The Failure of The Filth

The five people who are eagerly awaiting my book on Grant Morrison and Chris Weston’s pestilent fantasy The Filth will note that the book has still not been released yet.


That I have failed to finish this project in time for the release of the hardcover edition of The Filth will surprise no one who has retained interest in the project for this long. The fact that said hardcover contains just the bare minimum of fresh material  – a script for issue #6, some sketches that make the book even more difficult to read on the bus, the reheated contents of the charmingly crap Crack Comicks website – will also fail surprise anyone with a basic understanding of both comics and capitalism.

Good little enemy of the entertainment complex that I am, I paid to consume The Filth for the third time anyway. The hardback edition simulates the glossy colouring of the single issues rather than the battered bog roll of the trade paperback. It offers the reader a sense of solidity, of lasting luxury, that the previous editions lacked.

The Filth is a disgusting, slippery mess of a book. As Terrance Moreua said in the comments to one of my preview posts:

The visual grammar of The Filth is all over the place. The discontinuity being part of the point, of course. There are times when it seems to be Morrison’s script callouts (the tv cameras) and times when it seems to be Weston (background texture effects, etc) and times where it’s really fucking hard to tell (the goddamn photoshop transform tool effect to signify getting squeezed into the crack, or getting your personality fucked with in psychedelisex)…

Essentially, I find The Filth to be textually rich, garishly colored, expressively acted, disgustingly rendered and more. But comparatively poorly composed. I think there are too many components fighting for interplay. And while that’s part of the larger point, I think a little less noise and little more signal would have heightened the contrast between the two much better.

Another way to say all of that would be to say that The Filth is comics.


You’re probably used to having comic book adventures served up to you with that Bryan Hitch circa 2001 shine on them now – this surface slickness has been helping these paper-thing and decades dense characters escape into a cinema near you for what seems like forever now – but I doubt many of you are fooled into thinking these production values are a guarantee of permanence.


This Hollywood realism protects these ridiculous characters, gives them the illusion of depth, of life – it’s the old Stan Lee trick, performed in a way that offers less charm and demands less patience and investment in return.  This hyper-real sheen also serves to make the frantic visual grammar of comics seem as plausible as Evans or Johansson, the actors who strive to make something whole out of the mess of science fiction, fantasy, meta-commentary, action movie bravado, soap opera plotting, brand management, advertising, broken ambitions, and absurdist pedantry of the source material.

So too with this new edition of the The Filth.  Segura’s artful covers always looked like they should be somewhere better than your local comics hut, and with this new binding it looks like it must be the ultimate expression of a refined thought – something that may be discussed as yet another fucking “graphic novel”, if not quite as high art.

Joke stolen from Simon Munnery

Like I said, The Filth is a sloppy mess of a book, its slick paper tendrils too gross and eerie to be easily admired (are those characters awkwardly posed or are they wobbling around that way because they’re tangled the puppet strings of the story), its tangle of structures too abundant to be lauded by decided and unconcerned minds (if the Crack runs through Greg’s kitchen instead of through all of us, does it make any difference?).

The escapism that Morrison and Weston have been selling and re-selling here comes pre-curdled, and its attitude is too crude for its lush packaging to feel like anything but a joke:


If The Filth was a person it wouldn’t look at the above Venn diagram and see a recycled Simon Munnery joke joke about how the best comics are merely aspiring to be shit art, it would see a pair of boobs and make you feel like a sexist pig for drawing them.

The Filth is a stupid subject to write a book about, I suppose, or at least writing a book about it probably marks you out as being stupid. Those same qualities that make the new hardback cover feel like a cruel joke also make the idea of writing some sort of definitive take on it seem foolish. Better, perhaps, to stick to essays – an imperfect form for unfinished thoughts, tangled up as it is with the idea of weighing, assaying trying something out – or to rework that old idea about creation a website that took you through various fragmented essays on The Filth and related subjects without every giving you the full picture.

The Filth is also an inevitable subject for a book, for me at least. Whether this is true because of my reactions to the comic require a book length exploration or because I’ve spent so much time talking about the idea of doing a book is irrelevant: they’re both symptoms of the way The Filth has infected me, and the outcome is the same in any case.


Like Greg Feely, I’m left with great fistfuls of shit and worms and weird looking brains with all tendrils coming out of them and no idea with what to do with the mess. The Filth tells us to spread it on our flowers but it’s hard to know whether that’s a challenge or an admission of failure.

What can I do then except continue to work on the book, trying to find a way that matches its bloggy messiness while also fulfilling the criteria of being a book, a complete entity, something with a sense of authority to it even if that authority comes pre-corrupted and slathered in ridicule?

Writing this book will require me to admit my own limited understanding of art, my endless immersion in banal fantasy, and my terror at my own inadequacy when confronted with the failure of my body, the bodies of the people I love, and the bodies of strangers all over the world. Writing this book will never satisfy my sense of self-importance: no one will declare me the enfant terrible of Scottish letters for writing a book about a comic like The Filth, it will solve no problems and change no lives, and I will always feel exactly what is wrong with it more acutely than the harshest critic I could imagine.

The only thing more embarrassing than writing this book is not writing this book, which would seem to me to be an admission that I am not even capable of this modest task, of committing to seeing this through.

In the absence of solidity or permanence let us agree, then, to pretend that there is some sort of fleeting dignity in this ridiculous work I have made for myself; perhaps there will be!

3 thoughts on “The Failure of The Filth

  1. David Golding says:

    Good post, as always. I really like the Nietzschean double-negation of the antepenultimate paragraph. And I like that final link to a nice discussion of one of my favourite quotes.

    But I also see you drew a dick rubbing between those tits. And now you’ve infected me with the idea that I should buy the hardback.


  2. plok says:

    Funny, I see a biopsy needle probing into somene’s right ball! So I guess we know the approximate age difference between you and me, Dave…


    But yes, how NOT to write a book on The Filth, I suppose there are a million ways, and that only seems fair; after all, Morrison himself is using a Great Big Mess to tell his story, which maybe is a bit of a nothing story without the mess…something we’ve even seen before, maybe even something someone’s written a book about before, but the medium is the YOU KNOW, and the medium is complicated — and anyway what’s the point of trying to crush a testicle down into a diamond? Super-strength doesn’t really help that project, does it? So to my mind the subject gets more interesting the more irreducible it shows itself as being, yet there are limits to how massively it can be expanded, as well, before its subjecthood is absorbed into a literary pretension, mere autobiography of a Filth reader presented as performance art. “How The Filth Saved My Marriage From Cancer And Won The War”, or something — that’s both too high-flown, and too bottom-feeding, to really respect all the sticky noises and the loud fluids. I think a book, a real book, is still best. Better than doing a Fringe show about it, anyway. Writing about metatextuality always becomes metatextual, as the thesis necessarily expands to include what it implies, yet there are still many very good and illuminating dissertations written on “Heart Of Darkness” out there? So it can’t be impossible, if one only deigns to actually care.

    This will be like environmental art, though, a bit! A sculpture of logs and mosses built in a river, made to decay into different assemblies unpredictably, as the pieces get jostled and rained on and the wind blows and the tidal bore comes up, like that YouTube video where they roll a tire down a ski-jump: a one-off event. We don’t yet dignify this criticism because we have not yet quite got the hang of dignifying this art. Hell, people still struggle with Picasso and Stravinsky, so I guess it’s no wonder. Prostitutes once complained that having actors in their neighbourhood drove down their property values. The Invisibles will be respected one day, but The Filth never will be; at the risk of diving into HPS, that’s because The Invisibles has a ton of stuff in it which is abstractable to other media, it’s conceptually portable, it’s “thin” knowledge, essentially verbal, compressible, universal…but The Filth is “thick” knowledge, purely local, a logic of pictorial representation that’s not easily abstracted and exported, juxtaposed with a conceptual background probably as impenetrable to lovers of Lt. Blueberry or Charlie Brown, as it is to lovers of The Odyssey and Gravity’s Rainbow. Actually, if we don’t deceive ourselves, we should admit that Bryan-Hitch-ism is the same sort of thing only worse…for who the fuck actually cares about Apollo and the Midnighter or “widescreen action”, deep down? Greg Feely is far more relatable even as a superhero-book character than anyone since Harry Osborn or Black Bolt. And for Christ’s sake Black Bolt doesn’t even speak.

    I mean, look what happened when Mark Millar made Wanted and Kick-Ass.

    Those were like somebody ate a bunch of rotting garbage, then shitted out just a bunch of clear water into the bowl.

    Abstractable and portable, definitely!

    Why, you could drink the stuff!

    You could bottle it!

    Ship it worldwide!

    But now imagine trying to read a book about it.

    Sorry, too pep-talky?

    It may be inevitable that you will write it, but it’s even more inevitable that I will read it, so my inevitability (I humbly submit) masters yours. I want to go to the Near-Art part of the testicle on my fantastic voyage! We live in a world where Werner Herzog has speculated that the only artistically justifiable use of Avatar-level 3D filmmaking would be to make an Existential Horror Porno. I think your time has come.

    A bit like butter in a barrel.

    I am afraid that the last link is a metatextual joke that Dave is clever enough to play along with but I am not. It doesn’t work for me?

    Somebody explain it to me? The joke I don’t get?

    SEE: your ideal reader am I.


  3. The other three eventual readers of this book should know that it would never be any good without Plok and David, both of whom have put more into this project than they have got out so far – to use a sentence I’ve hated myself for writing over and over again over the course of the past decade, I owe you both emails!

    David – I really like the bit about the “Nietzschean double-negation of the antepenultimate paragraph”, that’s exactly the sort of comment was fishing for here!

    No idea what you mean about there being a cock between those two balloons though, I think that’s just your oh no there it is… there it is, sorry!

    Plok – Please know that your pep talks are uncommonly convincing but that – as I explained to another concerned party in private messages – the fact I’m making a song and dance out of the impossibility of writing about The Filth is a pretty good sign that I’m no longer literally feeling that impossibility. You know to worry when I shut the fuck up and stay that way, basically.

    Re: the final link in this piece, when you say it doesn’t work for you do you mean that in the literal sense or the literary one? It works in both ways for me but while I’m happy to go along with you going along with a joke you don’t understand, I’d like to know what sort of joke I’m playing here!

    As for the biopsy in that diagram, I that’s just you but ah shit no you’re right it’s totally that too!

    Feeling pretty clear headed tonight folks, lets see if I can get a few pages done!


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