Old Stuff From Today’s Stars Part 3 (of 3): MORRISON!

*Hey, crew! Blo.gs has been shot for about 14 hours now, so thanks for stopping by from sources outside of the Comics Weblog Update Carousel Party. I actually did a second update yesterday, the shock of which doubtlessly contributed to Chipper falling down and being carted off to the Internet Municipal Medical Center, so just keep scrolling below this entry for more thrills and adventure. EDIT 7:00 PM: Ok, dear ol' Chip is back in action!

St. Swithin’s Day


Now here’s something fairly unique. A Grant Morrison story with no superheroes, no science-fiction, no magical realism, no giddy spritzy violence, nothing fantastical save for the wholly interior conjurings of the human imagination. Delightful pop enchantment? What we have here is sad, deranged 19-year old lad walking the streets of England (or is it India… no no, England), preparing to assassinate Margaret Thatcher. No particular political motive, although he doesn’t seem like much of a Conservative booster; rather, he’s eager to become something, to become briefly noted throughout pop culture, to shine and burn out. According to legend, St. Swithin was originally buried amongst the paupers; when they dug him up and moved his body into a proper shrine, it rained for forty days, the tears of St. Swithin, torn apart from the people and cruelly put on a pedestal. Our young protagonist knows the story, but he hates the rain. Everything bad happens in the rain. He will not be buried anonymously with the common slag. He will have his media cathedral of assassination.

Unless, of course, he won’t.

The story was originally serialized in six-page bits in 1989-1990 across four issues of the UK-based Trident Comics’ aptly named anthology book, “Trident”. Lasting only eight issues, “Trident” seemed like a pretty interesting comic, featuring original tales of Eddie Campbell’s “Bacchus”, some work by Neil Gaiman, and a very early piece by Mark Millar; indeed, Millar’s first ever comics work, the five-issue “Saviour” (a thematic ancestor of the more recent “Chosen”), was published by Trident, along with Millar’s “Shadowmen”, and it was there where Millar would meet Morrison, leading to many teamings in the future, both at “2000 A.D.” and off with the Big Two. “St. Swithin’s Day” was soon thereafter collected into a colored collected edition by Trident, and much later was reprinted in largely the same format by Oni, so there’s two versions to choose from. It’s the act of serialization itself that provides the work’s structure, however: each six page bit covers a day in the life of the lead character, counting down to the titular feast. I have Trident’s collected edition, which creates a bit of confusion by providing a chapter heading before each segment counting upward, even though the titles in the story itself count downward, giving the reader the treat of seeing a title page reading ‘First Chapter’ followed closely thereafter by the story’s title of 'St. Swithin’s Day - Four', with the next chapter reading ‘Second Chapter’ then ‘St. Swithin’s Day - Three’ and so on. I have no idea if Oni has retained this uniquely dissonant means of presentation in their own edition. Morrison would later return to the ‘countdown’ style of chapter numbering with the final volume of “The Invisibles”.

The story has just the right artist: Paul Grist, who provides thin, simple, attractive character designs, and lovely environments. The colors, by Steve Whitaker, are gentle and warm, though blackness has a tendancy to swallow up everything when night falls. Aside from immediate surface concerns, though, Grist’s linework is vital to humanizing the lead character: the expressions on his face are carefully, subtly rendered, and his excursions into fantasy are well-handled. Oh, did I mention the imaginative bits? Our young friend also has a habit of flitting through daydreams, which are presented visually to us as incursions into the real world. So our young protagonist will imagine that he can push cars around with amazing powers, and we’ll see it happen, and in the next panel the story proceeds without missing a beat with everything restored to normal. Or he’ll be sitting in a café, looking at pretty girls, and a young woman he seems to know will sit down for a conversation with him, but it quickly becomes obvious that he’s actually talking to himself, and imagining the young lady’s presence. This fact is never acknowledged by the character himself; it’s revealed visually, and there’s never a lack of storytelling clarity in this regard, which becomes quite important later.

One can sense some of Morrison’s concerns floating around in the story. The boy lead is keenly aware of the attention that will be paid to his actions, so he tries to structure tings carefully, picking up a copy of “Catcher in the Rye” to mislead media experts and later abandoning the idea as stupid. Regardless, it’s a conscious reinvention of the self on the part of the boy, an attempt to be something, to become visible and affect the world through visibility, if only for largely selfish reasons here. The boy reflects on his favorite song, and dances through a graveyard, a monument to Karl Marx visible in the background, reading “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways - the point however is to change it.” There’s quite a bit of Morrison in this story: some have dubbed it ‘semi-autobiographical’ while others have noted that parts of the lead character’s interior monologues were allegedly based on Morrison’s own teenage diaries. There’s something interesting to take out of this.

BUT - That’ll require me to blow the ending to the book, and frankly quite a bit of the story’s impact depends on its ending, so maybe you want to STOP READING HERE IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS. Go find a copy of this story and read it, then come back or something.

The lead character, at least partially Morrison himself, is building his own story around his life. In the end, Thatcher shows up, Our Hero leaps out of the crowd, reaches into his coat, and pulls out: nothing. He points two fingers at the Prime Minister and says “Bang”. Then the cops beat the shit out of him. “It was worth it just to see her scared,” muses the boy has his head is cracked against the sidewalk. Did he decide not to go through it after all? No, I’d suggest that he never planned to kill her in the first place. All of the scenes with him holding a gun are fantasies, just like the bit where he throws the cars around, or chats with the girl. His interior thoughts do make mention of the Wicked Witch dying, but he could simply be playing with himself, nurturing a pure fantasy as opposed to what he really wants to do: have a laugh, become mildly infamous, but not hurt anyone. There’s superficial pleasures to this sort of twist: you get to go through the book again, reading the lead character’s depressed ramblings in a different light, now that you know he’s not a deranged killer but more of a troubled joker. But the twist fits the character too, especially how he’s been presented, and how his world has been presented through Grist’s art. He just needs to act for himself, to do something to make his imaginings real, so the rain won’t bother him anymore, and even if his action is imperfect and leads up to little change in the real world, it’s done a lot toward helping him make his personal stories into reality without, you know, killing anyone or committing any particularly awful deeds, although it‘s suggested that maybe Our Hero‘s acts have cost him his own life. As Morrison the author entered “Animal Man” to change things around for his Fiction, here the imagining storyteller (with a bit of Morrison in him) brings a bit of his Fiction into reality, and the author is all the better for it, having grown up a bit, as his final fantasy sequence indicates (and dig that vintage train he’s riding): his imaginings are brighter now, and the rain does not bother him, and he will be buried where he will be buried, and there will be no tears, no, not anymore.