERY artefact #056
© Grant Morrison 1985
This 1985 piece comes from just before I decided to focus on writing comics rather than drawing them. Having done very well as a writer, I’m only slightly regretful that I stopped drawing now that I can see the rapid improvements I was making to my artwork. Had I continued, I think I would have made a good ‘90s comic book artist and might have ended up drawing The Invisibles as well as writing the series!
This, from the twilight of my career as an artist, represents a high watermark of my non-naturalistic style and technique where I’d developed a stylized and graphic scratchy crosshatch effect that I really liked, as seen on the stockings.
Aside from a Batman drawing I uncovered in this same batch, I don’t think my technique was ever this good again!