G5 Doctoral dissertation (article)
Graphic human experiments : Frankensteinian cognitive logics of characters in Vertigo comics and beyond (2019)

Varis, E. (2019). Graphic human experiments : Frankensteinian cognitive logics of characters in Vertigo comics and beyond [Doctoral dissertation]. Jyväskylän yliopisto. JYU dissertations, 73. http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-39-7725-2

JYU authors or editors

Publication details

All authors or editors: Varis, Essi

eISBN: 978-951-39-7725-2

Journal or series: JYU dissertations

eISSN: 2489-9003

Publication year: 2019

Number in series: 73

Number of pages in the book: 1 verkkoaineisto (131 sivua, 75 sivua useina numerointijaksoina) :

Publisher: Jyväskylän yliopisto

Place of Publication: Jyväskylä

Publication country: Finland

Publication language: English

Persistent website address: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-39-7725-2

Publication open access: Openly available

Publication channel open access: Open Access channel


This article-based doctoral dissertation explores how fictional characters unfold and
function in the cognitive interactions and tensions that take place between texts and
readers. The focus is on multimodal characters of graphic narratives. Accordingly, the
theoretical framework combines some of the central insights of comics studies with
various theoretical views on fictional characters and various premises of cognitive
narrative studies. The analyzed series were picked from the corpus of DC Comics’
Vertigo imprint, which publishes experimental, intertextual series for adult readers.
One of them, Neil Gaiman and J. H. Williams III’s miniseries The Sandman: Overture
(2013–2015), was subjected to cognitive comics analysis, the purpose of which was to
investigate how the comic’s alien characters inject a sense of nonhuman otherness in
the reading experience. The other target text, Mike Carey and Peter Gross’
metafictional series The Unwritten (2009–2015) compares Frankenstein’s monster to
fictional characters: both are artificial creations assembled out of diverse materials, but
still have a semblance of life and humanity. This analogy constitutes the backbone of
the extensive theoretical fusion and speculation performed throughout the work. The
Creature’s journey from assorted fragments into a sentient, rebellious being is likened
to the developments between structuralist, cognitive and transmedial character
theories, for instance. Additionally, Frankenstein’s handiwork and the wanderings of
his collage-like creation steer the attention towards the ways characters and their parts
are recycled from text to text and from medium to medium. These transtextual
processes are shaped both by the commercial interests of the creative industries and by
the communities of readers, whose cognitive engagements ultimately grant the
characters a spark of life. Based on the case studies conducted in the four articles, the
dissertation suggests a new enactivist theory of fictional figures. Characters are
experienced as dynamic and life-like because readers enact them as such in their
interactions with texts and other readers, and because these textual, social and cultural
environments offer possibilities for such cognitive actions. These interpretational
processes are profoundly relational, open-ended and subjective, which imbues
characters with monstrous paradoxicality and instability: they are both text and
cognition, both mimetic and synthetic, both incomplete and forever open to new

Keywords: fictional characters; comics; fiction; texts; comic book characters; cognitive literary criticism; literary research; reading experiences; transmedia

Free keywords: comic book characters; fictional characters; comics; graphic narratives; cognitive narrative studies; enactivism; reading experiences; narrative theory; transmedial narratology; Vertigo comics; Frankenstein's creature

Contributing organizations

Ministry reporting: Yes

Reporting Year: 2019

Last updated on 2021-09-06 at 23:27