The Sympoiesis of Superheroes

The posthumanist and participatory aesthetics of the comic book Black Orchid (1988), written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean.

  • Per Israelson Stockholm university


Through the neocybernetic concept sympoiesis, the comic book Black Orchid can be understood as a media ecology, where the feedback between the reader and the material environment of the comic book emerges as a distributed cognition. I will argue that the reader of the comic book participates in the production of aesthetic experience, and, more importantly, that this participation is not only a question of joining in on the hermeneutic circle, where the reader interprets the comic book and creates a storyworld. From a media-ecological perspective, aesthetic participation is also material and embodied; it is a question of participating in the emergence of an environment. In such a reading, Black Orchid tangibly stages an act of becoming, an event of ontogenesis.

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