If you follow me here or have the misfortune of attending my lectures, you know I have a great love for metafiction, not only as a literary device, but as a way of interpreting and shaping our own reality. As I continue further into my PhD work, I keep returning to Grant Morrison, not only because I appreciate his examples of metafiction in comic books, but because I love the vocabulary he uses to describe what he’s going after.
Take, for instance, a recent interview he did with Ales Kot and Zoetica Ebb in issue #4 of the amazing publication Coilhouse:
Once the nineties came along, I changed my life and started doing The Invisibles. I thought, I’ll do a comic that actually is a magic spell, a narrative sigil. I had made that little comic book avatar of myself for Animal Man and decided to make a better on, a “fiction suit” I could use to live an alternate life in print. . . . I was looking at what Neil Gaiman was doing with Sandman, because he looked like his character and it was getting attention. Girls loved him because he looked like Morpheus! I thought, What a wicked idea. Fuse yourself with the character, so if fans love the character then they actually get to meet him when they meet you. How weird is that? I thought, I’m going to turn myself into a comic book character and I’m going to write about my adventures every month. I’m also going to see how it reflects in my own life, as a magical, transformative act.
First off, if you love the aforementioned quote, you’ll end up stalking the entire interview. Go buy your copy of Coilhouse now.
Anyway, maybe it’s my inner nerd taking over, but it’s stuff like this that excites and inspires me. Fiction suit is one of the many terms I’ve appropriated into every day speak and I’ve begun to litter my PhD work with.
Now, I’m not going to get into Animal Man or The Invisibles (not today, at least). Instead, I want to take a quick look at by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris’ Ex Machina, specifically #40 of the series that used an entire issue to make a metafictional diversion.
Such as this:
What I like about this particular metafictional encounter – the meeting of creator and creation – is how selfish it is. I’m not saying this negatively. Postmodern metafictional encounters, in particular, have been committed more for the benefit of the writer rather than the reader. The writer putting on a fiction suit is a selfish act.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions is a good example of a writer working through some seriously heavy issues as he turns 50. The book is clearly written for Vonnegut first, and luckily, it manages to be entertaining for us as well. Morrison’s metafictional encounter in Animal Man works the same way, but it’s a testament to his talent as a writer that he manages to make it work within the themes he had been building for the previous 25 issues of the run. And when Stephen King puts on his fiction suit for The Dark Tower series, we’re reading King work out some of the remaining issues he had with his horrifying 1999 accident when a truck hit him, leaving him “laying in a heap . . . all tangled . . . [with] his leg was broken“.
Vaughan, wearing his fiction suit, is out to do the same thing; an attempt to work through some emotional issues within the confines of his own work. The issue is full of in-jokes and playing around with the collaborative relationship between Vaughan and Harris, but once you move past that, what you’re seeing is Vaughan at the threshold of a major life changing decision about leaving New York for LA. Like Vonnegut searching for answers from Kilgore Trout, Morrison from Animal Man, King from the Gunslinger, Vaughan is finding answers by interacting with Mitchell Hundred. And thus continuing the postmodern inversion of the creator seeking answers from the creation.
This is a device that turns a lot of people off, but when it’s done right, like in all of the aforementioned examples, it’s a real delight – with implications that are even more delightful.