The Carnival of the Strange
A recent post on io9 about the Doom Patrol, “the world’s strangest heroes,” reminded me of my profound, uncanny love for Grant Morrison’s version of the team. I was 19 or 20 when I stumbled upon Doom Patrol #28. I was mostly burned out on the superhero comics of the time and wasn’t completely up on who was doing what. But Simon Bisley’s cover was unlike any comics cover I’d seen before and I was intrigued enough to grab it off the shelf and throw some cash down for it.
I was vaguely familiar with the Doom Patrol–Robotman, Negative Man and Negative Woman, Tempest, the Chief–but this was very different from what I knew before. Robotman was still there, except he was wearing a big, leather jacket, torn jeans, and combat boots, and went by his own name, Cliff Steele. Negative Man was now a trenchcoat-clad hermaphrodite called Rebis. And there was a woman I didn’t know, a cute but scary artsy girl called Crazy Jane. The other DC Comics heroes didn’t seem to know what to make of this team or how to talk to them. This Doom Patrol was a group of outcast freaks far beyond anything I’d seen before. It appealed tremendously to me, a young litnerd living in a college town, feeling weirder than I had in a long time and meeting all kinds of kindred weirdos. It was love at first read.
Grant Morrison and his Doom Patrol turned me on to Surrealism and Dada, Jorge Luis Borges and magical realism, Situationists and détournement, alchemy and chaos magic. The stories and characters were creepy and mysterious, wondrous and whimsical, snarky, silly, moody and disturbing, campy, absurd, and deeply affecting. I saw superheroes and comics–and the world around me–in a whole new light. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was laying a solid groundwork for accepting my diagnosis of anxiety and depression many years later. Thanks to Grant’s Doom Patrol, I knew it was okay to feel broken and abnormal. You could be crazy and uncomfortable but still be a superhero.
Grant and his Doom Patrol also inspired me to not just create stories but to let my dreams of strange worlds and characters and images and ideas run loose, to not feel as constricted and constrained by what I thought were the “rules of writing.” (My writing teachers in college had mixed feelings about this. The grad student who taught my poetry writing class once said my poems were “basically Dada.” “Wow! Cool! Thanks!” “Um, I didn’t mean that as a compliment.” “Really? I’m taking it as one.”)
I feel as if I’ve wandered away from this, allowing myself to feel constrained again, to walk down the well-trodden highway of “the right way to tell a story, the right way to create a world, the right kinds of characters to write about.” No wonder I’ve been frustrated with my fiction writing! Time to bring another wave of catastrophe to my writing, crack open the chrysalis, return to the strange carnival of dreams and magic.
There is another world. There is a better world. Well…there must be.
And the pants of the vicar are closing rataplan rataplan RRRRRRR!
2 thoughts on “The Carnival of the Strange”
I can’t recall at the moment whether you turned me on to the Doom Patrol, or whether I found them separately, but either way–Right there with you. At home with the creepy and strange.
I can’t remember either, Lon. I think we both stumbled onto them at the same time in one of those brilliant bits of synchronicity.