Meet Morgan Grindstaff. Morgan is living with Cystic Fibrosis, a disease caused by a genetic mutation that causes thick mucus to build up in the lungs, liver, pancreas and digestive system. The disease often reduces the lifespan of those effected to their early 30s. Needless to say, when we heard he was coming to San Diego Comic-Con International, we wanted to see what we could do to make his trip truly memorable. Being a fan of both comics and music, Morgan became the natural choice to handle one of our interviews for us, with comic writer and musician Tom Morello and his artist Scott Hepburn.
Morello’s Dark Horse book Orchid follows the title character as she transforms from a prostitute in a post-apocalyptic future to the leader of a society. The book has been described as “Suicide Girls meets Joan of Arc.” Morgan caught up with Tom and Scott at Preview Night of SDCC and picked his brain about the book, his music and where the two meet.
Morgan Grindstaff: First off, nice to meet you. We’re huge, huge fans.
Tom Morello: Thank you, thanks.
MG: How’s Comic-Con been so far?
TM: Well, we just got here. So far, it’s just been a Q&A and signing, which is great. Scott Hepburn’s been to many Comic-Cons, but last year was the first one for me. It’s awesome to see that the nerds have inherited the Earth. Every director and movie and fancy TV star has to come down here and hope that the geeks like them. If they get the thumbs down, then their project doesn’t work. I really love it.
MG: We’ve been told this is the biggest preview night they’ve ever had.
TM: It is more crowded than last year. We were here on preview night last year.
MG: Talk about the book. What’s it about? What inspired it?
TM: Orchid is an idea I had probably about four years ago. I really love kind of those fantasy epics, like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. But the thing I thought they were always missing was a sense of class-consciousness. They were always about getting the king back on the throne, or the princess back to glory. All of my music and worldview has been about the people on the lower rungs of the ladder —_ not about the kings and the queens, but the people stepped on by the kings and queens. I wanted to write a story that was from someone who was from the absolute depths of society. She’s a girl. She’s a teenager. She’s a sex-trade worker, and that’s going to be the hero of the book. I placed it in a world of a sort of imagined future world, where everything has gone wrong. The seas have risen, humans are no longer the top of the food chain. In that, our heroine has to fight this monolithic power and becomes a Joan of Arc-like character. Scott Hepburn, who is the artist, has been able to draw that, and make that world come to life.
It’s a world of worst-case scenarios all at the same time. It happens to look really cool. He did a great job of not just of finding, you know, not just the seas rising, but also changing genetics. He’s done a really visually interesting great job of back-dropping this story, which is a good thing.
MG: The art’s got a whole different feel and look. What inspired that?
Scott Hepburn: Visually, I tried to treat it like something I’d never drawn before, like draw in a way that I’ve never drawn before. I think I looked at a lot of 70s heavy metal album art, stuff like that, and just sort of the energy, sort of a loose quality to a lot of stuff, like European comics stuff. I wanted it to be more cinematic, because you can tell just in the descriptors of Tom’s scripts, he’s thinking of it in a huge way. He wants that big screen feeling. He wants the bass trembling behind it. He wants it to be very big. I went out of my way and made sure it felt whole and real. It wasn’t a lot of skipping corners. I designed every little nook and cranny and fully invented all the landscapes. I was very thorough in making sure this was a whole new place with all new stuff.
MG: Have you thought about turning it into a movie?
TM: I have a story that I wanted to tell, and the way that I could tell the most uncompromising and uncompromised way was via graphic novel. There are a lot of people roaming around Hollywood with screenplays trying to get movies done, and they get whittled down to something that’s unrecognizable from what the artist wanted it to be. I didn’t want my story to be that. I wanted something that was very pure. Through Dark Horse Comics and Scott’s art, I’ve been able to do that.
MG: What’s the difference for you between music — you’ve had your career with Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave — and comics?
TM: In some ways, it’s very different. I think all of them reflect my worldview in a way or different ways. I tried to bring the viewpoints and energy of the music into the comic book. As far as the interactive aspect, with a rock band, it’s a loud rehearsal, or it’s a studio where there’s music blaring. There’s a lot of people around and decision-making. There’s also a concert, where there’s thousands of people going ape-shit when a band plays. But with a comic, I sit alone in a very, very quiet room, and the only voices are the ones in my head. And I type the thing out. It’s a really different kind of creativity that I really love.
MG: Do you think the fans are just as responsive?
TM: Yeah. Everybody is rightfully cynical when a musician or an actor tries to write a comic book, or do a thing. And they have every right to be. You have to prove yourself all over. I wasn’t coming in this thing saying, “Hey, check it out, everybody.” I was like “I’ve got a story that I’m going to tell, and I’m going to tell it in my voice.” One of the cool things about the book is that each issue has free music that comes with it. There’s a code in it with a musical score that goes with each issue. That’s kind of helped me build a bridge between the two worlds.
MG: If it did get made into a movie, would you be the one to score it?
TM: Well, I’ve already scored it! Issue by issue, I’ve been doing it. But something I didn’t expect to happen was that the comic book has influenced my music. I’ve worked on scoring movies before. But normally when I do that, it’s people asking me for music that sort of sounds like RATM, or Audioslave, or my riffs. With this, I’m just making music that goes well with this world. I use a more symphonic score, or I’m using a guitar to sound more like a cello, or this, that and another. I’ve found new creative pathways for me that I will use when I make more of my own music in the future.
MG: I definitely want to hear what you do.
TM: One of the things that’s fundamental to the book is that the main character, Orchid, is this street prostitute. She’s branded on her arm the words “Know your role.” That’s sort of what the whole book is about. It goes from her branding this on herself, so she’ll realize that her role is to be subservient, to serve the pimp. She’s like a slave in the lowest way. As the story goes on, she recognizes that the role is one that’s very different than the one that society’s imposed upon her. I feel very lucky. I’m blessed to do what I was meant to do, which is to be a musician and speak my mind. But most people aren’t able to do that because of crushing poverty. How many Eddie Van Halens, or Mozarts, or people that would discover the cure to cancer are working in sweatshops in Indonesia? These people never have a chance to be the people they were meant to be, just because of poverty. That’s one of the ideas of the book. Do you or society enforce upon you a role, or are you able to break through and become the person you were meant to be?
MG: It’s like pharmaceutical companies having the power to cure diseases, but not wanting to because they can profit off the medication.
TM: Exactly. Very nice to meet you, and good luck with everything.
MG: Thanks, man.
We’d like to thank Aub Driver at Dark Horse Comics for setting up this interview for Morgan. If you want to know more about how you can help people like Morgan in their fight with Cystic Fibrosis go to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Orchid #8 and Volume 1 in trade paperback are in comic shops now.