Rob Bass writes comic books and novels and short stories as fast as he can. His comics, DEAD BEATS and ROCKET TRUCK and SUPERFANTASTIC SUBCONSCIOUSNAUT DREAMSQUAD GO!, are published by CCP Comics. His fiction has appeared in 3AM Magazine, Carve, Ducts, Lily, and Word Riot. He made a trailer for MorrisonCon. Weekly comic reviews are here. Hit him up at email@example.com with criticism and/or delight.
Saturday and Sunday to run over the weekend…
IT BEGINS with the DJ blasting “Pull Shapes” by The Pipettes, which will forever remind me of Penny and how we can transcend ourselves through dancing, music, stories, whatever magic we care to believe in. Standing out in front of the stage at the Body English, which is this subterranean nightclub that’s some kind of really big deal to get into, to even be allowed under this entire Hard Rock Las Vegas situation, but we are all of us in the room prepped and primed, live and willing conduits to the seething crackle that has brought us to this convergence in five-dimensional space/time. One thousand have gathered from Australia, Brazil, China, England, Finland, France, the Philippines, Scotland, Sweden, Tasmania, Uruguay, and quite a few of the United States for MorrisonCon, a celebration of chaos magic and comic books and hypersigils and the people who create them and the people who love them, a happening designed to break down the barriers between all of those things, more in the vein of All Tomorrow’s Parties and TED than Comic-Con, instead of waiting hours in line to pack Hall H full of 6,500 fans to stare at the actors and writers and directors who channel their dreams, attendees are encouraged to engage the guests in an intimate social setting, lubricated by alcohol and starstruck delirium and all the teeming madness fueling this metropolis that Benjamin Siegel first watered with his lifeblood sixty-five years ago.
The show is supposed to start at nine but the notion of punctuality runs counter to the general aesthetic and so we have quite some time to get to know one another. I’m standing with the stage-right speaker blasting right in my ear next to a freelance photographer who’s been here since 8:15 and only cares about performing the magical ritual of turning his pictures into money, but then also there’s this real sweet mother/daughter team-up from Oklahoma, Kristin is maybe ten years older than I am and loves My Chemical Romance, can’t believe she’s going to be this close to Gerard Way, while daughter Sage is ten years younger than me and a magic-journal-carrying Morrison acolyte all the way. They introduce to me to some other folks from Oklahoma whose names get burned out of my brain by the impending set but we all have a hell of a time singing along to Elastica’s “Stutter” when it roars out of the PA. At one point, I make a Heineken run, $8.50 a pop. I am terribly pleased with myself for including a fifth of Jack Daniel’s amongst the contents of the backpack upon my shoulders.
At quarter to eleven, Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance and DJ James Dewees walk out and take their positions behind the two double-keyboard racks set up on either side of the stage. They’re both dressed like rock stars or Village kids slumming in the Bowery. Way is chewing gum harder than Dave Grohl, Party Poison in his secret identity. The house lights come down and a soft blue glow washes over the stage. A spectral a tempo blend of piano and keyboard fills the room, not too far removed from what it sounds like in Trent Reznor’s head. Grant Morrison enters from stage-right to the expected roar from the crowd, sharp in a tight-fitting business suit with blue shirt and tie. He’s carrying a couple dozen pieces of printed paper. Or twenty-three, I hope, thinking or receiving the number right there, in the moment before it begins. He does not acknowledge the crowd, only takes the microphone in hand, steadies himself, and launches into a performance entitled THE CON, beginning with, “Here’s hoping, now that someone’s died/You’ll drown in grief, a proper tide/Ignoring what you feel inside, that moment when God and Jesus lied.” This, our smiling host goes on to relate, is the “bleak and enigmatic verse” that Walter Lee has wasted the morning composing. Following along to the utmost of my upper-dimensional capabilities yields the discovery that this Walter Lee is in fact Liberace, who eventually goes on to battle Howard Hughes for the soul of Las Vegas, the entire thirty-minute present-tense narrative delivered with roaring gusto, evoking the Beats and shamans and spellcasters scored by sleek skyscrapers. It is a test of endurance and sanity and comprehension that leaves me battered and damaged, able to do little more than shake my head as they make their way offstage. I’m not sure how the story ended but am already altered.
Retaining concert-going professionalism much better than me, Kristin doesn’t let the last man make it offstage before leaning in to grab Morrison’s pieces of paper discarded one-by-one after being read, relics and recipes of whatever enchantment or invocation has just taken place. She keeps one page for herself, another for Sage, and then starts handing them out to all the grasping hands. Possibly I don’t make it over in time but she saved me one and hands it to me once the rest are gone? This is the first thing I’m not certain about, that I remember in more than one version, already the timelines are fracturing and things seem to be happening in multiples. I definitely eventually make it back to my room with a piece of paper with the number ten in the upper-right corner written in black ink and circled. It begins the fourth chapter, entitled THE WHITE KNIGHT RETURNS and the last sentence on it is “In the undergrowth of the starlet’s eyelashes, hunting packs of wild pseudomonas feast on black matter mascara clots, spurred on by microscopic demon riders.”
Akira the Don bounds up on the stage and tears into his set, eager to win over the entire crowd in that first bleeding instant and inspired to antics and banter of increasing magnitude when the roar of adulation is not total enough. Dispensing high-energy rapid-velocity UK hip-hop, he is constant motion and flow of dialogue, diminutive in stature with a dark beard framing wild eyes underneath long bleached blond hair. I can’t figure out why he looks so familiar to me for the first few songs then suddenly realize he’s Vince Neil’s little brother. He earns +10 Kirby points for the name of his latest album, The Life Equation. I watch the set upstairs, where I meet Greg and Mark from Chicago and Brenda and Kai from Atlanta. Brenda could be the Ragged Robin from 2022 but it seems like that could possibly be taken as an insult, so I keep it to myself. Every time before I refill my Jack, I go to the bar and leave a tip for a fresh glass of water with ice, congratulating myself for not cutting the bartenders out of their due earnings and also hydrating my body very well.
After the set, I head down to the dancefloor to mingle and watch J.H. Williams III cut some serious rug, dashing in his suit. You can almost see the layout of his motion as a freeze-frame Williams double-page spread, dancing here with a jagged rectangle around him, then he spins on over here into another serrated rectangle, then a final unexpected lunge to the right side of the page for the last panel, it’s all very Kate Kane. The pungent scent of something green, delicious, and expensive wafts over me. A bouncer notices my bloodhound senses activate and walks up with a smile on his face and says, “Yeah, some of the guests were burning back in the Green Room but Management said they had to put it out. Maybe it’s not too late, you want me to take you back there?” It does not occur to me to question the way in which this man’s dialogue seems angled in direct opposition to his presumed job description. Maybe he isn’t a bouncer at all, some kind of hospitality director or facilitator? “Yes, that would actually be perfect,” I tell him. “Please do take me back there.”
There are maybe twenty people in the room, none of whom appear to be smoking anything. The bouncer deposits me next to the food spread and excuses himself. Most folks are huddled in the near side of the room, the only two I recognize are Way and Akira the Don. Morrison and James Sime are sitting on the couch in the center of the room, having a spirited conversation though clearly Morrison is wiped from the performance. There’s a guy sitting a few feet down from Morrison holding some sort of camera out in front of him down low, angled sideways, filming. The effect is surreal. Just the sight of Sime is pretty arresting in and of itself, but especially in juxtaposition with Morrison. Sime has got a tower of maybe six inches of hair shooting straight up from the top of his head and a mustache that on its own would be right at home back on an old Deadwood gunslinger but, when taken in context with the hair and immaculately cut suit, suggests more of a Silver Age supervillain. Kirkman even made him a recurring character in INVINCIBLE. He’s the owner of San Francisco’s Isotope Comics and this entire thing was his idea, or at least the result of dreaming and discussion with his partner Kirsten Baldock and iFanboy’s Ron Richards over a meal or meals during Comic-Con 2010. It is clearly not the moment to approach my man Morrison. I wind up talking to Akira the Don for a few minutes and am maybe cool enough but shatter the illusion when Way walks by and I’ve just got to shake his hand and tell him with all my heart how much I respect his work, blazing all kinds of new trails in the backstage dialogue department.
The Don pinballs off into his next situation and I strike up a conversation with the lady standing next to me. She’s a little older than I am and wearing this all-white dress that you could see from all the way across the club, when I noticed it, it conjured WHITE SWAN, the anti-Aronofsky/Portman flick in my head, which I might almost manage to tell her. Or quite possibly might not, because then in walks none other than Frank Quitely himself, the other half of Morrison’s heartbeat, everything he’s drawn is one of my favorite comic books of all time and I make a real point and big effort not to just like bear-hug him right there on the spot but I guess enough of it’s on my face to tell because he just gives a real easy smile and walks up, holding out his hand and introducing himself as Vin, which is of course his real name. And it turns out this is his wife Jane who I’ve been talking to. Quitely (it’s impossible to think of him as Vin) takes out a pack of American Spirit Naturals and asks if I smoke. I haven’t had a cigarette in years and years but the only, the involuntary, response is, “With you, I do!” and so we all have a smoke back there by the vegetable tray and the two of them discuss the drawbacks of jet-lag with me interjecting upbeat exclamations about, yes, how terrible jet-lag really is.
Soon after, we get kicked out of the Green Room and exodus en masse up the stairs and across the casino lobby into an embedded nightclub in which a band called Dead-Eye Radio is performing passable covers of nineties alternative rock. I meet a member of the staff named Mike, a nice guy in a white suit. We sing along to “Say It Ain’t So.” I look around and realize most of the other guests have evaporated off to bed. It’s 1:30 and the programming proper commences in exactly eight hours. I follow suit and end the day under the covers of my king-size bed, taking thirty minutes to scream everything that’s just happened at my little brother in Queens because he also smokes American Spirit Naturals. And received his own copy of the ARKHAM ASYLUM hardcover for Christmas ’89, so has loved Morrison’s work exactly as long as I have, though not to quite the same extent.