Eisner, a seasoned comic veteran, recommend several ways to develop comics and retain the reader’s attention in his book Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative. One of the ways that Eisner recommends getting an idea is from “What If?” statements. On page 75 he introduces this concept, and follows through on pages 76-85, stating “the ‘what if’ formula provides a narrative with a ‘peg’ upon which to hang a contrived sequence of events.” That is, it allows us to take some concept that is familiar to us, the reader, and lets the storyteller move forward with it in a manner that surprises and engages us.
The idea that Eisner uses here for “what if” statements is “what if there was life on another planet?” He then tells the story of a radio tower operator who receives a signal seemingly from another planet. The signal is decoded as prime numbers, seemingly coming from intelligent life in outer space. When the operator and decoder attempt to get locate the source of the signal, they unwittingly give their information about life in outer space to a soviet spy. This is the “peg” that Eisner talks about- up until this point, the story had been a generic affair that has been seen in many places. When the reveal that the tracking operator is a soviet spy, it is a subversion from the original idea, and allows the storyteller to play with the concept.
That leaves retention. Eisner posits on page 69 that the reader is influenced by several types of narrative media in their interaction with comics. This includes film, text, and interactive video. Retention can be based on how the comic is presented, and whether is more closely emulates film, books, or video. Page 51 also presents the case for a strong opening that grips you and leads you into the rest of the story. Eisner is somewhat troubled by the fact that a comics reader is fully in charge of acquiring information in a comic, finding it important to “surprise the character with whom the reader is involved.” (52)