The following is a bunch of thoughts for where I think I want my final paper to go for this course. I would appreciate any feedback you all may have, positive or negative. I would also appreciate essays/books you think I may need to read, or other comics you think I should maybe check out (unless it’s Jimmy Corrigan. I’m not going to touch that one).
I will be looking at the structure of the comic novel and how it functions in relation to a particular narrative. The specific structural entity I will be focusing on is what is called the gutter – the space between comic panels which requires the reader/viewer to create meaning in order to continue the continuity of the narration from panel to panel. The gutter is unique to the comic medium and requires more audience production than any other medium.
Parts of the paper:
1. Definition of terms necessary for reading about comics
2. Literary Review – much of the literature concerning comics is repetitive. A lot of people are saying the same thing over and over in different ways, using different examples to illustrate the same points.
- I will be adding to the debate by taking this repetition to the next level. According to Charles Hatfield’s 2010 article “Indiscipline, or, The Condition of Comic Studies,” the author complains that we are still presenting comics “as if the field were almost brand-new” (5), even though comics have been a part of mainstream entertainment for over 80 years (Superman debuted in 1938).
- Instead of repeating what everyone else has said, I plan to continue the argument in a new way, which I will illustrate below
3. The Literature Debate – Much of the conversation I mentioned above is about whether or not comics should, or will ever be considered ‘literature’. I will argue that comics are not, and should not, be considered literature based on claims made by other scholars. I plan to propose that comics get their own unique space in textual discourse, and that comics scholars leave the debate over literature to text-only novels.
4. Major Argument/How My Paper will be Different:
- Instead of illustrating how panels, frames, gutters, etc work in comics as a genre, I will argue that different narratives can, and do, direct the way in which gutters can be utilized. I will argue that particular narratives can construct meanings from gutters that cannot be understood without also understanding the narrative where they are applied.
- I will focus on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and how it can illustrate more ways for gutters to create meaning (using semiotic terms for clarity), than what Scott McCloud introduces in his 1994 book, Understanding Comics. Simultaneously, I will argue that, while comics should not be lumped in with literature, they can absolutely be considered ‘literary’, though we should use discretion when applying this term, as the entire medium is not worthy of this merit.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the comics medium, let me include a few pages here to illustrate what I will be showing in the paper.
This particular page is from the first volume of Sandman, and takes place in a diner: an everyday establishment that exists on this plane, in this reality. The characters are unaware that something supernatural is about to take place in this very diner. They are unaware of their placement in the narrative so far. Thus, the artists, Mike Dringenburg and Sam Keith, have decided to create this page as any traditional comic would be set up. The panels are rather standard size, square, and the gutters are white and empty.
The page below, another page out of Volume One, is a completely different set-up. The panels are not standardly square, and the gutters, while literally there, are red. In the narrative, the main character, the Sandman, is remembering a moment that happens earlier in the narrative, but from his point of view (the narrative perspective shifts often in this book). There are several important techniques in play here: The panels are curved to mimic the fact that the Sandman is trapped in a convex dome in the basement of a Nazi cult building. The red is arguably mirroring the inner part of the eye, doubly a mirror for the shape of his prison and the shape of the eye. The fact that the speech bubble is black is also important to the character in that whenever the Sandman speaks, his speech bubble is formatted this way. While the speech bubbles are not necessarily important to my argument, the space the Sandman occupies while narrating this memory sequence is important to the presentation of the page. It is both signifying the importance of space, time, and story arch in the narrative, and is allowing the reader to create meaning about the character of the Sandman and his importance within the larger narrative.
This last one is another of many ways in which the gutter is manipulated.
Here the narrative is not as important as in the others, though this is not always the case for this type of page layout. It is the case here because this is the first page in an issue and so just providing set-up. On the page, we see the outside of an asylum. This facade doubles as a full-page illustration and a backdrop for the other four panels. Here we can see the outside of the asylum and the inside, from various angles. In this way, the reader is given the setting, and the setting is not removed as the temporal shift in narration occurs. This is unique to comics, though not as widely used in more traditional comics. Because of the nature of the medium, comics are able to present more than one space at a time to the reader, and the reader can view more than one time at a time. As the eye moves from the top panel to the bottom panel, it creates continuity in the story, but is constantly reminded that the outside of the asylum remains unchanged as time moves on inside. Manipulating the page this way, the created mood is arguably creepier, and the asylum setting remains still and dark in all of the places except where the action in the panels takes place.
The above three pages are here for illustrative purposes so you can see what I’m working toward. I plan to use Barthes to incorporate semiotic terminology in order to clarify the ideas as much as possible to as broad an audience as possible. I will also rely on an article by Jason Dittmer from 2010 called “Comic Book Visualities: A Methodical Manifesto on Geography Montage and Narration” because he talks quite a lot about how the page works to probe “both sense of place and role of place in defining literary characters” (223). I also plan on reading Theirry Groensteen’s book, which I have, but haven’t dug into yet. He also discusses gutters in some depth.
I would appreciate any feedback, particularly on clarity of presentation here.