Comic Books Narrative Research Project Proposal-A-Go-Go

In this class, we have examined, in detail, how narration works in film. We have also studied narrative functions in television series, and we will be discussing video game narrative soon. Through the Cambridge Companion to Narrative, we’ve even gone fairly in depth into literary narrative. One popular medium we will neglect (and perhaps the only one, aside from radio) is comic books. As a very big fan of comic books, and someone desperate for more opportunities to study them, I propose to make up for this omission by using my final paper to research theories of how comic book narratives function.

Unfortunately, comic book studies is, at best, a nascent field, and critical literature on comic books are few and far between. However, two authors, Will Eisner and Scott McCloud, stand out as the obvious luminaries of the field, and their works will serve as the foundation of my research. Hopefully, I will be able to find additional sources, but I expect to draw on Eisner and McCloud extensively.

In order to put their critical framework to use, I would like to select a comic book and its associated film adaptation. For this, I will be using Frank Miller’s Sin City, for several reasons. First and foremost, Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation is probably the most faithful comics adaptation yet put to film. Most other successful comic book movies (most super hero movies, even something like American Splendor) are principally pastiches of a much larger whole. When watching Sin City, you can pinpoint exactly where in Miller’s original the scene comes from. Although there are comic book movies I feel are better movies, and there are comic books movies that may be equally as faithful (300, another Miller adaptation, is fairly faithful to the source text; I just happen to loathe the film), Sin City strikes me as a good balance of quality and faithfulness.

In fact, Sin City being so faithful to the original may create some interesting narrative quirks. Generally speaking, Rodriguez copied Miller’s original wholesale. This may, however, result in scenes which follow comic book narrative logic but seem problematic from a film narrative perspective.

Standing in contrast to Eisner and McCloud’s theories of comic book narrative, I will also be taking film narrative into account, seeing how the two mesh well and where the two take different approaches. Most of what we have been reading would work for this, but I will probably be focusing principally on Bordwell’s book as the representative of filmic narrative theory.

Works Cited:
Bordwell, David. Narration in the Fiction Film. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

Eisner, Will. Comics and Sequential Art. Tamarac, Florida: Poorhouse Press, 1985.

Eisner, Will. Graphic Storytelling and Sequential Art. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996.

McCloud, Scott.  Making Comics. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.

Miller, Frank. Frank Miller’s Sin City Volume 1: The Hard Goodbye. Milwaukie, Oregon: Dark Horse Books, 2005.

Miller, Frank. Frank Miller’s Sin City Volume 3: The Big Fat Kill. Milwaukie, Oregon: Dark Horse Books, 2005.

Miller, Frank. Frank Miller’s Sin City Volume 4: That Yellow Bastard. Milwaukie, Oregon: Dark Horse Books, 2005.

Miller, Frank. “The Costumer is Always Right.” Frank Miller’s Sin City Volume 6: Booze, Broads, & Bullets. Milwaukie, Oregon: Dark Horse Books, 2005. Pp. 29-31.


Sin City Unrated Two Disc Special Edition. Dir: Miller, Frank; Robert Rodriguez; and Quentin Tarantino. DVD. Dimension Films, 2005.

  1. Jason Mittell’s avatar

    This is a great idea, and certainly comics/graphic novels are significant tradition that we’ve not explored. The mutual influence of comics & films is important and worth studying (side note: have you read Kavalier & Klay? The chapter about Citizen Kane is one of the greatest pieces of fictionalized media criticism I’ve ever read!). And I think Sin City is an excellent choice. Some questions to ponder: how does the different forms of visualization and incorporation of sound account for narrational distinctions? What about the treatment of time-frames? And are there storytelling possibilities that comics seem uniquely able to present rather than film?

    One more issue you might or might not want to tackle is seriality – comics are one of the important modes of long-term storytelling, and many of the serial strategies we’ll discuss this week connect to comics. There’s a book on seriality by Jennifer Hayward that talks about literature, soap operas, and comic strips (dailies) if you want to go down that road. Good luck!

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