FCDoS 9/5 'Going Home' comic
Free Comics Day on Substack
GALLERY artefact #015
HOLY SHIT PUNS, BATMAN!
Our burnt offering for Free Comics Day is this antique curio - a never-published comic story, written, drawn, lettered and buried in a cupboard for forty years by me.
‘Going Home’ was born during that uneasy period in the early ‘80s between the demise of Near Myths and the rise of the British Comics Renaissance following the launch of Warrior.
I was at a low ebb, 22, demoralized by the failure of Near Myths to launch an imagined adult comics explosion in the UK. I’d come to the end of my Captain Clyde newspaper strip, I’d had Second Coming, my pitch to DC’s New Talent Initiative knocked back, and although the editors at DC Thompson was still giving me sporadic work on their Starblazer series it wasn’t enough to keep me supplied with Arctic Rolls and Pickled Onion Crisps let alone call it a living.
With so many of my dreams in flames, with all that early promise come to naught, I faced the downward slide and the humiliations of the dole queue once more, converted from flesh and blood to a statistic, a percentage of a percentage in Thatcher’s Britain.
I’d almost given up hope of comics that were a bit racier, more experimental, more in line with Marvel’s black and white magazines, Warren publications and Mike Friedrich’s Star*Reach but BETTER than that and more literary, more ambitious… with Bryan Talbot’s Adventures of Luther Arkwright as the gold standard example of what I meant.
Nevertheless, Warrior had launched early in 1982 and inspired the growing possibility that there might just be hope for smart, grown-up comics after all, reaffirming my desire to pursue my artistic dreams.
My big influences among comic book writers were still Don McGregor, Steve Engelhart, Steve Gerber, Claremont and Talbot. I liked the clever, elliptical, satirical, purple prose-y stuff that played with the form and used the kind of narrative and structural tricks I’d learned about in Mr. Thompson’s lively English class. I was desperate to find outlets for what I saw as my more progressive work.
So pssst! magazine was an odd duck, one of a number of unsuccessful attempts to create a British adult comic anthology in the Metal Hurlant/Heavy Metal mode. Others, like Near Myths contemporary Graphixus, edited by underground legend Mal Burns of Brainstorm Comics fame, skewed more towards the head shop, although Brian Bolland was a significant contributor, but pssst!, another Burns endeavor which came later, opted for a designed, style mag feel that attempted to draw graphically from era-defining magazines like The Face, in particular, in a manner that all the magazine to sit alongside the bibles of the style-obsessed ‘80s.
Pssst! didn’t last long, managing 10 issues before folding at the end of 1982, having by all accounts lost huge amounts of money. UK newsagents struggled with the concept of ‘adult comics’ for a long time and tended to stack them as far from the kids’ weeklies as possible, usually among the top shelf glossy wank mags where only the desperate searched for entertainment.
I came up with ‘Going Home’ as a demonstration piece for pssst! editorial, hoping they’d buy it on sight, just as Near Myths editor Rob King had four years previously when he bought ‘Time Is A Four-Letter Word’ right there and then after I showed the pages to him at a convention. I was 17 and he’d given me my first boost of jet engine professional validation.
I’m not sure why I didn’t offer pssst! the new Gideon Stargrave material I was working around the same time, which was – in spite of its mad whirl of Lovecraft, Syd Barrett, Jerry Cornelius, Dr. Who, Chaos Magic, pop music and fashion - ultimately more personal, experimental and original as well as an obvious precursor to The Invisibles. It’s probably because I hadn’t finished any of those pages at the time.
With Going Home, I have the feeling I was trying to show I could do something a bit more commercial and traditional than the ‘New Worlds’ influenced Stargrave work.
A bunch of us took the bus down to London to storm the pssst! offices in search of a paying gig.
Until I dig out the diaries I kept and fill in the details, the faces and details have blurred into the incomplete and fragmentary scraps of memory that now comprise that disheartening day but Alan Cameron, roadie for my band the Mixers - who moonlighted as indie legend Professor Space - was there and he’d brought with him a short alien invasion twist story he’d written and drawn and which, owing both to Alan’s boundless imagination and his severe dyslexia, read like some baroque avant garde deconstruction of the short story form to which we, the Mixers had contributed an opaque non sequitur ending whereby the aliens were sidetracked away from their invasion plans into frustrated haggling for a second-hand electronic keyboard with a cash-strapped widower named Mrs. Dingwall, in a storyline inserted out of nowhere into the final few panels.
As a regiment of warlike aliens voiced their monotonous anticipation – soon we will have Mrs. Dingwall’s organ. Soon. Soon. Soon. Soon…etc… I saw some mix of bewilderment and pity cross publicist Paul Gravett’s features and knew then we were all doomed.
Giving my story a chilly once-over, Gravett quite reasonably pointed out that I’d simply robbed the plot of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and hardly changed a thing.
My protestations that this was the point of it all – the initial idea being little more than a highbrow twist ending Future Shock riff on a familiar story and a beloved film, where the gag is simply what if the serene celestial starchild at the end of 2001 turned out to be not only a very big baby but a very very hungry one too? – fell on deaf ears.
Onto this basic twist ending framework I bolted the results of my own reading and magical practice at a time when I was only three years into my progress through the Dark Arts. It’s interesting to me how much of my early visionary experiences – undertaken without drugs or alcohol - held valid information or content that would make a lot more sense much later.
The influence of Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger looms large here. Sirius. The Dogon. The number 23.
Sirius is also the star my mum pointed out to me one night when I was very young, before saying, ‘That’s where we come from…’ and never elaborating.
The cosmonaut’s name Sergei was, along with Conrad, one of a few my mum considered for me before settling on ‘Grant’ so I feel I got off lightly.
‘KATAMINE’ should, of course, be ‘KETAMINE’.
The strip is signed ‘Grant T. Morrison’ with a little stylized signature/logo thing I’d devised. The ‘T’ was something that had stuck to my name since I was 8 years old and my mum decided to award me the middle name ‘Tycho’, in honour of Tycho Brahe the noted 16th century Dutch astronomer, famous for his golden prosthetic nose.
More significantly, Brahe’s name was used for the Tycho crater on the moon, the setting for the discovery of the alien monolith in mum’s favourite film, the aforementioned 2001: A Space Odyssey, as our narrative loops and meanders through time!
‘Tycho’ became my nickname as a teenager at school which was a win considering some of the others – ‘Fishface’, ‘Ginger’, ‘Ffud’, ‘Spunky’…
It’s clear I was reading Crowley - Thelemic ideas about the Aeon of Horus are all over this but as was my method I was eager to splice the high and the low, the sacred and profane – so sadly my original idea for ‘Going Home’ finds its origins in the crappiest of crappy puns…
In one corner, we have Horus, Lord of Force of Fire, the Conquering Child of the Aeon!
In the other stands Allan Morley’s UK comic strip Hungry Horace which was all about, as if you couldn’t guess, an allegedly ‘fat’ boy cursed with what would in these more sensitive climes, be treated as a surreal eating disorder arising from various mishaps and misunderstandings which in every case prevented him from eating the food he craved, rendering him eternally hungry!
I found it impossible to escape the ‘Hungry Horus’ notion and so this inconsequential unworthy notion was hauled squirming into the light and turned into ten pages of fully rendered and lettered comic strip.
The references pile up in the captions, using more restrained and less poetic language than I usually did at the time to layer on exposition contrived to make the punchline land as a giant puerile thud of po-faced absurdity.
Trouble is, what might have worked for a 4-page stinger becomes too long, ponderous and serious to be funny and too disappointingly stupid to satisfy readers who made the effort to reach the end!
The warring tones don’t really work, which is why I locked this away for decades and forgot about it until now when I find myself justifying its monstrous existence!
The art style in this one is a streamlined, simplified version of the stuff I was doing elsewhere…
The artistic influences come from my customary go-to heroes at that time, Neal Adams and John Byrne, with less trace of Jim Starlin than my earlier work, but a big tip of the hat to Paul Neary’s black and white Hunter strip from Eerie which I loved, and my favourite Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction artists. Compared to Captain Clyde there’s less flagrant and flashy use of the Letraset tone sheets that I would meticulously scalpel out and affix to the page, along with a not-too skilled deployment of the airbrush I’d newly bought with my wages as a Civil Service filing clerk, a job I endured for a year before I ran screaming back to Bohemia, the dole and my mum’s house, vowing to restart my stalled comics career or die cranking the handle!
The nude female figure understudying for Kubrick’s monolith is Nuit, the Egyptian personification of the whole night sky, the dark mother of the cosmos.
The black pyramid – recalling the awe-inducing and apocalyptic ‘Great Redoubt’ from William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Lands – derives from a personal vision of vast pyramidal living beings meditating, sunk in the violet seas of a huge wet heavy-gravity planet orbiting Sirius B and is probably influenced again by Wilson and the one-eyed Leviathan at the end of Illuminatus that also features on the dollar bill.
The white room described in the story’s psychedelic crucifixion sequence is an attempt to makes sense of my own experience, in a very early attempt at Crowley’s ‘Bornless’ ritual, which appears here on page 8.
At some point in my own stab at the rite, I became aware of an immense transparent space that seemed to be inhabited by the dynamic active intelligences of those who had entered this same timeless frame, all from seemingly disparate periods or locations, all absolutely present at once. Aside from Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan and Don Gennaro, yet to be conclusively proved fictional, I used only famous magicians here – giving the impression that the place was nothing more than a celestial VIP lounge - and there are no women on my list although there were many female voices in my vision. But then the whole story has an overwhelmingly masculine, mechanical, machine-like tone – and it requires a shamanic stripping of armour and defenses to turn the pyramid into an egg.
This same experience is the origin of the White Hot Room idea that appears in New X-Men – although in that case I merged the concept with the Qabbalistic hyperdimensionality of Chris Claremont’s M’Krann crystal. The ‘Crown’ referred to in New X-Men is at Kether on the Tree of Life, and also in the Kingdom and vice versa…
Hope you dig this peek into a primeval past and if you don’t, well I’m afraid the boy responsible got clean away. Hasn’t been seen round these parts for nigh-on 40 years… but you can take it up with him, if you ever find him.
Oh, and if you do, tell him I’m waiting…