Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist by Bill Griffith

Comics Reviews
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Writer/Artist: Bill Griffith
Publisher: Fantagraphics
Release Date: October 3, 2015

Best known for his creation of Zippy the Pinhead and his presence in the early underground comics scene, Bill Griffith has produced a new graphic novel that is neither “out there” nor torrid. Invisible Ink is a gentle meditation on family and authorship. Griffith recounts his mother, a frustrated writer trapped in the role of a 1950s housewife despite her nimble mind. Her marriage was already unhappy, and when she found a secretarial job working for the cartoonist Lawrence Lariar, she succumbed quickly to his charms. Griffith knew nothing of the decades-long affair until his father died, at which point his mother came clean. Invisible Ink finds him fleshing out the story from her unpublished writings (a thinly veiled autobiography) and his own research, lightly skipping among multiple timelines with ease.


Lariar is far from a household name, despite what the book’s subtitle promises, but his career seems to fascinate Griffith, who views him as an alternate father figure—a paternal road-not-taken. A prolific producer of repackaged material, detective novels under various names, novelty cocktail napkins and the like, Lariar always hoped for a daily strip, which, of course, Griffith has. Griffith also takes the time to redraw all of the cartoons by Lariar that he includes in his book, a step that perhaps provides a more consistent visual feel, but is also a gesture of generosity.

Invisible Ink is at its best when Griffith meanders into tangents, not when he sticks to the main narrative, which isn’t a particularly long or complex story. He seems to know that someone else’s genealogy, like someone else’s dreams, is only (or mostly) interesting to that person. So along the way, he documents his process, his tendency to fall down the rabbit hole when looking for an elusive bit of information, which is a familiar activity to most of us living in the Age of Google. Should you be a research-oriented person, it’s tempting to think that a little more clicking around will uncover some revelatory truth. But it rarely does. Some things, like the fleshed-out details of family history in a pre-digital time, won’t reveal themselves in their entirety. That fact makes the book slighter than one expects. The author’s consciousness of it makes Invisible Ink more wistful and sweeter than it might have been.

Invisible Ink Interior Art by Bill Griffith

Invisible Ink Interior Art by Bill Griffith

Invisible Ink Interior Art by Bill Griffith