I didn’t read Grant Morrison’s Multiversity the day the first issue came out because I was visiting my hometown of Petersburg, which is on an island and doesn’t have comic book stores. I was trying to look at social media less too, but the talk of Multiversity went swooshing by me in geek superlatives anyway.
I only have half an ear to the ground and zero institutional memory, so I knew Multiversity was a big deal without knowing what it actually was. Everyone was talking around it, like “Dude, I can’t even,” and “Holy shit,” and “Mind. Blown.”
Geeks are always so happy, always eager for the next thing, always wanting to chat and kvell and gripe. They’re the happiest harvesters, the biggest consumers, the biggest happy babies latched onto the entertainment teat.
I was itching to read Multiversity #1 and a bunch of other new issues out, but I had to wait. So I went to the bookstore in Petersburg and bought a Virginia Woolf paperback—Jacob’s Room. It’s the first piece of fiction I’ve read in several months that isn’t a comic book.In it, Jacob is the empty space at the middle of the story, talked around, seen and described by people who don’t really know him. He is a mystery, and in a series of shocks we catch glimpses of him before he disappears from us.
This time back in Petersburg, the dust of my teens and twenties have finally settled. Everything’s died down—all those dreams, hormones, chemical imbalances, heartache, and maneuvers that looked like embarrassing late-blooming rebellions but were only attempts at living with integrity.
Memories are still everywhere, piled like drifts of snow, folding and mating like tapeworms, hiding like landmines, tanning in the peat like bogmen. Petersburg at 6, Petersburg at 17, at 23, at 33. Now it’s Petersburg at 36, with every one of those years marching alongside. But Petersburg 36 has a straighter shot over to Petersburg 9. We can sort of make eye contact and notice that we’re both wearing comfortable shoes and glasses with red frames. It feels better.
Today, back in Seattle, I got Multiversity a week late. It is a romping story about superheroes from different versions of Earth coming together outside the time-space continuum we are familiar with, and along the way the fourth wall is knocked down and warped. It’s totally bonkers. Not (to me) bonkers in a “this is so awesome I don’t know how to describe it so I’m just going to say it’s bonkers” way. But actually just bat-shit crazy. I don’t have nostalgia for the characters and Ivan Reis’s art seems competent but didn’t affect me at all. So for me, it was anti-climactic despite being impressively nuts.
But buried in that wild soup of comics and pop-culture is a reference to Virginia Woolf. I know that’s what it is! Why else would the same character say three such Woolfian things in a row? Lighthouse, Watch Tower, A Room of One’s Own. Bam, Bam, Bam.
I can’t figure out what kind of sense it makes for it to be there—maybe that comic book has a little of everything and the Virginia Woolf just leapt out of me because I’ve been re-reading Jacob’s Room.
All I know is, the more I read comics, the more amazed I am by great non-comics writers like Woolf. They don’t have pictures to lean on. They illustrate with words and make it look easy, and deposit these packages into our brains so it works, even though words are inherently clunky. it makes comic book writing look so rinkydink in comparison. Not the content, but the amount of gear you have to pack to get the job done well.
And Virginia Woolf was no escapist, and she didn’t mean for us to escape either. She might illuminate an escapist tendency but only to skewer us more precisely. She knew it was the ordinary that kills us, she mocked the banal, and she was sardonic about boring people. But she lit everything up with such killer accuracy that she made it beautiful and terrible to think of how the light from a living room falls across a darkened lawn.
And I haven’t seen a single thing in comics yet as magical as that.