Hey Mickey, You’re So Fine…

Five years ago, Grant Morrison co-created (with three of the best artists working in comics) three three-issue miniseries for Vertigo, DC’s ‘mature readers’ imprint. One of these, We3, co-created by Frank Quitely, was a huge success (in Vertigo’s terms) and will soon be a film. Another, Vimanarama, with Philip Bond, was a magnificent attempt to create a 70s Jack Kirby story set in Bradford, based on mythology from the Indian subcontinent, which almost everyone seems to have completely ignored.

And then there was Seaguy, the critical hit, created with Cameron Stewart. Seaguy was not particularly successful in terms of sales, but it has caused far more discussion than either of the other two. Much of that discussion, unfortunately, has been instigated by people who can’t actually read, calling the series ‘incomprehensible’. In fact, it’s one of Morrison’s most straightforward works, a lovely little superhero story equally influenced by Don Quixote and The Prisoner, set in a world where the superheroes have destroyed all the evil in the universe after a battle with the Anti-Dad, and so nothing could possibly go wrong, could it?

The only actual difficulty – if difficulty it is – is that it uses such basic techniques as metaphor and symbolism – things that people who can read without moving their lips have mastered by about the age of eight – and these don’t come with great dangling signs all over them saying ‘this is a symbol!’, or an explanation as to what they ‘really mean’, so Seaguy has a reputation as a ‘difficult’ work.

In fact, Seaguy seems to be about a few subjects that almost everyone can relate to – growing up, a sense that there’s something going on in the world that you don’t understand but which will affect you, and a sense that the workaday world has dulled us to the true marvels of the universe. On top of that, it appears to be a mild critique of Fukuyama’s idea of ‘the end of history’ at just the point that even the media were having to admit that he was flat-out wrong, as well as an examination of the superhero genre.

But the important thing about Seaguy is just that it’s a fun comic – clever, witty and enjoyable, and made by people who clearly want to be doing it. So much so that they wanted to do two sequels, but DC wouldn’t commit to it due to lack of sales. However, Morrison effectively held DC’s flagship series 52 to ransom, and the first issue of Seaguy: Slaves Of Mickey Eye came out yesterday.

The first issue parallels the first issue of the original series very strongly, but in this case Seaguy is older and acting like an adolescent – his new best friend, Lucky El Loro, “lost my power of flight to the vicious jaws of low self-esteem”. (Incidentally, is the parrot in this a reference to the one in the Sandman story A Game Of You or are they both referencing some other thing I’m going to look incredibly stupid for not knowing about?)

Cameron Stewart’s art reflects this change – still as clear as ever, there’s far more use of deep black areas than in the previous series, and Dave Stewart’s palette is far darker than the previous series – where that was all light blues and yellows, this one is all dark blues, purples and oranges. The contribution of the colourist often goes unnoticed in a comic, but in this case it makes a huge difference to the overall look of the piece, and therefore the mood.

While it’s impossible to judge from a first issue, this story is clearly going to be about Seaguy’s adolescent questioning leading to punishment for looking beyond the surface to the real world beneath (it features once again the favourite Morrison motif of the three wise monkeys). It’s difficult to analyse in any greater detail though, not because there’s nothing to say but because there’s too much to say. This is packed with ideas, like the cryptosaurs (fossil dinosaurs with the bits filled in from bits of bike and car found in the same area) – “How about this autoraptor I discovered: A fierce dweller in the chewy deserts of the plasticine era until the oil it ate to survive ran out.” And like the original series it has some strange commercials (or programmes?) on the TV – the ‘half-an-animal on a stick’ sequence is one of the most intriguing sequences in the comic.

The couple of other reviews of this I’ve read talk about these things as ‘mad ideas’ or ‘wacky’ or ‘insane’, but they’re none of these things – they’re worldbuilding, and just show that the world Seaguy is set in doesn’t work on the same rules as the one we live in. We’re not shown what those rules are, and we aren’t given enough information yet to figure out all the rules for ourselves, but that’s how it is in the real world too.

How much of this stuff is going to play out in the rest of the series, and how much is just background detail, we don’t as yet know, and without the context of the rest of the series it’s hard to judge this first issue. At the moment, it seems slightly overfamiliar – it’s very much what I would have expected from a fourth issue of Seaguy rather than doing anything astonishingly new – but it might well be leading to something even better (Morrison says that the ‘Seaguy trilogy’ is his Watchmen and that the closest thing to it in his own work is All-Star Superman). Even as it is, however, this is a work by one of the greatest creative teams working in comics today, and they’re working on something they want to work on. And it is a work by a team – Cameron Stewart recently mentioned on Twitter that he had an argument with a Morrison fan who was convinced he was Morrison’s employee, but while only Morrison could have written this, only Stewart could have drawn it, and he does a superb job.

I hope to write more, and put in more analysis, about the next two issues, as the pieces fall into place, but this issue doesn’t disappoint, which after a five-year gap is all you can hope for.

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33 Responses to Hey Mickey, You’re So Fine…

  1. Zom says:

    I reread Seaguy just the other day and enjoyed it considerably more than I did the first around. For some reason I couldn’t be bothered give it my full attention when it was first published, but going back to it with my critic’s head on I was blown away. Personally I think it’s one of the strongest things Morrison’s ever written – it’s conceptually and narratively cogent in a way that much of his work isn’t (god love ‘im!), and it’s elicits a raft of complex emotional responses, ranging from hilarity to horror and, more often than not, some weird blend of those polar extremes. Of course all of it backed up by artwork that is not only entirely appropriate but also some of the best Cameron Stewart has ever produced.

    After my reread I conducted a webtrawl for reviews and much like you was horrified by the sheer stupidity of much of the critical response. You’re absolutely right, Seaguy isn’t an astonishingly challenging work, it wears its themes on its sleeve, it just doesn’t patronise the reader and bog down the story by hand holding them through a conceptual tour. What fucks me off even more is that Seaguy is tackling issues that are worth talking about – consumerism and the end of history in particular.

    People scratched their heads and collectively moaned when Lost Highway was released and sat back and clapped a few years later when Mullholland Drive lit up the screen. I’m hoping to see a similar thing will happen with Slaves of Mickey Eye

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Absolutely – it’s probably Morrison’s most politically-relevant work, apart from anything else.

      Unfortunately, I think people just think “Grant Morrison is weird and I don’t understand him”. I do think the level of basic literacy in comics fans is staggeringly low. It’s not like Morrison is Joyce, or even Pynchon – he’s just an actual *writer*, rather than someone who’s coming up with slightly different ways for Hal Jordan to defeat Sinestro or whatever. I’m by no means the most attentive or insightful reader out there, but even I can read an adventure story with some ideas in it without it making my head hurt, so I really don’t understand why it’s so difficult for so many people…

  2. pillock says:

    I like to say this as often as I can: a fourteen-year-old girl of my acquaintance read my copies of the first Seaguy when it came out and became an instant fan — she wanted a Chubby Da Choona T-shirt with him saying “Da Fug” on it. At which point I laughed and said, “ah, DC is stupid…you’d buy that shirt, wouldn’t you?”

    Quoth she: “So when does the fourth issue come out?”

    Me: “As things stand now…never.”

    She got angry.

    Got this yesterday and loved it — as loaded with fun things to look at and read as were the first three issues. Money well-spent. Then, after I went to bed with a fever, I had a very vivid dream about just how very straightforward Seaguy is…I mean you don’t even have to bring in the themes, you can just say it. You can just Twitter it. What’s it about. Gee, I wonder.

    People in their thirties and forties who are skilled comic-book readers: don’t get it. Fourteen-year-old girls who have not too much interest in comics: love it, are instantly hooked on it, understand it perfectly.

    It will be my pleasure tomorrow to get her to come down from the university and take it off my hands. But it may be too late for DC!

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I think it’s because those people in their thirties and forties *aren’t* ‘skilled comic book readers’ – rather they’ve internalised one very limited type of narrative and can’t cope with anything that varies from it even slightly. I suspect you’d get the same reaction of incomprehension if you showed, say, Brazil to a ‘film fan’ who’d only ever seen post-Star Wars Heroes Journey action films…

      Stuff like Seaguy *should* be the absolute definition of ‘mainstream’ within the comic industry – something that literally anyone could read and enjoy. But because the comics industry is focussed entirely on servicing the needs of twenty emotionally-stunted forty-year-old men who can’t cope with the idea of a story without Wolverine in it most people won’t ever know about it. It sickens me…

  3. Zom says:

    The word “weird” really does have a lot to answer for, doesn’t it? As soon as it’s applied to a work people feel entitled to cease all further thought. “Ah, it’s weird! Right then, file under totally impenetrable and opaque! What to tag it with? Maybe drug abuse…” Frankly I don’t know how Morrison manages to keep it together, if I were a super famous comic writer and my work had to butt heads with that fucking word as often as his does I think I’d start killing people.

    I suppose it makes his output slightly easier to sell, more (in some tragic sense of the word) knowable.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Yeah, that word and ‘mad ideas’ make up something like 80% of the text of the reviews I’ve seen of ‘Slaves Of Mickey Eye’. Which is just nonsense – when you consider that even the ‘weird’est ideas in it would have been par for the course in The Avengers or Doctor Who in the late 60s, and it’s the *execution* that differs Seaguy from those things, it’s telling people less than nothing.

      And *obviously* it’s weird because it’s ‘druggy’. Heaven forfend that anyone *not* on drugs (which are all the same thing with the same effects) could do something different. Thought is obviously a side-effect of imbalanced brain-chemistry…

  4. Zom says:

    Clearly.

    Yes, ‘mad ideas’ is another bugbear. That sort of talk suggests that all Morrison is capable of is stringing together weird stuff – it totally ignores/obscures the fact that he’s actually a very capable *writer*.

    Don’t you just hate those interviews where Didio lists the attributes of his core team and Morrison is always described as the ‘idea guy’.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Although to be fair to Didio, Morrison is currently the only person working at DC who has ever *had* an idea…

  5. pillock says:

    A couple of days ago I heard this line, in a TV show I ordinarily consider to be tolerably well-constructed, if not exactly ambitious or good:

    “A great man once said, all the world’s a stage.”

    Obviously I’m revising my opinion of it — and myself! — downward in a hurry. Why would I have tolerated this show? What’s wrong with me? Lowered expectations, I guess…it reminds me of a reality show a few years ago, people who thought they were going for an “Apprentice”-style engagement with this big billionaire’s company…only it was all fake, there’s no company, no billionaire, nothing. And what they do is they just see how much they can fuck with these “contestants”, before they snap. Okay. So.

    The fake billionaire takes them on a tour of his “office”, and shows off a sword in a display case. He tells them it’s Excalibur. Wait, there’s more.

    The next day, he pulls some really weird shit that should set off big alarms screaming “FAKE!”, but…they interview this business-chick, and she says “yeah, it seems pretty shady to me, part of me wants to just say the whole thing’s a put-on…but then again, he does have Excalibur in his office, and from what I’ve heard you can’t possess that sword without being pure of heart.”

    Yes, that really happened.

    And maybe that’s comics fans in a nutshell, as well as what’s wrong with the show that can’t remember the name of William-Fucking-Shakespeare! for God’s sake. It is just an unwillingness to engage, I think it’s fear somehow…I don’t really know what it is. An inability to adequately separate the concept of fiction, from the concept of fact? And more importantly VICE VERSA. Would it have played any different, if the character on the show had said:

    “As King Arthur once said, to be or not to be…that’s the question in the mind’s eye, Horatio.”

    I don’t think it would have. And there’s something wilful about that, don’t you think? Not just stupid.

    So it fucking well is Seaguy. “Mad ideas”…to some people, all ideas are mad.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      It’s *possible* (unlikely, but possible) that they weren’t directly quoting Shakespeare but misquoting the middle of Are You Lonesome Tonight – “You know, someone said that the world’s a stage, and each must play his part”, which would make it *slightly* better, possibly…

      But yes, I despair…

  6. pillock says:

    And oughtta be locked up.

  7. sean witzke says:

    There’s a part of me that likes Seaguy being called impenetrable. Because if you can’t get it, that’s a really good shorthand on if I want to deal with this person at all. The “mad ideas” thing has been shorthand for talking about Morrison, Moore, and Ellis for the whole decade now. It’s just something that needs to mentioned when their name comes up.

  8. pillock says:

    Yeah, who started that “mad ideas” thing, anyway?

  9. pillock says:

    Although, you know…”monkey butter”.

  10. Prankster says:

    One of the things I’ve noticed about Seaguy that very few people seem to bring up is that it’s about cartoons and their relationship to gigantic media corporations. Again, this isn’t really hidden or anything: it’s right there on the surface. I mean, “Mickey Eye” as a constructor of theme parks, the Popeye-like Seadog, Chubby Da Chuna. I guess the superhero element distracts people to a certain degree, but of course if you go back a few decades, superheroes and cartoon characters were essentially the same thing.

    I steer clear of the more boorish elements of superhero fandom, preferring to frequent only the best comic blogs (LIKE THIS ONE NATCH), so I can’t speak as to the fanboys’ reactions. I will, however, defend the word “weird” in this context. This clearly isn’t a portrait of a conventional reality, be it real life or the kind of fictional universe that we, as readers, are acclimated to, and as such I think “weird” is a perfectly valid word to use for it. The problem is when “weird” becomes a de facto criticism, or a reason to turn your brain off. I *like* weird.

  11. Zom says:

    I *like* weird too

    I thought it was fairly clear that I’m criticising usages that look a lot like the two you’ve tagged as problematic.

    By the way, I think Amy gets into the Seaguy’s relationship to Disney in our upcoming annocommentations. Hopefully they’ll go live this morning.

  12. Zom says:

    Begin pimp

    Our annocommentations are now up!

    End of pimp

  13. Zom says:

    Oh, that’s nice of him.

    Not really that surprising, though. Without wishing to blow our own trumpets, just by way of an explanation, most of us mindless have known Cameron through Barbelith for a good few years. He’s pretty keen on Mindless Ones.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Oh, I know he’s been around Barbelith for ages, so I presumed he’d know of you. Just thought you’d like to know he approves (think it”s the first time you’ve covered something of his on there, isn’t it?)

  14. Zom says:

    Not sure, I think this is the first time…

    Initially I had included an explanation similar to the one above in the post – I was concerned that people might be a little weirded out by all the references to “Cam”. I might bung it in there again…

  15. Ranald says:

    While I wouldn’t call the first Seaguy incomprehensible, or even particularly difficult to understand, I do want to stand up for those who refer to mad ideas or wackiness or weirdness or whatever. Seaguy *is* weird, in the same way Alice in Wonderland is perhaps, and reducing the mummy on the moon, the floating tuna, the grumbling Easter Island statues and so forth to mere ‘worldbuilding’ obscures the delights of a surreal, and at times gleefully silly, book.

    I had no problem ‘understanding’ this sort of weirdness, to the extent it’s there to understand, and neither would most children. But people who’ve been trained to expect everything to be either realistic, or at least to operate according to well-defined and transparent alternative universe rules, are going to have trouble with Seaguy.

  16. Zom says:

    That’s very true, Ranald. It’s entirely legitimate to call Seaguy weird, perhaps it’s even desirable. My problem comes when that’s pretty much all someone has to say about it, and sadly that’s a fairly accurate description of the content of the majority of so-called reviews.

    The thing is, to say that Seaguy is weird isn’t to say very much at all – we all know it’s weird, but what else is going on? It’s weaksauce when simply left hanging like that, and in many instances it definitely *is* used as a shortcut to thinking and as a lazy way of describing the comic’s content. What exactly is weird about Seaguy? Why has Grant chosen to create a weird comicbook? Is weird, mad, insane, blah the best word to use in this context? etc… These are the sorts of questions critics should be asking themselves.

    What really bothers me is

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  20. Josh says:

    I was absolutely delighted to see this on the shelf, I missed any word of Volume 2 actually coming out.

    I thought it was a rather brilliant bit to see the issue mimick the “infant” Seaguy. Yes, these are the teenage trials, but the similarities remind the reader that these initiations into new periods of life aren’t always SO new.

    I can’t wait to see more of this.

  21. Thanks for mentioning this – I’d totally missed that volume 2 was now appearing. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the TPB.

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