Book Club / You Don’t Find the Things You’re Looking For

The InvisiblesThe Invisibles Book One
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by various

If you don’t know me then you might be expecting me to full of extravagant praise for The Invisibles which struck a chord like no other comic I’ve ever known back when it was published in the 90s. You know sometimes you get something that’s kinda underground but also everywhere at once? That was The Invisibles. It was like Nirvana. Or The Strokes. Or Stranger Things. Or whatever the cool thing right now is? (Is there a cool thing right now?).

Like: it was kinda teenage. But also kinda adult. Kinda smart with all of these like references to all of these things like history and poetry and really political and stuff. But it was also goofy and silly and anarchic – about this underground cell of terrorists who were trying to break humanity out of the prison of their consciousness (or something).

I know that it’s incredibly lazy to just quote stuff from wikipedia but seriously this pretty much tells you everything you need to know:

The Invisibles was Morrison’s first major creator-owned title for DC Comics and it drew from his Zenith strip as well as 1990s conspiracy culture. His intent was to create a hypersigil to jump-start the culture in a more positive direction. The title initially sold well but sales dipped sharply during the first series, leading to concerns that the series might be cancelled outright. To counteract this, Morrison suggested a “wankathon” in the hope of bringing about a magical increase in sales by a mass of fans simultaneously masturbating at a set time. Morrison became seriously ill while writing the book, something he attributes to working on the title and the manner in which its magical influence affected him, and has stated that his work on the comic made him into a different person from the one who started it.

He has also said that much of the story was told to him by aliens when he was abducted during a trip to Kathmandu.

I mean – I know it’s a drag to be so cynical. And there are some things that make me feel positive and open to the possibility of the imagination and the universal potential of humankind and all the rest of it: but I’ve been reading Volume 1 of this comic all day (Say You Want a Revolution) and well yeah: it’s all just a bit… shit.

Isn’t it?

Look

Without wanting to sound too negative I’d say that the best way to describe things is that me and Grant Morrison just kinda… exist on different frequencies. Because everytime I read his dumb comic (and I think it’s quite possibly the comic I’ve read the most number of times that I’ve enjoyed the least) it’s like – I dunno: like hearing a band play through a wall. You can hear the muffled noises but it’s not quite a song / not quite something you can enjoy – you know? And reading The Invisibles it’s like… it never really quite adds up and gives you that feeling like you’re reading a story you know? It’s just kinda fragments floating around other fragments. Or (better example maybe) a whole bunch of ingredients on a plate that don’t really feel like they’ve been cooked together to make a meal. So instead it’s just – here’s a piece of cheese, here’s a forkful of fish, here’s a bit of a tomato, here’s this kid who’s learning how the world works, here’s something about a secret society, here’s some time travel, here’s the Marquis de Sade!, there’s a windmill and here’s some kinda scribby serial monster thing… And yeah: it never feels like it all joins up… It’s like: reading a first draft or just a page full of ideas…

And yeah yeah I get it: maybe that’s the point? And maybe the constant onrush of thoughts and ideas and etc are what appeals to so many people – but then I don’t know: it just all kinda feels – sloppy and incoherent? I mean: with that first bit of Dane chucking a Molotov cocktail into a Library – it’s an arrested image (is this a book that’s against books?) but it never really goes anywhere or feels like it comes together into any sort of worldview or perspective – you know? It’s all just stuff that doesn’t want to be tied down to any one way of looking at the world which well: I’ve gotta admit actually sounds pretty cool when I put it like that – but damn: isn’t a story supposed to be about a perspective / a way of seeing things? Without that – I don’t know – it’s like living inside the mind of a schizophrenic no?

Interestingly – there’s a bit in the introduction by Peter Milligan where he compares Grant Morrison / The Invisibles to discovering the hidden messages inside the noise of a fax machine (“we must bring our own meaning to it”) and wow yeah: all of I could think when I was reading that was: that kinda seems a lot more accurate and gives away far more than maybe you thought it should… Because a fax machine signal (while kinda pretty) is still just noise. And anyone who manages to detect a code within is hearing things that aren’t there….

Whoops and yeah – I totally realise that maybe this is a bit of a stretch but I kinda feel like Mr Morrison even kinda cops to it on the very first page of the whole thing when he has that dude says “Some people will say anything to be thought of as clever and interesting” which yeah is a nice little funny line – but also strikes me as a kinda mea culpa of the entire series / Grant Morrison’s entire ethos. And at the risk of taking an incredibly cheap shot – it’s a little difficult to square the anti authoritarian stylings of “fuck the establishmentisms” of someone who’s still down with getting a MBE you know?

(Although maybe that’s just me being an idiot and thinking that words should mean more than something you just say? I don’t know…).

What do you think?


LOZ
Peckham Library Graphic Novel Book Group
Barbican Comic Forum

Firstly, ignore the introduction. Morrison returned the favour to Milligan by writing an introduction to the trade of his ‘Enigma’ and it’s clear they are both big upping the other as the cool rebellious kids they wanted to appear to be rather than any actuality. Whilst there’s a lot to love about the Invisibles there are any number of problems with it in 2018 that weren’t so much of an issue back in 1998.

It’s aged incredibly badly, so the X-Files vibe on elements of the story is as off-putting as some old boys adventure story that talks about the British Empire.

Fanny. Dear God, Fanny. All of the team are, to a large degree, stereotypical images but while Robin and the caring attitude towards mental illness can be mostly ignored because Grant drops the idea pretty much straight away Fanny, especially in her backstory, is clearly written by someone who did not do the research and I’m just surprised there hasn’t been a fuss made about it in comics fandom.

There’s also the problem that halfway through the entire project Grant seemed to lose interest (or perhaps realised he’d not got any clear ideas for where the story was going to go) so cut about an entire year’s worth of comics out of the run length and spent most of the last year playing with a number of story telling tricks to disguise very little plot before going completely off the rails at the end with an ‘artist’s jam’ that is just a complete mess.

A better and more coherent piece of work is ‘The Filth’, which Morrison did after this. It’s shorter and has one artist which really gives it a focus, it has more heart and Grant just seems more committed to it.

That said, series one is probably my favourite of the three series of ‘The Invisibles’. And I like this collection. ‘Dead Beatles’ starts with a kick of violence and weirdness to get things going, ‘Down and Out in Heaven and Hell’ has a lot of that English weird that I found to really resonate, even though I shared absolutely no life experiences with Dane, before ending in the most blatant lift from ‘V For Vendetta’ with his enlightenment. ‘Arcadia’ is… a story and while it’s true that Grant had to organise the wankathon in order to try and repair the damage that that story did to the sales figures for the title I think it works better in trades and in a read of the story as a whole than it did in monthly single issues at the time. In many ways it one of the few stories that Grant does where it’s a whole unit, what is freedom? Will a search for freedom always lead to the loss of it a la the Terror? Can you be free within that, like De Sade, of the Piano Player? Is it better to lack freedom but have safety or the other way round? Is freedom of language enough or should we have freedom of biology too? And how many people made the mistake of trying to read de Sade after meeting him here?

So I find it odd that you say you don’t find the things you’re looking for in this volume whereas I’d agree that they are lacking later on.

I hate Sonic Youth. Like – so much. Like in a almost psychical / physical way all the way deep down in the pit of my guts. So that when I hear their name I like: “urg fuck that” so much that I almost vomit. And god help me – but I keep trying to understand what it is that is so good about it. Because they sit firmly in the middle of a whole bunch of my own inner venn diagrams of the stuff that I love and gets me off. Noisy guitars and experimental song structures and fuck you corporate america and all the rest of it – yes – check check and check again and so god help me I keep trying and I listen to them and I keep trying to get it and I want to get it and I want to believe and be a believer and finally have them make sense and click – but urg oh my god no: it’s all just so bloody joyless and turgid and with no real sense of actual human fun. All of these guitar pedals and technology and sound and the people playing it are just posers – with no idea how to say anything meaningful real or beautiful. And at the risk of super crude (and I can’t remember if I read this somewhere or if I realised it myself) but Sonic Youth (and Sonic Youth fans) have always kinda struck me as people that don’t know how to have sex. Like yeah: maybe they know how the basic mechanics of it works – but in terms of actually giving / receiving pleasure it’s like… It’s just not a frequency they’re able to tune on to.

And OMG: Sonic Youth and The Invisibles are basically just exactly the same thing (sorry / not sorry).

I mean: what the hell is wrong with this comic? It’s just so completely and utterly zero fun. Whatever the opposite of joy is – it’s in the pages of this comic. It’s never particularly exciting or interesting… There’s never ever any real sense of drama or stakes. You don’t really know what people want because everything is a mystery inside a question mark inside a shrug. I mean: I think I’ve questioned this idea / formulate enough times when other people have said it about other comics we’ve talked about in the past here but seriously if it applies to anything then it applies to this right here: but WHERE THE HELL IS THE STORY? It’s all just declarative statements and people either referring to stuff or trying to sound smart or cool or weird or strange whilst being so completely and utterly normal and vanilla that it actually kinda hurts to read. No wait – scratch that. I wish that it would hurt to read because then at least it would make me feel something – instead it’s just – gah. Boring and dull and grey upon grey upon grey. With the infinite promise that – oh wait I’m sure this will start to make sense soon… Except – it never goes anywhere… It never gets interesting… nothing is ever explained… And nothing really cool happens or is seen… It’s just… constant deferment. I mean: again – I don’t want to sound too crude (sorry / not sorry) but when Grant suggested his idea of a “wankathon” did he specify that people should cum? Or was the idea to create the same sensation as reading this boring comic where you keep waiting for a climax that never actually well…

Get Out

So yeah: sorry – not a fan. And you know what? At long last I think that I’ve finally reached a point where I’m not like “oh man – I guess I just don’t understand it? Maybe it’s too much for me or something?” to instead being much more: “Actually you know what? It’s not me – it’s you.”

The funny thing is – Loz mentioned Lord Fanny and how “I’m just surprised there hasn’t been a fuss made about it in comics fandom.” (Because obviously that’s what comics fandom really needs – more fuss lol). But the thing that I made me go “wow” reading it this past week is all the (and god I really don’t want to use this phrase as it’s basically bullshit from top-to-bottom but) “cultural appropriation” to the point that well – I’m just surprised there hasn’t been a fuss made about it in comics fandom (LOL). Like: there’s the bit where Grant writes from the perspective of black people in New York and then there’s the Mexico bit – and later isn’t there like a bit later where they go to Japan? Like – to be clear. I’m actually quite pro the idea of writers writing outside of their own experiences and trying to understand other cultures – but in the modern hellscape of 2018 I kinda get the feeling that it wouldn’t be received in quite the same way… (again: LOL).


RAT
Lofi Space

“when Grant suggested his idea of a “wankathon” did he specify that people should cum? Or was the idea to create the same sensation as reading this boring comic where you keep waiting for a climax that never actually well…”

So what you’re saying is that he’s an edgelord? :V


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

LOL!I’m not saying he’s an edgelord.
But I’m not saying he’s not an edgelord. :D…

Of course I say that Grant Morrison isn’t an edgelord and then I read part three of the She-Man arc and there’s a joke about a dead baby.

Like I mean admittingly – I did used to love jokes like that back when I was 16. But yeah: I’ve gotta say: that stuff doesn’t really age very well? (Which actually could be the tag-line for the Invisibles in general)…

Some things I just wanted to get off my chest before this thread wraps up:

I mean – is it just me? Or is The Invisibles just a really kinda ugly comic? Like the Steve Yeowell stuff for the first arc is kinda cool – altho I always have the feeling most of the time that his art is a little – how do I say this? – lacking in a few of the necessary vitamins and iron you know? Like it’s a little malnourished or something? Like when it’s good it’s really good (there’s this Devlin Waugh arc that I don’t think has ever been collected in book form called Chasing Herod and that was really the first time that his art really made sense to me? But I think a lot of that was the colouring which gave a really nice dimensionality to all of his stuff so that it seemed rounded and textured instead of just flat and also the story was kinda this hyper-reality stuff that really fitted in well with his kinda sparse art – the things that you couldn’t quite see kinda working in your imagination instead of on the page… Ditto I guess Book 4 of Zenith – but that’s something I only read relatively recently).

Like the whole thing for the first arc with Dane and Tom O’Bedlam like it’s weird because it kinda oscillates between being too kinda striped down and actually being very cool. Like all the real world where when they’re walking around the streets of London doesn’t feel like it’s detailed enough (that ” malnourished” thing I guess) . It’s more like they’re walking through a dream than a real place… But then when things get crazy everything kinda falls into place – am thinking particularly of this bit here:

Aw

Which yeah: it all kinds of cool. Where’s there’s just enough detail to make you go: what the fuck? (And if it was another artist who made things more detailed and fleshed out and real then yeah – I’m not sure that the effect would be as strong or powerful…).In my head / in my heart: there’s a version of The Invisibles where all of it is done by Steve Yeowell (don’t know if Grant Morrison’s ego would be able to deal with that tho – sharing the spotlight instead of being the one big name above the title): and yeah I actually think I’d enjoy the whole comic a lot more… But his stuff is so delicate and tuned to it’s own unique frequency – that when you put it next to anything else it feels like it gets I don’t know – contaminated somehow? Like photographic film exposed to the light – it kinda needs it’s own planet to live on you know? Far away from anything else…

And then there’s like the Arcadia arc (don’t know who the artist is and I can’t be bothered to look it up) which is just URG so cheap looking? Even if it’s in a brand new book – there’s a part of it that feels like it’s been printed on old yellowing newspaper or something you know? Like it’s been produced by the cheapest method possible… Like – it’s just sketches or something you know? It kinda reminds me of the difference between reading English comics as a kid (well – 2000AD which often had this fully painted incredibly detailed and textured artwork) and then all the American comic books just looked like: they were unfurnished – like a living room with no furniture… So when your eye walks around all the page it’s like you can hear the emptiness and the bare walls… That kinda bare echo sound in visual terms. bluuurgh. Not good.

Baby

Also: ha! Reading it this time I totally realised something that I then read in the notes of Book Two written by Grant Morrison but LOL The Invisibles is totally Morrison trying to “do a Sandman” – have a bunch of interconnected stories that don’t even really interconnect but all just kinda hang together in the same space or universe or whatever. So you have the main adventures of The Invisibles proper and then all of this stuff that just kinda floats besides them – like the Best Man Fall issue…. But yeah: here’s the thing – it erm doesn’t really work? Like the thing with The Sandman is that it’s fully committed to the idea that any of the stories can be read in any order: they don’t really build on each other in terms of the narrative up until like Book 7 or 8 (I forget which). Instead they’re all blurry and vague and soft and bounce off each other like bubbles: the idea of there being an ending doesn’t really feel like the point you know?

But The Invisibles – ah. I mean – right from the start it does this thing where it centers Dane and it makes it seem like it’s doing a whole Luke Skywalker / chosen one type thing right? Which yeah you know is ok as far as it goes… But it definitely sets up certain expectations in where the story is going to go you know?

fuuuuuuuck

And then well it just…. doesn’t. Everything kinda falls apart and it gets all multifaceted. But not in a way that makes things feel larger and better and more kinda expansive like the Sandman does but instead just kinda – messy and confused and well… rubbish (LOL). And I think it all kinda revolves around one thing which is: there’s no real one thing that it revolves around… Like if you ask anyone who’s read The Sandman what it’s all about they’ll kinda shrug and say something like: “you know – dreams and story and stuff.” Which yeah ok isn’t that specific but is still a thing (or two).But the Invisibles… I mean: what is it about? I mean like – something to do with rebellion? And there being two sides? And something about empathy perhaps? And conspiracies? And it’s all world-wide? And something to do with time travel? And aliens? But they’re really us? And reality is a liquid? And freedom? And it’s all a game? Or something? But I don’t know…. It’s all just kinda – unfocused: simultaneously telling this really defused epic meandering odyssey (that keeps feeling like it’s going to arrive somewhere) and this short-attention span constant stimulation type thing and I don’t even know what.

I mean: there’s this thing that Grant Morrison thinks that The Matrix ripped of The Invisibles to which I can only say – what???

think you can hack it

Quote from the man himself:

It’s really simple. The truth of that one is that design staff on The Matrix were given Invisibles collections and told to make the movie look like my books. This is a reported fact. The Wachowskis are comic book creators and fans and were fans of my work, so it’s hardly surprising. I was even contacted before the first Matrix movie was released and asked if I would contribute a story to the website. (…) I’m not angry about it anymore, although at one time I was, because they made millions from what was basically a Xerox of my work and to be honest, I would be happy with just one million so I didn’t have to work thirteen hours of every fucking day, including weekends.

What? What? And “What?” Again. I mean: if your read any of The Invisibles and thought to yourself “wow this is just like The Matrix” then our versions of reality are incredibly different and maybe that’s why you’re reading it and thinking it’s amazing and I’m like – meh (maybe I need to borrow your sunglasses or something? Or you need to borrow mine). And god don’t even get me started on it’s relationship to guns and violence where it kinda oscillates between making fun of the idea of big cool men shooting guns and stuff…

ACTION

To erm – actually just glorifying in it…

Khoom

(Maybe the whole “pick a side” thing is just a way to get away with being a hyprocite? I don’t know…).

I mean I think I actually heard that before I started reading The Invisibles the first time I thought that’s what the big twist was going to be (another difference between the storytelling style of The Sandman and The Invisibles – you don’t read The Sandman waiting for the big twist that’s going to make it all make sense) but then yeah – that’s kinda the issue right there: The Invisibles never gets to the point where it all makes sense: and there never is a big twist. It just keeps bleeping away and making random noises like well… Like a fax machine signal.

ZZZZzzzraaaabeepbeepbeepzzzzzzzzzzrraa.

Oh wow. So deep.


AMANDA
Barbican Comic Forum

Joel said: At long last I think that I’ve finally reached a point where I’m not like “oh man – I guess I just don’t understand it? Maybe it’s too much for me or something?” to instead being much more: “Actually you know what? It’s not me – it’s you.”

The first Grant Morrison I read was Arkham Asylum, pretty early in my comics-reading career. I didn’t know much about it other than than that it was regarded as an Important Batman Book. As I made my way through it and found myself confused by the story, I assumed it was because I just wasn’t good enough at comics.Some years later, I read his New X-Men. Aside from basic familiarity picked up from my little brother’s obsession with the 90s cartoon, this was pretty much my introduction to X-Men. Once again, I found myself confused. I felt frustrated that, despite being an intelligent person who had read plenty more comics, I still couldn’t comprehend Grant Morrison’s alleged comics brilliance.

A few years later still, I picked up We3, consistently rated one of his top comics, and… I hated it. He had one job in this book: to make me cheer for the animals. But the whole premise was so stupid I felt glee when the rabbit died, and couldn’t wait for the others, especially the horrible cat, to be put out of their misery too so I could be put out of the misery of reading the book. (I was going to say all of this on the actual LGNN We3 discussion but would’ve felt bad ruining the feel-good vibes in that thread.)

After that I re-read Arkham Asylum (having by then read heaps more Batman and comics generally) and X-Men (having by then read heaps more X-Men and comics generally), found them only mildly less obscure than before, and at long last finally reached the point where I said: “Actually, you know what? It’s not me – it’s you.”

I didn’t read the Invisibles. Life’s too short to spend reading Grant Morrison.


NEIL

Wow!!!

I LOVED this post, because I felt the same way. Hundreds of thousands of people rate Grant Morrison and I thought I was missing something. This post made me feel better about not ‘getting his brilliance’.


ILIA
The Gap between Panels
Barbican Comic Forum
Twitter / The Hot-Doll Pages

It took me a while with Grant Morrison to be honest. A lot of his books are very compressed – not dense exactly because they are not that hard to read. They just skip about wildly, to the point where you can lose your grasp on why you should bother to keep going / what the point of it is / the things Joel and Amanda have mentioned already. The Invisibles in particular fell down for me because there was a lack of attention to character. Members of the team were introduced and you just had to automatically start caring about them based on their cool looks and chats and despite not really knowing who they were. They do eventually get their chance to shine but that’s a lot to ask for of a reader. Morrison’s Doom Patrol run has the same madcap energy and is better in this respect, which makes it better than the Invisibles generally in my opinion, and arguably the peak of Morrison’s early career.

Warren Ellis put it in one of the blurbs to the trades that the Invisibles is a bit like pop music: “about everything and nothing”. Once you let go of the need to make sense of the blur it’s enjoyable in its own way. People have written books breaking down how the series fits together. I honestly could not be bothered, and my own (not especially thorough) investigation into the book’s anarchist politics left me thinking that the series forgoes delving into the interesting ideas about order and chaos it brings up. It’s almost like Morrison picks up ideas in order to juggle them rather than to study them and find answers. So rather than take the Invisibles seriously I just went along for the not always satisfying ride. Tl;dr: it’s ok.

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