Morrissey: the Comic Book

Timothy Grisham / January 12, 2012

What do Morrissey and the Dark Knight have in common?  This could easily be a setup for a joke, but alas, it is not.  Morrissey has graced the covers of magazines, been name-dropped in film, and toured the world; and now he is a superhero, of sorts.

With the release of Unite and Take Over, Morrissey steps off the stage and into a world inspired by the songs of the Smiths.  While the intersection of pop music and superhero comic books is somewhat foreign in today’s mass market, it actually has strong roots in cross promotion; even as recently as the 1990s there have been entire comic lines dedicated to popular music (Revolutionary Comics, Rock N Roll, et al.).

According to Morrissey expert Dr. Gavin Hopps, of the University of St. Andrews, the former Smiths frontman is the ultimate comic book anti-hero.

Dr. Hopps suggests that the singer’s “championing of the weak” and moral stance on animal cruelty can be likened to the vigilante tactics of Batman.

Dr. Hopps, author of an academic study on the lyrics of Morrissey, compares the outspoken frontman to Frank Miller’s revisionist Batman, the Dark Knight, in a new collection of comic strips based on the songs of The Smiths.

Writing in the introduction to Unite and Take Over: Comic Stories Inspired by the Smiths, Dr. Hopps commented, “When Morrissey appeared in the 1980s, he was a reclusive, celibate, bookish teetotaler, who became an icon of ailing, melancholic introspection. There seems little danger of such a figure being mistaken for Superman. And yet, upon closer inspection, certain surprising analogies emerge.”

The new collection of 42 comic strips curated by Shawn Demumbrum, a Phoenix-based comic writer and Smiths fan, re-imagines songs such as “Girlfriend In A Coma” and “Meat Is Murder,” with thirteen writer/artist teams taking on a different Smiths classic in the 172 page illustrated volume.

The collection features cartoon images of Morrissey in various guises – with striking illustrations of the muscular singer bursting out of his clothes, Superman-style, as well as a depiction of the singer as a Vegetarian Vigilante, which resembles the more troubled heroes such as Batman or the Green Arrow.

Dr. Hopps remarked, “Morrissey now looks as if he’d fit the Dark Knight’s armor better than Christian Bale, though his work also has something in common with the cartoon campiness of the Golden Age heroes, whose elasticated antics take place in a cosmos where levity and gravity have yet to be separated.”

In the opening essay, Dr. Hopps notes that The Smiths appeared around the same time as the publication of Frank Miller’s Batman and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen.

He commented, “Morrissey is obviously an entertainer, not a law-enforcer, who prides himself on being on the outside of everything, whose public pronouncements on matters of ethics are shaped by very particular grievances as well as equally particular allegiances.”

Dr. Hopps, Associate Director of the Institute for Theology and Imagination in the Arts (ITIA) concluded, “Turning Morrissey into a superhero and Smiths songs into comics is more appropriate than the tweeifications of the John Lewis Christmas ad, which stitches a domestic happy ending onto a narrative of unterminated and outsideless longing.”

ITIA is an interdisciplinary research institute at the University of St. Andrews, which seeks to explore the relationship between theology, imagination and the arts. Previous work in the Institute includes research on J.R.R. Tolkien, Terrence Malick, Annie Dillard, James MacMillan, comic writer Neil Gaiman, and Scots artist Peter Howson.

Unite and Take Over: Comic Stories Inspired by the Smiths is available to buy on Amazon.com.

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