Thursday, September 29, 2011

Using the gutter effectively in illustrations - Ben Carlson

In understanding comics, Scott McCloud talks vividly in chapter three about closure. He describes something that our mind does in real life that is applied to comics: The part of our mind that may not see something, but knows that it is there or believes that it is there. As child I had the daydream that outside of my storyline, there was nothing else and people were only there to help progress the story that I was undertaking. This self-centered way of thinking ended after a while and I began to realize how much the world goes through that I don’t or ever will witness, I go on faith that it happens. Scott McCloud draws out this point in chapter three. When reading comics, people create what happens between frames and make in their mind what happens to fill in the blanks (McCloud page 60). We can see the use of the “gutter” a lot throughout Vertigo, and it is used to stimulate the mind into thinking about the story instead of only reading text and knowing what happens.

Lynd Ward really pushes the issue with McCloud’s definition of the “gutter” because of the lack of words and the transitions that he uses from frame to frame. With the absence of words from the novel, Ward is dependent on the “gutter” and the transition from frame to frame to develop the story. He points out the scenes and some of the key points in them, but since we are not given words in the text and only still shots of what is happening, we determine a lot of what is happening. We interpret what happens for the characters between the frames and the passage of time that occurs. The emotions and thoughts that pass the minds of the characters and the events leading up to the shown scenes are dependent on us to do the work.

The first example that I want to bring up from Vertigo that really showcases the use of the gutter, is during the speech that the principal gives at the graduation ceremony. An actual speech describing the accomplishments of America up until this point would be a lot more detailed than what was provided in images in Vertigo, that speech in the book would be the equivalent of someone saying “We sailed across the sea, we cleared the land, we farmed the land and protected it from the natives, we built towns and cities, we rebelled against the British, we explored the west, we built railroads, we built into the sky with steel, and we have progressed entirely up until this point of your graduation.” That would be a dull speech that would be over too quickly, but since Ward used images our mind paints the rest of the picture. The story that we know proceeds from the colonization of the new world to the development of steel for buildings and industry and doesn’t leave out all the bad things that happened in history between the two times, something that the principal’s speech left out. The level of detail that each picture has cannot compare the level of detail that each of our minds creates for the story.

We discussed in class that the bigger frames can be assumed to bigger lapses in time in the scene shown, but the time in the “gutter” between the scenes cannot be defined as easily. McCloud says in the chapter on the gutter the relevance of the gutter on time; “… A medium where the audience is a willing and conscious collaborator and closure is the agent of change, time and motion.” (McCloud page 65). When looking at the carnival scene, there are many scenes where the girl and the boy are seen at the carnival busy with the activities there. We are not supposed to assume that they just are at each of the areas instantaneously when going from frame to frame. I imagine them walking, joking, and doing other activities that weren’t included like getting cotton candy or popcorn. The time that Ward leaves us with between the frames is something that changes frequently. He provides years, months, and days that guide the overall sections, but the rest of the story is up to us to really see how long each part takes in our mind. He is a very interesting author in that the time isn’t defined, but merely suggested in the way the frames are.

There are a lot of illustrations that are left out of the final book that we have, but I think it is for the better. We are able to create our own story within the beautiful outline that Ward has provided to us. If we were given every detail in the story we would not think as much or have such an interesting time interpreting the message that is before us. To me, this is one of the most fascinating parts of comics that I did not realize before I read the book McCloud wrote. To really grasp how much our minds do in comics to interpret and develop the story and the characters is really astounding, and yet we do this every day in life.


  1. This is extremely good and makes a lot of phenomenal points. One thing that could take this a little further with the comparison between what McCloud offers us in terms of definitions and what Ward offers us in content would maybe be a discussion of the "panel" or lack thereof. Otherwise, really good work.

  2. This week's assignment was very open-ended - dangerously so, if anything. You struggled a little where I imagine most of your classmates also struggled - at clarifying a single, clear argument, when it's easy just make observations.

    It's not that you don't have an argument. You are arguing, I think, that Ward more than conventional comics artists relies in *absence* more than *presence* (my terms, not yours or McClouds) - that we are asked to give more closure, and thus take more from it.

    This argument is solid, especially in the details (you are starting to sketch out a good, if initially somewhat vague, reading of the carnival sequence). What I would have liked is, first, more clarity about your argument, and especially about your reading experience. If the reader gets more from this kind of closure (which you claim) you should be able to articulate the ways in which *you* do so - I suspect a more intensive reading of the carnival sequence might be the best way to do so.

    Anyway, this was a promising and interesting first draft, even if it was a little vaguer than it might have been.