Thursday, December 22, 2011

Reading "The Invisibles"

[For the next week or so, until we all collectively crack open the first issue and begin to read The Invisibles, I was hoping to read around The Invisibles, a sort of geotextual survey. And where better to start with The Invisibles than... "The Invisibles"?]


 It's like calling a novel "The Unreadables". It comes off as a challenge - how do you engage with a comic book if not visually? The mechanical, repetitive sequential mode of reading is being rebuked, before you've even opened the comic. It's evasive. Not only evasive, but multiplicative, multiplicitous. The InvisibleS. For every form of sight you ply against it, it has a retort, a new counter-form, a new invisibility. It claims an anti-rhetoric, a pliable, responsive dis-engagement. You have to pursue, you have to hunt. You shift to other senses, other modes of perception, of processing. What other choice do you have?

 I can't stop thinking about different kinds of reading, different modes and stances you could be forced into... What does tactile reading look like? The Invisibles by braille, immersion into the texture of the medium. To manipulate the elements of the comic to understand - to bend, fold, twist, wring, arrange and re-arrange to make sense - play and interplay. Comic serial as sculpture. Haptic, proprioceptive - reading your stance, posture, receptivity as much as the comic's. Reading as balance. Brings to mind the old clichés of VR. What about The Invisibles as immersive environment? I've still got images of The Invisibles as an MMORPG rattling around in my head. What kind of priorities come to the fore when you're approaching a comic as an interactive space, a zone of play? How do you approach that? Morrison, in an interview excerpted here, drops the following line:
Although many current video games are constructed on a narrative spine which follows the basic action movie hero-beats-baddie script, it’s never that aspect of the player’s interaction with the virtual environment that’s important.
 What about a performative engagement? Invisibles as theatre, as mime - a muscular reading, a nervous reading. Doing as understanding, as meaning. We're back to the idea of proprioceptive reading, of improv as a way of engagement, an embodied rhetoric. You don't read The Invisibles, you act The Invisibles! The Invisibles as ritual, as drum circle, as chant - oral, aural, a call and response, a beat, a swagger, a dance! Hell, vibes! Reading as ESP! This thing is beckoning you to fire up all your senses, dust off your old dead senses, sprout new senses... with one caveat: No eyes.


 1994: The speculator boom has turned around, and the comic book industry is coming crashing down. Marvel and DC are, of course, too big to fail, but smaller publishers and distributors don't have that luxury (see Eclipse, NOW, Aircel, Continuity, and so on).
 1994: The King is dead.

 1994: The Invisibles #1 is published. 
 But let's look back to 1977 for a moment.
All The Slits really left behind is an object screaming with muteness: a nameless lp in a blank bootleg sleeve. I like to think the disc is called 'Once upon a time in a living room,' but there's no way to be sure; with phrases scrawled at random across the label in lieu of titles, you have to decide the names of the songs from the choices offered. 'A Boring Life,' then: once the music starts I've never tried to understand a word.
[...] This was music that refused its own name, which meant it also refused its history - from this moment no one knew what rock 'n' roll was, and so almost anything became possible, or impossible, as rock 'n' roll: random noise was rock 'n' roll, and the Beatles were not. Save for the buried productions of a few cult prophets [...] punk immediately discredited the music that preceded it; punk denied the legitimacy of anyone who'd ever had a hit, or played as if he knew how to play. Destroying one tradition, punk revealed a new one.
 - Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces


 It's a slap in the face to the shambling zombie corpse of a collapsing industry-aesthetic. I'm getting ahead of myself trying to tie The Invisibles to punk, but the idea I'm trying to feel my way around is this: there's a sense of radical newness to this denial of the past. It's like the title is declaring a blank slate. "Fuck all the rest of this shit on the shelves with me, fuck the catalogs - it starts HERE." How can you not picture The Invisibles #1 with a blank cover, no illustration, no logo, no comics code, no barcode, nothing? An object screaming with muteness. But not a Fukuyaman End of History, more like a radical reboot of history. Forcing a blank slate. A third way, a circuit breaker, a line of flight. " starts HERE." A fleshy invisibility, a white hole spuming possibility, empty space pregnant with spirit. Fiat nihil as cosmic start point.

 Back to "The Invisibles" as a comic book title - I've got a problem. There's no ready action to the name, no muscular adventure there. It just keeps bouncing back and forth in my head, between suggestions of 90's XTREEM ACTION and some kind of contemplative inaction that is anathema to the standard industry serial. I mean, "The Invisibles" as a superhero team, to take the more pedestrian suggestions of the name... what the fuck do they do? The Avengers avenge, the Justice League inflicts justice, the X-Men do manly Xly things... I can't even articulate what comes to  mind when I try to tackle "The Invisibles" like this. At best, I see vague hints of telluric pulp, trashy underground adventure-occult, flashes of weird heroes in the vein of The Shadow... but "The Shadow" is an inversion, hero as unseen mastermind with mysterious abilities. "The Invisibles" is... something else. It's suggestive because it's radically unsuggestive. Like the superhero equivalent of the Ganzfeld effect, it's hallucinatory by sheer unresponsiveness. By being nothing, it opens up the possibility of everything. If it's a vacuum, it's going to suck the air out of your lungs, pull out your insides - you can't help but outer yourself in the face of that. I've got this plenum/vacuum dialectic tearing my head apart here, but it's the resonant interval between those two spaces that I'm trying to draw out. Minding the gap.


  The logo itself carves the letters of the title out of non-substance - "Invisibles" is crafted from negative space, visible by virtue of its invisibility. It is a meaningful invisibility filling the emptiness between carved blocks of dross ink. It suggests the invisible as plenum. Meaning in the erased, aborted, left out and taken away. Forcing an embodied-gnosticism, dragging the eye to emptiness and forcing contemplation of the intangible presence of the unseen. Literary dark matter.
 And what discussion of a Grant Morrison work would be complete without mention of the "Fourth Wall" between the interior works of the fiction and the reader, the ever-shifting proscenium arch of the panel, the page, or the book itself that sets us outside of the action, gazing in. The rational-detached position of the literate/scientific observer, peering at the bustle of narrative through a lens and taking notes, the presumed invisibility of the reader, is thoroughly rebuked by an entangling with the narrative, an engaged interplay between the work and its reader. The Invisibles as creeping paranoid infection - the series not as an air-tight lead container of story but as a porous hazard, breathing, breeding potent and penetrative microfauna and hungry nanomolecular architects, shedding cosmic mutant radiation in dense transparent sheets, haunted by ethereal spirits and malicious spectres, with fluxing borders of occult influence reaching past and through the reader, putting him on, working him over, dragging him into an unknowable nexus of invisible effects... 

It is therefore not a de facto invisible, like an object hidden behind another, and not an absolute invisible, which would have nothing to do with the visible. Rather it is the invisible of this world, that which inhabits the world, sustains it, and renders it visible, its own and interior possibility, the Being of this being.
- Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Visible and Invisible

  •  Read The Invisibles with your whole body (and more).
  •  Fuck a comic book industry.
  •  Nothing is really something, huh? 
  •  G-g-g-ghosts!
  •  #Blank[Blank]


  1. You just HAD to go for the Buñuel eye razor, didn't you?

  2. Always!

    "To produce in the spectator a state which could permit the free association of ideas, it was necessary to produce a near traumatic shock at the very beginning of the film; hence we began it with a shot of an eye being very efficiently cut open. The spectator entered into the cathartic state necessary to accept the subsequent events of the film." - Luis Buñuel