“Metafictional” is when a work of fiction is aware that it is a form of fiction. The work goes on to examine numerous elements of fiction, normally presenting questions regarding the relationship between reality and fantasy.
Typically, a work’s status as metafictional is made apparent through various metafictive devices, which can include elements such as characters, plot, or even the author themselves. For example, a character breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience is metafictive. Another example of metafiction could be a fictional work exploring and assessing how stories are formed and how plots are created.
One example of a metafictional work in comics is Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn’s Deadpool. The character of Deadpool is well known for his comedic personality and his tendency to break the fourth wall. In this panel, the writers had Deadpool directly ask the reader for a taxi. By doing this, it is made apparent that the character of Deadpool is aware of the readers existence. For Deadpool to be aware of the readers existence would also imply that Deadpool is aware of his status as a fictional comic book character. This clearly indicates the Deadpool comic as metafictional, as it is a fictional work with a character fully aware they reside within a fictional universe, and interacts with the reader on multiple occasions.
The fortieth issue of Ex Machina also utilizes metafictional writing. Tony Harris, who was responsible for the art of the Ex Machina series, sits alongside a character he helped create. In this panel, the reader witnesses a meeting between creator and creation. Tony Harris listens to his character speaking about his personal views regarding metafiction.In this panel, not only is metafiction present through the presence of the illustrator, but also through the dialogue concerning metafiction itself. The character states how he is not “into the whole Grant Morrison ‘meta’ thing.” And that “seeing creators in a book kinda takes [one] out of the story…” This reference is made due to Grant Morrison’s reputation for writing metafiction. Many of Morrison’s works, including Flex Mentallo, and Supergods utilize the device of metafiction.
The third and final example of metafiction in comics is from the Sensational She-Hulk. In this panel, She-Hulk tears away the comic to chastise John Byrne, the writer and penciler. In this particular panel, two metafictive elements are used. She-Hulk is both aware that she resides in a fictional world and “tears” through it, as well as addressing the penciler and writer directly. This directly reveals the work as a piece of metafiction in which the world of the Sensational She-Hulk realizes it is not reality.
Brian Posehn, Gerry Duggan. (2015) Marvel Comics. Deadpool #43 (September).
Brian Vaughan, Garth Ennis. (2008) DC Comics. Ex Machina #40 (December).
John Byrne. (1992) Marvel Comics. Sensational She-Hulk #37 (March).