Morrison’s The Filth is into the home stretch now, with
just four more issues of its thirteen-issue run to go. Like most
of Morrison’s creator-owned work, The Filth is many things to
many people, layered with subtext and shades of meaning within
a much larger context. Newsarama spoke with Morrison about the
book only to find out that he considers it one of his more straightforward
bring everyone up to speed (and also exemplify how the series
resists a quickie explanation), The Filth centers on Greg
Feely/Ned Slade, a top-level agent of The Hand, which is a force
that makes sure society continues along its prescribed path, the
Status Q, by eliminating aberrations, whether they’re technological,
spiritual, or even sexual.
complicate matters a bit, Greg isn’t “real” – he’s a parapersonality
created by The Hand wherein Ned could take time off from the organization
following a particularly traumatic case. Ned was fully immersed
into Greg’s life, which wallows in pathos. While Ned is perhaps
the best agent of The Hand, Greg is a middle-age, fat, balding
bachelor with an addiction to porn and an unwavering devotion
to his cat, Tony. The event which got Ned placed into Greg was
so traumatic that he needed to be deeply entrenched into Greg’s
life, so much so that when he was purged from Greg in response
to a crisis, Ned had very little idea of who he was. Even to the
most recent issue, he cannot fully remember his former life, or
what exactly happened prior to his being placed in Greg.
the other side of the coin from Ned and The Hand in general is
Spartacus Hughes, a former top-level agent of The Hand who’s gone
bad. Really bad. As Mother Dirt, the head of The Hand explains,
Hughes has set in motion a number of threats to social hygiene.
Stopping and catching Hughes are two completely different things
– as a sentient being, Hughes is little more than a collection
of ideas which leaps from person to person, taking over its host,
and spreading mayhem from there. Slade
has been brought back to The Hand, in part, to stop Hughes, who
he knew in his pre-Greg life.
That about kinda covers it. Since the introduction Slade has been
called on to stop nanotechnology from getting into the wrong hands,
stopped an uprising on the Libertania,
a city-sized ocean liner, halted the unbridled fertilization of
virtually every female by porn star Anders Klimakks,
survived an assassination attempt in The Hand’s refuse pile, where
the junk of society is thrown, and, as Greg, been arrested and
brought up on charges by the police for being a pervert and possible
Oh yeah – there’s a talking monkey and dolphins with
prosthetic arms as well.
given it’s somewhat non-linear storytelling, The Filth feels like
a trip through Morrison’s head, with any number of ideas bubbling
to the surface with each issue, something that can produce a little
unease as well as a determination to hang on and see just what
he’s getting at with all of this.
That about covers it.
Just to be clear, and make sure we’re not missing anything, in
simplest terms, The Hand is an extra dimensional police force
whose job it is to make sure human development and civilization
follows a prescribed path, right?
Grant Morrison: Right. You don't seem to be confused at
all, and you've pretty much nailed the function of The Hand organization.
Although the Hand are closer to garbage
men than policemen and they're not necessarily based in another
dimension - a different scale might be closer to the mark.
The real weird thing about this series is the amount of people
who think they don't get it when they clearly do. What's that
all about? I must admit it's quite baffling to me - I've read
reviews saying things like 'Yes, it's Art but why should we care?'
and 'why should I care about an old guy and his cat?' ...and my
only answer is 'why should you care about a fictional character
who dresses up like a bat or a man who grows to giant size and
abuses his wife?' Why should anyone care about any story and yet
people clearly do, because fiction helps to illuminate life. Personally,
I believe that if you can feel sympathy for a ridiculous superhero
and not for an ordinary, lonely man tending a sick animal then
there's something desperately wrong with your emotions and your
To help cure these emotional deficiencies, The Filth can be seen
a healing inoculation of grime. I'm deliberately injecting the
worst aspects of life it into my readers heads in small, humorous
doses of metaphor and symbol, in an effort to help them survive
the torrents of nastiness, horror and dirt we're all exposed to
every day - especially in white Western cultures, whose entertainment
industries peddle a mind-numbing perverted concoction of fantasy
violence and degrading sexuality while living large at the expense
of the poor in other countries.
Think of the way a human immune system works to regulate processes
within the body. Think of Status: Q as the body's natural temperature
and threats to Status: Q as fevers or illnesses which have to
be contained by our own natural defenses. The
'body' in this case being Society and the immune system being
underlying story structure of the series is based on the human
body's responses to an invading agent - the fever builds to a
peak in issue #9, where everything is explained but in a heightened,
sickening rush of barely-understandable images and words - most
of the revelations in issue #9 are delivered in a thick Glaswegian
dialect because I wanted them to seem deliberately febrile, bizarre
and disconnected, like human thought processes at the peak of
a viral assault - non-Scottish readers will, however, find a helpful
Standard English translation of this material at our website
crackcomicks.com, which has a lot of background material on the
series. One way to read the series is to see it all happening
inside Greg Feely as he slowly loses his mind, his job and his
health over the course of the 13 issues. From this perspective,
the Hand can be conceptualized as Greg's own immune system and
their adventures can be seen as fantasies produced by his own
deranged brain as it tries to survive a mid-life nervous breakdown.
NRAMA: Ho-kay. That said, who's
in charge of The Hand, and where are they located?
GM: Mother Dirt is the Commanding Officer - what she is
and where she came from will be revealed in #13. and
The Hand headquarters 'exists' in a cosmic dumping ground known
as The Crack. The precise location of which will be revealed
in Issue #12.
NRAMA: How long has The Hand been around?
GM: Since 1952, as explained in Issue #9, hence the old
fashioned 'Dan Dare' technology and uniforms.
NRAMA: Overall, given your other works and your explanation
above, how experimental is The Filth for you, conceptually,
process-wise, and all?
GM: Conceptually and thematically it's quite experimental
but the story-telling is fairly straightforward - it all happens
in real time and doesn't have any of the flashbacks or temporaral
shifts seen, for example, in The Invisibles. I was trying
to keep it all very clear, which seems typically to have confused
NRAMA: Speaking of The Invisibles, while that series
was about rejecting what we've been told and rebelling against
the status quo, The Filth is on the other side of the coin,
taking it from the opposite side, those that enforce Status: Q,
albeit you're telling it from a jaded perspective with Ned. What
motivated the change of sides?
GM: The Invisibles was
all about taking sides only to discover that there are no sides
on a Mobius strip. Both stories
are about living within the System that is human culture and society,
with an emphasis on Western culture and society; The Invisibles
rebel against the System only to discover that rebellion itself
is an essential component of the System. Ned Slade and The
Hand are policemen, not rebels but they too are necessary for
the vital function of the System. There is no change of
sides as there are no sides.
NRAMA: Okay, then, sticking with The Invisibles
in comparison for a moment, at the surface, that series had an,
at times hard to see, run of almost optimism running through
it, because you knew, on some level the "good" guys
were going to win. With The Filth, there's almost a pessimism,
a sense of, if not outright despair that the world is s shithole,
and there are people charged with picking up the garbage, not
necessarily making it a better place. Thoughts?
GM: As anyone can see by looking out of the window, our
world is both a sunlit tree-lined annex of Heaven and also a stinking
shithole. It seems impossible to have one without the other.
We eat juicy fresh fruit and then excrete styrofoam packaging, plastic bags and steaming turds into the environment. Our homes are only clean because
filthy garbage trucks arrive every week to take away the disgusting,
maggot-infested remnants of food and human waste which we all
leave behind us every day. This analogy may make it easier to
understand the necessity for people like the Hand and why The
Filth is every bit as 'optimistic' as The Invisibles.
Someone has to clean up the mess the rest of us leave just by
living - if we didn't have saintly, selfless creatures like flies, policemen
and garbage men to tidy up after us, our whole world would actually
be a steaming global cesspit of refuse, disease and rampant victimization
of the weak.
NRAMA: Given the sheer volume of ideas and concepts you’ve
introduced throughout the run of The Filth
so far, is the series a place for you to develop new concepts
or more of a place to explore further nuances and the evolution
of ideas you've already brought out?
GM: It's a little of both - most of my work tends to include
references to the themes and images of previous work, while simultaneously
pushing forward into new ground. The Filth is a very meticulously
constructed work, unlike the more improvised Invisibles, and makes
deliberate references to areas I've approached in the past.
NRAMA: Speaking of approaches that you’ve used in the past,
you've made something of a habit or writing yourself into your
stories, literally and, well, literally. How is Greg/Ned you this
time out? Or is there more of you in Spartacus than Greg/Ned?
GM: There's something of me in all the characters. Greg
Feely, Ned Slade's 'secret identity' is based on how I felt during
a 10 month period in 1999 when I was at a low ebb, celibate,
miserable and home alone tending to one of my cats as she
lay dying of cancer. Instead of just feeling sorry for myself,
I decided to turn the whole hideous process of loneliness and
decay into some kind of purifying - or putrefying- poetry. Hence Greg
and The Filth'
My theory was a simple one - I'd read about how antibiotics were
actually contributing to the degradation of the human immune system
and how some doctors had begun to inject house dust and
dirt into children’s bloodstreams in an effort to strengthen nature's
own defenses again. I liked that idea as a metaphor for the state
of apathy, fear and violence - which has gripped America and Britain in particular - and used it to construct
this story. The Filth is an attempt to 'inject' into my
readers a healing concoction of vile ideas, hurtful emotions and
The five specialist divisions or gestures which comprise the Hand
organization - the Fist, the Finger, the Horns, the Frequency
and the Palm - each represent a different type of white immune
cell. The Palm are like Helper T cells,
the Fist are Hunter/killer cells etc. Check out any book on the
human immune system and you'll see how perfectly it all fits together.
addition, there's a whole level of Qabalistic
symbolism which runs through the series. As a practicing magician
for over two decades now, I reached a point over a year ago where
I felt it was time to take the terrifying 'Oath of the Abyss'
and ascend to the 'grade' of ipssissimus - as it's known in the Aleister
Crowley Golden Dawn hierarchical system of magical attainment. This
requires undergoing an ordeal, the nature of which amounts to
a personality-shattering meditation upon and encounter with the
incoherent forces of 'the Dark Side' of the so-called Tree of
Life, that is, all the negative states of consciousness available
to us as human beings - fear, guilt, shame, hatred, loneliness,
sickness, pain etc.. The 7 Dwarves of Horror
the twelve months of actually writing The Filth scripts
I was so overwhelmed by these 'dark' forces that I almost committed
suicide on several occasions and spent most of the year in a state
of intense psychological and physical distress. I can happily
say that the ordeal is now over; I was able to process all this
negative energy into my writing and emerge from the Land of Shadow changed forever and having attained
the highest possible grade of Ceremonial Magic. Big
deal. The Filth, then, is also a diary document
of my willed descent into the Abyss of the Qabalists
and readers with a passing knowledge of occult correspondences
will recognize the Hand as a 'qlippothic'
or 'dark side' agency - even the colors of the uniforms are significant
as they represent reverses or negatives of the traditional symbolic
color schemes of the Tree of Life - instead of the color yellow
to represent Communication, we used its photo-reverse color i.e.
purple for the uniforms of the Frequency - the communications
division of the Hand and so on.
NRAMA: Given that
then, place Spartacus Hughes into the mix. Is he one of the infectious
agents that ultimately make the “body” stronger?
Spartacus Hughes is a rogue parapersona
- which means that he is a artificial,
viral personality grown in a test tube form and able to occupy
any human body, just like an illness. In the cell metaphor,
Spartacus Hughes is a cancer.
NRAMA: In that role of Spartacus then, and also touching
upon what you said about the magical process of The Filth,
you've probably touched upon, and shown every taboo in comics
- ever - in this series. That was all part of the plan, right?
You, and therefore the audience, must be exposed to all of, the filth…
GM: Certainly. As I mentioned above, my idea was to take
everything 'nasty' about our world and alchemically transform
it into a healing concoction. This is why I used black humor as
a spoonful of sugar to help the vile medicine go down.
NRAMA: In doing that though, even with the Vertigo
label, was there anything that was too extreme and removed? Was
the pixilated penis throughout the Anders Klimakks arc always supposed to be pixilated, for example?
GM: The only thing that disappeared was a jet of black
sperm across a girl's face, which was considered a little too
strong an image even for Vertigo. Otherwise, everything else made
it onto the page. The pixillated penis was there from the start. I'd seen a horrible
documentary on television about porno director Max Hardcore during
which Hardcore wandered around with a hard-on sodomising
women at random. The show in question was careful to pixillate
Max's arousal and I thought I'd use the effect as a joke visual in
NRAMA: Some have commented that in reading The Filth, it's
almost as if the story is secondary to the message - for example,
after putting an issue down, it’s easier to remember tones and
feelings, but still be hazy on specific story points. Is that
GM: Not exactly. The story is every bit as important as
the message but since this is a comic book I wanted to fill it
with wild, colorful outrageous images - because I believe that's
the kind of material comic books can and should deliver. I'm tired
of comics trying to be like movies at a time when movies are becoming
more like comic books. This should be our cue as comic creators
to get more imaginative, more cosmic and awe-inspiring, not less.
The Filth may seem a little out there but that's only
because we're living in a very conservative time, filled with
very conservative books.
NRAMA: By that token, and given
what you've said about The Matrix and The Invisibles,
are you in any way being more protective of the ideas and concepts
in The Filth, by making them so “out there” and possibly
in a place where only Terry Gilliam could possibly think of turning
it into a film, and only then, after smoking some serious crack?
My ties to Hollywood are a lot closer now than they were when
I was doing The Invisibles - I'm writing the answers to
these questions in our apartment in West Hollywood - so if by
some miracle this obscene epic hits the screens it'll be with
me attached. Chris and I own the concept and I'll be shopping
it around as a movie pitch shortly after the comic's done.
I'd love to do a Filth movie with Bruce Willis as Greg/Ned
and Mickey Rourke as Spartacus Hughes.
Think about it.
NRAMA: Well yes, but would it even be possible
for The Filth to be a movie with a budget of anything less
than the GNP of the United States?
GM: No problem. I have it all worked out.
NRAMA: Fair enough.
Back to some more specifics with the series. With everything up
to and including issue #8, we've still got Ned in a moral quandary
- it's hard to sympathize with him, given his job and what he
represents, while Spartacus is becoming more alluring. Did you
account for that happening? Readers sympathizing with Spartacus,
despite the atrocities he commits, because he is an agent of change,
standing up against the man?
GM: Spartacus is only alluring because he seems pro-active
and willing to change things but the truth is he's a dangerous,
ego-driven loon who only ever makes things worse. Ned Slade is
equally trapped in his role, with little hope of change.
The real hero is Greg Feely as we shall see.
NRAMA: When will we learn what traumatized Ned/Greg so
badly, and what his connection to Spartacus is?
GM: We'll learn his connection to Spartacus Hughes in issues
#10 and #11.
NRAMA: Through it all, Greg/Ned's connection with Tony
has remained constant - but why? His love for his cat seems to
be out of place, given his day job…
GM: This aspect of the story is the key to the entire plot.
What would you do if you wanted to neutralize the ultimate, unassuming
And what would you do if his stubborn love for a little animal
got in the way of everything you were trying to achieve?
NRAMA: Can you sketch out the cosmology of the Hand and
the Beyond/Crack a little?
GM: This will be revealed as the series wraps up. I don’t
want to say too much here.
NRAMA: Okay then. Winding up, The Invisibles had
a very clear message by the end. What if any message, would you
want readers to pick up from The Filth?
GM: The message of The Filth is very clear and manifold
- I'd like readers to realize that even the most mundane existence
- even the shabbiest, shittiest life you can live - can be redeemed
into glory by the power of imagination.
NRAMA: At the conclusion of the series, will things be
drawn to a close, or will this be a multi-volume story?
GM: The series ends fairly decisively with issue #13. Having said that, the nature of the conclusion leaves the way open
for more stories although it's unlikely that I'll ever tell them.
I'm sure Slade and King Mob will eventually return and appear
together with the Preacher and Lucifer in some future League
of Extraordinary Gentlemen one hundred years from now when
the copyright runs out and the only readers left are weird dome-headed
The Filth, click here.