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The graphic novel as metafiction

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This article takes as its object of analysis the graphic novel adaptation of Paul Auster's novel City of Glass (1985) by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli (2004). The adaptation serves as the ground upon which to analyse the differences between novels and graphic novels with respect to how they employ metafictional devices.

Metafiction involves the use of strategies, in most cases peculiar to the medium, which force the reader to reflect on the fictionality of the text and, consequently, the nature of writing. One of the main targets of such strategies is the reader's perception of the unity of the narrative voice and its role in establishing a coherent ontology. One of the strengths of Auster's novel is its capacity to establish and then subvert the narrative voice through a series of unexplained ontological shifts in the plot and repeated contraventions of the rules separating the author, character and narrator. The reader is continually seduced into thinking that the precision of the narration will lead to a coherent account of the relationship between the various plot strands, but this assumption is repeatedly challenged, as is the reliability of the authorial voice. Karasik and Mazzucchelli endeavour to reproduce the ontological uncertainty of Auster's text but they are presented with a difficulty that arises from the duality of narration in the graphic novel, as each thought, description and passage of dialogue is accompanied by a sequence of images. The structure of the graphic novel is such that the verbal narrative is always incorporated into the spatial field, which, I will argue, is accorded ontological priority. The visual narration includes details that are not present in Auster's novel, and this sometimes confirms or supports a particular narrative thread that remains only a latent possibility in the novel. At the same time, the visual narration is imbued with a consistency not found in the shifting narrative voice of the novel.

The article will draw on theorists working within the various sub-disciplines (Philippe Marion (1993), Thierry Groensteen (2007) and Brian McHale (1987)). The theory of metafiction is used to develop some of the questions concerning adaptation and to explore further the role that the image plays in delineating the comic book's fictional world.
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Keywords: Paul Auster; Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli; adaptation; graphic novels; metafiction

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Monash University.

Publication date: 2010-04-01

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  • Studies in Comics aims to describe the nature of comics, to identify the medium as a distinct art form, and to address the medium's formal properties. The emerging field of comics studies is a model for interdisciplinary research and in this spirit this journal welcomes all approaches. This journal is international in scope and provides an inclusive space in which researchers from all backgrounds can present new thinking on comics to a global audience. The journal will promote the close analysis of the comics page/text using a variety of methodologies. Its specific goal, however, is to expand the relationship between comics and theory and to articulate a "theory of comics". The journal also includes reviews of new comics, criticism, and exhibitions, and a dedicated online space for cutting-edge and emergent creative work.

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