Coming to (Literary) Terms: Metafiction

Part of what makes a graphic novel more novel than novelty is the fact that it can be used to discuss and appreciate the nature of literature in a relatively accessible format. A great graphic novel can be just as challenging, thought provoking, and structured as anything else we consider traditionally as literary canon. One of the consistent contributions to this blog will be an examination of literary techniques, theory and analysis of my humble library of graphic novels, manga and films.

The term of the day is: Metafiction!

The term covers fictional works that use techniques that show self-awareness. If a character breaks the forth wall, and editor begins discussing the nature of the plot openly, or just simply plays off of the nature of it’s own fabrication, it is metafiction. In our current world, the word “meta” ends up being understood as self-referential, which is a good starting off point for understanding. Personally, whenever I think of metafiction, one character comes to mind…

Deadpool at the end of the Agent X

Deadpool is probably one of the best characters to quickly discuss how metafiction works. Anyone that takes on the writing duties, as well as art, will have to find ways to look at the medium in the most creative of ways. Although, editors have in the past flexed their muscles by having little metaficitonal arguments, the writers in this case have to take it into account that the character itself can be a vehicle for it. The affect it has on this type of reading is not to jolt the reader out of the experience, but to draw them in even further. While being lost in literature is great, reading is often talked about as a one sided discussion and metafiction helps to bridge the gap between author, character and reader.


The Howard the Duck example above is much closer to what previous editorial staff would write in my previous experience of comics and metafiction. However with the introduction of Chip Zdarsky as the writer, the quirk level has gone up substantially (which sounds odd, but completely true). The above is a multilayered metafictional piece of writing in which the continuity of comics is being called into question through editor notes and dialogue. This allows a connection between the real world and the fictional world. The effect draws the readers in, but mostly by touching upon what is almost a trope of comic writing. The art also reflects well with how the frustrating and confusing nature of what is being written, both by the editors and characters.

While not metafiction per se, Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics utilizes the technique when calling into question our general perceptions as they relate to the medium.mccloud2

In these brief ten panels, McCloud makes a series of clarifying points to make accurate statements about the way we interact with images. While the Magritte painting on it’s own is fairly sufficient, the entire composition of this page makes a profoundly self referential and reflective statement about comics, art and the way we think about it. Much of his book works to weave the reader in and out of the text to help us recognize how we are drawn into the text, but also how we can consciously navigate it.

Metafiction, at its best, is a tool that allows us to reflect on the nature of how a work is constructed. It is used to engage and entertain, but also allows us to be conscious of how we navigate the fictional landscape we are a part of. When a writer or character recognizes you engaging, you recognize them as well and that begins a very active relationship between the work itself and all parties involved. It brings something dynamic to what is essentially many static points. At worst, it draws your attention and distracts you from the fiction itself, and forces you to see the scaffolding, which is still beneficial for analysis.

Hope you learned something today. Thanks for stopping, dropping or passing by!


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