Human Traffic author Craig McGill has been working on a Grant Morrison biography for years, as was recently mentioned in a Morrison interview over at Fanboy Radio. In the preparation for my Grant Morrison book, I interviewed Craig back in December of last year. My project is so different from his (mine is a critical analysis of Morrison’s work, while his will be more like a straight biography), that he didn’t mind talking to me about his project. I ended up not doing anything with the interview, so here it is for you now — an exclusive interview with writer Craig McGill:
TIM CALLAHAN: You’re working on a Grant Morrison biography. How did that come about?
CRAIG McGILL: A few things brought it about. I had just taken some time off after my book on sex slaves and illegal immigrants, Human Traffic, and it had been a heck of a research gig. Lots of traveling, lots of depressing tales. Similarly, my book before that, Do No Harm, about children harmed by their parents, wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs, so I wanted something a little lighter and easier to focus on than a global issue.
While I was scouring about for ideas, I realised that it would be nice to do something about an artform I think a lot of, and I thought that perhaps someone like Grant might be an interesting project.
CALLAHAN: Very few serious biographies exist about writers and artists in the comic book field. What made you decide that Grant Morrison needed a biographer?
McGILL: The first thing that made me think of him is that here’s a guy who is very much a working class hero. He came from an average background in the unhealthiest city in the world. A city where you had about four options at leaving school: be a secretary, work in a bank, be a mechanic or a housewife. If you had a little talent, you might get to be average as a boxer, footballer or something, but this is very much the country of ‘don’t try too hard and you won’t be disappointed’ which is a shocking ethos for anywhere.
So on one hand, he’s a role model. He’s a kid who never gave up on one of his dreams, and he made it. Superstars court him, he has access to the top powers in Hollywood, he has a beautiful wife [named Kristan] and lots of cash, and he’s still got a lot to do. He’s Scotland’s first 21st Century role model.
At the same time, I thought writing about Grant would also expose more of the working of comics to the general public and show the graft that goes into the craft and perhaps get us a little bit more away from the old perceptions that still exist. Comics, as an artform, needs more books out there about it, and, to date, most books have either been highbrow as hell or too technical. Every book I’ve written has been written for the mass market (no not the Catholic mass, though the sales would be nice) and approached topics on a balanced approach, and I wanted to do this.
Role model… rags to riches… he’s a goddamn mid-afternoon real life made-for-TV movie, isn’t he? Well if we take out the drugs, the magic, the wild sex, the swearing in his work and his general rock and roll lifestyle.
CALLAHAN: How much access did Morrison give you? Were you able to look at any of his preliminary ideas or sketches?
McGILL: Grant has been fantastic with this. There’s been plenty of access, both when he lived in Glasgow and then when he moved elsewhere, though he’s harder to visit now. He and Kristan have also vouched for me with other people and that’s helped a lot — after all lots of people get suspicious when someone with 10 years in tabloid newspapers starts asking questions, especially some of the people Grant hangs about with.
Grant has mentioned a million ideas of his that have never seen print or screen, but I haven’t looked at his sketches or his diaries. Part of that is because I don’t want to read a Grant idea and then go away and end up writing a riff on it myself. I don’t want to be accused of riding on his coat-tails or using him to break into comic book writing. I love it as a medium, and I received a few emails from people when the book was first announced that I was only doing this to get into comics, which conveniently ignored the 10 years of my life at the top of British journalism, TV, radio and website work as well as four books, but you know, each to their own. However, the accusation stuck, and it still rankles a little so there are definitely things I haven’t pushed Grant on in that regard.
In all honesty, I doubt Grant would be that miffed if I did read something of his (with his permission of course) and did a take on it because a) it would still be a different take from his and b) this guy has ideas at a million miles an hour. He is to ideas what Imelda Marcos is to shoes.
Recording him is an absolute swine though. Apart from the fact that iPods make lousy dictaphones in terms of battery life, Grant manages to screw up electrical equipment when you try to record him. I had to grin when he had one of his character’s say that recently as well.
CALLAHAN: What’s the most unusual thing you found out about Morrison while researching the book?
McGILL: Unusual… tricky one. Grant says a lot of things very matter of factly, and unusual isn’t something that comes easy to a man who broke into nuclear bases as a child, communicates with aliens and had a near-death experience (oh, spoilers behind in case you’ve never read a word about Grant). In fact, thinking about it now, one of the most surprising things was something he confided in me about him and Mark Millar. It wasn’t “rip the internet in two” shocking or unusual, but if you know them both, it was a very unusual thing to hear.
I did try to find out something unusual about him that would have pleased his female fans if I had found out, but, bless her, Kristan talked me out of it.
The most annoying is the fact that he quite likes Mila Jovovich, who I’ve always considered a total babe, but if Mila has a choice of Glaswegians, odds are she’s going for him. Still I recently saw a show with Lauren German in it and was instantly smitten, so if she has a thing for poor Glaswegians, can you pass her my email address? And don’t tell my wife either.
CALLAHAN: I know you’re not quite done with the project. How much longer will Grant Morrison readers have to wait for your biography to hit the shelves? Will it be available in the U.S.?
McGILL: After a year of being slightly distant from the project, trying to work out a style for it (major hassle that) and getting some people to believe I’m not going to turf them over in the tabloids, it’s getting back on board and there’s hopes — depending on certain people being available for interview — that it’ll be done mid-March and hopefully out for end of 2007.
Hopefully it will be available in the US, it’s certainly a book that should be available where Grant’s work is, and it would be commercially daft not to have available in the US. There’s no publisher yet, but at least two companies have shown an interest, but that’s more an issue for agents to deal with.
It’s been a book that’s been a killer to write which might sound bizarre, but it’s not a book being written specifically for the comic book market, this is a book for the general mainstream and as such you have to be a bit more forgiving with readers. You have to really explain how a comic works, you also have to ease them in to Grant’s world of magic because otherwise you can turn them off.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a book for comic book fans, but more than that, it’s for those who aren’t. Most people who have met Grant will tell you that you come away with a real buzz. The guy has an incredible enthusiasm for life, and to try and catch that energy and show people that, despite all the nonsense going on in the world, all the hurt and pain, you can change it, you can make yourself a happier person and those around you. But it may not be easy. And while that sounds incredibly glib, it’s true.
Ultimately, the story of Grant Morrison is the tale of a guy who went out and tried to make things better for himself and for others, and if the book does its job right, others will want to do that as well.
The more I look at the book that’s how it seems to me. It’s as much a documentary of one man’s life as it is a guide to sorting your own life out. Of course it’s also a book without a bloody title so let me know if you can think of one.