Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ward's Dependence on the Gutter - Revision - 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 is there. This is a skill that is developed over time, it is often seen that toddlers and babies lack this skill. They recognize what they see and they don’t fill in the blanks as to the world around them, this is most obviously seen with “peek-a-boo” when the baby is legitimately surprised at the appearance of the person playing the game everything time they show their face. As a child I had a reoccurring 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 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 or watching a movie and know what happens. I see the gutter being used in Vertigo as a necessary part, since there are no words, people need to create the story that is developing and have the details that they choose. Examining this novel, one of the original graphic novels, and looking at some of The Incredible Hulk can make my point that Ward used the gutter in Vertigo more than conventional comics.

David Barnes has an interesting development of the gutter when discussing the “Time in the Gutter: Temporal Structures in Watchmen”. He examines the definition that McCloud offered in his book from 1993 and builds on it to understand what works with Watchmen and in doing so he expresses the purpose of the gutter. “In a comic book images are physically adjacent but separated by a blank space called the gutter. In a comic the movement through time is a function controlled by the viewer rather than the film editor. It takes time and a literal movement of the eye through space to read a comic book … comics place special emphasis on the viewer’s conceptual sensibilities and ability to create closure.” (Barnes page 52). When jumping from scene to scene in any comic book or graphic novel, people use their minds to fill in the events that happen between the frames. In Vertigo jumping from picture to picture rely more on this process, if a series of images showed someone cocking their fist towards someone and then the next frame had the other person on the ground. Without text being provided with the images, our minds piece together that the person was punched and knocked out, we gain the closure between the frames with what we fill in. If there is text there saying that the man was punched and knocked out cold, then we are using our minds less to fill in those details because they are provided. This is necessary to understand in the development of the idea that Ward uses the gutter more than conventional comic book artists to tell his story in Vertigo.

Lynd Ward really pushes the issue with the gutter because of his lack of words and some transitions when moving from frame to frame in his story. Ward jumps from frame to frame and the passage that occurs between the frames is varied and may have bigger jumps than is seen in a comic book like The Incredible Hulk. With the absence of words from the novel, Ward is dependent on the gutter even more in his novel. 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 on our own. We interpret what happens for the characters between the frames and the amount of the time that occurs between them that we see fit. 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 movement through time is a function controlled by the viewer rather than the film editor. It takes real time and a literal movement of the eye through space to read a comic book” (Barnes page 52). Barnes understands this point that the people reading Vertigo and other comics set the time between them, but with some jumps that seem unrelated, we can only try to understand the passage of time in Vertigo.

The example that I want to use in Vertigo is one that spans several pages and really showcases Ward’s dependence on the gutter in his book. The example is during the speech that the principal gives at the graduation ceremony during the section of the book dedicated to the girl. An actual speech describing the accomplishments of America up until this point would be a lot more detailed than what was provided in the images in Vertigo. That is what I interpreted it to be, and I am sure others interpreted that it would be roughly the same amount of time with brief snapshots given in the speech on the accomplishments of America. Without transitions we are left to interpret this on our own, there are no frames in this section dedicated the development of the time between the scenes. The speech as it is written if I take it literally would read as someone saying “We sailed across the sea, 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 in time, your graduation.” That would be a very dull speech that would be over too quickly, not the inspiring speech that one would expect from a commencement speech, 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 of 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 to 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 be 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 closer is the agent of change, time and motion.” (McCloud page 65). When looking at the carnival scene, there are many frames where the girl and the boy are seen at the carnival busy with the activities there. We are not supposed to assume that they are just 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.

When looking at a set of images in The Incredible Hulk, one of the set of images that is reused that uses the gutter less at first is the atomic explosion that is seen on page 4 of The Incredible Hulk. In these images, the text helps guide the narrative and points to a general time scale and we are given a more narrow passage of time and this is understood, it is not something that we are supposed to infer from the images like we do in Vertigo. In the Hulk, the images are smaller and take up less of the page than in Vertigo and thus allows for more of them that provide a more detailed story, it requires us to fill in less of what happens. Having text with the comic also allows for less use of our minds to develop the story. This policy of having more images that are closely related and having text describing what happens in the current conventional development of comics. Later in the comics the same scene is depicted again and again using fewer images than the first. This gutter that is bigger is not the same as the one seen in Vertigo; we already have the images in our mind of what happened when that we gathered from the first telling of the scene, so really that gutter is just to recall what happened on our own instead of using unnecessary ink.

There are a lot of illustrations that are left out of the final version of Vertigo 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 and gathered some interpretations on McCloud’s gutter through works like the one David Barnes provided on the “Time in the Gutter: Temporal Structures in Watchmen”. They charged me with grasping how much our minds do in comics to interpret and develop the story and the characters, it is astounding, and yet we do this every day in our lives. Through the use of more images and frames that specifically tailor to each scene and through the use of words, conventional comics have less dependence on the gutter than Ward had when he created Vertigo.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: [the Invisible Art]. New York: HarperPerennial, 2010. Print.

Ward, Lynd. Vertigo: a Novel in Woodcuts. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2009. Print

Barnes, David. "Time in the Gutter: Temporal Structures in Watchmen." Ingentaconnect Home. BRILL, 01 May 2009. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. .

Lee, Stan, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko. Marvel Masterworks Presents The Incredible Hulk. New York, NY: Marvel, 2009. Print.


  1. My original post is:

    "Using gutter effectively in illustrations - Ben Carlson"

  2. The link that is removed for some reason for the Time in the Gutter article is:

  3. At the start, you begin with a summary of some of McCloud's thinking that doesn't seem terribly directed. The argument at the end of the first paragraph is understated. This might very well be an important, worthwhile claim about Vertigo - but you aren't really presenting it as such.

    The second paragraph includes research awkwardly. This seems like a repetition of McCloud, more than an authentic second source - and you're still summarizing McCloud. This material might serve a purpose, but it isn't really well organized - you should be telling us *something* about Vertigo at this point.

    At the end of the 3rd paragraph you still haven't said anything specific about Vertigo.

    I like your one-sentence version of the principal's speech. IN this section I understand what you're getting at in general, but I'm still very unclear on what you're doing with the gutter as such - halfway through (or more), and you haven't said anything about what happens, and why, in any *specific* gutter.

    Similarly, when you leap to the carnival, I agre in a vague and general way that we don't understand how much time is passing, and that we must fill it, but I want more than I'm getting - I want, again, to go through the process of how you populate one of those gutters.

    You spend curiously little time and energy on the Hulk, but you do make the important point that words serve a guiding function in the Hulk. So are you really interested in the gutter, or in the differences between comics with words and without, or are the two topics related? The final idea is the most interesting, although also the most difficult and challenging- it's the only way I can easily bring together all the different things you're saying about the Hulk in a way that makes sense to me.

    You end on the thought (my wording, not yours) that less can be more in comics. This is an interesting and worthwhile direction, and I actually think that this essay could have worked much better if you had tried to detail/push McCloud's concept of comics as a "subtractive" medium; what you're arguably doing is presenting an argument that Vertigo subtracts greatly from what comics like the Hulk do, and is all the better for it. That's an argument that I can get behind - but whether you did that, or whether you pursued some other related idea about minimalism (which I suspect might really be what you're interested in - how art benefits from doing less rather than more), you needed to focus more closely on the texts/images in question - the thing that most damages this essay is that it's so general throughout, with nothing really standing out as a detailed analysis of the material.