Cyberpunk and Visual Culture


Cyberpunk science fiction emerged in a decade that saw an unprecedented ascendency of visual and virtual media in popular culture. Within the expansive mediascape of the 1980s and 1990s, cyberpunk’s aesthetics took firm root, relying heavily on visual motifs for its near-future splendor saturated in media technologies, both real and fictitious, such as video games, music videos, computer-generated worlds, augmented realities, consensual hallucinations, data networks, and many other technologies. As today’s realities look increasingly like the futures forecast in science fiction, cyberpunk speaks to our contemporary moment and as a cultural formation dominates our 21st century techno-digital landscapes.

The 15 essays gathered into Cyberpunk and Visual Culture engage the social and cultural changes that define our cyberpunk moment(s) and address the visual language and aesthetic repertoire of cyberpunk – from cybernetic organisms to light, energy, and data flows, from video screens to cityscapes, from the vibrant energy of today’s video games to the visual hues of comic book panels, and more. Unlike other anthologies that limit their analytical apparatus to literary cyberpunk, the essays of Cyberpunk and Visual Culture provide critical analysis, close readings, and aesthetic interpretations of exactly those visual elements that define cyberpunk today, moving beyond the limitations of merely printed text to also focus on the meaningfulness of images, forms, and compositions that are the heart and lifeblood of cyberpunk graphic novels, films, television shows, and video games.


Full Cover Image

Table of Contents

Introductory Material

  • Scott Bukatman – Foreword: Cyberpunk and its Visual Vicissitudes
  • Graham J. Murphy and Lars Schmeink – Introduction: The Visuality and  Virtuality of Cyberpunk

I: “Image/Text Concatenations”; or, From Literary to Visual Cyberpunk (and back again)

  • Christian  Hviid Mortensen – Beyond the Heroics of Gonzo-Journalism in Transmetropolitan   
  • Timothy  Wilcox – Embodying Failures of the Imagination: Defending the Posthuman in The Surrogates
  • Graham J. Murphy – Cyberpunk Urbanism and Subnatural Bugs in BOOM! Studios’ Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 
  • Stina Attebery  and Josh Pearson – “Today’s Cyborg is Stylish”: The Humanity Cost of Posthuman Fashion in  Cyberpunk 2020 
  • Pawel Frelik – “Silhouettes of Strange Illuminated Mannequins”: Cyberpunk’s Incarnations of Light

II: “Tactics of Visualization”; or, From Visual to Virtual Cyberpunk (and back again)

  • Christopher  McGunnigle – “My Targeting System is a Little Messed Up”:  The Cyborg Gaze in the RoboCop Media Franchise
  • Ryan  J. Cox – Kusanagi’s Body: Dualism and the Performance of Identity in Ghost in the Shell and Stand Alone Complex
  • Mark  R. Johnson – The History of Cyberspace Aesthetics in Video  Games
  • Stephen Joyce – Playing for Virtually Real: Cyberpunk Aesthetics and Ethics in Deus Ex: Human Revolution
  • Jenna  Ng and Jamie Macdonald – “We Are Data”:  The Cyberpunk Imaginary of Data Worlds in Watch Dogs 

III: “Emerging World Orders”; or, Cyberpunk as Science  Fiction Realism

  • Evan Torner – 1980s German Cyberpunk Cinema: Kamikaze 1989 and Nuclearvision
  • Mark Bould – Afrocyberpunk Cinema: The Postcolony Finds its own Use  for Things
  • Anna  McFarlane – Cyberpunk and “Science Fiction Realism”  in Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days and  Zero Dark Thirty
  • Sherryl  Vint – Cyberwar: The Convergence of Virtual and Material  Battlefields in Cyberpunk Cinema
  • Lars Schmeink – Afterthoughts: Cyberpunk Engagements with Countervisuality

Words of Praise

Gerry Canavan, Assistant Professor of English, Marquette University

Since its inception, cyberpunk has been haunted by the notion that it represents only a very brief moment of the science fictional imagination, a moment which quickly passed. Murphy and Schmeink’s smart collection proves the opposite is true: cyberpunk never ended, and in fact its vast transmedia landscape of images, icons, visual artifacts, and technological apparatuses has completely taken over our world.

 Kathryn E. Heffner, Oberman Center for Advanced Studies, University of Iowa

This collection demonstrates the breadth and depth of the subgenre through intriguing and accessible essays on the diversity of cyberpunk media, offering unique and important new arguments about the visuality of cyberpunk.

Stacy Gillis, Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature, Newcastle University

The report of cyberpunk’s death was an exaggeration, clearly, as the essays in this vibrant collection demonstrate. The ambiguities, complexities and excitements of this intermedial genre are explored here in riveting detail: the legacy of Gibson’s ‘lines of light’ are demonstrated to be, indeed, unthinkably complex.

 Thomas Foster, Professor of English, University of Washington

In addition to offering the fullest documentation to date of the range of visual media infiltrated by and responsive to the cyberpunk aesthetic, this collection offers bold new arguments about the relation between print and visual narratives and the convergent, cross-media character of contemporary science fiction in general.

Janine Leona Schleicher, Film Studies, Frei Universität Berlin
zum Essay “Afterthoughts”:

Schmeinks […] konziser Schlusstext fasst die vergangenen Beiträge in jeweils kurzer Erwähnung noch einmal zusammen und integriert sie in seine Argumentation von Cyberpunk als countervisuality im Spätkapitalismus, der in einer post-panoptischen Welt die Möglichkeit bietet, als Subjekt die Autorität über das Sehen und die Interpretation des Gesehenen zurückzugewinnen.

zum gesamten Band:

Gerahmt und miteinander in Verbindung gesetzt durch die jeden Teil einführenden Überlegungen der Herausgeber ergibt sich insgesamt eine kohärente und überzeugende Argumentation, die die Visualität des Cyberpunk medienübergreifend in den Vordergrund stellt und im aktuellen Zeit- und Kulturgeschehen verortet.


Janine Leona Schleicher in Zeitschrift für Fantastikforschung, vol.7, no. 1, 2019, pp. 1–7. (Link)

Kathryn E. Heffner in Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction, vol. 48, no.2, 2019, pp. 103–04. (Link)

The book is available in both paperback and hardcover. To order the book, go to the publisher’s website or visit Amazon.
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