Monday, 3 September 2012

Books: Seaguy


Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Cameron Stewart

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

"Zany" isn't a word that any right-thinking person wants to be associated with. When I hear if I think of Colin Hunt from the Fast Show [1] and I shudder all the way down past my bones into my very core.

Me and Grant Morrison. Well - our reader-writer relationship has never been smooth sailing. Unlike say Alan Moore or Garth Ennis or Warren Ellis who always pretty much manage to show my a good time and leave me feeling satisfied on somesort of emotional or intellectual level (or whatever) Grant Morrison has always been a little bit more - well - unreliable. Yeah - sometimes it's ice-creams and holding hands as we walk through the park and memories to last a lifetime [2] and then there's the times when after it's done I've left with a sore head and the sense that I've been left short-changed [3]. To put it at it's most simple: I don't like when he gets too zany: when he throws in a bunch of weird stuff and there's levitating wise-guy fishes (or: "Chubby Da Choona" as he's known to his friends), octopus shepherds and - obviously - talking Easter Island heads [4].

Because - yeah: if we're just sticking to one-word reviews: Seaguy is incredibly zany [5]. Hell: It's bonkers, goofy and madcap all mixed together in a great big vat of wacky. If your experience of comic books is mainly men in trenchcoats breaking people's fingers and doing lots of swearing: well - Seaguy is the popular opposite of that in much the same way that the opposite of a Martin Scorsese film is strawberry ice-cream (oh no - now I'm being zany!).

I first read Seaguy about - oooh - five years ago? I don't think I knew anything about it - it was just a something sitting on the shelves of my local library that looked kinda cool. Grant Morrison's name I guess I must have known from reading The Invisibles and The Filth. The Invisibles obviously had this big reputation as being this incredible epoch-defining comic-book masterwork. If I remember things right I think a friend lent me their whole collection so I'd read the whole thing in one big splurge - and altho there were bits about it that I really liked: by the time I reached the grand anti-climatic-seeming denouement I was a bit - well - disillusioned. And - The Filth - well: like I've said elsewhere on this site - The Filth is always gonna have a special place in my head and is not only my favourite Grant Morrison comic - but also pretty much one of my favourite comics period. So picking up Seaguy it felt like things could go either way: it could be this precise Filth-like masterwork that messed up my brain in all sorts of interesting ways or it could be more like an Invisibles-style mess.

Unfortunately for my oh-so-sensitive tastes Seaguy was (and is) way more on the Invisibles-style-free-for-all side of the Morrison spectrum (Morrisometer?): unlike some of his books which feel methodically planned and structured Seaguy - well - Seaguy reads like it was all just flinged on to the page with abandon: like Jackson Pollock only with words instead of paint. I mean - don't get me wrong - it looks very nice and Cameron Stewart's artwork is solid and everything looks properly defined and in proper proportion: but the story bounces from point-to-point like a pinball in a hurricane.

Since that point I didn't really give Seaguy a second thought. It was too strange and oddball and zany for me: whatever. The world is a big place and there are other books for me to read. But since that point this whole Comic Forum thing has happened and I've got drawn way more into the world of comic books and comic book blogging than I ever thought I would and I've got a bit more insider knowledge and comic book experience than I ever had before (yay me): and in reading all the stuff that other people have written about other comics and about Grant Morrison I kept bumping up against people mentioning Seaguy and talking about in glowing terms and saying it's a mini-masterpiece and stuff like that and even lamenting Grant Morrison as he is now (and the stuff he writes now) and going: oh man - why can't he just go back to more like when he was writing stuff like Seaguy?

Now: I don't know if you've read my post on Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory - but the lesson I learnt there was that: even if you hate something the first time you read it - sometimes it can be worth going back and having another go. I mean - I thought Seven Soldiers was crazy zaniness the first time I read it - and I kinda put it aside thinking that it was unreadable - but going back I was pleasantly shocked by just how entertaining it was. So maybe the problem the first time round wasn't with Seaguy - maybe it was just me? Maybe there was something I was missing? Maybe it was actually this great work of art like the internet kept saying and maybe now was the time that I went back and discovered just exactly what it was that I was missing out on?

But no. Second time round was pretty much just like the first time round. There's this feeling of promise at the start - but then it just gets so weird and strange but still kinda aimless - like The Mighty Boosh but without the jokes or something or a sober-persons idea of what taking drugs must be like [6].

Of course - this is the point where all those comic nerds cleverer than me step in and go: ah. But you just didn't get it. You see actually if you read it right you'll see that actually the whole story is actually a beautifully worked out allegory for all sorts of stuff like growing up and finding your way, the unstoppable spread of totalitarian entertainment and the state of superhero comics [7]. And - you know what? - they're right. Seaguy is full of loads of clever little metaphors and things like that: my favourite being the evil brilliance of Mickey Eye: a cuddly corporate mascot as imagined by George Orwell and guaranteed to give children more nightmares than an entire night full of watching Doctor Who [8]. And - well - yeah - there's a feeling that sorta infuses the whole book that this isn't just about a kid called Seaguy having a wacky time: but it's actually aiming for something deeper and more profound [9].

But the thing is (at least for me) if you're telling a story that's allegorical: it's still got to have somesort of actual - well - story attached. Something that makes sense and feels vaguely consistent as opposed to just jumping around all over the place (that pinball in a hurricane again). I mean - Gulliver's Travels is a good example: because even tho that's chock-full to the brim of satire and inquires into human nature and all sorts of clever little symbolisms and funny allegorical set-pieces and things like that: it's still entertaining and enjoyable just on a "guy going on adventures" level (or as someone else put it: "It is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery"). Seaguy - well: I'm sure that some people could get a kick out of it - but for me it was like watching a cartoon with a personality disorder. Plus (well) it doesn't help that the book is kinda based on this whole "corporations are bad and evil" stance when nowadays Grant Morrison goes around saying stuff like: "I'm not the leader of a political party. I'm a freelance commercial writer who sells stories to pay the bills. I'm not an employee of any company except for the one run by me and my wife. I'm not a role model or the figurehead for any movement... I don't doubt that corporations can be underhanded, and I feel sorry for anyone who genuinely gets caught out. We live in a world where every day involves multiple negotiations with corporate power in one way or another, and all I can say is, enlist a lawyer to go through any contract before you sign it. Or self-publish." (which is just all sorts of disappointing [10]).

A small glimmer of hope: this is only the first book in a planned trilogy [11] and so maybe there is still a chance for the series to redeem itself with me. I mean - a big part of my problem with Seaguy is the way that crazy stuff just sorta happens and then isn't picked up on again (I liked the start of the stuff that happened with Xoo - but then there's things that happen in the middle that just left me confused and feeling like Morrison was just doing things because - hey - what the hell right?) and altho I can be ok with craziness - I really don't like it when stuff is left completely open-ended [12].

[1] If you haven't witnessed him - well: he's a little like David Brent's younger cousin only with worse fashion sense. Don't say I didn't warn you.

[2] That would be: The Filth. Sebastian O. Marvel Boy. We3. All Star Superman. And anything else drawn by Frank Quitely.

[3] That's: parts of Doom Patrol (when the weirdness is turned up to 11). The last part of Vinanarama. The last part of The Invisibles. Basically anywhere where it gets a little bit too crazy and things stop making sense (yeah - basically I'm a total prude: what you gonna do?).

[4] A reference to Peter Milligan and Jamie Hewlett's Hewligan's Haircut perchance?

[5] Even that name seems a bit much. Although it was interesting to find out that apparently it comes from Grant Morrison's wife Kristan when he challenged to "think of the most stupidly perfect superhero name that hadn’t been used yet."

[6] This is where someone says - well: maybe that's the point? Like it says in the comic: “But… it seems so pointless. The rules so arbitrary,” “Well, that’s just how it is and it’s no good complaining.”

[7] According to sources elsewhere: part of the reason Seaguy came into being was down to the bad treatment Grant Morrison got from Marvel when he was working on his New X-Men series. Apparently there was a heavy-headed editorial policy or something which meant that he couldn't do all the crazy stuff that he wanted to (which would explain why the New X-Men does feel a little bit muted for a Grant Morrison production). And that would go a long way to explaining why Seaguy is such a splurge (I love that word) of over-the-top zaniness: it's like the mental breakdown that happens when someone's been suppressing all their deviant zany tendencies (or something).

[8] At first I couldn't put my finger on who Mickey Eye reminded me of - and just put my déjà vu down to the fact I'd already read Seaguy before until I realised that he looks like the hellish progenitor of everyone's least favourite Olympic mascots: Wenlock and Mandeville! (I know I already posted this when I was writing about Judge Dredd The Complete Case Files 07 but what the hey it's so good that I reckon it's worth repeating:" I bought this toy last week and although it arrived quickly and it seems to be well made, I have some concerns. Every fifteen minute since I've opened it out of the packaging, it will shout phrases such as 'I AM THE EYE OF PROVIDENCE', 'PAX ROMANA' and 'THE SECRET IS WITHIN THE GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZA'.") Because - regardless of what their clueless designer Grant Hunter may say ("Yes, cameras are everywhere in the UK and across the world. They are in your pockets (or bags) and incorporated into your smartphone. Having a camera on you at all times has become the norm. But since when has that become a negative? Cameras allow us to capture precious moments and that’s exactly how Wenlock and Mandeville use theirs. There’s no sinister subplot."): creatures with one giant staring eye: are totally freaking creepy.

[9] And I'm not just saying that because I've read Grant Morrison saying stuff like: "The first Seaguy stories were made up as a laugh but I soon realised the potential to do something big and resonant with the character.So it began as a series of weird, surreal routines then I decided I wanted to evolve it into something that was a bit ‘Don Quixote’, a bit ‘Candide’ and a little of the Celtic wonder tales I grew up on. I imagined a sci-fi ’Pilgrim’s Progress’ but with action and laughs and saw Seaguy as a way of telling the story of an entire human life through this character’s struggles and adventures."

[10] "I'm sorry that people were discouraged, but anyone who expects me to take any stronger 'stand' on this issue are going to be disappointed."

[11]  Part 2 (Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye) did come out in single-issue form back in 2009 but hasn't been released in a collected form yet and I don't know what's going on with part 3...

[12] I mean - obviously context (as always) is key. Put it this way: I wasn't one of those people that got angry when it got to the end of the Sopranos and no one had mentioned Valery: the unkillable Russian: "You're not gonna believe this. He killed sixteen Czechoslovakians. Guy was an interior decorator." (Like David Chase says: "They shot a guy.Who knows where he went? Who cares about some Russian? This is what Hollywood has done to America. Do you have to have closure on every little thing? Isn't there any mystery in the world? It's a murky world out there. It's a murky life these guys lead. And by the way, I do know where the Russian is. But I'll never say because so many people got so pissy about it.")

Links: Jog The Blog Review: The Contours of Artificiality (the pretentious title for my SPOILER-LOADED Seaguy review), 4th Letter Review: Pre-Crisis 4l: Seaguy #1 and Why I Suck, Fourth Age of Comics ReviewGraphic Novel Reporter Review, Wit War Review, Thoughts on Stuff Review, Wright Opinion Article: Morrison Beyond Supergods.

Further reading: The Filth, Seven Soldiers of VictoryHewligan's Haircut, Vimanarama, The Bulletproof CoffinThe InvisiblesFlex Mentallo, The ArrivalDan and Larry in Don't Do That!, David Boring, Stray Toasters.

Profiles: Grant Morrison.

All comments welcome.


Tam said...

I feel pretty much exactly the same way about Morrison. Occasionally he knocks out the odd bit of brilliance, (usually with Quitely's help) but also writes more than his fair share of crap. I'd add his Animal Man run to his highlights, which was one of the most powerful things I read during my teenage years, although if you get around to reading that I'll be interested to hear whether it still stands up these days.

As for Seaguy, it didn't do much for me though to be fair, it struck me as being more Brave New World than 1984, and when it comes to Dystopian stories written by Old Etonians, I personally much prefer the latter...

Islington Comic Forum said...

Did read Animal Man back in - oh let me see: July 2011: (like most of the stuff on here that blog post could do with a big rewrite...)

Have you read Seaguy? Was there anything you did like about it? Reading up about it on the the internets the dissenting opinions on it definitely seem to be in the minority...

And: as for me - I'd take 1984 (for all it's faults) over Brave New World. If only because it has better slogans and was the first thing I'd read that taught me the use of the word "proles" (which is one of my favourite words to lob into a conversation). I did once try calling people Epsilons in a disparaging way to see if it would catch on - but it didn't seem to catch on. (See: )