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365 Reasons to Love Comics #190

Our next stop in the terrifying caverns of Grant Morrison’s mind and work comes an unfortunately underrated book that just may be one of the best thing he’s ever written.

Also, while I remember, I should definitely point out the existence of Tim Callahan’s book Grant Morrison: The Early Years, an in-depth look at classic G-Mozz works like Zenith, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Arkham Asylum, and Batman: Gothic. I haven’t read it, but dear Xenu, I need to.

And here’s your archive link.

7/9/07

190. Seaguy

Seaguy 3.JPG

Seaguy was a three issue mini-series written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Cameron Stewart, and published by Vertigo in 2004. It’s one of my favorite comics of all time. Lots of readers seemed put off by the book, though, and I understand why– it’s weird. I mean, it’s weird– weirder than quite a bit of G-Mo’s work, and he’s the guy who wrote Doom Patrol and the Invisibles, remember. However, I believe it’s also one of the deepest, most complex things he’s ever put his name to, and one of his most emotional works. I’m going to go over it now, explain it, sort-of-review it, and find out what it means to me. There will probably be spoilers, so spoilers ahoy! I don’t want to ruin the big twist for you, so I will, er, try not to. But no promises.

The world in which the titular character lives is utterly surreal, but very much like our own. Oh, sure, in this world, there was a giant evil creature named Anti-Dad who was defeated by the combined forces of all the world’s superheroes (which included a robot monkey and a giant grasshopper in a top hat). The superheroes aren’t needed anymore, leaving Seaguy desperate to be a hero in a world that doesn’t want one. He also wants to impress She-Beard, warrior woman and walking metaphor, who is looking for a “real man” but can’t seem to find one. The only friends Seaguy has are his partner, floating Borgnine-esque tuna Chubby da Choona, and an old boat captain who seems to know more than he’s letting on. Old SG is stuck looking for cheap thrills these days, whether it’s playing chess with Death or hanging out at the Mickey Eye Amusement Park, where former adventurer Doc Hero goes ’round and ’round on the rides every since he lost his ability to fly.

Seaguy 2.JPG

Mickey Eye is a vast corporation that appears to run the place, but has sinister undertones that no one seems to notice– except Chubby, but he only has a seven-second memory. The company has just introduced a brand new product, Xoo, which is now in everything, from soda to chips to cereal. It’s strange, but it seems to make people happy, so what’s the problem? It springs to life on Seaguy, though, and he finds himself on one more adventure, with Mickey Eye troops chasing after him and strange meteorites falling from the moon. Together, Seaguy and Chubby discover the secrets of Xoo, raid the chocolate ice caps, and encounter the Wasps of Atlantis. A mummy waits for Seaguy on the moon, which is not as old as everyone thinks.

Yeah, it’s a bewildering little comic, but I love it. It’s fun, it’s sad, it’s witty, it’s weird. It’s a fugue-like, madcap tale rife with strange environments and kooky characters. It’s got everyone one wants in a Grant Morrison story. At a glance, it seems to be about how corporations and brands are trying to homogenize the world and rob it of its special qualities, inflicting artificial happiness upon the populace. It’s also a story about the power of the individual– remember, individuation is a key theme in most of Morrison’s stuff.

Seaguy 1.JPG

(That’s probably my favorite exchange in the entire thing.)

I also think the book is a weird little allegory for a child’s life. I wrote about this before, actually, but I’m going to re-present it here, because I’m sure none of you read it. Hear me out, here. I kinda give away the ending here, so watch out.

We’ve got Seaguy, who is, apparently, a superhero, but he never really goes on any adventures; it could be all in his head, with Chubby da Choona as his “imaginary friend.” There are also the parental figures; Anti-Dad is the father and he “dies” but his presence still lingers (I’m thinking he’s behind Mickey Eye, somehow). As the “child” that is Seaguy discovers the horrors of the world, in his process of becoming an “adult,” his world falls apart around him, the shadows creep in, it seems like everyone’s after him, something harmless and cuddly (Xoo) turns into a giant penis monster, he loses his “imaginary friend,” the girl he has a crush on (She-Beard) rejects him, the friendly old guy he hung out with turns out to be just like any other adult (evil and in the world of business… it’s like when you hear that Mr. Rogers was a sniper in the military) and he runs off to hide with his mummy (mommy) on the moon, but the horrors of the adult world follow him anyway, and then brainwash him into being an imagination-less slave of an evil conglomerate. Whew. That ran on for a bit.

So, in a way, it’s really a coming-of-age story about puberty and adolescence. Or maybe not. Morrison may not have meant that at all, but that’s one thing I got out of it.

Seaguy 5.JPG

The series ends ambiguously, and rightfully so; it’s only the first part of a trilogy. G-Mozz has two more three-issue-mini’s planned for Seaguy, the next one entitled “Slaves of Mickey Eye!” Supposedly, Morrison agreed to co-write 52 only if they’d let him do the next Seaguy. Hopefully, they will. Otherwise, Mickey Eye wins.

I haven’t talked about the art yet, but rest assured, it’s terrific. Cam Stewart was unknown to me before I read this comic, but it cemented him as one of my current favorite artists. His inks really sell the mood, and contribute to the dreamlike feeling of the narrative. He really sells the characters’ emotions and portrays every bizarre locale and creature with seeming ease. Even if you hate the script, you have to love the art. It’s terrific.

Seaguy is a story about adventure, fear, and loss– yes, it’s a heartbreaking read, and has been known to make grown men weep. It’s also a story about soul-sucking corporations, hidden dangers, unrequited loves, beautiful friendships, and, you know, living foodstuffs and moon mummies. This one’s got it all. I highly recommend it to anyone. Hopefully, you’ll be able to make sense out it. Morrison scholars have varying interpretations on what the book really means. Me, I think it means something different to everybody. So pick it up and read it, and see what it does to you.

Seaguy 6.JPG

Really, DC/Vertigo, I simply can’t be happy if you don’t let Mssrs. Morrison and Stewart complete their lovely little saga. Let ‘em do it.

For more on Seaguy, read these great reviews/theses here, here, and here (I’m sure there’s spoilers involved, though, so watch out), and an interview with GM about it here. And hunt up the Seaguy threads on Barbelith for more discussion.

And have this great little page (click to embiggen):

Seaguy 4.JPG

Finally, join with me now, friends, for a hearty “Da Fug!”

23 Comments

Good choice, Bill. I love Seaguy so, so much.

For the record, Mr. Rogers never served in the military.

I too wish that Grant and Cam were able to tell the entire story in their 9 issue arc they had planned. I talked with Grant a couple years back at WWLA and he was generous in telling me all the crazy shit he had planned; the whole battle with the Anti-Dad and a host of strange persons.

Excellent Morrison selection, along with Kill Your Boyfriend from yesterday.

After all the great comic blogger praise for this, I bought the trade recently. Now, maybe I’m just didn’t get it, but it seemed really pretentious and self-indulgent to me. Sometimes, you can try too hard.

I love that particular criticism of Seaguy because it is hilariously wrongheaded. Seaguy is totally straightforward. If Morrison has ever created something you can totally enjoy on the surface – it’s Seaguy.

The absolute best thing about it is that there is no complicated philosophy or symbolism for you to be confused by.

There are very few absolutes in art and criticism.

However “any work that features talking animal sidekicks is not pretentious” is inarguably one of them.

And, yeah. I often have clarity issues with Morrison’s work, but I thought Seaguy was a fairly straightforward heroes journey – type story.

I’m as much a Grant Morrison fan as the next man, having accompanied his stories since Zenith in 2000AD all those years ago, but Seaguy left me cold. The only thing he’s written I have no desire to go back and read again.

Not a big fan of this one. The only one I really liked out of that batch of three was WE3.

That said I’d still be interested in the trilogy being finished so I could work out whether it was going anywhere

This will be the first entry I’m skipping, thanks for the spoiler warning Bill!

Hearing people talk about how they dislike Seaguy is so weird to me – I think it follows Flex Mentallo perfectly.

Why can’t people just not like something? Why throw in the word “pretentious”? There’s a lot of Morrison stuff which falls apart due to pretentiousness [maybe not “a lot”, but have you read ‘Kid Eternity’? Or, for the love of God, ‘The Invisibles’??], but ‘Seaguy’? How is ‘Seaguy’ pretentious? Just because it’s weird? It doesn’t aspire to be anything deep, so how is it pretentious?

‘Seaguy’ is a comic I can say that I definitely enjoy reading while I’m reading it, but I absolutely don’t understand, even a little bit, so I’m not really sure what to make of it.

Invisibles is another series, actually, that explicitly states its hidden meanings. It’s not really this cryptic puzzle you’re supposed to decode. Grant Morrison isn’t Neil Gaiman. It’s more like a travelouge through ideas, weird subcultures and interior feelings and desires. The more you read it, the more you feel how personal it is. “Pretension” is not really a valid complaint of Morrison’s work.

Sean said:

It doesn’t aspire to be anything deep, so how is it pretentious?

So, you probably disagree with Bill’s review, as well, since he interprets it as being fairly deep. It’s interesting that many of Seaguy’s defenders in the comments above aren’t trying to argue that the story actually succeeds at all these levels of meaning, but rather that it wasn’t trying in the first place.

I don’t use the word ‘pretentious’ to mean ‘I don’t like it’. There are books I don’t like that aren’t pretentious, and, honestly, there are books I do like that are pretentious. I didn’t like Seaguy, partly because I felt that it was trying way too hard to be clever. Perhaps that was unfair. I’d read several blog posts, similar to the one above, implying that this was a deep, symbolic, meaningful work, and I thought that it failed to deliver on that. Maybe I expected the wrong things from it based on those reviews.

I definitely think a lot of reviews of Seaguy are overdeterministic and are too eager to fit it in some sort of framework. There are noticeable themes in it, but they don’t take a genius to figure out. A kid could figure Seaguy out, which I kind of think was the point.

I thought Sea Guy was up there with the Filth in terms of horribleness. I really really didn’t like it. The art was great but it was just ponderous. Every page I would say to myself, “What?” To me it seemed just weird for weird’s sake.

Where’s my other shoe? It seems like it has been DROPPED

DA FUG!

That something as light and joyous as Seaguy gets tarred with the “Weirdness for Weirdness’ sake” brush makes me a little sad.

My favourite exchange in it is Seaguy buying Xoo for the first time in the shop, which skewers 21st century capitalism perfectly in a handful of panels.

KG

Okay, to address some of the points made here…

A large number of Grant Morrison comics work perfectly on both a superficial level and a deeper, symbolic/thematic/whatever level. Seaguy is a ripping good yarn full of wacky stuff, on the surface. Underneath, I think it’s something more, but like I said above, every reader interprets every story differently. I just talked about what I thought of the book.

As for “weird for weirdness’ sake”… well, maybe. But so what if it was? I love weird stuff. Let it be weird just because it wants to!

“I don’t get it. Therefore, it must be stupid. Because, I’M certainly not!”

Apodaca said:

“I don’t get it. Therefore, it must be stupid. Because, I’M certainly not!”

Funny about the “I don’t get it part” – I pretty much left room for that in my original quote:

Now, maybe I’m just didn’t get it…

I also couldn’t find anyone calling it “stupid”. It’s interesting the reactions to the word “pretentious” that have occurred on here – that word actually has a specific meaning. (And that meaning is not “stupid”, “I don’t like it”, or “weird”.) I wonder if phrasing it differently would have made it easier to actually discuss intelligently. I’m probably too stupid to figure that out, though.

Not all hope is lost, however. Bill Reed obviously doesn’t agree with me, but at least he responded to what I actually said.

“Supposedly, Morrison agreed to co-write 52 only if they’d let him do the next Seaguy. Hopefully, they will. Otherwise, Mickey Eye wins.”

I hadn’t realized Seaguy might continue, which is great news to me. Is it accurate that Morrison actually has to negotiate with DC to get something like this published? It seem that at this point Vertigo should be happy to put out anything he gives them…

After being put off by all the negative reviews of this book I finally read it and loved everything about it. Chubby Da Choona is a great character, I hope he returns in the next mini series, which I read(or heard) is definitely in the works.

me yes china

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