I was recently re-reading Grant Morrison’s The Multiversity series, and it dawned on me that one of his books was an almost page-by-page ripoff of something I had read years earlier, like when I was maybe five.
The Multiversity is a nine-part comic event published by DC Comics comprised of a two-issue main series, six one-shot stand-alone issues, and a guidebook.
One of the one-shots was titled, Ultra Comics #1 (https://static.wikia.nocookie.net/marvel_dc/images/3/3c/The_Multiversity_Ultra_Comics_Vol_1_1.jpg) As Ultraa warns:
Only you can save the world If you value your lives You must NOT read this comic!
The entire comic book itself, being held in the readers’ hands then becomes the conceit of The Multiversity’s plot.
According to Wikipedia, Morrison describes the Ultra Comics #1 one-shot as:
Morrison describes this book as "the most advanced thing I've ever done. I’m so excited about this. I’m just taking something that used to be done in comics and captions that they don't do anymore and turning it into a technique, a weapon, but beyond that I don't want to say. It's a haunted comic book, actually, it's the most frightening thing anyone will ever read. It's actually haunted—if you read this thing, you'll become possessed."
The idea is that the book’s narrator, Ultraa, begins to realize there is something wrong not just with the plot of the comic but with the comic itself — there is a monster at the end of the book.
It was an interesting conceit, and a great tool to use by the guy known for breaking the fourth wall in his Animal Man series. But, I couldn’t get rid of this feeling that I’ve seen it before…
1971’s The Monster at the End of the Book, starring Grover the Muppet: (https://iamchiaravalli.medium.com/the-monster-at-the-end-of-this-book-feaa184a541e)
As far I I am aware, Monster at the End of the Book, while not being the first to break the fourth wall of fiction, is the oldest I know of that places the reader as the protagonist at center of the story’s conflict, and ultimately the party responsible for resolving the plot’s conflict.
Does anyone know of earlier work to use this conceit?