Comics are alchemical.
Their magical combination of pictures and words allow for all manner of esoteric ideas.
Since the 1970’s, comics writer & pop magician Grant Morrison has explored these and many other occult concepts.
Let’s take a look at five of their groundbreaking works and see what it was this “Mad Scotsman” was all about.
Born in 1960 to a pair of Cold War pacifists, young Morrison was constantly confronted with the reality of “The Bomb”.
It seemed only one thing could tame their fear: American comics.
Wonder Woman, The Flash, and of course…
At age 19, their uncle introduced him to the works of Aleister Crowley, and thus, Morrison began a life-long exploration of magick and the occult.
“…the idea of Superman is every bit as real as the idea of God.”– Grant Morrison
With the success of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing in the mid-1980’s, the industry’s “British Invasion” began, and Morrison was soon recruited by DC comics to revitalize the medium here in the States.
Given their pick of DC characters, Morrison chose for their 1988 American debut a virtual unknown: Animal Man.
What started as an exercise in animal rights advocacy soon became a meta exploration of comics as a whole.
They eventually donned a “fiction suit” and inserted himself into their own story, conversing with the title character and explaining to Animal Man the fiction inherent in their reality.
Morrison would continue to explore these “pocket universes” which comics held, playing with the notion of our “real” world as a malleable, hyper-fiction of sorts.
“We live in the stories we tell ourselves.”
In 1989, their collaboration with artist Dave McKean was published, and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth turned the graphic novel into a lucrative art-form, selling out bookstores worldwide.
Despite its mainstream success, Morrison’s brand of mysticism was ever-present as he looked to Crowley’s interpretation of the Moon Tarot card to inform this haunting Batman tale.
Indeed, the Dark Knight was made to face his own brand of magical initiation, passing through the darkness of Joker’s Arkham to reach the light of transcendence.
In the same year, Grant Morrison took a stab at the Doom Patrol: DC’s band of misfit superheroes, with powers they wish they were without.
Think the X-Men, but weird as f*ck.
An unabashed experimenter, Morrison looked towards the “cut-up” techniques popularized by writer and occultist William S. Burroughs to guide their own surrealist vision filled with Dada villains and alchemically hermaphroditic heroes.
In the 1990’s, Morrison began The Invisibles, a “vast occult conspiracy thriller” featuring a group of sex-magick wielding, gender-bending, anarchist freedom-fighters led by one of Morrison’s many alter-egos, King Mob.
Up against a multi-dimensional control mechanism headed by insect-like demi-gods called the Archons of the Outer Church, the Invisibles was Morrison’s most ambitious venture yet.
And for good reason.
After the success of Arkham Asylum, Morrison journeyed to Kathmandu where they had a vision.
They were visited by a “self-aware superorganism” which revealed to them the true nature of life on our planet.
In response, The Invisibles was meant to act as a “hyper-sigil”, magically projecting Morrison’s experience into the world.
But as the story’s plot found King Mob subjected to torture, Morrison’s reality began mirroring that of their comic when they nearly lost their life to a deadly staph infection.
As they had set out to do, the walls between fiction and reality had truly blurred.
A few years after completing their run on The Invisibles, Morrison brought their vision of the Man of Steel to the masses with All-Star Superman.
“We love our superheroes because they refuse to give up on us.”
Inspired by the otherwise clumsy title, they and artist Frank Quitely positioned Superman as a true representation of the sun-gods of our world’s mythologies, reaffirming the Son of Krypton’s place in our modern hearts.
Grant Morrison’s approach to fiction, and life in general, asks us to question the role of pop culture as mere entertainment.
Stories hold the key to the universe; we need only turn the pages to open the doors.
And if, as Morrison claims, magick is simply Life plus Significance, we each contain within ourselves powers once relegated to secret societies and gnostic orders.
Aleister Crowley, eat your heart out.
“We bring the thunderbolt of meaning and significance to unconscious matter, blank paper, the night sky.”