Monday, December 7, 2015

Teaching an Old Bat New Tricks about Comics

Writer: Paul Pope
Colourist: Jose Villarrubia
Publisher: DC 

Post by Jamie Adam

When you imagine comics, what do you think of? Thierry Groensteen argues, in his book System of Comics, that most people envision panels on a page. However, there is a crucial element frequently overlooked in this conception—the gutters. The imagined panels could not exist if there were no gutters, also known as the space between panels. This crucial space often goes unnoticed, so this post will shed some light on the function of the margins and gutters of a comics page.

Working from the outside in, the margins are usually comprised of the white space surrounding the page. Groensteen argues that the dimensions of a margin affects a reader’s perception of the page, as well as enhance the contents of the page (31). 

Moreover, when panels are lined up evenly, they form a border, or a frame, so Groensteen calls this effect the hyperframe. Groensteen writes, “the hyperframe separates the useable surface of the page from its peripheral zone, or margin” (Groensteen 31). He also says that “the hyperframe is to the page what the frame is to the panel” (31), but with one crucial difference—usually the hyperframe is intermittent. Again, the hyperframe is the space around the edge of the panels; it can be thought of as the inside border of the margin. Further, there are gaps in the hyperframe where the gutters between panels lie, making the hyperframe more conceptual than physical, as it is not a solid line, nor really an intentional element. 

So now that you know what the margin is, what the hyperframe is, and what gutters are, let’s look at an atypical example from Batman Year 100 to see how these aspects work in tandem to affect the reading of a comic.

Here’s page 169:

Now, the border you see is added automatically when uploading a photo to the blog--the panels go right to the edge of the page in the book. It’s a subtle fact that you probably wouldn’t have noticed were we not discussing margins. So what effect does this have? Subconsciously, the reader takes note that there is so much action that it cannot be contained by traditional paneling, but goes right to the edge of the page on every side. Now look at the gutters—they’re not white. They’re a very light brown or beige. This lends the story a somewhat dirty, grimy feel. Think about the impact this scene would have if it had crisp, white margins and gutters. Not the same, is it? A one final point: if there are no margins, where’s the hyperframe in this example? I’ll tell you—it’s the outside edges of the page. Even if there are no margins, the hyperframe still exists.

Maybe now the gutters, margins, and hyperframe will get the recognition they deserve when thinking about and reading comics.

-Jamie Adam

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