The Doc Fix


Regularly updated articles on story structure and analysis; tips, thoughts and useful bits and pieces.

"the story . . . the intellectual frame on which all artwork rests"

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If you've ever liked comic books but had to call them graphic novels to convince others of their seriousness, then Will Eisner is to blame. He came up with the term.

When I was a younger man, by chance, I found myself part of the social world of comic book writers and artists.

In my flat, I'd come home from work and find people like future-famous writers and artists like Neil Gaiman, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Dave McKeen (an excellent pianist, I quickly found out) scattered around my living room.

I was even offered a first edition hardback of Alan Moore's Watchmen - which I turned down.

Oh well...

In Narrative and Graphic Storytelling, Eisner writes that:

"the story is the most critical component in a comic . . . the intellectual frame on which all artwork rests".
Eisner was the godfather of all this graphic storytelling.

He grew up in the depression (that is, 1930s New York) writing single-panel comics, forming a working partnership with the soon-to-be creator of Batman, and then worked up to - as his final act at the age of 87 - writing and drawing a graphic novel about the horrific anti-semitic forgery "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion".

And, of course, Eisner knew that his story rested on an "intellectual framework".

He'd created single panels and multiple panels for newspapers funny pages...

...but to tell a story at any length, he knew he needed a 'framework' - a structure that carried the meaning.

​The story IS the framework.

When you have a story, you can use all your skills to create scenes, moments, ideas and images that deliver something meaningful.

There are some great graphic novels.

Make your local comic story guy a friend - he'd be happy to suggest some titles for you (they don't get out much, so they are always happy to talk - and if you mention Eisner you get big points).

Buy a few and see what the bigger idea is...

  • At what point do you want to know how things turn out?
  • When do you begin to get a feel for the genre (the personality of the story)?
  • When do you wonder what this story is 'for'?
  • Why does each image or scene add to the story or take you away?
  • Where is the framework that Eisner talks about?
  • Graphic novels are valuable because they use imagery to express their ideas, as well as text.

At their best, there's a simple power they deliver that you can't get from any other form.

By the way, I don't have any graphic novelists or artists in our program, but if you know any, I'd love to have that conversation.

Meanwhile, if you want to be part of our program, get in touch. You'll find out more about us here.

All the best - Nigel