Gray Morrow Portrait from 2001
It was the turbulent time in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks when Alan Weiss told me over the phone that Gray Morrow was no longer with us. He didn’t get much into detail other than about his deteriorating illness. Gray had been suffering a severe case of Parkinson’s disease. He passed away on November 6, 2001. Alan also said that Jon B. Cooke was preparing a tribute for him and asked if I wanted to contribute a drawing and a few words. I did both and it was published in Comic Book Artist #17, February 2002. I recently found a scan of the drawing at our good friend Steven Thompson’s web-tribute to Gray Morrow, Shades of Gray. Steven is the fabulous curator of Booksteve’s Library of cultural delights. The Gray Morrow blog is a wonderful peruse and highly recommended for a memorable ride with some of the sweeter eye candy to behold in comics art.
Gray Morrow was a frequent visitor during Continuity’s heyday in the 1970′s. His towering gentlemanly presence was immediately felt when he walked into the studio. He seemed to always bestow an atmosphere of calm and serenity. The same quality that was also the hallmark of his art.
Mark Evanier, in tribute, said that Gray Morrow had fallen between the cracks of the industry with a realistic style that mainstream publishers didn’t believe would be received well by readers who were more used to the action and melodrama publishers liked to promote. There was nothing really melodramatic about Gray. Nor about his art. It wasn’t overly forceful or violent. It didn’t scream out at the reader. It rather whispered and tantalized with an air of grace, rhythm and harmony. Perhaps this was one of the reasons it looked more realistic than mainstream art. It was calm, settled and quite every-day looking. Just like most of our visual world is. That was also its strength.
Evanier additionally noted that regardless of how strongly publishers believed they knew what the comics reading audience wanted, the bottom line was that comics sales have never really reflected the marketing savvy that publishers claimed. They had never succeeded in breaking the barrier of the hardcore fan market. Which seems like good reason to believe that artists such as Gray Morrow, whose work was a little to the side of mainstream, were placed on the fringes of the industry without due cause, other than perhaps publisher or editor presumptuousness. Some artists were simply not given a chance to compete within the monotonous house look that publishers had carved out for themselves. Given this reality, it is not out of the question to assume that this is one of the reasons that actual comics sales have always floundered. Publishers have been trying too hard to predict a market that is apparently far more diverse than their marketing shortsightedness could admit to.
It apparently took a great deal of conviction for Gray Morrow to persevere with his style in the face of pressure from colleagues and publishers to move closer to the center. Or rather let loose with more angst and melodrama. But this conviction was also the same quality within Gray that sought to bestow a more peaceful and harmonious visage to the comics medium. Gray Morrow wasn’t a fighter in that sense of the word. He didn’t believe that he needed to struggle with his art in order to shape it into what the publishers wanted. The fight he fought was to quietly persevere in his work and allow it to speak for itself. He lived this conviction about his art, and his life, all the way till the end. When his illness became evidently irreversible, Gray Morrow surrendered to it, in the same way he had surrendered to the vision of harmony and grace that he believed his art should evoke.
Gray Morrow’s art feels much more at home today within the more diverse medium that’s rapidly evolving. He was too good a man and an artist for the comic book industry of his time. So good that he’s made an indelible unique mark on it, and profoundly predicted many of the current trends in comics art.
Images from Steven Thompson’s Shades of Gray