Thursday, 26 July 2012

Books: Sebastian O

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Sebastian O
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Steve Yeowell
2004




Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/


I'm not a fan of The Smiths but I'm pretty sure that Morrissey's three-years in the making autobiography (out Dec 2012 - just in time for Christmas) is going to be amazing [1]. But - however good it gets - sad to say: it's not going to be a comic book science-fiction action adventure steampunk romp: and the reason for that is because if Morrissey did write a comic book science-fiction action adventure romp it would be Sebastian O and - well - Grant Morrison has already beaten him to it. (Wait - did Grant Morrison have a cat called Morrissey or am I think of Russell Brand? [2])

For any 2000AD fans out there - you may already know Sebastian O by his other name: Devlin Waugh ("Noel Coward as played by Arnold Schwarzenegger!" = no doubt some future distant cousin of his? [3]): but those of you who are already feeling a but lost and have no idea what I'm talking about (so soon?) let me put it this way: Sebastain O (the lead character of this slender little bombshell of a book) is a quintessential action hero protagionist except instead of making do with a dirty white wifebeater vest as is typical (particulary of the North American variety) Sebastian (as you can probably guess from that delighful first name) positivily insists upon being properly turned out and artfully composed: because if you do have to fight evil, take on the bad guys (or maybe just forward your own agenda - whatever): you should ensure to make sure that you look splendid, smell fragrant and be constantly ready with a quip sharpened to deadly perfection. When he first appears - (and was this just a fluke?) he looks a little like The Divine Comedy's (the band not the book) Neil Hannon [4] (who's a bit of a dandy himself - so that's all good in terms of thematic appropriateness) and it's non-stop all the way to the ending (which has a suddenness to it that is comparable to the way pavements suddenly appear when you've jumped off the top of a skyscraper): that (and this makes a change to the usual muddled madness that Morrison normally likes to bring to his conclusions) is understandable, makes sense and - actually I think this may be the best way to describe it - it kinda feels like getting to the end of a really good joke.

Originally published as a 3 issue series (which I think is as small as you can get and still be published in book form - unless you know: you pad it out with "bonus content" (see: Neil Gaiman's Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?)) Sebastian is a short, sharp shock of a comic constantly racing to it's next explosive encounter. With maybe one of the best introductions ever (written by Morrison himself): a time-line of notable events that lets you right away what you're dealing with (I'm actually tempted to quote the whole thing in full - but you'll just have to settle for this: Using the nom de plume "Sebastian O," he embezzles school funds to publish Hymns to Myself, a scandalous collection of poetry, with themes including suicide, sickness, hypochondria, putrefaction, live burial, spectres, madness, the love of Jesus and John, diabolism and dandyism. His proposals for the school Nativity Play offers scenes in which the headmaster and staff engage in "symbolic"  coprophilla, bestiality and transvestism, only to be devoured by pupils following a four-hour cannibal orgy "culminating in a Black Mass." - and if you like the sound of that - then you're love the rest of the book). 

This might be strange - but a good way for you to understand what this book is like (maybe?) - but in my head - I always associate this book with We3 and Vimanarama - I think it's because I took them all out from my local library around the same time (which was a few years I think before I started working for Islington) and seeing how they were all three self-contained, kinda assessable, non-superhero Grant Morrison comics I've always just assumed that he wrote them around the same time (I don't think that can be true tho - checking the dates Sebastian O is 2004, We3 is 2005 and Vimanarama is 2006): but there's a spiritual connectedness that always leads me to group them together in my head - like they're three stories that Grant Morrison just wanted to get off his chest without any real higher aspirations than to entertain [5]. 

Plus - of course - I must mention the Steve Yeowell artwork. A guy that most people I guess would know from The Invisibles (he's the one who did the artwork for the first volume - with all that stuff of Jack Frost running around and throwing petrol bombs) - but for me - he's a longtime 2000AD steward (oops - sorry - I meant "stalwart" - ha!) who's done stuff on Judge Dredd, Nikolai Dante, Red Razors (with Mark Millar) and - most notably - Zenith (a superhero series with Grant Morrison that - so far at least - has never been reprinted: but is supposed to be totally amazing) [6]. I think quite a few times on this blog I've described an artist as drawing in a Steve-Yeowelly-sorta-way: because (for me) he's the source on the kind of art-style that's pure and clean and to the point without a single wasted line and (for some reason I couldn't say why) I always think of his stuff as being kind of pencilly. And he's always taking his chance to draw really, really tall building and lots of spires and churches and that sort of thing.

Delightful.

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[1] "I'm really not that interesting, so I don't know why I've written so much," Moz admitted in an interview with BBC Radio 4's Front Row. "I have been through the whole life. I just wonder if 660 pages are too much for people to bear. And then I sit down and think, well, are six pages too much for people to bear? I really don't know. [It's] baffling."

[2] Oh - It's Russell Brand. Still - great name for a cat. 

[3] Ha- and at a time - (see: Delvin Waugh: Red Tide) - also drawn by Steve Yeowell - who obviouly is doing his best try to kick-start the rise of action men with dandyist-inclincations and won't stop until there's a blockbuster movie starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson wearing a frilly collar and delivering Oscar Wilde style bon mot's as he blow away the bad guys (hey - we can all live in hope right?) 

[4] Best known for I guess for The National Express and the theme for Father Ted?

[5] Altho the amount of times I've heard about a We3 movie being made (I think it's still in development hell - but hey - who knows - maybe one day?) plus with all his corporate shilling for DC, the introduction to Seven Soldiers where he sounds like he's a marketing manager (I can't remember the exact quotes - but I'm sure he talks bit about making things multi-platform and branding and synergy and stuff like that) and his 18 Days project (where he talks in the same kinda way) and - well - Dinosaurs vs. Aliens - I guess it's a bit naive to think of Grant Morrison has just a humble storyteller with no sense of the wider picture.

[6] And - ha - oops - (happy accident) - a character that has been described - more than once as the answer to the question: what if Morrissey had superpowers? And - oooh - the coincidences spread - (altho I guess this is just what you get when you're googling stuff) but according to an interview Grant Morrison did (Writers on Comic Scriptwriting, Mark Salisbury) he actually based himself on Mozzer back when he was starting out quote: "Back in the eighties, when I was doing Zenith, the persona I had then was Morrisey: he slags everybody off, he’s really clever, all that Oscar Wilde stuff. So I kept saying cruel things about everybody in comics. No one else had ever done that before and it made me famous, but it was a horrible way to get famous." So - there you go.

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Links: Doctor Fantastiques Review, Page 45 Review.

Further reading: The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell, The InvisiblesVimanarama, We3, The Umbrella Academy.

Profiles: Grant Morrison.

All comments welcome.

4 comments:

Miguel said...

Sounds amazing! Morrison wrote many weird comics in the early '90s, those were good times.

Islington Comic Forum said...

Yeah... I hear that The Mystery Play is supposed to be good - no?

Am v tempted to read your thoughts on it (*cough* http://comicswithoutfrontiers.blogspot.pt/2012/07/the-mystery-play-part-1.html *cough*) but wanna see if I can get a copy for Islington - altho - is that possible? Do you know if it's still in print?

Miguel said...

I don't know, my articles are a bit over the top and take themselves too seriously.

And anyway the book is out of print :(

I only managed to buy a second-hand copy.

Islington Comic Forum said...

Dagnamit!

Think the internet could use a little more articles that are over the top and take themselves seriously... Mine are too short - not serious enough AND have too many footnotes.

Oh well!