Grant Morrison: Why I'm stepping away from superheroes

The comics author on gay Batman, fan entitlement - and why accepting an honour from the Queen doesn't mean he's sold out.

It's been a busy year for Grant Morrison, architect of the fall and rise of Batman, father of the new socialist Superman, chronicler of superhero history with Supergods, and recipient of an MBE for writing that most blasted of art forms, the humble comic book. The upcoming few months are set to be even more hectic, with Morrison bidding farewell to the grind of monthly titles with a highly anticipated Wonder Woman graphic novel and a mind-bending last magnum opus, several titles shrouded in secrecy, and his very own MorrisonCon drawing devoted fans to Las Vegas.

Sitting in a bar in Edinburgh, it's easy to forget that this guy from Glasgow, who loves to talk and cringes at being quoted, is regarded by many as the high priest of the medium. An appearance at the Book Festival last year resulted in a record-breaking queue over three hours long at the signing tent; a starring role in this year's Glasgow Comic Con drew fans from all across the country.

Some of those same fans were astonished that a writer with such an anti-establishment reputation – The Invisibles regularly makes any list of anarchist reading material – would accept a gong from old Elizabeth, without any apparent plans to blow up the palace. Suffice to say, the MBE news got a bit of a reaction.

“There always is, isn't there?” Morrison laughs. “There's been such a reaction over the last year to everything I've said or done!”

He's not joking. One particular interview, published in Playboy, not only made the newspapers around the world, but resulted in Morrison being denounced on Brazilian television. It was that now infamous soundbite, in which he said Batman -

“Is gay!” he finishes. “But the thing is, it was the opposite of what I said. But Playboy had it in as the most sensationalised version, they didn't take off the bit at the end... Because it was all from the book, it was from an interview I did last year for Supergods. And basically I said what I said in the book, that you can easily dial up the black-leather-fetishistic-night-dwelling aspects of Batman, and the masculinity of Batman, and get a pretty good gay Batman. But as I said, ultimately he's not gay because he has no sex life, really. All he is is an adventurer.. sometimes they show him with girls, sometimes he never seems to be going out with girls.

“But they just took off the cool sound-bite which is 'Batman is utterly, utterly gay, says Morrison'! That was it, I had to deal with that – people were really fucking mad at me for that one.”

Coming to the end of a five-year run on various titles starring the caped crusader, the Batman brand has cemented Morrison's reputation as one of the top writers in his field. That fame though has come with the price of becoming a figurehead for the industry, a responsibility that he is happy to escape when he steps away from superheroes next year. Morrison stresses again and again that he sees himself as a “freelance writer” rather than a cog in the corporate publishing machine, yet his words are pounced upon, dissected and recycled by fans and critics alike.

“They try to find some hidden darkness or something like that,” he sighs, “or 'this proves, this proves!' - naw, it just proves I said something that day, you know, which either I still agree with or don't. Why do I have to defend all of this? I think people just want to be mad and want to fight all the time, so I’m gonna join in now!”

Morrison perhaps felt this most keenly when in Supergods, his history of superhero comics infused with his own autobiographical adventures, he discussed the always controversial case of Siegel and Schuster, the two men who created Superman and sold the character to DC Comics for a small sum. Superman went on to become a national sensation, with the creators left out of pocket and seeking legal recompense. Their names are now frequently invoked when fingers are pointed at the publishing giant. Morrison's take was more pragmatic: that the men had been pitching a product to sell, that this was business as usual, and that as creators they no doubt thought they would have better and brighter characters to come.

The backlash was swift and merciless: clearly Morrison was no more than a DC stooge, an industry apologist. He couldn't possibly just be a writer with his own opinion, frustrated that his words were stripped of intent and context, twisted and gnarled into the readers cynical interpretation. One disgruntled reader took it a step further.

“[The] guy that ate Supergods!” Morrison laughs. “Cooked it and ate it on the basis that it was my fault that people couldn't find alternative comics in their local comics stores. And I was standing in the way, pretending to be the face of alternative comics, and how I actually stood for corporate this or corporate ... you know, I’m the man – again as I say, I’m a freelance writer, I'm not on staff at any company. But this guy ate the book!”

That's quite impressive.

“It certainly is! His shit must have looked like a William Burroughs cut-up!”

His move away from superheroes is not entirely unexpected, then, but it has surprised many that the biggest champion of superhero comics is stepping back. Has Morrison simply done what he set out to do when he first hit the Batman big time with Arkham Asylum back in 1989?

“Yeah, it just felt like I’d said a lot, you know,” he says. “I knew I was coming to the end of Action comics in [issue] 16, I knew I was coming to the end of Batman in issue 12, of Batman Incorporated, and it just seemed like I had all this other stuff building up that was completely different from that, and it seemed like a really good time to stop doing the monthly superhero books. And also having to work with so many artists on Action Comics, it's not that the artists are bad but I’m sometimes working for three or four guys at a time, which means you’re writing issue 14 before you've written issue 12 and then you're sending in six pages of issue 13 to someone else. So it was just too hectic. I just didn't want to do it any more. And since things were reaching that natural end... It wasn't like an announcement but it was treated like an announcement, because I think I’d already said I was leaving these comics at that time.

“But yeah, it fits into this general kind of script that's going now where we're all leaving and moving on to do creator-owned work, like we've never done it before. [laughs] So I’m just going along with that.”

There has been a recent exodus of writers and artists from the DC stable, some slipping out quietly, others angrily, and a couple leaving in protest at various ethical concerns. Morrison is keen to point out that he is leaving on good terms with DC, and still has work in the pipeline with them for the next year.

“We have disagreements,” he acknowledges, “but to me disagreements are things that you deal with, problems are things you solve, and everyone stays friends, and negotiations are done. So I kinda felt that.. it just began to feel too unpleasant to work within a comic book fan culture where everyone was mad at you all the time and giving you responsibility for legal cases and things that Ihaveve got honestly nothing to do with in my life and will shortly have zero connection with.

“But I felt that. There was a sense of, a definite sense of the temple was being burned down and it was time to run away.”

There's a perception that this move towards creator owned titles is something modern and funky, but comic writers have long kept a foot on both sides of the fence, playing in a superhero sandbox to fund their own paper universes.

“I hate the words 'creator-owned,'” Morrison interjects, “it sounds so crap. [But] in the language of comic books, that's what they're called.”

Morrison has been writing his own comics for as long as he's been writing for any of the larger publishers - not as an ethical stance, but as good business, and artistic, sense.

“I own my stuff from Near Myths and all through the 80s, and St Swithin's Day,” he says, the latter title featuring the attempted assassination of Margaret Thatcher which caused it to be raised in parliament at the time. “That's what you did. If you want to own something you go and own it. So I don't understand how you could get yourself into the position where you don't own it and you're angry about it. And again, it's not a position I would endorse, other than saying, 'I really feel sorry for you, for genuinely getting this wrong and being regretful,' but honestly am I gonna leave my job and protest on your behalf? Of course not.”

Is it a slightly classist thing, I wonder, the idea that you can just drop your job at work as a protest?

“Yeah, it's the idea that you don't have to work and that everything will be okay,” he agrees, “and what you just phone your dad and he'll come down and dump a bunch of money on you? So no, it's like, yes, I blame the middle classes for everything.”

I can almost hear the finger-wagging storm that is approaching, but Morrison grew up working class in Glasgow, an origin that instils a high work ethic that extends long past your own financial security. He may now have a home in Los Angeles too, and he probably didn't have to scramble for loose change down the back of his sofa for a bus ride to the interview, but he's still a world apart from those born into financial comfort. At the Glasgow Comic Con this year, he apologised for having a bit of a raspy voice due to having just delivered messages (groceries to the non-Scots) to his mum and sister, who both smoke.

Throughout our chat, Morrison is laughing and grinning, invested in conversation rather than just talking to a tape recorder. Much of this is often stripped out in print, the jokes and dry humour edited to arseyness and the enthusiasm poisoned to conceit. Quizzed on his upcoming Wonder Woman story last year, Morrison stated that he wanted her to be able to have both her sexuality and her personality, the former often being glaringly omitted. This was summarily regurgitated as “Morrison says Wonder Woman needs sex!”

Wonder Woman has long been a character I've wanted to like, yet it's only her earliest very daft adventures that entertain me, I tell him.

“I feel the same,” Morrison says, “There's something fantastic here but it's never quite been focused on. And the earliest stuff comes closest to it but you want to see it done in a more contemporary way.

“The trouble is the men were a bit weak and that's what I’m trying to also resolve in Wonder Woman – why is that Steve Trevor guy so dull, you know? You just think he's not fit to be Wonder Woman's boyfriend, he's terrible. So I’ve done a lot of work on him and it really became about, in a lot of ways how men see women and how women see each other. So it's been a lot of research this one, talking to people. But it's going good. The opening image is quite shocking.”

With Batman and Superman already under his belt, Wonder Woman will complete Morrison's DC trifecta. With the recent focus on women in comics, and debates on the inherent sexism within the comics themselves, is he prepared for a feminist backlash?

“No, no, I'm hoping, I’ve really done my research.” He pauses before continuing. “And again I find that a lot of that stuff, and I know it gets me into more trouble, it's just all artificial to me. I don't give a fuck what gender you are, or whether you're a worm or a zebra. Honestly as long as you're friendly and can communicate, that's all I care about. And I can understand why you might take certain separatist positions but I just don't feel that way.

“Honestly I’m really trying to make it work and again, the sexuality – it's there, but it's really weird, because I thought it had to be quite weird. These are women who've allegedly been cut off from all male contact for three thousand years or something, since the days of Hercules. And none of them have died. And none of them have given birth.

“So it seems like it's actually quite stifling and weird the more you think about it. So I wanted to deal with that, what happens to eroticism and sex when it's [three] thousand years after men, you know when even the women who've been doing it to one another are bored shitless after twenty five [hundred] years. So I think there's something a lot weirder than what people anticipate coming up with this!”

Also due next year is Multiversity, a series of interlocking titles that span the DC multiverse, a construct that allows multiple Earths to exist without destabilising the core continuity of the DC universe (for many comic fans, continuity is as necessary as oxygen). One of the titles most talked about is Pax Americana, partly because it reunites Morrison with fellow Glaswegian artist Frank Quitely, and partly because it focuses on the world harbouring the Charlton characters, the same characters that in turn inspired the cast of Alan Moore's Watchmen.

Originally scheduled for 2012, it appears we must now ride out the Mayan Apocalypse first.

“Yeah, we waited till the end of the universe to publish this one – that's how long it takes for Frank Quitely to finish a book!”

The gentle ribbing is nothing compared to the bizarre vitriol some fans hold for artists who work more slowly, but having seen some of the pages myself, it is definitely worth the wait.

“It's my Citizen Kane, this comic, I’m so proud of it.” Morrison smiles. “We've really worked hard to make it worthy of not only its source but to do all that in 38 pages and in a new way. So yeah it's a big deal, but there's other great ones. The Captain Marvel one's great, the Ultra comic, which is the Earth Prime comic is the one that's gonna really freak people out because I’ve come up with a way... it's a haunted comic. The comic will do things to people that they will never forget. And it's like technology, I’ve discovered a kind of technology that I don't wanna tell because someone else will nick it and they'll ruin it! But that one'll freak people, it's things comics have never ever done before.”

Comparisons to Watchmen will be hard to escape, particularly in light of the current Before Watchmen comics that DC are publishing, much to the distaste of Alan Moore.

“It's so not like Watchmen,” Morrison states. “In the places where it is like Watchmen people will laugh because it's really quite... it's really faithful and respectful but at the same time satiric. I don't think people will be upset by it, in the way that they've been upset by Before Watchmen which even though it's good does ultimately seem redundant. You know, it's actually good – I mean, Amanda Conner's stuff is brilliant, I’m really enjoying it, and Darwyn Cooke's Minutemen is great, the rest of them [I'm] not so hot on but they're really nicely written comics, really quite adult but kind of redundant.

“This one is its own thing but it deliberately quotes the kind of narrative techniques used in Watchmen and does something new with them.”

Morrison's other upcoming projects are mostly shrouded in mystery and will be published through Vertigo, DC's adult imprint, and Image Comics, the favourite of many an independent creator. The long-awaited third instalment of Seaguy is the only announced title thus far, along of course with the series that starts this month, Happy. The latter looks like dark fare, borne from Morrison's observation that those who create things, the actors and singers of the world, are constantly put down no matter how hard they try.

“It was the notion of all these people dancing for us and everyone just going 'neh,'” he explains. “You know, everyone being judged on their stupid little dances and their croaky little voices. And I thought, well let's just kinda concretise that in this story, where it's like the worst possible world that I can imagine, this super crime noir, everybody's a bastard, everything's shit, where everything that can go wrong will go wrong, everyone will be hurt.”

And then Happy the horse wanders into this existence, a super sweet little cartoon character of eternal optimism. His appearance is a closely guarded secret, with Morrison describing his design as “like a special effect”. I get the sense that the writer has put a lot of anger into this book, a purging of sorts. Even with a Christmas theme, the amount of swearing makes Bad Santa look like a Disney film.

“It's the most offensively sweary book I think I’ve ever written,” Morrison grins. “It gets to like, you're just thinking, I cannot read the word fuck again. Please do not put the fucking word fuck back in this comic, and you're only on page 3 and there's twenty four pages. It's actually exhausting!”

Morrison fans are descending on Las Vegas at the end of this month for MorrisonCon, a festival of sorts for which Morrison is the figurehead rather than the organiser. The writer himself will be doing a reading, set to music by Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance, about “Howard Hughes versus Liberace for the soul of Vegas.”

If that sounds pretentious, then bear in mind what he's hoping to see from Frank Quitely at the event.

“Well they wanted, they had this big idea, they said we want Frank Quitely to come on and design an entire universe.” he laughs. “I went, what the fuck?! You've gotta be joking! And then I told them about this thing... he draws these grotesques, these anatomical creatures who've got like heads hanging between their legs, but they all work. And he's got like years of work on this stuff – he calls them the Bumheids. It's them sitting smoking and having tea and everything, but everything’s wrong, it's all in the wrong place, and legs coming out the top. So I kind of want to divert it... he won't have time to create a future world, but he has created this alternate reality where people have arses for faces!”

And that's the Glasgow boy again, swirling his drink and smiling at the enthusiastic leaflet ninjas who keep hovering on the sidelines of our table. He's written the greatest comic characters in the world, created his own highly acclaimed works, and won a clutch of Eisners, Eagles and Harvey awards. Factor in his other work as an award-winning playwright, and his various screenplays (including the upcoming Dinosaurs vs Aliens), it's perhaps no surprise that he was nominated for an honour from the Queen.

“I just felt it's really nice to be acknowledged at all!” he laughs. “I was so shocked... I don't even know who put me up for it. Is it some weird Lib Dem guy who's been reading The Invisibles all these years?”

It seemed to me like many of the detractors were coming from a distinctly middle class perspective.

“I couldn’t help notice that myself,” Morrison says. “There’s a particular miasma of totems and taboos surrounding contact with the trappings of high privilege that appears to arise from specifically middle class prejudices. In Glasgow, there’s also an element of working class sectarian bias in the condemnation, so it’s not all about the middle. I noticed also that previous histrionic public refusals of medals and honours had achieved exactly nothing.”

“To me, the Queen can't help who she is any more than anybody else can. I’m more of a nihilist to be honest, none of it means anything to me. This is an object that will in fifty years be lying on a table in a flea market. I don't have kids, it's going nowhere. So to me, I don't attach all those values to it, and again maybe that's a class thing you know, I’m starting to see more things in terms of class all the time.

“I still feel the same way I do about the monarchy, the class system, about everything I’ve ever written, about everything I will write. So the idea that it doesn't change anything, that people can be so wound up by something that has no effective meaning in the world kinda says it all to me.

“It's okay because it's no biggie, honestly you're not buying into anything - because you can't. By your intrinsic nature, who you are and where you were born, you can't buy into that system. They don't get it, you know, we'll never buy into it. We're the common people, as Jarvis Cocker said, and they'll never understand that.”

Laura Sneddon is a freelance journalist. Read more of her work at comicbookgrrrl.comThe original version of the image used to illustrate this article can be found here

Grant Morrison. Photo: Roisin_Dubh/flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence

Laura Sneddon is a freelance journalist. Find more of her work at comicbookgrrrl.com

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How Gossip Girl changed the way we talk about television

Recappers Chris Rovzar and Jessica Pressler reminisce about the Best. Show. Ever.

If you watched Gossip Girl from 2007-2012, then you’ll know it was The Greatest Show of Our Time. Silly, ridiculous, insider-y, and deeply New York, Gossip Girl was a show that lived and died on its in jokes. For so many of the show’s viewers, talking about this ridiculous Rich Kids of The Upper East Side drama was as important as watching it. But, premiering in 2007, Gossip Girl aired at a time just before social media dominated television conversations. Now, every viewer has a channel to make memes about their favourite show as soon as it hits screens. Gossip Girl was a show about bitchy teenagers mocking each other that cried out for audiences to tease them, too. They just needed a space to do it in.

Chris Rovzar and Jessica Pressler caught on to that fact early. TV recaps were still a fledgling genre when the Gossip Girl pilot emerged, but the New York Magazine writers could tell that this was a show that needed in-depth, ironic analysis, week on week. The most popular Gossip Girl recaps were born. These included the Reality Index (points awarded for, to take one episode, being “More Real Than Serena Sleeping With a Teacher After Less Than One Semester”), the cleavage rhombus (in tribute to Serena’s fashion choices), and the Most Obnoxious Real-Estate Conundrum of Our Time. If this is all second nature, you might even know what I mean when I say “No points, just saying.” It is these kinds of inside jokes that made New York Magazine’s Vulture recaps of the show so irresistible, and so influential. Each week, Rovzar and Pressler would run down the most absurd and the most spot-on New York moments of the episodes, and soon developed a cult following with a very devoted audience. Their recaps were became so popular that the creators responded to their burning questions, and the two were given a cameo on the show itself. They even also wrote recaps of the recaps, to include the best observations from hundreds of commenters.

Now the show is over, their work has spawned a thousand similarly tongue-in-cheek TV blogs: from ever-popular Game of Thrones power rankings to new versions of the Reality Index for other shows. A decade after Gossip Girl first aired, I reminisced with Rovzar and Pressler about their contributions to the Best. Show. Ever.

How did you come across Gossip Girl? Was it love at first watch?

Jessica: I had just moved to New York. Chris and I were thrown together at New York Magazine vertical Daily Intelligencer. He was much more of a seasoned New York person who knew what things were cool, and I was this yahoo from a different city. I was basically Dan Humphrey, and he was Serena. He got the pilot from a publicist, and he said there was a lot of a hype. The O.C. had been a huge show. So the fact the creators [were] coming to New York, doing all these real location shoots, and it was going to be a New York-y show was exciting, especially to us, because we were in charge of covering local New York news at that point. And it was really boring in 2007! Everything exciting happened the following year, like the Eliot Spitzer scandal, but in 2007 there was nothing going on. And Sex in the City had just ended, so there was a void in that aspirational, glamorous, TV space. So we were like, we’re going to hype this up, and then we’ll have something really fun to write about. And it was fun!

Chris: The CW needed a new hit, and it was the show that they were hoping would define the programming they would make going forward, so they really hyped it up before it aired. They sent us a screener. We watched it and realised that because they filmed it in New York, they were going to really use the city. It checked the boxes of Sex in the City and The O.C., with a young beautiful cast out in real world situations.

Jessica and I decided that this show was going to be a show that we wanted to write about, because it was so New York-y. I don’t think our bosses cared either way. Our bosses were grown-ups! They didn’t watch Gossip Girl! But from the very beginning, we called it The Greatest Show of Our Time, because we knew it was going to be a really iconic New York show. And it was very good at making these running jokes or gags, like Blair with her headbands, or Serena with her super tight dresses.

And the cleavage rhombus?

Chris: And the cleavage rhombus! We eventually got to know the costume designer and the producers and the writers. Once they recognised the things that we were writing about in the show, they would adopt them. The cleavage rhombus came up a few more times because they knew the audience knew about the cleavage rhombus.

Do you have an all-time favourite character or plot line or episode?

Chris: Our favourite character was Dorota. She was very funny and the actress, Zuzanna Szadkowski, was very well used. I think we were all rooting for Chuck and Blair. Sometimes with shows like Friends, by the end, when Ross and Rachel finally get together, you think, “Hm, I’m not sure I wanted Ross and Rachel to get together.” But the show was good at making Chuck and Blair the central romance, and you were psyched about how that ended up.

Jessica: Well, now, of course you look back and the Jared [Kushner] and Ivanka [Trump] cameo was, like, the best thing ever. It’s so nice to remember a time when those two were extras in our lives, instead of central characters. And then Nate, of course, went and bought that newspaper, which I believe was called The Spectator, which was a thinly veiled Observer. There was this succession of blonde temptresses brought in to tempt Nate. I don’t even know what he was supposed to be doing! I don’t know why they were there, or what their purpose was! But that was an ongoing theme, and that was kind of amazing. One was a schoolgirl, one was a mom. Catherine, and Juliet – and yes, I do remember all their names.

But for us, it was the real stuff that was really fun. They put in cameos of people only we would know – like Jonathan Karp, the publisher at Simon & Schuster. Or the couple who run The Oracle Club [a members’ club in New York] – I saw them recently and we talked about how we still receive $45 royalty cheques from our cameos because an episode aired in Malaysia. And Armie Hammer! They really went out of their way to involve real New Yorkers.

How did it work each week? Did you have screeners and write it leisurely in advance?

Jessica: No, no, we had to do it live! We had a screener for the pilot. We got them probably three times in the whole course of the show. We would normally be up till three in the morning.

Chris: My husband eventually stopped watching it with me because I was constantly pausing and rewinding it, asking: “What did they say? What was that? Did you see that street sign? Do you think that dress is Balenciaga?” It becomes very annoying to watch the show with someone who’s doing that. Each of us would do our own points and we would email them to each other and mix them up. That way you could cover a lot more stuff.

What made you decide to do the Reality Index? Did you ever really disagree on points?

Chris: It always more about wanting to say something funny than about the actual points. Very occasionally we would disagree over whether something was realistic or not. We were both adults, and there was a lot of trying to figure out what kids would do. Like in the first episode, they sent out paper invites for a party, and we said, “Oh, no, kids would use Evite!” And then a lot of readers were like “Are you kidding me? Kids would use Facebook cause this is 2007.” And we were like, “Oh yes, we’re not actually kids. We don’t know.”

Jessica: We came from different places of expertise. He had been in New York so much longer than me. In a cotillion scene, he knew the name of the band that was playing, because he knew which bands people had come to play at cotillion. I was more like, “This is realisitic in terms of the emotional lives of teenagers.” But the Reality Index stopped being about reality early on, and we had to just had to comment on the cleavage rhombus instead.

The comments were really important – how did you feel about all these people who seemed to have as intense feelings about the minute details of this show as you did?

Chris: We definitely weren’t expecting it, more so because internet commenters on the whole are awful. They’re mean and they’re angry and they have an axe to grind. Our commenters were very funny and wanted to impress each other and wanted to make each other laugh. They were really talking to each other more than they were talking to us. We decided, a couple of years in, to start rounding up their comments and do a recap of the recap. This was one of the most rewarding parts about it, because they were just so smart and on top of it. And they definitely disagreed with us. A lot!

Jessica: It did feel like people liked the Reality Index because of the participatory aspect of it. We became more like the moderators of this little world within a world. We couldn’t believe it - we thought it was amazing and bizarre. There would be hundreds of comments as soon as you put it up, it was like people were waiting. And sometimes people would email us, if one of us had overslept or been out to dinner the night before so couldn’t watch the show until the morning. And you got to know people through that – actual humans. I know some of the commenters now!

You wrote the “Best Show Ever” cover story on Gossip Girl for New York Magazine, which reads like it was incredible fun to write, and is now immortalised as a key moment in the show’s history. Every fan of the show remembers that cover image. What’s your favourite memory from working on that piece?

Jessica: Oh my God! It was so fun! We split them up – I interviewed Chace Crawford and Jessica Szohr and Blake Lively. Those kids were in New York living this vaguely Gossip Girl-esque lifestyle at the same time as the show was on, being photographed as themselves, but often in character during filming. So the overlap was fun. Ed Westwick and Chace Crawford lived together in a dude apartment! I think Sebastian Stan moved in. And Penn Badgley would hate me saying this, but he was and is Dan. He just never wasn’t Dan. He lived in Brooklyn and dated Blake Lively and girls who looked like Vanessa. It was so fun to have this show within a show going on in New York.

Chris: The fun thing about the kids, is that they were all really excited. For almost all of them, it was their first brush with fame. Blake Lively was the only one who had an acting background. So they were really excited to be in the city. It was very fun to hang out with them, and they all liked each other. It was fun to be out in the world with them. Leighton Meester is very funny, and a really fun person to be around, and after we did the story someone sent in a sighting to Page Six of us, where we had lunch. And when I went out for lunch with Chace Crawford, who’s also very nice, it was the first time I’d been in a situation where somebody tries to subtly take a cellphone photo of you. I was like: “Wow, I have done this, as a New Yorker, and it is so obvious.” You think you’re being slick and it’s very, very plain to see. And Chace was very gracious with everybody. I wasn’t there for the photoshoot but Taylor Momsen’s mom had to be there, because I think she was 16. And I remember when the photos came back, thinking, “Errr... we have some very young people in underwear on the cover!” But I guess everyone was OK with it! It was a really striking cover, and a really great choice with the white virginal clothes and the implication of the opposite. I love how it came out.

Can you talk about your cameo on the show? How did that work, what was it like?

Chris: That was really fun. I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect it to be so interesting and fun. They wanted someone from New York [Magazine], they wanted someone from Vanity Fair, and they wanted someone from another magazine, and I think they’d asked a lot of magazines if they would send an editor. I was at Vanity Fair, and they asked Graydon Carter, the editor-in-chief, if he would do it – and he said no. One of my friends from college was by that point a writer on the show, and she said to the producer: “You know, if you want a Vanity Fair editor, I know one guy who will definitely do it!” And then they asked me and I had to ask the publicist for Vanity Fair if I could do it. And she laughed! And I said, “No, I’m serious, can I do this?” And she said “Oh! Uhh… Yeah, OK.”

It was me, Jessica, and Katrina vanden Heuvel from The Nation. Katrina was the only one working the whole time: tweeting and writing stuff. Jessica and I were like kids in a candy store. We were running around checking out the set, opening drawers! They had us wear our own clothes, which was stressful.

Jessica: They put fun clothes on me! It was so nice, I got to wear a really good outfit! Which I wish I had stolen, actually. But we got to the set and they had made up our offices. We sent them pictures of what they looked like and they recreated it.

Chris: They completely recreated it, right down to the Post-It notes that I had all along my bookshelves. Some of the books that I had on my desk were there. It was really surreal. Sitting there with Michelle Trachtenberg and Penn Badgley was completely surreal. They were funny, we joked around, it took probably 15 minutes.

Jessica: My scene was with Penn, and I had a line that made absolutely no sense. And we were all like, “That line makes no sense!” And they were like, “Oh it’s fine, just say it anyway.” And I thought: “Ok, well they’ll cut it out later.” But no, it just… went in.

Chris: But so many cool people had done cameos already, like Jared and Ivanka and Tory Burch, and just a million New Yorkers you’d heard of. So it was cool to join that crew.

You had this cameo, and plenty of people who worked on and starred in the show confessed to having read your recaps religiously. Stephanie Savage even emailed in over the exact location of Dan’s loft – whether it was Dumbo or Williamsburg. What was it about these recaps that allowed them to enter the world of the show in a way that TV writing normally doesn’t?

Chris: It was a very early recap. There wasn’t the endless recapping that there is now, of every show. It was kind of a silly show to recap – it wasn’t like Game of Thrones, where there’s all this politics to analyse. So it was an unusually devoted account of the show, with a ton of attention to detail – and then all the commenters also had a ton of attention to detail. So it was a great way for the show to get a sense of what the audience was thinking. And I think it was just funny for them. When they made a joke, we would catch the joke and laugh at it and make a joke back. It became a fun game for them too.

Jessica: The creators were definitely trying to foster the same atmosphere that we picked up on. They said early on that their goal for the show was “cultural permeation”. So they did what they could to encourage us, in some ways, and responded to us when we had questions.

Do you think your recaps changed television writing? Have you seen anything by other writers in recent years that has made you think, “Oh, we influenced that!”? For me, the Reality Index was very influential, and I feel like it was instrumental in this tone that was, yes, snarky and mocking, but the kind of mocking that can only come out of genuinely, truly loving something – now, that’s how most TV writing sounds.

Chris: I think we definitely were early on the trend of having the audience feel like they had the right to have their opinion on the show known, that they could voice an opinion – and maybe at some point the creators of the show would hear it. I think also having a very specific structure to a recap was new. Over the past ten years you’ve seen a lot of people do Power Rankings or try different ways of doing recaps other than just repeating what happened. I’d like to think that the recaps helped break the mould and create a new format.

Jessica: I definitely see things that are called Reality Indexes, and I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a thing before us, because it doesn’t even totally make sense as a concept. As far as tone, I think that came both from the combination of Chris’s and my personalities – Chris was more of the fan, and I was more of the snark. But also that was Vulture’s thing – I think the site’s tagline was “heart of a fan, mind of a critic”. It came after the early 2000s era of pure snark and sarcasm. But I just met Rebecca Serle, who wrote the series Famous in Love, and she said the Gossip Girl recaps helped inspire her career. I was like: “That’s amazing!”

Looking back, why do you think Gossip Girl and the conversation around captured the zeitgeist?

Chris: It had a lot of elements of the great shows. It had a core ensemble cast like Friends. It had a very soapy way of running the plots, that just meant that a lot happened in every episode, and not all of it was believable! And that’s really fun to watch. But unlike Ugly Betty, which was making fun of telenovelas, it took itself seriously, which let the audience take it seriously too, while at the same time laughing about it and appreciating how over the top it was. And I also think the cast was very key to it. They were so young and attractive and good, and you could tell they were all going to go on to bigger and better things. You were watching them at the very start of their careers. And they all stayed through the whole thing, and that was great. You knew the show was going to end the way the creators wanted, which made it feel like a great, rare moment in TV.

Jessica: That show captures that era of socialites in New York City, when it was like Olivia Palermo and Tinsley Mortimer and everyone was running around going to parties and being photographed. It was like an education about New York as I was arriving there. And they did an amazing job, especially now, when you look back at it. All those location shots! I don’t think people can afford those any more, they just aren’t happening. And the costumes! All of that was so enjoyable and fun. I’m not sure I fully appreciated how fun it was, like I do now, when everything is much more drab and Brooklyn-centric. But I felt a real kinship with Penn Badgley because we talked a lot over the course of things, occasionally about how we didn’t expect the show to go on this long! He wanted to go and play other roles and I wanted to do… other things, and we were both stuck with Gossip Girl.

And finally: looking back, how do you feel about Dan being Gossip Girl?

Chris: I was talking to someone about this the other day! I still don’t know if in the books, Dan was Gossip Girl. At the time, we didn’t really devote a lot of time to thinking about who Gossip Girl would be. It felt like they were just going to pick somebody in the last season – which they did. But I thought they did a good job of backing up that decision.

Jessica: Oh my God, I was just talking about this! I feel like, you know… It’s just a total disappointment, there’s no getting around it. They tried to play it like they had been planning for it to be Dan all along, and that was clearly false. So it was annoying that they postured in that way. But I remember maybe even just the season before, a character said “Gossip Girl is all of you! Look at you all, on your phones!” That should have been the ending, that Gossip Girl was everyone. That would have been the cleverer ending, in a way. But Dan as Gossip Girl gets a minus from me in the Reality Index. -100

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.