You may think The Invisibles was Glaswegian comic maestro Grant Morrison’s ‘self-aware manifesto from the future in the form of a madcap spy-fi hypersigil comic book’. Alternatively, you may think it was six years of self-indulgent E’d up nonsense. Alternatively-squared, you may think the truth lies somewhere in the middle - that the six years of The Invisibles was a sometimes interesting/ sometimes meandering/ occasionally brilliant/ occasionally tedious/ usually demanding wedge of sequential art.
If you’re anything like me then you lean towards the latter opinion - with emphasis on the ‘demanding’. Not only that, but you always meant to re-read the entire Invisibles run again at some point when you had the time. Well, the good news is that the time is probably now. Go back to The Invisibles with a copy of Anarchy For The Masses close to hand and prepare to revise your opinion of Grant Morrison upwards somewhat.
Anarchy For The Masses is very similar to the little study aids you used to get for English Lit. exam texts (although nothing like The Invisibles was ever on any English Lit exam I ever sat). The bulk of it consists of synopses and dialogues with the creators snugly bracketed within a close look at the text, defining any difficult concepts, explaining long words (and converting from UK to American English), giving potted bios of people referred to and regularly pointing out central themes. It does this with some really quite painful attention to detail, going through the entire run panel by panel, page by page, issue by issue, volume by volume.
I found the best way to use Anarchy For The Masses was to read the commentary on the first few issues, read those issues and a few more besides, then return to Anarchy and read ahead again, and so alternate throughout. This jogs the memory and forewarns you of important events, letting you discover some things for yourself and pointing out others you may have missed. A word of warning though: my wife took one look at the annotations to the text and promptly declared I’d be blind within a week reading it: the text is rather small, but I liked the idea of this linear analysis being fitted around the other information. I felt as though I was being given a choice about how to read this book and was making my own path through it, which seemed very fitting for a book about The Invisibles. And the wealth of interviews with the writer, artists and editors alongside the close reading of the actual text give a sense of the production process being almost as much of a tale as The Invisibles itself.
What I’ve since discovered about The Invisibles is that whilst I may not subscribe to Morrison’s somewhat unusual cosmology, I still like the cut of the man’s jib and I’ve found myself looking and thinking about the world around me in a very slightly different way since rereading it. The world seems a slightly shinier place, a little more unusual than it was before I read The Invisibles. There’s none of Morrison’s famous magick involved in this, it’s simply the cleansing effect of seeing things from another person’s skewed viewpoint and appreciating that your own vision is not inevitable or immutable. For this alone I’d recommend a copy of Anarchy For The Masses. But I’d also recommend it for the fascinating wealth of background material: Neighly and Cowe-Spigai’s diligent research makes The Invisibles a far more interesting read - not, it’s probably worth noting, quite as interesting as Morrison thinks it is, but very interesting nonetheless.
My only reservation was with the author’s personal summing up of each issue. This often seems too long and rather hyperbolic - a little too gushing even - and given that there’s two opinions for every single issue at times they almost swamp the creators’ comments. But they’re easy enough to skip if you want to.
With this companion by your side the fun, philosophy and flair of The Invisibles will be far more…visible.