Previous: 2005 to 2006 Mid-Aughts
2007 and 2008 were quite the years: a time of friendship and drug experimentation and further travel, and then back to Burning Man… Which leads to the moment you’ve all been waiting for, at last I move to China!
Chris Thrall’s memoir Eating Smoke (sensationally subtitled One Man’s Descent Into Drug Psychosis In Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland) was published in 2011 but resparked buzz last year when the book was adapted into a radio dramatization for Hong Kong’s RTHK station.
The memoir is about Thrall’s time in Hong Kong in the 90s when he found himself addicted to ice—that is, methamphetamine—and indeed written in the style one would expect while on speed.
It is a dazzling ride, full of flowing neon and inebriation. First, the British Royal Marine suddenly quits his military position and moves abroad with dreams of making it big in the business world. Before he knows it, his business fails and he has to start hustling. The bulk of the story consists of jumping from one sketchy employment opportunity to the next, constantly maneuvering through new scams which grow increasingly desperate. He stays in the infamous Chungking Mansions, then hangs out among the hippie scene on Lamma Island where it starts out innocently enough with some strong weed, and ends up in the seediest parts of Wan Chai addicted to crystal.
“Quiss” Thrall meets a seemingly never-ending parade of colorful characters who live on the very edge of Hong Kong society, the caliber getting lower and lower as he is dragged down to the dregs. But there are so many he meets that it becomes difficult for the reader to follow what’s going on after a while.
The subtitle of the book declares his descent into the “Triad Heartland”, but the part when he becomes a doorman for a Triad-connected club is just one section among many, which comes rather late in the book. The stakes do get higher as threats of violence and death race towards the climax.
The radio drama, an audiobook really, overall can be quite superior to the book because as an edited abridged version it can get to the point quickly and highlight the best sections. Many odd jobs are skipped over in order to focus on the Triad and drug-crazed scenes. I did miss some, such as the English-teaching episode, although that is a story that has been told before. The unique nature of Thrall’s perspective is worth focusing on, though my personal favorite was the weekend-long DJing gig in China which unfortunately didn’t make it to the radio for some reason.
The narration from RTHK is excellent, with acting that can be funny when necessary as well as solemn, and always powerful. One noted part details the time a woman passed out due to a possible overdose at the club, Thrall calls an ambulance but the boss coldly stated he just wanted her thrown out. Stories like these are best listened to and not only read, so be sure to download the free podcasts…
For the most part, Thrall remains likable through it all until perhaps the finale of the memoir when he descends deeper into madness. His greatest talent is his ability to get by in Cantonese, which grants him a window into an authentic world which most foreigners never get to see. Eating Smoke is a fascinating insight into 1990s Hong Kong that readers and listeners from all over the world would do well to appreciate.
The radio drama is available free as a downloadable podcast on the RTHK website here: http://podcast.rthk.hk/podcast/item_all.php?pid=1130
Eating Smoke is published by Blacksmith Books, and available at Hong Kong bookstores and Amazon.
It’s like real life, but better – Tinder slogan.
Apps like Tinder are a natural consequence of a world of pickup artists and pseudo-harems, where 10% of the men fuck 90% of the women and everyone else is left paying hucksters thousands of dollars to learn how to play a game they were never fit to play in the first place.
Datings apps play a big role in Ray Hecht’s new book This Modern Love. Everyone is connected but everyone is lonely and we follow four of these lonely lives in Los Angeles as they seek attachment.
Ben Weiss stands at the crux of this book. Ben is an introverted coder whose relationship coldly ends because his girlfriend discovered his profile on dating websites while maintaining such profiles herself. Ben comes off as particularly emasculated, lost in a world of text seduction. “Cuck” might be the going term, though I’d never advise you to use it.
The others fare no better, even Jack who understands how the game is played. As they seek meaning, Ben pays for a sensual massage, Jack goes through women, Andrea sleeps with a middle-aged man and Carla writes fanfiction and does drugs, and no one comes away satisfied. There is no app or social media website that fills the void in their lives and love, if it exists in this world, cannot be distilled into a few kb of data and remains elusive to these people.
Although I initially thought I couldn’t relate to the people in This Modern Love, I think I understand them. In college I tried my hand at dating, with terrible results, and while I can’t empathize with Jack, I do pity Ben. Like many young men, lost in an increasingly disconnected world and a contest of counterintuitive rules which no one ever wins.
This Modern Love is available at Amazon.
by Travis Lee
2016 was, to say the least, a tumultuous year.
It’s already something of a meme to say that 2016 sucks so much. And yeah, that’s largely true specifically in the political sense anyway.
However, in my personal life I can definitely declare that though it’s been hard I can claim lot of positive growth over the past year. I traveled the world, I promoted some writing, I published here and there, wrote another book, and I even moved in with my girlfriend!
There has been a lot on this very blog worth share. I reviewed, I interviewed. And although at this stage it’s hard to say if it will lead anywhere, one of my personal productive favorites of the year was starting anew on my hobby of drawing silly little comics.
In thinking over this arbitrary marking of the Earth going around the sun that we all mark on our calendars, I have thought about it most nostalgically and created a list of links below. Here, a few posts that stand out to me to sum up the crazy intensities of this most epically year:
In February, right after Chinese New Year, I was lucky enough to be detained by the Chinese police after attending an unlicensed rave party. I tested negative for drugs and was soon released, while sadly others I knew tested positive, leaving me with the opportunity to write what proved to be my most popular piece of writing ever. The guys over at Reddit China were somewhat opinionated. But I had my say.
Hey it even led to a piece I wrote for the Wall Street Journal.
With my novel South China Morning Blues published — from Blacksmith Books, Hong Kong — in late 2015, I was very focused on promoting the book all over Shenzhen (and Guangzhou, and Hong Kong) over the beginning of the following year and on. It was a big part of my job for months on end. The highlight was definitely in March when I went to both Beijing and Chengdu for a little get-together known as the Bookworm Literary Festival.
The travel it did continue. I visited the great country/not country of Taiwan as part of my girlfriend Bronwen’s art residency in May. Absolutely wonderful place. There will be more on Taiwan come the next new year.
And in June it was time to go to Israel for the bi-annual visiting of the family. What a trip I met some little nieces and nephews, saw my parents, had emotions, all the while some legal complications came up and had to be dealt with.
One event that really stood out in the summer was the art exhibition by Bronwen and some other locally sourced artists over at Sin Sin Fine Art in Hong Kong. Great work. I happened to write an article about it.
At last, the dreaded subject of American politics. Over the second half of 2016, I carried on with my life and moved and wrote and promoted, meanwhile in America (totally affecting the rest of the world) it all went well and truly insane. I became rather consumed in following the politics of the horrible election cycle. Finally, of all things, I was forced to start writing political columns. The anxieties of the day before, then November’s horrific results, and a touch of conspiracy theory commentary.
Sadly, at this rate I will probably have yet more to say in 2017. A lot more. Despite the apocalyptic scenarios at hand, I’ll try to be optimistic about the new year. What’s certainly true is that nobody knows what will happen next.
Thus was the year. I and you survived. Thanks for paying attention to me and my humble perspective. On a concluding note, let us mourn the actual concept of truth and facts with this cartoon by Tom Tomorrow… RIP truth~
Good luck to 2017, we’ll need it!
Remember that time I was detained by the Chinese police during a drug raid at a rave? My experience being rounded up by the Chinese police at the big Shenzhen drug raid.
I happened to write a piece about it for the Wall Street Journal’s expat blog. It took a while to get edited and published, but it is finally available and I’d like to share. (Also, don’t forget the last time I published with the WSJ)
Please take the time to read. It was a tumultuous time, some harsh memories, but I’m glad that something positive came out of it for me at least… Well, live and learn.
[In the early hours of February 21, 2016, there was a major drug raid at a Shenzhen rave party. It has since become international news, reported on by The Guardian and Vice. I was rounded up along with hundreds of other people, and this is my story.]
One of the surprising things I discovered upon moving to China all those years ago was that illegal drugs are remarkably easy to come by. Before arriving, one would assume that wouldn’t be the case in a pseudo-Communist country. Yet, the party scene introduced itself to me almost immediately and I saw that often times drugs among expats were no big deal. Perhaps it’s the chaos that comes with rapid economic expansion, but for whatever reason that’s the way it’s generally been.
To be specific, expat stoners I know seem to usually find a source and easily keep up their stoner lifestyle. It’s only marijuana, and it’s becoming legal in America nowadays anyway, so what’s the big deal?
Besides that, there’s MDMA in the club scene. From what I’ve observed, psychedelics such as LSD are almost unheard of unless one has a very good source – as that kind of psyche-spirituality vibe is not apparent here. Opiates rarer still. I have heard tales of cocaine and ketamine, and newspapers do report that methamphetamine is a growing problem in China.
Based upon my admittedly anecdotal evidence, among foreigners in big cities at least, it’s mostly a bit of MDMA at clubs and the usual marijuana hit if you are into that kind of thing.
Not to mention, like almost everywhere else in the world, the main drug of choice is a certain legal narcotic which is definitely the most destructive of all: alcohol.
Personally, I am not into most that. I think I’ve done the normal amount of experimentation in my life, and politically I am quite against prohibition. But marijuana doesn’t do it for me. It’s not to say that I am morally opposed, the THC chemical reaction simply makes me feel extremely anxious and uncomfortable and I’m not a fan. I don’t particularly like alcohol either, to be honest.
The unfair thing about the world is that the random chemical reactions specific to my brain and genetics more or less keep me clean. It’s not like I’m making any major effort to “just say no.” There is nothing at all fair about functional people who enjoy smoking being punished so harshly in society, while I am not. It’s nothing but luck. And when the police came to drug test me that night, I got to go home, while some of my friends weren’t so lucky…
The Real Deal is a group of partygoers in Shenzhen who organize underground outdoor parties with electronic music – raves, if you will. I’ve been going to their parties for years. In fact, the big party that got raided was their 4th year anniversary. They advertise openly, book famous Hong Kong DJs, and have been a fixture on the community for quite some time. It never felt subversive to enjoy their events. I for one appreciate the efforts of the organizers to create a fun place for people to listen to music and find something different to do in Shenzhen. Certainly beats overpriced drinks at pretentious nightclubs.
On the night of February 20th, I decided to go to the tunnel party with my girlfriend. It happened to be near the Ikea, in walking distance from my home in the Baishizhou neighborhood. Several of my friends were there, and I expected we would all enjoy ourselves. Me and my girlfriend arrived at about midnight, met up with some buddies, had some drinks, danced, and so on. I did note that the anniversary party was quite crowded. Still, it seemed legit to me.
Don’t get me wrong. The Real Deal organizers, from my understanding, don’t go farther than make deals with local security guards. Being that it’s outdoors and unlicensed, it’s still pretty much a “rave,” isn’t it? Yet the worst that ever happened in the past is that there’d be noise complaints and some police came to shut down the party. Normal risk, right? Or so one would think.
Without naming names, I did notice LSD and nitrous oxide around. (Are those chemicals even illegal in China?) Pills appeared to be harder to come by, ever since the two unfortunate overdoses back in December most people had been avoiding that sort of thing. No, as usual, the normal culprit was the noticeable smell of marijuana.
I don’t know what made this time so special, why there had to be a crackdown that day. I have no doubt the police knew about these parties for years but never cared. Why now? Was it because of those two overdose deaths that they felt they needed to protect us from ourselves? Was it that the crowds were getting too big and China doesn’t like big, potentially protest-y, crowds? Was it, as currently noticeable from Beijing to Hong Kong, the general atmosphere of authoritarianism which has been growing of late under Xi Jinping…?
In any case, at about 3:45 a.m. a whole lot of shit went down. I remember it clearly because my girlfriend and I had previously discussed that we should leave at 3:30 in order to not to stay out too late. When the time came, she suggested we dance a little more, and I said okay. We tried really hard to not wallow over that decision after the shit went down.
It was totally surreal. I was sitting on a curb catching up with a few pals, and suddenly saw a few police officers run down the hill. I took my girlfriend’s arm and everybody walked away at a brisk pace. Then, the abrupt end to the music caused a weird shift in scenery. The silence came with a sense of panic, and everyone started dashing toward and exit. There was a serious danger of trampling at that point. My first thought was that people were overreacting and it couldn’t be such a big deal, but I soon noticed there was something different about the closure of this party.
We got to an exit and a line of riot police with shields and batons had completely blocked the way. I have never experienced anything like that before. I couldn’t even see behind me because of the crowds, but nobody could move and it must have been blocked on every side. A bilingual, senior looking cop started yelling in English and Mandarin. “Turn off your phones! Sit down! Stay still!” It was a very confusing moment.
The weirdest thing was not knowing what to do next. Although this was an extremely coordinated attack — Shenzhen Daily reported “the Nanshan District Public Security Sub-bureau confirmed the raids had happened and that they had been planned for ‘quite a bit of time.’” — all those hundreds of officers working through the night seemed to be out of their element. We sat around for about an hour. People stood up, and were told to sit down. There wasn’t much room to sit. I saw my friends in various piles, and we tried to keep each other’s spirits up. I had my arm around my girlfriend. On another side, I saw some expat guys getting rowdy and then handcuffed. I saw cops with streams of plastic cable tie handcuffs, yet thankfully they were never used. All in all, in retrospect, it was pretty peaceful. At the time there was just so much speculation; we didn’t know what was going to happen.
Finally, small groups were formed and were told to walk to the nearby parked police buses. We lined up and put our hands on each other’s shoulders like a cheesy conga line. Mine was the second or third group and I was glad to get it over with. I wanted the next step to be done with already.
Once piled into the police bus, we driven around for a while. I had no idea what kind of route they took, but I later learned that it wasn’t even that far; still walking-distance from my home. All different police stations in Nanshan District were working in tandem, and luckily the Taoyuan station was nearby. Along with my girlfriend, two other American friends also joined me in that police station. Along with about fifty people in total. I know that because we were given numbers drawn in sharpies on our hands. I was number 43, and I’ll never forget it.
I had to pee so badly! That was the most painful part of the process. There would be more urine-related activity to go around, and they gave us plenty of water. After things were eventually organized and settled down, the station waiting room was full of chairs and we weren’t allowed to leave and then the real waiting began. The boredom was the absolute worst. No music or anything.
As the sun came up, one-by-one we had to take urine tests. I heard that women had to be watched by a female officer, which is rather humiliating. Men could turn their back while being watched, though I did notice the toilet had a camera positioned above.
Somehow, it occurred to me that it would be appropriate to joke as much as possible. What else could I do but try to laugh it off? I tried to make my friends laugh, and said ganbei! (“cheers”) to the cops as I held my own steaming cup of urine. That got some smiles. I asked if they had Wi-Fi, I declared that I would pee sitting down in solidarity with the women, I sang Taylor Swift songs, I told bad jokes about horses in bars with long faces, and I suggested that I ought to call the police after such treatment. Lastly, when they put the testing device in my cup I asked if it showed I’m pregnant. Get it?
Although I tried to be on everyone’s good side, deep down I felt a lot of animosity for being treated this way. Obviously, the police officers I met are only cogs in a greater machine. Yet they are willing cogs, and cannot approve. Early in the morning they brought some steamed buns for people to eat – struck me as a good cop/bad cop ploy – and I refused to eat any.
Actually, to be fair, our station wasn’t bad compared to what I heard about others. People were made to sit outside on the floor in the cold. Victims were told that the Chinese government has a right to detain anyone innocent for 24-hours without any arrest. Some weren’t allowed to talk. Many weren’t allowed to leave until many hours later than my group.
Of the four of us in my own personal set, only three were to leave that morning. Sadly, one of my friends, of the stoner sort, was sent somewhere else after the drug test. Briefly, I had witnessed some people in a cell in the back; sad scenes of men crying and couples cradling each other. It was very worrying that a friend could be hanging out with us one minute, and then taken somewhere else the next.
After all this grueling time, just before 10:00 a.m., they started letting people out. First a Spanish woman complained until they processed her information and she was allowed to leave. Then a Chinese woman left. I crossed the barricade a few times to complain and plead and just learn what the situation was. Turned out, when I didn’t give them my passport number before (I feigned that I had forgot), they wouldn’t let us leave until everyone gave their numbers so the authorities could check our visa status. Fine. I gave in and gave my number. Then waited another hour or two. How long could it take to look up? I had even crossed the border from Hong Kong the day before. What was the big holdup?
There was one drunk, half-passed out gentleman who couldn’t be bothered to give a real passport number. People were getting angrier and angrier, turning on each other. Interesting to see how easily sleep deprivation can affect people, and on the other side to see how freedom can have the opposite effect. At last, when they had called out numbers and one-by-one we were allowed to leave, we clapped and cheered in joyous relief. “44.” “43.” “42.” Even the cops smiled as us newly freed detainees applauded.
My phone was out of power. My stomach was empty. In minimalist attire, without sunglasses to protect from the morning light, we all went home. That Sunday was a write-off day, like jet-lagged with sleep patterns all askew, and I didn’t get much done. I am getting too old for all-nighters.
In a sense, I was relieved after the experience. A part of me always wondered what would happen if I was got in trouble with the police in China. I feel vindicated now. They didn’t interrogate me or anything, they simply checked my visa status and after a long while let me on my way.
According to a translated press release, the numbers were surprising. 491 people were detained that night. 118 had tested positive for drug use, majority marijuana of course, and 93 held. (It’s not clear why 25 people weren’t held. Connections, corruption?) Of those 93, 50 of them being foreigners. Perhaps they caught like two drug dealers, but most were released after 4 or 5 days. It was called “administrative detention” or “violation.” Not arrest.
“They were after the dealers…” my detained friend later reported back to me. “Everyone else is a pawn to them.”
Those limbo days were rather terrifying. Rumors abounded, and those of us left free all scrambled to figure out what was going to happen to our friends. Moreover, there was the great question of what was happening to the community within China. Simply put, is it worth it to live here anymore?
It has now been confirmed to me that nobody (at least not the vast majority of non-drug dealers) is getting deported. Chinese and foreigners alike, they don’t even have to pay fines. All that fear, and what was the point? The city of Shenzhen undertook this massive operation, apparently all in the legal grey zone haze that is the China system, and just what was the real purpose?
With 80 percent of the detainees drug-free, and only half foreigners: The question remains, what possibly could have been the point of all that?
Whatever the point is, some kind of message has been received. Shenzhen is no longer what it once was. The expat and party scene will get past this, but something has changed. A threatening cloud of authorities now hovers over the community, and somehow China doesn’t seem as welcoming as it used to be.
The party is over.
People have called China endlessly fascinating. But you could say the same about the expat scene here. In the seven-plus years that I’ve lived in this country, I’ve come across some real characters here – people I could have sworn were straight out of a novel.
I’m reminded of many of them after reading Ray Hecht’s new book South China Morning Blues, which features a motley cast of young expats and Chinese locals living across Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, including:
…Marco, a crooked businessman with a penchant for call girls; Danny, a culture-shocked young traveler; Sheila, a local club girl caught up in family politics; Amber, a drug-fueled aspiring model; Terry, an alcoholic journalist; and Ting Ting, a lovable artist with a chip on her shoulder.
Through 12 distinct viewpoints, South China Morning Blues takes readers on a tour of the dark underside of the expat scene in China, culminating in a dramatic life-and-death situation that brings everyone together. It’s a fresh take on life in 21st century China and definitely worth a read.
Here’s Ray’s bio from his website:
Long story short, raised in America from the Midwest to the West Coast on a starchy diet of movies and comics and science fiction paperbacks. There’s a Mid-East connection in there too. I like to write fiction about such states as California and Ohio, and such provinces as Guangdong. Japan being an interesting topic as well. Lived in Shenzhen, China since 2008 (has it really been that long?), a lovely Special Economic Zone Hong Kong-bordering chaotic city that has given me so much. I occasionally partake of some freelance journalism for various local publications.
What inspired you to write this novel?
Good question to start out with. A few things come to mind: After living in China in those earlier years, I found the country to be absolutely fascinating, and I wanted to share the experience of the land by telling stories.
Also, I’d long been a fan of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and had a lot of respect for his system of multiple narrators that all have distinctive versions of experiences,and being more interlocking short stories than one big narrative. I think one of the philosophies that fiction can teach us is the subjective nature of reality. The way some people, say, move to Guangzhou and complain how they hate it while other people see it totally differently and love it.
Another inspiration, I must say at the risk of sounding pretentious, was James Joyce’s Ulysses. Not that I’m smart enough to write something like that — or even smart enough to truly understand the famously-dense book. But the way the novel utilized mythological metaphors, as per the Odyssey resonating in early 20th Century Dublin. I wanted to try something like that. The ancient mythologies of the world will forever be able to inspire modern stories.
Well, for me, characters are most important. A character needs unique personality traits, archetypes that make them stand out, something interesting about their histories and personas. After that’s established, a plot begins to form… And so the idea evolved to use the Chinese Zodiac to structure the characters of a novel…
Your novel is told through the perspective of 12 main characters as they live in or visit three major cities in South China — Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. How did you decide to structure your novel like this?
As said, I had the idea to base characters off the Chinese Zodiac in order to tell stories about modern China. Seemed to make sense at the time.
I’d already ended up living in Shenzhen, which is a major city most people around the world have never heard of. The city is next to Hong Kong, and I spend a lot of time there. For the sake of literary research (also because I wanted to research a historical novel about Canton circa revolutionary 1911) I moved to Guangzhou for an off year in 2011. I find all these cities fascinating in their own unique ways. I mean, Beijing and Shanghai are great, but I ended up in the southern Pearl River Delta region and I am glad I did. No place on Earth has more stories.
It seemed obvious that my novel about the soul of present China would have to incorporate those three cities.
Like your memoir, South China Morning Blues features quite a bit of sex and recreational drug use. How much did your personal experiences influence your writing in this book?
Ah, an embarrassing question. Hmm, how can I put this…?
First of all, my biographical writings may have some sex but I don’t think there’s much to brag about. Outside of a handful of tell-all dramatic episodes, by far it mostly concerned online dating and several serious relationships. Not too crazy, right?
The sex scenes in SCMB are, shall we say, meant to be more literary. At least more literary in the sense of literature I like to read. Being more extreme than real life in most cases. Many of those scenes were inspired by way of hearsay of other people I know, my own imagination, and a bit of research online. Not really based off my own personal experiences very much.
(Hey, I did say that Trainspotting was an inspiration.)
As for recreational drugs, I experimented a bit in my youth — and by youth I mean my mid-to-late twenties, I was very boring as a teen — and I think I was always responsible about it. To be honest, I’m often shocked when I observe how extreme drugs and alcohol are in the China party scene. It is something that needs to be depicted, whether glamorized or not. No outright spoilers here, but if you read to the end there are consequences for the characters who abuse themselves and I think it’s important to showcase that side.
All in all though, I want to show all sides of real life. Using illegal substances, having irresponsible sex, pushing the boundaries, and making mistakes; these are all things that human beings actually do. And they are interesting things. I believe they are things worth writing about. Worth portraying, without too much judgment. More or less, presented as is. That’s writing.
Tell us about one of your favorite characters from the novel and why you like him or her. Continue reading
I was so young then…
In 2005 or 2006 I met comic book writer Grant Morrison at a music festival in Los Angeles. It was an odd event in Echo Park, with many experimental bands playing at various stages, and at the same they had a workshop on the occult. Sadly, most people weren’t concerned about the workshop part.
I was ecstatic to hear that Grant Morrison would be there. He gave a fascinating interview. Seriously, you must youtube some videos of him immediately. Low-key event that it was, we got to chat personally for a few and he was nice enough to take a picture with me. I met his wife too.
I met him at Comic Con the following year as well, at events far more crowded, and he was still very nice. I won’t inundate with more pictures, however, I’m not that much of a fanboy.
For more here’s an particularly awesome video from 2000’s DisinfoCon introducing the tenants of chaos magic and how to do a masturbation sigil:
Note he’s Scottish.
And now my blog begins. Presenting the master of the Postmodern Superhero. The punk rock star of comics. My personal all-time favorite.
First things first, comparisons with Alan Moore are inevitable. They are both absolutely brilliant. They are both magicians. They both deconstruct the nature of the superhero like no other.
Yet, one is a mess of hair and the other is bald. One seems to be a misanthropic old man, and the other apparently has lot of fun as a writer. One hates all things mainstream, and the other is just fine with utilizing corporate characters as tools to tell the important stories.
Unfortunately, if you’re a Grant Morrison fan then you must be an Alan Moore fan as well but the reverse isn’t necessarily true. There’s a lot of overlap in themes, yet if you want to be an anti-mainstream purist you can skip Morrison. I think you would be missing out if you did that.
Anyhows, I am a great fan of both so what’s wrong with that?
As for me, I personally first came across Grant Morrison in my teens (though the story gets more interesting in my twenties), because of the huge phenomena that was JLA in the 90s. I was marginally interested, being that I followed everything important that was DC at the time, and the first volume was okay. Superman with a mullet notwithstanding. When I got to the Rock of Ages graphic novel, I was astounded. Then the following arc about the 5th dimensional beings left me well and truly mindfucked.
To me, the peak was the One Million crossover about time travel to 853rd Century. Great high-concept science fiction.
Grant Morrison has since further written Superman in such titles as All-Star Superman, Action Comics, which you can see my opinion thereof by following that link .
One of the random things I was into seeking back in the day was Flex Mentallo, a strange Vertigo piece about a corny superhero. I found issue 3 at discount, and spent years hunting down the full story.
It had everything: deconstructionism, metafiction, with groundbreaking art by frequent Morrison collaborator Frank Quitely.
I contend that Flex Mentallo is superior to Watchmen. It takes a dissection of the superhero genre even further. And it’s funnier, wittier, with treatises on childhood trauma and cosmic abduction, and contains the classic line “Fredric Wertham was fucking right!”
It was so hard to get all four issues. The problem was that Flex Mentallo was a satire of the ‘hero of the beach’ and with republication risked getting sued by those old strongman ads. DC wouldn’t reprint a graphic novel for years. Back then, I bit the bullet and paid high prices on ebay and it was well worth it. Now, of course, there’s a trade.
Let’s go a bit more backwards, with Animal Man. The saga of Buddy Baker was one of Grant Morrison’s first forays into DC during the 80s British Invasion. This obscure hero was given a modern reboot, that quickly went from an essay on animal rights to some weird routes onto the nature of fiction. Combining Wile E. Coyote with Native American mythology, by the end it went full on metafiction. Most haunting of all was when Animal Man broke the fourth wall and looked directly at the audience, shouting “I can see you!”
Concurrently, Doom Patrol was a very interesting take on outcast heroics. The patrol were always a bit odd, a tad off, and Grant Morrison knew how to play to the strengths of that. Robotman as eunich, transgendered street characters, and most of all were the villains based off art history. Brotherhood of Dada anyone?
Not to mention Flex Mentallo first appeared in Doom Patrol.
These were all well and very, very good. However, Grant Morrison’s true opus came in the 90s with the Invisibles. By the time I got caught on, well after it was completed, I was generally getting into more esoteric subject matter. I was reading P.K. Dick and Robert Anton Wilson. I was collecting Disinfo books. I was coming across these strange interviews with one Grant Morrison comic writer, on the subjects of chaos magic and higher consciousness. It was time to read more.
I ordered the entire set, and read on. Then I read them again, and a few more times at differing stages of my life. I’m about ready for a reread again.
The Invisibles is an epic take on Gnosticism and conspiracy theories, through the lens of an action comic, published by Vertigo. About a team of anarchists fighting the good fight against the forces of control in this world. It incorporated all kinds of references to psychedelic mythologies. All came to a head in that Singularity futuristic year of 2012.
It felt somewhat cathartic that my burgeoning spiritual path was overlapping with my love of comics and superheroes. I was doing it right all along. Much can truly be learned about human growth via the metaphor of the Superman. Thanks, Grant Morrison.
And, I may share that reading interviews on how Grant Morrison took LSD and other various chemicals for the sake spiritual experiences, that had an impact. Helped to encourage me with my own experiments utilizing psilocybin and dimethyltryptamine, legal or otherwise, rewiring some synapses within my nervous system in some arguably positive ways.
As always, reading books (and comics) can be such a bad influence!
My empty stomach begs
I won’t suffer to pay
no scrap or change
or food I say
Just keep drindindrink all night and day
Smoke this herb and cough
Make sure your throat is rough
And don’t forget to drink that shot
It’s spicy liquored laugh
The kind you always loved and liked and lost
There is no need to eat
Amongst party favor treats
And at the end of night,
When a vacuum implosion fight
Aimed and dead-of-rights
Up and up
It tastes so sweet
A lesson learned today?
Instead ask if you may
Drink and smoke and swallow and squeeze
It’s all good for you
It’s what you need
Lap it up
It tastes so sweet
Between drugs, we’ve all been there. Don’t freak out and have a bad trip, chill! Set and setting…
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