The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man is a fitting choice as the first look at the monster series I've been developing for this year's Halloween season because he is my favorite of the classic Universal monsters, though I didn't actually realise this until I was in my mid-20s. In 2004, the six classic Universal monsters saw DVD releases (at least some of them for the first time) and though I knew the basic gist of each monster's story, I had never actually watched any of the original films.

My girlfriend at the time had taken a puzzling interest in Frankenstein's monster which sort of planted the seed of interest in the back of my head. Soon after watching the original movies, I was surprised by how much I either related to or pitied the Invisible Man.

All of the Universal monsters were highly identifiable as sides of humanity lost to romance or sexuality (even the Gill Man) but the Invisible Man wasn't very amorous or sexual…his drama paralleled Dr. Frankenstein's (not to be confused with Frankenstein's monster) in that he gets lost in his own ego, drunk on his own greatness, and ignorant of the pathos plaguing his tale.

Though it's not explicitly expressed, I immediately felt upon my first viewing of the Invisible Man that it's a tragedy about addiction; about losing connection with a higher source and being so seduced by delusions of grandeur as to feel one with God while being fundamentally separated in such a horrifying way that the brain can't even accept it. It was in this mania that I found my Invisible Man.

Dr. Griffin in various states of completion...


The Invisible Man I've chosen is a hybrid of the Dr. Griffin that appears in the 1987 H.G. Wells novella and the Dr. Griffin portrayed by Claude Rains in James Whale's 1933 film The Invisible Man for Universal. I was surprised by the humorous tone of the novella but liked that Dr. Griffin was more isolated and insane.

In the film, his insanity comes on gradually, severing him from his loved ones. My Dr. Griffin seems to fall somewhere between these two. Unlike the novella version, my Dr. Griffin was not insane prior to taking the invisibility serum. While I'd like to say he is driven mad by the drug itself (as stated in the film), I also feel that the power that comes with invisibility juxtaposed with the helplessness of being unable to find an antidote are factors in this particular Dr. Griffin coming unhinged.

In the film, the specific ingredient monocane is faulted for Griffin's mounting insanity. Unlike the film's Griffin, I wanted my Griffin to already be isolated from anyone and anything that he ever loved, save his own ego, science, and, of course, his drug. I wanted amorous romance far from his perspective, rather I preferred he be consumed by a lust for power and a severe chemical addiction that brings with it a psychotic euphoria.

While a lot of the themes I've explored in my portrait of Dr. Griffin run along the same vein, they come close to outright contradicting each other so that he is basically one character existing in several realities at once that present general feelings of desperation, obsession, delusion, frustration, and mania. This Dr. Griffin is isolated and unloved but was also once a potentially great man faulted by a crippling arrogance. His insanity comes from power just as much as from an inability to regain what he's lost.

At the same time, his insanity comes from a chemical shift brought on by a highly destructive and equally addictive drug. He holds his serum up in mad triumph, but is this serum the antidote or just another batch of the invisibility potion? At times, I imagine an antidote is not even a factor as he regains visibility as the drug wheres off.

At other times, I imagine that he's desperately searching for a way to become visible again, a way that's always out of reach. But then I think that perhaps he is just struggling to recreate a drug for the high, a drug that keeps losing its potency despite the fact that Griffin is sentenced to his invisibility indefinitely. 

The Invisible Man pre-watercolor...

One of the most obvious motifs that appears again and again in my portrait of Dr. Griffin is the poppy. The wallpaper consists of simplified renderings of poppy flowers, a poppy flower has been crafted into the lower corner of the stained glass window, and poppies are being examined in a Victorian terrarium beside Griffin's microscope. In either the film or the novella (possibly in both) opium is said to be a key ingredient of the invisibility serum along with the monocane.

In this portrayal, Dr. Griffin has created a gaseous form of the serum that he is constantly inhaling through a mask, but we can see dripping syringes on the counter as well as a shattered syringe on the ground. While the serum as an inhalant keeps Griffin medicated while he works, the injections offer him a more severe high.

But I used different shades of green to indicate failed batches as Griffin struggles to improve the purity and get the right balance to make the perfect serum (presumably the one he is holding in his hand so victoriously). One more quick note on the poppy wallpaper: the centre of each poppy was drawn as a hypnotic swirl or spiral to reinforce the ideas of Griffin's downward spiral into mania and the hypnotic mesmerisation of deep addiction.  

Along with the syringes, I've worked in the less obvious swords motif. You can see the golden swords crossed on the wall behind Dr. Griffin as well as swords for cabinet door handles. Originally, swords were also supposed to be worked into the wallpaper pattern but this didn't work very well on a visual level so they were removed in favour of the poppy pattern. In the tarot, swords are representative of the air element and matters of the mind.

All of Dr. Griffin's failures and ambitions are firmly set within the realm of the mind: his science, his madness, his addictions, his arrogance. A synopsis of the character of Dr. Griffin on Wikipedia explains that Griffin's work explores optics and that his serum was born from his finding a shift in his body's refractive index, changing it to that of air, rendering him invisible through a rejection of light.

So, again, we're brought back to the element of air, its relation to the mind, and the symbol of the swords. But keeping in mind with the theme of addiction, each sword's handle is crafted to look like that of a syringe.  

Finally, I decided to give the Invisible Man a bit of a psychedelic dandy look because, despite the tragic themes of the portrait, I was listening to the '60s psych group The Herd's "She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not" during the coloring process and it just seemed to be a dimension of my Dr. Griffin that fit. In some ways, it expresses his flamboyance while simultaneously communicating (at least for me) an inflated confidence in himself fanned by chemical euphoria. 

Dr. Griffin in full megalomaniac color