Exactly how close can a writer be to his or her own fictional story? Set aside William Burroughs for a moment. No, wait. Include him.
For fan-favourite scribe, Grant Morrison and his The Invisibles comic book series, the answer to that question is, seemingly, perilously close.
For Morrison, putting the main protagonist of his monthly periodical in jeopardy affected the real-life teller of the tale in profound physical ways. And that says nothing to the state of dwindling sales and an acute fear of cancellation. Writer and creation are one and the same, you see, and the panacea, beyond writing the protagonist in more comfortable confines?
Yeah. You read that right.
And thus is the born the enduring mythology and fan love affair that is The Invisibles.
The Invisibles began publication in 1994 and lasted for 59 issues comprised of three distinct volumes. Today, from the Vertigo Comics imprint of DC Comics, it gets the hardcover Omnibus treatment. And we’re all winners when this series is made, pardon the pun, more visible to the masses. Not only is it a magnum opus from Morrison, but it contains the works of art from a litany of great illustrators including: Steve Yeowell, Jill Thompson, Phil Jimenez, Duncan Fegredo, Michael Lark, Ivan Reis, Sean Phillips, Frank Quitely, Brian Bolland and many others.
The Scottish-born Grant Morrison, already a known name in the UK and, at that time, America due to revered story arcs on Animal Man and Doom Patrol, began one of his most important works. The secret organization, aptly called The Invisibles, battled physical and psychic oppression at the hands of inter-dimensional aliens bent on enslaving the human race. They had a myriad of weapons at their disposal including time travel, magic, meditation and guns.
And pop culture. And counter culture. And history. And Mayan mythology. And, startlingly, the actual readers of the series.
King Mob was the leader of the Invisibles and was fashioned after the writer himself: a mod rock star, half Ziggy Stardust, half anarchist. His esoteric battling compatriots included Jack Frost who was possibly the next messiah, a Brazilian transvestite named Lord Fanny, an ex-New York City police office named Boy and a sexy telepath named Ragged Robin – who dressed – and looked – like a night club version of Raggedy Ann.
Now to the point:
Somewhere, in that first volume of stories, King Mob is captured by his enemies and goes through, if I remember my mid-nineties correctly, a torture akin to James Bond in the Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale. You know. The kind that makes you wince. Except that this torture is much more protracted. And psychic. As a reader, I remember it being absolutely mentally draining. If I’ve got my synapses firing properly, for the writer, Grant Morrison, the real-life physical embodiment of King Mob, it made him deathly ill. Something about a severely infected abscess, I think.
The only way out, for Mob and Morrison, for creator and created, was to write a better situation – that would have an effect on both of them. And that’s what happened. Mob escaped his tormentors and Morrison survived his infection, going on to write many other awe-inspiring comic book works including the great All-Star Superman, a personal favourite.
Oh. And the dwindling sales that threatened the series with cancellation before its natural end?
I can’t remember what exact issue it was, but sometime in the second year of publication, Morrison requested the reading audience to partake in a little chaos magic activity. (Morrison, you understand, is a practicing chaos magician.) Basically, in the comic book’s letter column, he asked readers to think about, on a certain day and at a certain time, something that they whole-heartedly wanted, whilst simultaneously masturbating. Tapping into all that simultaneous orgasmic psychic energy, he (we) would be able to save the book. The great invisible wankathon was born!
It’s funny what magic, either real or fictionalized, can do. The Invisibles continued on for another three years until the entire tale was finally told in the summer of 2000.
That night of the great “event”?
I think I fell asleep.
But I know that The Invisibles Omnibus, all 1,536 pages of it, is sure to keep you up! And how!
Every Wednesday, JP makes the after-work run to his local downtown comic book shop. Comics arrive on Wednesdays you see and JP, fearful that the latest issue will sell out, rushes out to purchase his copy. This regular, weekly column will highlight a particularly interesting release, written in short order, of course, because JP has to get his – before someone else does!