Gutter

The gutter is the space between two panels within a comic strip or comic book. At its simplest form, the gutter is a blank space that separates two panels. This blank space creates a transition from one moment to the next within a story. As comic book scholar Scott McCloud explains, the gutter is used to “take two separate images and transform them into a single idea” (McCloud, 1993, p. 66). This statement by McCloud illustrates the concept of closure that the gutter allows. While a reader cannot see what is happening within the gutter, assumptions can be made that something happened between the panels that allow for those panels to be related in some way.

In this strip the gutter is used to allow Rover to stand up. Image source: Basset, B. (2015, Sept. 20). Red and Rover. GOComics. Retrieved from . Accessed September 29, 2015.
Figure 1. In this strip the gutter is used to allow Rover to stand up. Image source: Basset, B. (2015, Sept. 3). Red and Rover. GOComics. Retrieved from http://www.gocomics.com/redandrover/2015/09/03. Accessed September 29, 2015.

Brian Basset’s Red and Rover Sunday comic strip shows the gutter in its most basic form. In this strip to the right the gutter is simply a solid black line. In this line the character’s movements happen. Rover perks up his head, jumps to a crouching position, and lifts his head towards Red. All of these actions happen off page, but the reader can complete the story by following a logical thought process of how actions happen in real life.

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Figure 2. On this page the gutter is used to show a number of actions happening at a rapid pace. Image source: Gillen, K. (2013). Young Avengers #3.  Marvel. Retrieved from http://sequart.org/magazine/23831/how-comics-work-the-fight-scene-part-4/ Accessed December 8, 2015.

Figure two introduces a more complex use of the gutter. On the page the comic book protagonists are in a fight with a villain. Each action is shown on one page with movements and dialogue happening in individual panels layered onto of one another. The gutter serves as a way to keep the actions separate. While there are clear boxes to separate instances of time, the layering helps keep the action flowing across the page.

 

This strip creates the gutter through the use of a thought bubble. Image source: Bassast, B. (2015, Sept. 29). Red and Rover. GOComics. Retrieved from http://www.gocomics.com/redandrover/2015/09/29. Accessed September 29, 2015.
Figure 3. This strip creates the gutter through the use of a thought bubble. Image source: Basset, B. (2015, Sept. 29). Red and Rover. GOComics. Retrieved from http://www.gocomics.com/redandrover/2015/09/29 Accessed September 29, 2015.

Finally figure 3 shows an interesting combination of the gutter and thought bubbles. While this is not a traditional gutter the choice makes a clear-cut difference between the real and imagined. The reader can see that while the events are not sequential or even plausible they are in fact related to each other and important to understanding the story.

 

These three examples help show both the simplest and more complex forms of the gutter and how it can be useful.Sunday strips like Red and Rover allow for an introduction to how the gutter is used to separate panels and break to a character’s actions. More complicated comic books require a more invested reader to understand some gutter uses, like pages from comic books similar to Young Avengers. Readers can become more comfortable with how the gutter works purely by reading more comics; like anything else skill comes with practice.

REFERENCES

Albert, A. (2015). Gutter Definition. In About Entertainment. Retrieved from http://www.gocomics.com/redandrover/2015/09/29. Accessed September 29, 2015.

Gillen, K. (2013). Young Avengers #3.  Marvel. Retrieved from http://sequart.org/magazine/23831/how-comics-work-the-fight-scene-part-4/ Accessed December 8, 2015.

McCloud, S. (1993). Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.: New York, NY.

Tano, D. (2010, Nov. 7). Comic Book Glossary: Gutter. In The Comics Cube. Retrieved from http://www.comicscube.com/2010/11/comic-book-glossary-gutter.html. Accessed September 29, 2015.