Walking with Isotopes, Super Fans, and a Humble God: On Meeting Grant Morrison
The truth was, I had no idea Grant Morrison was doing a book signing for Supergods until Rob sent me the link from Bleeding Cool on Monday of that week, proceeded by the words “DO IT NOW!” I was hesitant to go, since he should have been my wingman guarding my six on the way to Isotope Comics, where the event was being held at. That, of course, was impossible since he works in Midtown Manhattan and I work in the Financial District in San Francisco. Asking any of my Bay Area friends was out of the question; I am the only comic nerd in a gaming industry circle.
So, after waking up on a clear Saturday morning I put on a black long sleeve undershirt and my totem, the Magneto t-shirt Rob gave me for my birthday. Gwen dropped me off at the local train station. I walked upstairs to a platform of bright orange children zipping by me, holding teddy bears wearing hats with the staggered S and F of the Giants logo. I should have checked for baseball game days along with the weather, I thought, and my bright red shirt gave me a chill of self-consciousness to go with the breeze. I performed my staple maneuver when I have a stain on my shirt, a stretching of my arms downwards and across the point of interest. I stopped when I realized that there would be no way to cover the face of Magneto against Brian Wilson’s mountain-man beard. Ten minutes later I jumped on the (now expected) packed bullet train and slipped through the baseball fans. I sent a text message to Rob, telling him about my fashion mistake, but his response was befitting to the words on my shirt.
” Lincecum is wrong. Magneto Was Right.”
I got off on the Civic Center BART an hour later. The walk from there to Isotope was fine save for the Van Ness Ave wind tunnel. Once I crossed Van Ness the city slipped from office and government buildings to the small shops, food carts, and trees of Hayes Valley. Isotope Comics is a shop and lounge run by James Sime, a wild-haired man in suits that are a couple of question marks away from a mad Riddler. The rest of his employees also wore interesting attire that fit Sime’s attire: a woman with a short blond bob cut and tight black dress manning the register and a man with a tight mohawk, black suit, and Chuck Taylors looking either like a nervous bouncer or the doorman to a ska show. Despite his sneakers, I still felt under-dressed. The clash between the comic geek part of me used to other comic shops run by men in ratty band or nerd tees, and the Catholic school part of me that enjoys wearing suit jackets and a nice pair of slacks, was in full effect.
“I know I’m ten million hours early,” I told her. I gave her my name, grabbed my ticket, told her I’d come back to get my copy of the book (which was a part of the package), and went to grab lunch at a really good diner. To my surprise, when I came back an hour later the amount of fans also hanging around for the signing were still at the same “count on my fingers” level that it was at when I left.
Morrison came in ten minutes later, along with his wife. Sime walked down from the second floor reading room, already set up with a draft table for the signing, and greeted both. Morrison was standing two feet away from me. My thoughts flashed back to when Kali and I bumped into Mos Def wearing a fez at a DOOM concert back in college. I geeked out on that occasion, but not this time, mostly because I started reading one of the trades written by him to keep my cool.
I instinctively picked up New X-Men; that was the one that got me into his work. It was a breath of fresh air for me, one that came from the open window Morrison used to throw continuity out of. The costumes changed from spandex to a more utilitarian version that was step or two above the ones made for the movies. The shirt I was wearing was a direct reference to his run, a piece of mutant fashion wore by the rebellious Kid Omega during the “Riot at Xavier’s” arc.
I grabbed my copy when the fans made their way to the lounge, surrounded by indie comics in pamphlet form and toilet seat covers with art and scripts from creators, with Sime standing across from the Dr. Strange costume on display. Morrison was sitting at the table right next to Strange’s cape.
I was number 6, and number 5 was a guy holding five books to his chest, in comparison to the one book in my hand. I turned around to see Number 7 holding three singles in polymer bags and her copy of Supergods. While number 4 chatted with Grant I had a chat with number 5 that consisted of, “hey you take my photo with him and I’ll take yours.”
I started another conversation, this time with numbers 7 and 8. Number 7, who later introduced herself as Klassy, was a Filipina girl living in SF for the last two years. I never learned number 8′s name, but he was a nice curly-haired guy from out-of-town rocking a faded white tee with the X-Men wrapped around it. He only had one single and the book, but I still felt like I cheated myself for not bringing my copy of New X-Men in my bookcase back home.
Then I looked down at Magneto. ” Could you hold my book?” I asked Klassy. She obliged and I took off the shirt. I was glad it was clean, as putting it in a frame with an odor would haunt me in small way for the rest of my life (or until I lost it, which knowing me is very possible).
Number 5 left and I took his place on a cushioned bench next to Morrison. We shook hands, I introduced myself, and braced myself for the fact that his Glaswegian tongue has been completely indecipherable to me when I’ve seen interviews on him. I started off with a fumble, asking him about what is down the pipeline for him as if I hadn’t read about his upcoming Action Comics run in September. I used it to find words through his vocal Ghillie suit. The first thing that caught my attention was how soft his tone of voice was as he shook his head to the side, saying “Well…” and still not really understanding the rest.
So then, I went straight to what I’ve meant to say to him. ”First off, I’d like to say I’ve been championing your X-Men run for ten years. My friends hated it because of continuity, but fuck the haters.”
He shook his head as I said it, doing another “Well…” but I paid close attention this time. “…Marvel has, I don’t know,” he said, looking a bit exasperated. “The thing is, Marvel was made by three geniuses, Lee, Kirby, and Ditko, who made characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. They’re characters that are realistic, that makes it harder for writers to work with. DC gives you more freedom because of the ideas the characters represent…” his voice went into a softer tone at this point. I couldn’t hear his words, but by now I was appreciating at how much of a normal guy he was. My image of Morrison consisted of a dapper man in bright suits and sunglasses , or staring right at me with a maniacal smile from his interview for Coilhouse. Here he was, wearing a simple black shirt for his upcoming western movie Sinatoro (which reminded me of the photo shoot scene in Lost In Translation where Bill Murray is asked to do a Sinatra pose), almost whispering at me while we huddled over the drafting table.
After that, he signed my book, and smiled at my shirt before signing it . I took some ( mediocre) shots as he put his pen below the words on it, first in a writing pose, then in a painterly one for a better image. Number 8 and Klassy asked me where I got it from; you can get it here from the wonderfully nerdy people at MightyFine. I shook Grant’s hand again as we both stood up and handed Sime my camera. He took two photos of me and him, one of us smiling and the other one with me in a ridiculous Jersey pout and Grant leaning towards my head. I had yet another handshake, said goodbye and went back downstairs.
I didn’t leave the store immediately. I sat down on the bean bag sofas near the entrance and talked with other fans waiting to hear their number. I continued my conversation with Klassy, who received adoration and envy from the others after getting her iPad signed by Morrison, along with a sketch of Batman’s profile. Sime came down to get a clearer photo to post on Twitter, and after revealing her cinephilic nature to me she received my customary Top Five question. As expected, this sparked a conversation. another number, 39 (or Michael, which I learned after introducing myself an hour later) sat at my left. He is a regular who stops by on his way home from work. We talked about nostalgia, the 90s, Kyle Rayner (we argued about the mask), and the normal kids/music combo that happens when you’re talking to a person in their 40s. On my right was 24 who, to my surprise, was reading New X-Men for the first time. I held back from trying to sell him into loving the book, I try my best at not being that kind of fan anymore (at least in public).
I planned to stay for the after hours event at the bar, but then learned that I had only paid for the signing. It didn’t bother me I still bought the cup celebrating the event and thanked the woman at the register before walking towards the BART. The truth is, even as I look back now, what stood out were the people I met and the place than the moment I had with Morrison. While he was great for being humble and mundane, I’m always more interested in characters like Klassy the geeked out fan and Michael the grizzled but polite veteran. I remember my careful reading of Supergods on a beer drenched train ride home, careful not to let any drunk Giants fan get their beer near me. I of course geeked out on my chair once I was back home.
I have every right to, though:
I friggin’ met Grant Morrison.