Monday, July 06, 2015

Meet the New Boss

Hey, kids, do you like punk rock?

Remember back in the halcyon days of this morning when the comics internet was up in arms that DC had hired a coterie of aging white male comics writers to create new series featuring some of their signature characters? You know, like Marv Wolfman writing Raven and Len Wein writing Swamp Thing? Dan Didio has already been execrated for saying that "[their] task was to 'freshen up and contemporize' . . . We want the best writers working on our characters, and these are the best writers for these characters." If he had simply said that these were the best writers for the characters at hand, that may still have been a questionable point, but it would at least be an arguable point. You would have a hard time arguing that Len Wein, for instance, wasn't a good choice to write the character he co-created, after all. But he went a step further and said that these writers were tasked with "[freshening] up and [contemporizing]" - which brings to mind the idea that perhaps these original creators aren't the best choices to go when looking for something new. It's simply disingenuous to assert that these men are the best people for that job.

Which isn't to say the books might not be good. They could very well be. But whether or not they are fresh and contemporary remains to be seen.

And then the other shoe dropped and it was announced that Grant Morrison would be taking over as the new EIC of venerable hesher institution Heavy Metal. All well and good, you might say.
“We’re trying to bring back some of that ’70s punk energy of Heavy Metal, but update it and make it new again,” says Morrison, 55, adding that his first comics work, in the Scottish comics mag Near Myths, was directly inspired by Heavy Metal. “One of the things I like to do in my job is revamp properties and really get into the aesthetic of something, dig into the roots of what makes it work, then tinker with the engine and play around with it."
The average age of the writers hired by DC to head their new "fresh and contemporary" initiative is 62.3. Grant Morrison is 55, but it's that 7.3 years that makes all the difference - the difference in this case being whether you roll your joints on a Hawkwind LP or snort amphetamines off a Plasmatics 7".

But what other secrets does the press release have to offer? "Morrison plans to write comic strips and prose material for the bimonthly magazine, too. He says he’s just beginning to reach out to talent in hopes of recruiting them. On his radar: Past collaborators Chris Burnham (Nameless) and Frazer Irving (Annihilator)." When asked to name future contributors to his magazine, he lists off two artists he knows personally, both competent journeymen mainstream comics artists, neither of whose personal styles would have seemed particularly out of place in the old Heavy Metal:

If posting promotional materials from their respective Batman runs seems like a cheap shot, well, it is. Instead of occasionally interesting if mostly puerile European imports, the magazine is going to be giving us the cream of the American mainstream's occasionally interesting if mostly puerile creators, now free to draw all the tits they want.

Is that a cheap shot, too?

Grant Morrison has never been a professional editor. He likes to put his face and his name on things - books, movies, conventions, and apparently the cover of Heavy Metal. Probably more important is the announcement that Brian Witten will be the new President of Heavy Metal, the company. Witten is a Hollywood producer with copious experience in genre film - stuff like the 2009 Friday the 13th reboot, and 1997's Spawn. He got his start in Hollywood by partnering with Rob Liefeld, so he has lots of experience working with egomaniacal flakes.

Morrison doesn't have the best track record in looking outside the bubble of his immediate surroundings. His Heavy Metal - inasmuch as we will be able to call it "his" since the actual day-to-day editing work will almost certainly be someone else's responsibility - will probably not feature an influx of new indie creators ready to take real chances. This won't be Kramer's Ergot 2015 - nor should we expect it to be. It'll be a facelift designed for the express purpose of leveraging a soggy brand name into a "bleeding edge" IP farm. It will be very interesting to see when and if the new Heavy Metal contracts leak - who will own what rights, and for how long? They wouldn't be hiring someone like Witten if they weren't poised to write a new business plan as a prelude to a capital influx, and inevitably what investors are going to want is not to be attached to a creatively ambitious white elephant futurist magazine, but an established brand name with ambitions of being an adult version of Marvel Studios.

And oh, hey, what else does the EW press release explicitly say?
While Morrison works reinvigorate Heavy Metal magazine, [brand owners] Krelitz and Boxenbaum are looking to build up Heavy Metal in other media. There’s now a Heavy Metal record label with BMG. There are television shows in various stages of development. And Krelitz is mapping out a bold plan for a shared movie universe, comprised of different Heavy Metal-branded franchises, analogous to the Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment philosophy. Where Marvel and DC make PG and PG-13 films, Heavy Metal will make PG-13 and R-rated films. The goal is to develop live action movies, in the vein of Avatar, not animated films. Says Krelitz: “It’ll be a series of films leading into a Heavy Metal movie, with another series of films leading into a another Heavy Metal movie.”
Grant Morrison is a past-his-prime creator who has in the past shown great sympathy for corporate properties at the expense of the creators themselves. (The original point was made by Matt Seneca, who apparently deleted his blog a while back, which I either missed or forgot at some point.) I would seriously suggest that any creator, veteran or new, take a close look at any contract they might be offered by the company going forward.

So this is Morrison completing the career arc that began when he accepted a pseudo-editorial position at DC, finally stepping behind the lines to become The Man, an editor, fully committed to getting his pals on board to create original IP for a burgeoning content farm explicitly styling itself in the mold of Marvel Entertainment - only "for adults." Morrison built a pretty good Brand, and it works for him because he's become what he always wanted to be: a marketable meme ready to be consumed by unsuspecting customers eager to take a ride with a talented showman.

Punk rock? Actually, yeah, pretty much.


Nate said...

I recalled this gem from Alan Moore almost as soon as I read the announcement:

"By his own admission Grant Morrison had spent most of the Punk era in his room for fear of being spoken to roughly by some uncouth person with a pink Mohawk and a U.K. Subs t-shirt."


Deep Space Transmissions said...

On the creator-owned/corporate content farm front, this is from a Heavy Metal panel at ECCC earlier this year -

""Heavy Metal is a company founded by creators," Krelitz said, noting past contributors like Moebius, Philippe Druillet and Eastman. "We are about supporting the creators. That is why our deal is the most advantageous. Unlike our competitors who charge thousands an issue for a creator-owned publishing model, if Heavy Metal likes your comic, we will simply charge you $1 to publish it. Beyond that, should creators want it, we have a tremendous amount of resource in the form of media and merchandising opportunities — brand building tools that we will help use to really develop and expand not just a comic, but a brand.""

(Full article here -

Its hard to believe that deal is as good as it sounds. Some sort of first refusal media rights thing attached to it maybe? If they like it, you're stuck with them and can't take/sell it anywhere else til they lose interest? I don't know, but it's tough to see how the publishing arm would ever make any money if everything bar the $1 fee went to the creators (as would be the case at Image and it's "thousands per issue").

Tegan O'Neil said...

They simply can't maintain that model if they want to build a media presence based on IP. It's impossible to imagine anyone would invest in a company that couldn't own at least a big piece of anything they did.

Geekademia said...

Morrison has long upheld the philosophy that one must become The Man in order to defeat The Man. Personally, I've always thought that a rather self-serving philosophy, not to mention logically unsound. In order to gain power, one must certainly compromise one's beliefs, which has a long-term effect on one's behavior, as well as make deals, which usually leaves one indebted to other powerful interests that may not share the infiltrator's idealism. Finally, once one has been part of the establishment long enough, one tends to become invested in its perpetuation rather than its destruction.

It would certainly seem he put this plan into motion himself, and while I can't say for sure he's been utterly compromised by it, the evidence suggests such. While I am also not saying he should have stayed in his parents' basement publishing zines no one read and stayed "pure" or whatever, I'm not convinced his plan is going to lead to any actual shaking of the status quo off its hinges.

Spoilers Below said...

So after years and years of being passive-aggressively upset by Mark Millar's movie success, Morrison finally has an IP farm of his own to crowbar his way into Hollywood.

Maybe we'll finally see that long talked aboutWe3 film? or his Lawnmower Man reboot?