The Luminary Postgraduate Magazine Lancaster University

Visualizing FantastikaGender Cover

Issue 6: Summer 2015

ISSN 2056-9238 (online)

Fantastika, coined by John Clute, is an umbrella term which incorporates the genres of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, but can also include alternate histories, gothic, steampunk, young adult fiction, or any other imaginative space. This issue features extended articles from the 1st Annual Fantastika Conference: Visualizing Fantastika, held July 2014 at Lancaster University. The conference examined the visual possibilities of the fantastic in a wide range of arts and media.

Read online by following the links below or download this issue as a PDF.

Introduction to "Visualizing Fantastika"

Brian Baker, Lancaster University. Read>>

Cree, Canadian and American: Negotiating Sovereignties with Jeff Lemire's Equinox and "Justic League Canada"

Will Smith, Lancaster University

Canadian and Torontonian Joe Shuster co-created Superman in 1938, drawing on his experiences at the Toronto Daily Star to define Clark Kent’s everyday life as a reporter. Despite Shuster’s Canadian co-authorship of the definitive American comic book superhero, John Bell suggests “Canadians are probably too wary of the uncritical portrayal of unrestrained heroism and power for the superhero genre ever to become a mainstay of the country's indigenous comic art” (84). Bell’s comments express national scepticism towards American myths of heroism, perhaps best summed up in the equally iconic Canadian trope of the ‘beautiful loser’. Whilst comic books may heighten these distinct senses of a national narrative, they are also the potential sites of encounter for intersecting national cultural narratives. Onesuch encounter can be seen in the recent “Justice League Canada” storyline of American publisher DC Comics’ Justice League United. Echoing its past connections with Canada, DC Comics’ Canadian cartoonist Jeff Lemire has created a superhero team storyline set explicitly in Northern Ontario, Canada, also introducing an Indigenous female superhero named Equinox to the DC comic book universe. Cree, and from Moose Factory, Ontario, the hero Equinox is in everyday life the teenager Miiyahbin Marten. Whilst the ‘DC universe’ is firmly a realm of the fantastic, Lemire’s storyline underscores how its characters provide real-life negotiations of American, Canadian and Indigenous identity. National boundaries, identities and sovereignties are potentially re-enforced and challenged through “Justice League Canada,” and particularly in the visualisation of Equinox. The mainstream storyworlds of American comic books are complicated by this negotiation of plural sovereignties. Read>>

Speaking the Unspeakable and Seeing the Unseeable: The Role of Fantastika in Visualizing the Holocaust, or, More Than Just Maus

Glyn Morgan, University of Liverpool

This article argues for the represtationabilty of the Holocaust, or rather, it advocates the intention to represent. True representation is impossible and yet, despite the protestations of opponents such as Nobel prize winner Elie Wiesel, it is necessary. Due to the traumatic nature of the Holocaust, and the inability of those who have not experienced it to truly comprehend the terrors it entails, mimetic modes of representation are insufficient. As such, non-mimetic or fantastic modes have a vital role to play and this has been recognised from the earliest opportunity, as this article shall show. Non-mimetic Holocaust fiction begins in the camps themselves with Hurst Rosenthal's Mickey in Gurs (1941) depicting Mickey mouse as a prisoner of Gurs camp, later in 1944 Calvo et al. used barnyard fable imagery to depict France's role in the war and the brutal occupation. Both of these pieces act as precursor to the genre defining non-mimetic Holocaust piece: Art Spiegelman's Maus (1986;1991). All three of these texts use animal imagery and metafictionality to elaborate on the mimetic historical record in some manner. The article will draw to a conclusion by examining a fourth text, or more specifically a single character within a set of texts, Magneto from Marvel comics' The X-Men. Magneto stands as an example of fantastical fiction, in this case the superhero comic, appropriating the Holocaust to deepen and extend its own narrative, as opposed to Rosenthal, Calvo, and Spiegelman use of the fantastic to augment their Holocaust narrative. In doing so, Magneto's character offers us a different view point of the intersection between the visual fantastic and one of the most terrifying horrors on the 20th century. Read>>

Adapting George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four

Asami Nakamura, University of Liverpool

In A Theory of Adaptation, Linda Hutcheon claims that “Adaptation is repetition, but repetition without replication” (7). If so, what does it mean to adapt George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)? According to Tom Moylan, Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) is a narrative of “anti-utopian pessimism” that “forecloses the possibility of any social transformation” (161-2). This is surely epitomised by the core image which the novel provides, that is, “a picture of the future” as “a boot stamping on a human face—forever” (NEF 280). Does adapting an anti-utopia further strengthen its myth of sheer closure, or does it create a kind of an anti-utopia with a difference?  This article first aims to establish the theoretical position in adaptation studies while discussing Orwell’s novel itself as an appropriation of several precursory novels. The second part of the article then focuses on adaptations which illustrate this theoretical perspective, that is, two film adaptations (released in 1956 and in 1984 respectively) and the recent theatre adaptation (released in 2013), while also discussing Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil (1985) as an appropriation of Nineteen Eighty-Four. The transition of adapter’s focus from the content to the form is detected alongside the intensification of the level of irony. Through this analysis, this article explores the concept of adaptation as a critical device, which casts light on the nature of Nineteen Eighty-Four as an intertextual phenomenon, rather than a unitary object. Those adaptations reconfigure the network of meanings in Nineteen Eighty-Four, revealing various faces of anti-utopia. Read>>

Simulation Frames: Young Adult Dystopian Cinema

Alison Tedman, Buckinghamshire New University

This article examines the ways in which Young Adult dystopian film Divergent (2014) successfully repurposes dystopia for a young demographic, making dystopia an aesthetically appealing space for heroic adventure. The film recombines Young Adult literary tropes with film conventions including those of science fiction. Divergent and other Young Adult dystopian films modify the potential for social critique associated with canonic dystopian fiction. The article’s critical framework includes theories of dystopia and of Young Adult dystopian literature, the Freudian uncanny, studies of the post-apocalyptic film city and new media theory. In Divergent, the dystopian division of society into factions is made enjoyable through production design, particularly in ‘Dauntless’, the faction joined by heroine Tris. This extends to transmedia marketing. The book’s violence is reduced to increase audience engagement, while lack of contextual detail precludes a critical dystopia. In Divergent, the spaces and ideologies of the post-apocalyptic film city are reframed as youth culture. Chicago is gamified, connoting an adventure playground. The space of the Dauntless ‘Pit’ offers symbolic rebirth, community and romance, yet its appeal is uncanny, as with communal spaces in The Host (2013) and The Maze Runner (2014). Divergent’s mirror simulation foregrounds spectacle but other simulations construct immediacy, appearing dream-like not immersive. Like the visions in Young Adult dystopian adaptations How I Live Now (2013) and Ender’s Game (2013), simulations convey individual awareness and supernatural communication. The film combines pleasurable classification and a divergence motif with its heroine’s development, revising dystopian cinematic space. Divergent represents a new form of dystopian cinema. Read>>

The Monstrous Transformation of the Self: Translating Japanese Cyberpunk and the Posthuman into the Living World 

Orion Mavridou, Abertay University

Neon-lit noir and technology-driven body horrors, oppressive metropolises and vast industrial landscapes, and in the midst of it all a fragile humanity struggling to maintain a semblance of itself in a post-human future —the world of cyberpunk is as visually stimulating as it is disturbing. Within its own subgenre, Japanese cyberpunk indulges further into this liminal imagery; featuring an ostensible fetish for futuristic teratology, it embodies its central conflict of “man vs. machine” in its protagonists’ bizarre and monstrous metamorphoses. In 1997, Final Fantasy VII presented gamers with a unique entry point into the insular realms of both East Asian RPGs and Japanese cyberpunk. Considered by many as the quintessential example of the Final Fantasy series and the archetypical cinematic videogame, Final Fantasy VII paints its own brand of a dystopian future with an eclectic range of visual influences, from Blade Runner and shōjo manga to Victorian gothic and religious symbolism. This article will be presenting a textual analysis of the aesthetics and visual evolution of Final Fantasy VII within the context of the wider Japanese cyberpunk subgenre, as well as reflecting on the outcomes of a practical study on the fan-driven crossmedia adaptation of the game’s visual language into costumed performance (i.e. cosplay). For the purposes of this research, the author went through the process of recreating and performing the costume and character of Vincent Valentine; one of the many player avatars in Final Fantasy VII, whose narrative arc is a characteristic example of the techno-scientific body horror, dehumanization and psychosexual repression which lie at the root of the Japanese cyberpunk ethos. Alongside the author’s close reading of the media text, this article offers an illustration of the researcher/cosplayer’s allegorical metamorphosis from the mundane into the extraordinary, from human into posthuman. Read>>

Losers Don’t Play Videogames. . . Heroes Do: The Remediation of Videogames in 1980s Science Fiction Films  

Dawn Stobbart, Lancaster University

A decade before the first adaptation of a videogame to film (Super Mario Brothers, 1993), computer and arcade videogames were incorporated as subject matter in mainstream Hollywood films such as War Games (1983), The Terminator (1984), and The Last Starfighter (1984), presenting the new medium through a science fictional lens. While these films aired widespread anxieties about the ability of computers and videogames to start global wars and override human social structures and agency, at the same time, they offered a counterpoint to the traditional masculine hero, which this article will explore, situating the adolescent within the historical context of the 1980s, film, and videogames.  The article will also consider the rhetorical questions raised by these films: the protagonist of War Games both inadvertently sets off and stops a chain of events that would lead to World War III. He does more than save the world from his own error, however: he teaches the government’s military computer to think and humanises the machine, rendering it less dangerous. When the protagonist of The Last Starfighter beats the arcade game for which the film is named, he is visited by aliens, who inform him that they planted the game in hope of finding a hero with shooting skills that can save the galaxy from its enemies. They transport him to fight that war, and he emerges a victorious hero.  All of these films reinvent the adolescent as a hero, and at the same time, question the role of technology as a growing part of 1980s culture. Read>>

To Fatality and Beyond: The Deathsetics of Failure in Videogames 

Stephen Curtis, Lancaster University

From the early static ‘Game Over’ screens of 1980s videogames to the elaborate and snuff-like voyeurism of contemporary character death videos, the end of games has always held the potential for a final realisation of the death drive that motivates the player. As technology has developed and enabled the increasing realism, or, more accurately, fidelity, of videogame visuals, a concomitant fascination with the death of the player character has arisen. My article examines the ways in which we can read the aesthetic nature of this development. The relationship between avatar deaths and visual fidelity is emblematic of the rapidly increasing economic aspects of the gaming industry. The constant deaths and restarts of the coin-op arcade games necessitated a killscreen as a financial imperative - ‘Insert coin to continue’ - but gaming’s filmic aspirations, and the accompanying budgets, seem to have reversed this relationship. Instead of frustrating the player through constant deaths, modern games do not require such a transparent application of the economics of play. It is ironic, therefore, that recent games such as Dark Souls have become so unexpectedly popular because of their willingness to kill the player. My article argues for a notion of ‘deathsetics’ predicated on the idea that death is a necessary part of the pleasure of playing games. I provide a brief history of virtual death in games and offer some explanations as to why this aspect has continued to be so central to the gaming experience. Read>>

Professional Game Artists: An investigation into the primary considerations that impact upon their work, and the effects upon their creative practice

Ken Fee, Abertay University

This article represents the author’s preliminary research into an area of creative practice that he pursued for some 20 years, namely that of a full time professional computer game artist. Initially collaborating with academics as a part time lecturer and industrial consultant, for the past eight years his roles within academia have focused on developing pedagogical models of professional practice within games education. Through his interaction with students, employers and graduates, the author began to identify an area of keen personal interest – namely, the actual realities of being a professional game artist, and the potential consequences on creative practice. In identifying the constraints and influences that direct such an artist’s work, it is the intention that a broader discussion may then follow, exploring how such artists can protect their creative muse, when the evidence would suggest that many aspects of the games industry are an absolute anathema to individual expression. In addition to his own experiences and research, the author has drawn on interviews with other professionals from games development, as well as artists who work in other areas of professional artistic practice (such as Fine Art, Illustration, and Comics). In this way his intention is to identify the areas of practice common to other areas of art, while highlighting any of the more unique elements present specifically within games development itself. While there is a large body or research into game design principles and technologies, there is very little discussion that focuses on the very people that make them. It is the author’s hope that this article plays some small part in starting to redress this balance, and may help the reader to appreciate the challenges such artists face. Read>>

A note on the contributors:

Brian Baker is a lecturer in English at Lancaster University and was a keynote for the Visualizing Fantastika conference. He writes mainly in the fields of masculinities, science fiction and critical/creative writing. He has recently published the Reader’s Guide to Essential Criticism: Science Fiction (2014), Contemporary Masculinities in Fiction, Film and Television (Bloomsbury, 2015), and the collaborative online narrative The Barrow Rapture.

Will Smith completed a PhD in Canadian Literature at the University of Nottingham in 2012. He is currently associate lecturer in the Department of English and Creative Writing and a 2014/2015 knowledge exchange fellow at Lancaster University.

Glyn Morgan has an MA in Science Fiction Studies from the University of Liverpool. He is currently researching his Ph.D thesis at the University of Liverpool on non-mimetic fiction and the Holocaust. He founded and has co-run the Current Research in Speculative Fiction (CRSF) conference for five successive years as well as conferences on alternate history, and classics and sf. He is the editor of Vector: The Critical Journal of the British Science Fiction Association. For more information on his work see:

Asami Nakamura is a postgraduate research student in the department of English at The University of Liverpool. Her MA dissertation on dystopian fiction was accepted at The University of Tokyo in 2012. She has published essays such as “Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale as a Multidimensional Critique of Rebellion” in The Journal of American and Canadian Studies.

Alison Tedman is a Senior Lecturer at Buckinghamshire New University. She teaches Film and Media Studies and has written and taught many modules in Film, Media and Critical Theory at the University since the 1990s. Her PhD from the University of Kent theorised fairy-tale cinema. Young Adult dystopian cinema is among her research interests.

Orion Mavridou is a postgraduate student and part-time lecturer in the University of Abertay Dundee. After completing a BA with Honours in Computer Arts in 2012 and a Masters in Games Development over the following year, he received his first publication in a peer-reviewed journal on the subject of fandom and copyright. His academic interests revolve around cosplay, fan fiction, game design, and the relationship between amateur and professional creativity.

Dawn Stobbart is in the final stages of PhD study at Lancaster University’s English Department.  She has a Ba (Hons) in English Literature and an MA in Contemporary Literature, and is currently focusing on the way that videogames function as a carrier for narrative and its role within this medium as part of her PhD study.  She has an interest in contemporary Literature, and especially the way this translates to the videogame.  Within videogame studies, she has conducted research into Gothic fiction, Posthuman fiction, folklore, and focusing on how videogames construct narratives for these genres.  She is also interested in contemporary Gothic fiction, and is currently exploring Stephen King’s fiction as a source for academic study.

Stephen Curtis is currently Assistant Director of the first-year World Literature course at Lancaster University. His doctoral thesis was entitled An Anatomy of Blood in Early Modern Tragedy, a project that is currently being adapted into a monograph. Although he specialises in Early Modern drama and literature, he has also written and delivered papers on contemporary Gothic, videogame theory and horror cinema. His research interests, although chronologically varied, are linked by a fascination with the human body and the extremes to which artistic representation can take it.

Ken Fee is a Lecturer and Programme Leader at Abertay University in Dundee. Originally a games developer, his professional publications span 25 years, from Grand Theft Auto to children’s games such as Room on the Broom. His primary areas of research are the fusion between technology and creativity, and the development of effective pedagogical models for professional practice within games development.


Front Cover art by Sam Robinson
Critical Editors: Charul (Chuckie) Patel, Rhianon Jones, and Chloé Alexandra Germaine Buckley
Special Editors: Charul (Chuckie) Patel and Rhianon Jones
We would also like to thank our peer reviewers for their kind consideration and efforts with this issue

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ISSN 2056-9238