Santa Klaus: Year One
Off- the- wall, but perfectly logical. Stephen Jewell talks to Grant Morrison about reimagining Santa Claus as a superhero, and other projects...
Comics’ sorcerer supreme, Grant Morrison, talks Klaus.
F rom reinventing the Santa Claus myth for the 21st century in Klaus to taking charge of cult sci-fi/fantasy magazine Heavy Metal, the future is looking bright for Grant Morrison. The recently completed Multiversity – an ambitious journey through the many worlds that constitute DC’s multiverse – appeared to be the Glasgow auteur’s last word on mainstream superheroes, although he isn’t quite done with the likes of Wonder Woman, The Flash and Batman just yet.
Admitting that he and his wife and manager Kristan Morrison have made “a particular effort to reach out to various publishers,” the 56-year-old is spreading his wings even further, following up 2013’s Happy and this year’s Nameless for Image and 2014’s Annihilator at Legendary with projects for independents such as Black Mask, Graphic India and Boom Studios. Oddly, Happy is also set
against the backdrop of Christmas, but Morrison denies he’s aiming to become the comic book answer to Charles Dickens: “I can’t say I’ve had any particular interest in Christmas since I was a child. But I suppose Klaus is in some way an attempt to atone for the disgusting paedophile Santa of Happy!”
Comic heroes: You described Klaus as an attempt to create your own big iconic character like Superman or The Doctor…
Grant Morrison: I was very much thinking along the lines of something like Batman: Year One, as the basic conceit was “What if I treat Santa Claus as the world’s most famous superhero?” This meant applying all the classic tropes of the superhero story – the origin tale, the costume, the secret identity, the headquarters, the powers and gadgets – and I soon found that I had a fairly fresh and engaging new take on Santa Claus. It was a bit of a no-brainer once I started and I’m surprised that no one has ever done this yet.
CH: Father Christmas’s Dutch counterpart Sinterklaas can be
What if I treat Santa Claus as a superhero, with an origin tale, secret identity, powers and gadgets?
traced back to pre-Christian Europe and there are links to both Odin and the Wild Hunt. Do you tap into Santa’s pagan past?
GM: I’ve tried to incorporate all the various strands in one way or another with Klaus starting off by wearing green, as was the case historically. And there’s a definite shout-out to the Wild Hunt later in the series. Seeing as it’s me, a big part of this story involves the shamanic roots of Santa and the notion that his red and white outfit is derived from the colours of the hallucinatory Amanita muscaria mushroom. Siberian shamans would also drink reindeer urine after the beasts had eaten the ’shrooms in order to attain visionary states of flight, or at least that was their excuse! The first issue goes quite psychedelic.
CH: Do you also allude to more recent Christmas classics like Elf, It’s A Wonderful Life or recent versions of A Christmas Carol?
GM: Happy was my attempt to update It’s A Wonderful Life via Pulp Fiction, so there’s nothing much like that in Klaus. The idea is not to do a big Christmas compendium with the whole history and meaning of Santa Claus represented in six issues, but simply to tell the opening tale and establish the principal characters of what I hope will be a long-running series of stories. The first one’s like a little weird folk tale but the possibilities for future volumes are endless.
CH: So Klaus is not a selfcontained one-off? Is there plenty of scope for future series?
GM: It’s designed to have sequel potential – and given the basic question “What does Santa Claus do on the other 364 days of the year?” the answers are limitless, as is the potential to tell all kinds of stories set in different places.
CH: You’d like Klaus to become a perennial Christmas favourite?
GM: Most definitely! It’s the secret origin story of Santa Claus, after all, and what kid doesn’t want to know what that’s all about?
CH: Much like today’s comics, Charles Dickens’s novels like The
Pickwick Papers were initially published in shilling instalments before being collected…
GM: I imagine that were he alive today, Dickens could easily be persuaded to write superhero comics and I’m sure he’d be great at it – he’d mastered the serialised form, the broad, memorable characters, the mawkish sentimentality and gleeful cruelty. Thinking about it, I can almost see a case here for positioning Stan Lee as the 20th century Dickens! Or imagine Arthur Conan Doyle doing a Batman graphic novel, or Clark Ashton Smith’s Sandman!
CH: You’re paired with Dan Mora on Klaus. What qualities does he bring to the book?
GM: Among other things he has a beautiful ‘watercolour sketch’ approach. It reminds me of production stills from classic Disney cartoons, which was part of the feel that I was going for. He has a brilliant command of anatomy and composition and a beautiful storybook illustration quality to his work, which really suits this story. He does the most amazing work in what seems like an effortless way.
CH: Why did you decide to publish Klaus through Boom? Were you enticed by their younger readers range, Kaboom?
GM: Boom seemed more appropriate for Klaus. For while it’s not strictly ‘all-ages’ as I have claimed, it’s still aimed at a much wider family audience than the other stuff I’m doing right now. In terms of being scary or violent, it’s
probably on a par with The Hobbit or Doctor Who, so it’s maybe not for five-year-olds but older kids should hopefully enjoy seeing a tougher, more badass Santa Claus!
CH: You take over as Editor-inChief of Heavy Metal in February. How did that come about?
GM: I’ve been friends with Jeff Krelitz, one of the new owners of
Heavy Metal, for a few years and he invited me. I like to do things outside my comfort zone, so I agreed. My job on the magazine involves selecting stories and curating the style and approach of the magazine. I don’t have to do all the hard parts of an editor’s job, I just get the fun bit! I’ll be writing a story in each issue and I’ll be bringing in a few friends from
CH: Heavy Metal started in 1977 as an American version of French
magazine Métal Hurlant. Were you a fan of the magazine then?
GM: Not really. I followed Richard Corben’s work there for a while but that was about the extent of my involvement. I’ve always been aware of the magazine but I‘m not a particularly voracious reader of comics and generally I’ve only ever been interested in mainstream superhero stuff or Vertigo books. I was never into the underground, alternative or small press scenes, for instance. That’s not to say that there isn’t amazing work in those areas, just that I’m too lazy to seek it out. I’m usually too busy comics and the music business to help create new content.
creating comics to read them, and apart from the DC comps I get every month, I tend to just figure out what’s going on in the comics business by reading reviews. CH: You’ve talked of restoring
Heavy Metal’s “1970s punk energy” but it was maybe more prog rock at the time… GM: In the ’70s, I was convinced
Heavy Metal was a sort of Euro hippie thing. In the ’80s it seemed to be all hair metal and ‘Girls, Girls, Girls.’ In the ’90s, my attention was elsewhere. In all cases, I was dismissing the content in an unfair and prejudicial manner. Having now read quite a lot of the back catalogue, there’s a lot to like and a lot to think about as I try to push the magazine forward into a new and hopefully more contemporary direction.
CH: With Multiversity concluded, you’ll be launching Multiversity
Too, a new line of graphic novels set in those various realities, kicking off with The Flash…
GM: Multiversity Too was a banner Dan Didio devised to encompass the projects that I still have on my slate at DC. It includes a Flash story, which I figured I could place as Flash: Earth One, but Joe Strazcynski is doing Flash:
Earth One. So Dan suggested we bring back the Elseworlds idea, brand it as Multiversity Too and launch with this Flash thing, and I believe other creators will also be part of the Multiversity Too rollout. Although, to be perfectly honest, what I’m doing has barely the slenderest and most tangential connection to the [original]
CH: You’re also writing a new series of Batman: Black and White, and your Wonder Woman:
Earth One graphic novel with Yanick Paquette is out in spring…
GM: I had a bunch of ideas for Batman short stories that I never got around to doing, so now we’re putting them out with art by some amazing alternative artists and photographers who haven’t really done comics before. And Wonder
Woman is finished! I’m tweaking dialogue right now but it’s all done and coloured. It looks astonishing!
CH: You previously told us that 21st century superheroes will go “onto the cinema screen first and then into real life.” How do you feel about their proliferation on TV in shows like Arrow, Agent
Carter and Agents of SHIELD?
I generally can’t be bothered watching telly. I’ve never seen those box-set favourites
GM: The last TV series I watched was the first season of True Detective. Apart from the news, Reporting Scotland, Doctor Who and the odd Horizon show, I generally can’t be bothered watching telly. I’ve never seen The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones, The Wire or any other of those box-set favourites, let alone
The Flash, Daredevil or Gotham, so I’m the wrong person to ask about this. I know so much about all of these via cultural osmosis that the time expended in actually watching them would just seem like wasted time. I expect that now the barriers are down, we’ll see all kinds of superhero shows, though. Having moved fairly successfully from the comics, superheroes will become just another acceptable TV genre.
CH: From Ant-Man to Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, superheroes are also becoming mainstays in the cinema…
GM: I don’t think I’ve seen any great ones for a while. Age of Ultron was solid but naturally not quite the game-changer the first Avengers was. Suicide Squad looks quite interesting and I’m excited to see Jared Leto’s Joker. He called me to talk about his approach to the character and I steered him in a few directions. I’m keen to see if anything other than slicked-back hair and the Marilyn Manson vibe made it into his performance. Otherwise, we’re all familiar with the meat-and-potatoes superhero stuff, so I think it’s time they made Miracleman, Enigma, Flex Mentallo or something else that’s a bit more challenging.
CH: Black Mask is turning your script for Sinatoro, your proposed film with director Adam Egypt Mortimer, into a comic series drawn by Vanessa Del Rey. Any other screenplays in the pipeline?
GM: My shadowy Hollywood career has actually been delivering the goods this year: I just finished the latest draft of a screenplay for a major studio, I’ve also sold a TV pilot co-written with the writer/ director of two of my favourite films of the last ten years, and just this morning we got the offer in for a pilot based on another of my books, so it’s all going well. It would certainly be nice to see something made before I die!
Opposite: Morrison has described Klaus as “part action thriller, part sword-and-sorcery, part romance, part science fiction.” With magic mushrooms, naturally.
Above: “Who is Santa Claus really? How did he get his start? Why does he do what he does? How does he do it? What’s the deal with the chimneys? And where does he get all those wonderful toys?”
Above: “The first image that came to me is this ferocious-looking, almost Conan the Barbarian young man with black hair and a black beard; the snow is coming down onto him, it’s turning his hair and beard white. We’ve never seen him young. We’ve never seen how the hell this happened – how did he get to be Santa Claus? It seemed such an obvious, ridiculous idea, that I really seized on it and it became a kind of Lord of the Rings meets Batman Begins.”
Above: Dan Mora’s incentive cover image perfectly encapsulates how he and Morrison are “combining the tropes of superhero stories with epic fantasy to create a new take on the secret history of Santa Claus.”
Multiversity also revisited familiar characters, such as Captain Atom, the basis for Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan.
Above: Multiversity was less weird than most of the work that Morrison is famed for, like Doom
Patrol and Animal Man. Like his Final Crisis, it treated superheroes with affection. Plus, yes, some unpredictability.