Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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):
Finally, join with me now, friends, for a hearty “Da Fug!”
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