In Comics are Magic Part 1 we discussed some strange coincidences and comic book predictions. In this part I want to discuss the use of comics to deliberately manifest such coincidences and changes in reality. First of all it might help to consider the intuitive capabilities of comics creators, starting with Jack Kirby. Kirby is arguably the most influential comics artist of all time, especially in terms of superhero comics. Chris Knowles, author of the excellent Our Gods Wear Spandex, has written frequently about Kirby over at his blog Secret Sun. Knowles says, “Kirby was a man who one co-worker described as being “hermetically sealed in his own imagination.” I’d counter that only by saying that I believe that Kirby instead was in deep communion with the Collective Unconscious. Kirby even claimed that his characters existed inside his head and he merely projected their stories onto paper.” Knowles suggests that
Starting in the late 50s, Kirby began receiving transmissions that seem to transcend the boundaries of time and space. He buried it all in allegory (read: “wacked-out sci-fi”), or rather, translated whatever he was picking up. But I believe there’s some thing behind this all, and not just the moon in June and the birds and the trees, fa la la.And 1974 seemed to be a crucial year in this process for him, as with others.
Knowles (here) links Kirby’s comic book visions to the transmissions experienced by figures such as Timothy Leary, Phillip K. Dick and Robert Anton Wilson. As Wilson recalled in a Fortean Times article before his death:
On 23 July 1973, I had the impression that I was being contacted by some sort of advanced intellect from the system of the double star Sirius. I have had odd psychic experiences of that sort for many years, and I always record them carefully, but refuse to take any of them literally, until or unless supporting evidence of an objective nature turns up.
Leary and Dick’s independent but contemporaneous experiences are dealt with more thoroughly here and here, for those who want to plunge down that particular rabbit hole. But as far as Jack Kirby is concerned Knowles suggests that the artist’s brain was attuned to these strange frequencies. Knowles finds in Kirby’s work prescient intimations of the two gulf wars, and 9/11 for instance. But one of Kirby’s other ‘predictions’ has interesting affinities to the synchronicities surrounding Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen. Kirby’s vision of ‘The face on Mars’ first appeared in 1959. In 1976 however the Viking 1 orbiter beamed back images of Mars’s Cydonia region that contained a real ‘face‘, and other ‘faces’ have been discerned since then.
Strangely, when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were creating Watchmen in 1986/87 they happened to be at the centre of a similar coincidence, only this time with a smiley face. As will be seen below, this coincidence was one of several. In a 2000 interview for Blather Moore stated that, “we didn’t know that there was a smiley face on Mars. We discovered halfway through that there was a crater on Mars that looked like a giant smiley face”.
Below is an image from 2007, and here it is on google mars.
For the record the actual Mars smiley face is known as the Galle crater and was first discerned in images taken by NASA’s Viking 1 orbiter in 1976 (according to the Planetary Society). And Gibbon’s has claimed elsewhere that its inclusion in “Watchmen” came after Gibbons began researching visual references. When he first saw the picture, he recalls thinking, “It was almost too good to be true. I worried that if we put it in, people would never believe it.” So perhaps Moore is being a little disingenuous with this one. never the less there were other synchronicities. Moore continues, “ about a month after Watchmen [would] come out, then the Tower Commission Report into Iran-Contragate would come out and use the Juvenal quote “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes” as its epigram”. of course, Watchmen’s central image of the smiley face couldn’t just be found in space. The nascent rave culture adopted it too. As Moore says,
It was a bit weird, that Watchmen period, it all got a bit spooky, there were big coincidences happening around the work and then all of a sudden the central image of it has been nicked on all these acid house t-shirts everywhere, so something that was just in me and Dave’s head is now surrounding us in the culture and it felt a bit strange.
As Watchmen was written at a point before Moore became a practicing magician we can perhaps view these coincidences, like Kirby’s as intuitive magic, a kind of tuning in to the collective unconscious. Similarly, we can see that Moore’s V for Vendetta, although it would not at that time have been written with any explicit magical intent behind it, has been a lasting if slow-burning spell. The Guy Fawkes mask worn by V in that comic has been a recurring feature in footage of the current global Occupy protest movement. As Moore himself says in the news item below, “it’s a bit surprising when some of your characters, who you though you’d made up, suddenly seem to escape into ordinary reality“:
If Moore was affecting reality intuitively with Watchmen and V for Vendetta then Grant Morrison took the next logical step of using comics specifically and deliberately for magical purposes. Morrison’s The Invisibles is ostensibly the story of band of occult-anarchist freedom fighters and their war with forces of control, presided over by hyper-dimensional Archons. It’s also an occult primer and heavily informed by Morrison’s own magical practices and experiences, particularly his contact experience with apparently hyper-dimensional entities. Invisibles is also an act of magic in itself, a comic book as spell, or hyper-sigil. For those unfamiliar with term sigil, Morrison describes the concept and practice in the video below:
You can find out more about the concept and practice of sigil magic in the rest of Morrison’s Pop! Magic from the Disinformation Book of Lies. For now we concentrate on the ‘hypersigil’, Morrison writes that
The “hypersigil” or “supersigil” develops the sigil concept beyond the static image and incorporates elements such as characterization, drama, and plot. The hypersigil is a sigil extended through the fourth dimension. My own comic book series The Invisibles was a six-year long sigil in the form of an occult adventure story which consumed and recreated my life during the period of its composition and execution. The hypersigil is an immensely powerful and sometimes dangerous method for actually altering reality in accordance with intent. Results can be remarkable and shocking.
Morrison suggests the following ‘experiment’:
After becoming familiar with the traditional sigil method, see if you can create your own hypersigil. The hypersigil can take the form of a poem, a story, a song, a dance, or any other extended artistic activity you wish to try. This is a newly developed technology so the parameters remain to be explored. It is important to become utterly absorbed in the hypersigil as it unfolds; this requires a high degree of absorption and concentration (which can lead to obsession but so what? You can always banish at the end) like most works of art. The hypersigil is a dynamic miniature model of the magician’s universe, a hologram, microcosm, or “voodoo doll” which can be manipulated in real time to produce changes in the macrocosmic environment of “real” life.
In a 1999 interview Morrison explained how, “Right at the beginning – when I started the Invisibles – I sat down and tried to devise it as a spell… Now it has taken on a life of its own. Things I have put into the comic have actually happened – to the point where I can put things into the comic and MAKE them happen.” For instance, Morrison gave the character King Mob a shaved head
and then promptly shaved my own. I was hoping some of his magic would rub off. But then I did this story-line in which he is shot, his lungs collapse and he goes through a terrible shamanic trial. Three months after I wrote it, my lung collapses and I end up going through a terrible shamanic trial. Then I got a disease that ate through my face exactly as I described it happening to him.
“It was around then that I decided that I ought to do some nice things to him…So I wrote about him having sex with Ragged Robin. Then I met this girl who was exactly like her. It was great. I am now struggling towards a theory in which we are about to make first contact with fictional reality.”
“As to the series itself: since I have been writing it I get letters from real anarchists in America – letters from real shamanic transvestites telling me how to throw a Molotov cocktail wearing a Dior cocktail dress. All the characters that I have described have turned up in places. Neil Gaiman told me these things happened to him as well when he was doing Sandman. Alan Moore said it happened to him too when he was doing Watchmen.”
(read the full interview here)
Moore’s Watchmen synchronicities were discussed above but his most overtly magical work Promethea was also accompanied by strange coincidences. Promethea tells the story of Sophie Bangs, a college student and resident of an alternate, futuristic New York in the year 1999. Sophie is researching a paper on a character called Promethea who throughout the centuries has occurred in pop culture and high art. Promethea turns out to be a kind of archetypal form, a resident of the Immateria, the realm of imagination, and who can be manifested in the material world through acts of imagination. Sophie writes poetry to become the human vessel of Promethea. The implication is clear-by creating the comic book Promethea Moore and his collaborators may also cause Promethea to manifest in the world. Sophie begins to learn about magic and the book becomes both an adventure story and a guide as Sophie is introduced to the meaning of the tarot and journeys through the sphere’s of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.
Artist J.H. Williams III was asked in a 2009 interview if he had any ‘strange magical’ anecdotes related to working on the series. he replied:
A couple of things come to mind… when working on the abyss issue, where the characters have to cross a great dark divide in order to reach the highest forms of reality, they had to make it through a destroyed reality, Alan had called to warn me about possible physical dangers I might face while working on this issue. While he was writing this particular issue he had become very ill and became better upon completion of the script. He was convinced this was due to the thoughts on this negative reality becoming manifest physically. He actually experienced many of the sensations the characters did in the story. So he thought it best to warn me that strange things could occur while drawing. As I worked on the issue and got closer and closer to the middle of the issue where we show this black hole in the reality that leads to the inverse negative Tree Of Life, I began to not feel well and started having chest pains. The closer I got to drawing this black hole scene the worse my chest pain became, to such a degree I went to the emergency room to get looked at by a doctor. They ran an EKG test, among others, to see if maybe I was having a heart attack. After all of the tests were done the doctor couldn’t find an explanation for what was occurring. During this time I had kept working on the issue. As I got past the drawing of the black hole scene and started to reach the end of the issue all of my chest pain and feeling bad went away without any further incident. When Mick was inking that issue I remember him saying that everyone in his house came down with the flu or cold virus or something. How’s that for odd?
Unlike with Watchmen however these synchronicities were deliberately manifested. It’s important to note that Moore did not become a practicing magician until he turned 40. Although there are magical themes in his work prior to Promethea – see the gnostic cosmology of Swamp Thing or the occult conspiracy at the heart of From Hell – but the difference between Moore’s earlier synchronistic experiences and Morrison’s The Invisibles was that Morrison recognised that if the intensive creative concentration poured into a comic book could create synchronicities then perhaps it was possible to take control of that and create a work that was itself deliberately designed as magical working. Since becoming an active practitioner though Moore’s work too has taken on this quality of deliberation. In the video below Moore discusses his decision to become a magician and his current conviction that magic and art are interchangeable.
It would be hugely reductive to describe Moore’s Promethea as equivalent to Morrison’s The Invisibles. In plot, tone, style and content they are wildly different. However, because Promethea was written following Moore’s decision to embark on the magical path it needs to be seen, like The Invisibles, as an explicitly magical work. Both are alchemical formulas designed to tear holes in the fabric of reality. In an interesting piece by wolven at needcoffee on comics that ‘get magic right’ Promethea is described as a work in which , “Every word, gesture, scene, and conjunction of symbol, syntax, context, and semantics is planned and deliberate. This book is the work of a hermetic magician, intended to teach the reader the basic concepts that they will need to become a practicing ritual magician”. This isn’t just idle speculation. In an interview for The Onion Moore stated that, “I am also, with Promethea, trying to educate people about something I am genuinely interested in, and which I generally think is of interest to a lot of people“Moore goes on to describe it as “magical rant seemingly disguised a superheroine comic” and a “visionary odyssey” (full interview here). As he told Comic Book Artist in an interview published in June 2003, Moore wrote many of these issues in a state of ritual meditation and to describe each of the kabbalistic states of consciousness that Sophie and Barbara would explore, he sought to achieve them, and to produce his art as an expression of that state: “What you were seeing in the comic is not the report of the magical experience, it was the magical experience” (quoted here). The art and the artist, the creation and the creator, are indistinguishable.
The point of course is that this is always true, as evidenced by the Kirby and Watchmen synchronicities. The difference, in The Invisible and Promethea, is the level of intent. As Morrison put it above the idea is to “put things into the comic and MAKE them happen“. And if The Invisibles is a spell for creating Invisibles (among other things), then Promethea is also a spell. A shamanic work designed to alter the reality of both reader and creator. If you haven’t read either of them yet then now’s the time. What’s the worst that could happen? They are only stories after all…
That’s about it for part two. For more details on some of the points discussed above you can see my paper The Silver Age Superhero as Psychedelic Shaman or this post here Robert Anton Wilson and the idea of ontological anarchy in Moore and Morrison’s work.
Join me next time for Comics are Magic Part 3: The Conscious Multiverse. It’s going to be a doozy.