15 Aug 2016

McCloud (ch.3) Understanding Comics, ch.3 “Blood in the Gutter”


by Corry Shores


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[The following is summary. Bracketed commentary and boldface (unless noted otherwise) is my own. I apologize in advance for any distracting typos you might encounter. I have not finished proofreading.]




Summary of


Scott McCloud


Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art



Chapter 3: Blood in the Gutter



Brief summary:

Comics is an art form and medium that functions largely by means of the Gestalt process of closure. The panels give the reader fragments of the story world, with the vast majority of that world being left out of the frame of each panel and also with much of the development that transpires in the story being excluded between the  panels. Closure is operation that the reader uses to imaginatively fill in the gaps that the comics creator leaves out. There are six main types of panel transitions that make use of closure: {1} moment-to-moment, which gives a continuous cinematic decomposition of an unbroken sequence of motion, {2} action-to-action, which presents differing states of affairs as points of accomplishment of activities or events, {3} subject-to-subject, which moves from one character or thing to another, often following their active contribution to events or situations, {4} scene-to-scene, which makes significant jumps in time and/or location, {5} aspect-to-aspect, which shows the same situation from varying spatial perspectives, and {6} non-sequitur, where there is no logically coherent connection at all. However, on account of the force of closure, no matter how disjointed a series of panels are, our minds will still find some way to bring unity to them. Conventional Western comics give a priority primarily to action-to-action transitions and to a relatively lesser degree to subject-to-subject and scene-to-scene. This functions to progress a story, understood as a series of events, as efficiently as possible. Eastern comics place much more emphasis on moment-to-moment and aspect-to-aspect transitions. This has the effect of drawing out the movement of the story and setting moods. There is an inferential element to how closure works, and so depending on which panels in a series are excluded, the reader will draw different conclusions about what is transpiring and what the significance is of the events. There is also a synaesthetic sort of closure at work where, by the power of closure generally speaking and as well as a result of the sensory-unlimited nature of the gutters, all other modes of sensation are activated when reading comics. The nature of the pictures can affect closure activities, because more iconic (that is, less detailed cartoony sorts of) images facilitate closure while photorealistic images hinder it. This special role of closure in comics makes it a unique art form, as the others do not involve the same sort and/or degree of audience creative participation by means of closure. And also, closure brings together into a phenomenal collaboration the creator and reader, and it causes the invisible component (what is left out of the imagery) with the visible parts (what is included visually) to enter into a productive bond and interaction. For, closure is what brings the “invisible art” to light.







McCloud notes that as a child, he sometimes daydreamed “that the whole world was just a show put on for my benefit, that unless I was present to see things, they just - - ceased to exist” (60). But now, even as an adult, McCloud recognizes that he just has to believe many things “exist outside of what my five senses report to me” (61). He explains, “All of us perceive the world as a whole through the experience of our senses. Yet our senses can only reveal a world that is fragmented and incomplete” (62). He makes this point very effectively with a panel showing how we only see relatively very small fragments of the surface of the earth, but we regard our world as one whole unified thing.

 photo Understanding.p62.2_zpsi7vx8t6d.jpg


Yet, as children, before we develop this cognitive capacity, we can be surprised when things reappear in our vision, as when playing peek-a-boo.


McCloud explains this phenomenon with the Gestalt notion of closure, which he defines as the “phenomenon of observing the parts but perceiving the whole” (63). It is a feature of our consciousness that we use in everyday life so to properly recognize objects that only show themselves partly or indirectly. It is used also in story-telling to create suspense. It often operates automatically as a normal feature of our consciousness. We even use it to recognize and relate to other people. And in fact, “In an incomplete world, we must depend on closure for our very survival” (63).


Closure operations take many forms. Sometimes we just need to see a shape or outline in order to fill in the fuller form it calls to mind. For example, just a circle with two dots and a line inside it can be recognized by most people as a face, even though faces are full of much more distinguishing detail.


If we look very closely at newspaper photographs, for example, we see it is made of fragments, like dots, yet we perceive it as an internally continuous whole (64).


McCloud also notes how by means of the persistence of vision our minds in this Gestalt manner perceive continuous motion rather than a rapid series of still photographs (65). [For a discussion of the phi phenomenon, see this entry on Barry Dainton’s “The Experience of Time and Change”.] A similar sort of mental process is involved when we watch cathode ray tube television sets, since it does not even flash a full image but only a rapidly moving point of light scanning over the surface of the screen.


McCloud thinks that comics is a medium that is notable for its use of closure, particularly on account of the way the readers/viewers collaborate with the authors/artists to create the changes and motions of the story.

 photo McCloud. p.65.5-6_zpstm76tpvu.jpg


McCloud then describes the role of closure in the operation of the gutter, which is the gap between panels: “See that space between the panels? That’s what comics aficionados have named ‘the gutter.’ And despite its unceremonious title, the gutter plays host to much of the magic and mystery that are the very heart of comics!” (66). He continues, “Here in the limbo of the gutter, human imagination takes two separate images and transforms them into a single idea” (66). [This reminds me of Eisenstein’s theory of montage editing where the combination of two different images edited in direct sequence form a third idea in the viewer’s mind.] McCloud shows a very useful example. First we see what seems to be an ax murderer about to chop to death some victim, with action lines in the background giving us the impression that it is right at the beginning of the ax’s swing. There are two other elements that presage the forthcoming event. There is the look of determination in the ax murder’s face and the look of utter fright in the victim’s face, which suggests the characters’ bodies realize that what will almost certainly come next is a gruesome murder. And also, the dialogue announces and suggests the murder. The murderer says, “NOW YOU DIE!!” and the victim responds, apparently in recognizing what is to come, “NO! NO!” (66). The subsequent “EEYAA” also suggests that the victim is screaming in pain from the ax cutting him to death.

 photo McCloud. p.66.1-2_zps1urpdurb.jpg

McCloud notes that “Nothing is seen between the two panels, but experience tells you something must be there!” McCloud then shows a series of stills in a sequence of continuous motion to make that point that “Comics panels fracture both time and space, offering a jagged, staccato rhythm of unconnected moments. [...] But closure allows us to connect these moments and mentally construct a continuous, unified reality” (67).

 photo McCloud. p.67.2_zpshpqid3sy.jpg


McCloud will then draw the inference that comics itself is closure. We first make an analogy. In the way that visual iconography is the vocabulary of comics, closure is the grammar. [Perhaps he means that the individual components of comics, which function like words, are the visual iconic images. But these are combined like how syntax combines words into meaningful sentential units. Since closure is the mechanism that brings the iconic elements together, it is like the syntactical element of comics story-telling and is thus the medium’s ‘grammar’.] The next step of the inference is to appeal to the definition we are using of comics, which defines it on the basis of the arrangement of its elements. Since it is arranged by closure, that means it is defined by closure. [And whatever defines something is what it is.] Therefore, “in a very real sense, comics is closure” (67 boldface his).


McCloud then makes an important point in distinguishing the operation of closure in comics from that of other electronic media:

The closure of electronic media is continuous, largely involuntary and virtually imperceptible. But closure in comics is far from continuous and anything but involuntary! Every act committed to paper by the comics artist is aided and abetted by a silent accomplice. An equal partner in crime known as the reader. I may have drawn an axe being raised in this example, but I’m not the one who let it drop or decided how hard the blow, or who screamed, or why. That, dear reader, was your special crime, each of you committing it in your own style. All of you participated in the murder. All of you held the axe and chose your spot.



[I think we should elaborate on these points further. The first observation I would like to make is on the ways that McCloud’s ideas correspond to what we learned from Wolfgang Iser’s “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach.” Generally speaking, it could be said that McCloud in this section is taking a phenomenological or reader-response sort of approach to the gutter-structure in comics. What makes the gutter what it is, is not what it actually is, which is a space (or just the line of a panel outline, as Groensteen notes in section 1.7.2 of The System of Comics). Rather, the gutter from this view is constituted by the contents of the reader’s consciousness, who creatively constructs the missing story elements in their imagination. This is the reader’s participation (as in the murder) that McCloud is emphasizing. The other point of elaboration is on the difference between the comics medium and other electronic media like film and television. In these cases, he referred to the passive illusory operation of forming continuous imagery in our perception on the basis of fragments in the medium’s mode of presentation of its imagery. McCloud, also by drawing a suspense scene, may have been indirectly referring to film and video editing, where discontinuities of time and space are much more drastic than mere slight variations of frames in a continuous cinematographic sequence. The question then is, to what degree and in what way is the experience of the comics gutter different from the film cut? At first sight, there seems to be little or no difference of any substantial kind, as they function in the same way. Even edits like in the ax-murder comics scene is common in film, where gruesome actions are shown right up to the really disturbing part, when there is a cut away and perhaps you hear the sounds of the actions without seeing them. (Or perhaps there is some sort of match cutting, like going from the fall of an ax in an ax murder to a close up of a carrot getting chopped on a cutting board, after an abrupt scene change.) I think that so far in our examination, we phenomenologically speaking do not have a substantial enough of a difference to use gap-closure as a means to distinguish comics from film. However, if we do pay close phenomenological attention to our modes of experience when watching a film with these sorts of cuts involving Gestalt closures and comics, there is a notable difference. Before I note my own observation, let us look first at McCloud’s. He says that the difference is that the comics gap-closing is less involuntary than in these other media. He is contrasting here the illusion of motion with the comics gutter, rather than a film cut with a comics cut. But perhaps we can still use his justification were we to consider the difference between an ax murder film scene that has a cut identical to the one he depicted with comics frames and the comics ax murder sequence he drew. In a film, the machinery of the projector or playback mechanism puts us into a passive state of involuntary perceptual reception where what we come to experience is given without our control. The images appear in the way and at the pace that the director/editor wants them to appear. The comics creator has the same range of options for the cuts, but the difference is that the reader of comics has more control over how those images will be received. When watching a film, our bodies are like marionettes that the director controls. In the comics experience, we are still affected directly by the imagery, but we are invited to go at our own pace and have some sense of feeling of control. In other words, the primary difference that I notice in the comics experience with regard to cut transitions is the degree of activity and feeling of control we have in how we fill in the gaps. This I think corresponds to McCloud’s point that the reader is an “equal partner” in the crime, rather than a helpless witness. There is one more distinction between film and comics closure that I would like to propose. First note some exceptional and important cases in film that will call into question the accuracy of my observation, namely, Soviet montage editing and chaos cinema, and also Chris Marker’s La Jetée. In La Jetée, for example, there story is told near-exclusively with a sequence of still images. This deserves much more analysis, which we will have to do another time. Phenomenologically speaking, it could potentially constitute a “comics experience”. The other examples of hard, discontinuous editing of motion sequences (as in Soviet montage and chaos cinema) might also function in the way that I think is more particular to comics. But let us see. According to my examination of my own comics experience, I do not experience film and comics editing identically. For me, reading a comics work is like proceeding through a series of flashes, with each one packed with implicit data that unpacks suddenly in my imagination. In Warren Ellis’ and Darick Robertson’s “What Spider Watches on TV” (Transmetropolitan #5), the character Spider is watching television, and note that he exists in a sort of slightly dystopic future with technology that is a bit more advanced than ours.

 photo Ellis. Transmetropolitan.p6.3_zpsrts9sbin.jpg

But what is remarkable about television in this future is that there is a certain kind of advertisement technique called “block consumer incentive bursts” or “buybombs.” The idea is that you are exposed to some bizarre psychedelic imagery for some brief period of time. While this is going on, no advertisements are apparent. But somehow, countless ads are encoded phenomenally in an implicit way in the image, packed like compressed phenomenal data conveyed through normal perception.

 photo Ellis. Transmetropolitan.p20.2-4_zpsewjyr99u.jpg

So, when you next go to sleep, all the compressed advertisements unpack in your dreams in a discernible, linear sequence.

 photo Ellis. Transmetropolitan.p22_zpsypqvv384.jpg

I use this as an analogy for how I experience what happens between the gutters in the comics experience. Each panel is like a flash of compressed phenomenal data that unpacks like a burst in my imagination. This is very different even from Soviet montage and chaos cinema, where the contents between film cuts unpack in a more or less graduated, temporally extended way, which makes the experience less intense. For, all the important information that needs to be processed is given at least implicitly – but still somewhat overwhelmingly (or at least stimulatingly) – in an initial “burst” when first viewing the panel, even though it might unpack somewhat gradually afterward. What can make the cuts intense in both film and comics is the abruptness of the transition, such that differences in the following image are forced suddenly upon our perceptual and cognitive systems without them being sufficiently ready and able to fill those gaps as fast as the changes are made. But what makes the comics experience unique in this regard is that because the contents of each panel are like flashes or bursts of unpacking information (being as such because they are still-images whose temporal extent is first given instantaneously and only secondarily being unpacked gradually), the comics transitions are often more intense. Reading comics, unlike watching a film with its series of more or less discontinuous edits, is like a series of shocks between bursts, or we might say, disruptions between eruptions, whereas the film experience is often more at best a series of disruptions between gradual proceedings. But note that Groensteen in section 7.3 of Comics and Narration discusses a stroboscopic effect in a particular comics work. This is something much more visually apparent than what I have in mind. The sort of experience I have in mind is also best described as stroboscopic, but I would use the term as a description of the structure and dynamic of the experience of nearly any comics sequence rather than just ones that show interchanging sorts of flashing imagery paced in a more or less metrically homogeneous way.]


McCloud explains that thus audience participation is a vital element in comics. In fact, it is important in other media too. He depicts for example a film-like sequence where a pending romantic interaction moves gradually off-screen. McCloud then distinguishes the way this participation is employed in film as opposed to in comics: “[...] while film makes use of the audience’s imaginations for occasional effects, comics must use it far more often” (McCloud  69). [So while the illusion of motion can be used for showing time and motion] “[...] the reader’s deliberate, voluntary closure is comics’ primary means of simulating time and motion” (69).


McCloud then says that this intimacy of creator and audience resulting from closure is in fact greater in purely written texts. [I am not sure why. I would think it is greater in comics, as the creators give the visual data which would bring the reader’s imagined comics work closer to what the creators had in mind. Perhaps the idea is that the more the reader must contribute, the closer they must move toward the author. But I am not sure.] McCloud will now look at the craft in comics which brings about this intimacy (69).


McCloud will distinguish six kinds of panel transitions:

{1} moment-to-moment [showing moments from one continuous action, in a cinematic sort of way]

{2} action-to-action [where we move between one character’s or thing’s actions or activities in the sense of a series of joined actions, as in when we enumerate a series of things a person said or did in some event.]

{3} subject-to-subject [which moves from one character or thing to another]

{4} scene-to-scene [which jumps across large extents of time and space, rather then merely showing the same event from different temporal and spatial perspectives]

{5} aspect-to-aspect [where time is more or less not changing but spatial perspective on the scene are]

{6} non-sequitur [where there is no logical relation between panels at all.]


So let us look more closely at the illustrations.


1) Moment-to-Moment Transitions

These require very little closure [and the closure involved in them seems to tend toward the automatic perceptual closure at work in the cinematic illusion of motion. From the examples, we see differences between the panels, but in most cases, the material in the panels is largely the same from one panel to the next. However, some small detail or slightly modified aspect will tell us that change or motion have occurred.]

 photo McCloud. Understanding.p.70.1_zps0a7wwtr4.jpg




2) Action-to-Action Transitions


[Here depicted actions seem to be accomplishments or points where states of affairs have shifted to the point where they can obtain a different propositional sort of description. In the prior case, we might say: The spider is close. Now, the spider is a little closer. In these cases, it seems more like roughly the same state of affairs or brute fact in the world that has modulated slightly. Or, if the state of affairs did change enough to warrant a very different propositional description, perhaps that shift came about gradually and foreseeably. In action-to-action, it seems that we are dealing with one subject for which different states can be attributed. So in the example, we might have: The baseball player is waiting for the pitch. The baseball player hits the ball. For the next example: The man pours the champagne. The man drinks the champagne. The man burps the gas. And for the last one: The car is moving quickly. The car hits a tree.]

 photo McCloud. Understanding.p.70.2_zps0ob9dbsm.jpg



3) Subject-to-Subject Transitions


These transitions involve a change of subject. [The idea here seems to be that it is a combination of change of subject and change of status. Also, the subject seems like it can be a character or thing, including a landscape, as in the first example. So in a propositional form, we might have for the examples below: The ax murderer is about to kill the victim. The sound of the victim’s screams were heard outside in the city. For the second example: A man wonders what more can go wrong. A woman replies that at least Jerry has not called. The phone rings (and is possibly Jerry after all). The third one suggests that the events are not in sequence but are instead simultaneous; however, they are distinct actions made by separate characters: A runner crosses the finish line. At the same moment, the time-keeper clicks the stopwatch.]

 photo McCloud. Understanding.p.71.1_zpsaiyojomm.jpg



Scene-to-Scene Transitions


Here we jump significant distances in time and space. [It seems that in order to make the transition fluid, certain devices might be used, like a narrator’s ‘voice’ telling us we have changed time and/or place. Otherwise, perhaps the jump will be obvious on account of the context or the available visual clues.]

 photo McCloud. Understanding.p.71.2_zps0ro1brew.jpg 



Aspect-to-Aspect Transitions


Here the change is one of spatial perspective, with less emphasis on a change of time. [We are quite familiar with camera angle and focus shifts films. We see a continuously unfolding event, but all the while we jump from one perspective to another, with continuity techniques helping the transitions to be ‘invisible’. In the examples below, there does not seem to be an importance on continuity as much as giving a broadened outlook on a situation.]

 photo McCloud. Understanding.p.72.1.b_zpsynxqfxor.jpg



Non-Sequitur Transitions


Here there is no logical connection whatsoever between the panels. [There is thus no inherent continuity.]

 photo McCloud. Understanding.p.72.2_zpsewfbitxi.jpg


McCloud then further discusses the non-sequitur transitions. He wonders, “is it possible for any sequence of panels to be totally unrelated to each other?” He does not think so. For, “No matter how dissimilar one image may be to another there is a kind of [...] alchemy at work in the space between panels which can help us find meaning or resonance in even the most jarring of combinations” (73). He then seems to hint that the connections are made secondarily upon further consideration [as the machinery of phenomenal synthesis works to homogenize the heterogeneity by bringing the differences under possible commonalities.] He writes,

By creating a sequence with two or more images, we are endowing them with a single [...] overriding identity, and forcing the viewer to consider them as a whole. However different they had been, they now belong to a single organism.


[The following is the page where the quotation comes from, and it visually demonstrates his point.]

 photo McCloud. Understanding.p.73_zpsq2xlf1kw.jpg


In the next part of this chapter, McCloud examines the prevalence of these six types of transitions in different kinds of comics or different creators. It is a sort of quantitative analysis, as he counts the occurrences, and compares them using graphs. We learn that in a Jack Kirby superhero comic, transitions were predominantly action-to-action, with subject-to-subject and scene-to-scene trailing behind. McCloud finds roughly this same distribution in a wide variety of genres and creators, both American and European (75). He explains the prevalence of these transition types as being the result of certain story-telling needs that we have when we treat a story as being a series of events (76). These three transition types “show things happening in concise efficient ways” (76). However, the first type, which decomposes one continuous action down into a series of temporally proximate moments, accomplishes (with regard to story-telling purposes) what can be accomplished in just two or so panels of the action-to-action type. The fifth type of transition, which only gives different visual aspects of the same situation, accomplishes nothing with regard to advancing the events of a story (77). And non-sequiturs have no narrative purpose at all. [I can imagine however that certain sequences, like surreal hallucinatory sorts, can fit within a conventional story, when a character’s deranged mental state is being portrayed. But here the whole non-sequitur structured sequence can be seen as one unit that fits within the logical narrative sequence surrounding it.] McCloud notes that some experimental comics, as for example early Art Spiegelman works, have very unconventional distributions of transition types.


McCloud then examines the transition-type distributions for works by Japanese cartoonist Osamu Tezuka. We find that action-to-action transitions are still predominant but not as much as in the other cases we considered. And subject-to-subject are nearly as prevalent as action-to-action. In addition to these types, we also find many moment-to-moment transitions, and as well we find many aspect-to-aspect ones, which are uncommon in the west. [We might here think for example of the sorts of still-life scenes we see often in films by Ozu.] McCloud says that these aspect-to-aspect transitions are “most often used to establish a mood or a sense of place,” and when they appear, “time seems to stand still in these quiet, contemplative combinations” (79). McCloud continues, “Rather than acting as a bridge between separate moments, the reader here must assemble a single moment using scattered fragments” (79). McCloud finds many other Japanese works to have a high incidence of this fifth transition type, and he wonders why. One reason he offers is that the page-length of Japanese works was much greater, as instead of the stories being told in short installments they were originally printed in large anthologies. For this reason, “the pressure isn’t as great on any one installment to show a lot ‘happening’” (80). The second explanation McCloud offers is a cultural difference between East and West. Western culture, he says, is more goal oriented and usually does not wander, while “in the East, there’s a rich tradition of cyclical and labyrinthine works of art” (81). McCloud further explains the differences between Japanese and Western comics with the idea that the Eastern style has a preference for intervals. [At this point I am a little confused. The Western style was supposedly more apt to exclude intervening details of activity, for the sake of giving just the important events that advance the story toward some goal. So would not the Western style make more use of exclusions and intervals? McCloud might be speaking more about an exclusion of activity in the Eastern style, where significance is conveyed without reference to patterns of development but rather somehow elliptically through absences of different sorts. In sum, McCloud’s point might be that there is an absence of action in Eastern comics, but not an absence of depiction. And these absences of action are intervals in a sense. But I do not know. See pages 82-84.] McCloud notes that excluded elements in artistic works in the East were still regarded as being a part of that work (82). This can take the form of negative space in visual art or silence in music (82). McCloud then observes that in the last century or so, Western artistic styles have come to adopt ideas of fragmentation and rhythm from Asia and Africa. This came to be seen in many new styles, with one prominent example being minimalism (83).


McCloud then moves to a demonstration of the role of subtraction in comics story crafting, especially in how simple removals of panels can vary the story drastically. He has us consider the following relatively elaborate story.

 photo McCloud. Understanding.p.84.b_zpsvd7brjzp.jpg

He then shows how the apparent meaning of the story changes by subtracting a large number of the panels. Then he shows this principle again by subtracting a few more. And we see it demonstrated one last time when we are down to just two panels.

 photo McCloud. Understanding.p.85.1-4_zpsjh65apph.jpg


[McCloud’s next point reminds me of Iser’s notion that the author select’s the fragments on the basis of how they think the reader might creatively configure the elements and interpretatively and imaginatively fill in the gaps.] McCloud explains that to strike the balance between too much subtraction and not enough, “creators regularly make assumptions about their readers’ experiences” (85). One such assumption, which is culturally contingent, is that the audience will read the panels from left to right.


Another problem is that “As closure between panels becomes more intense, reader interpretation becomes far more elastic” (86). [The idea here seems to be that the less connected the contents of consecutive panels are in an obvious way, the less control the comics creator has in the way the reader fills in the gaps.] Sometimes the connections are intentionally ambiguous so that there will not be some certain interpretation on the reader’s part [but rather they are left guessing or wondering, being uncertain as to what to make of the situation]. Also, closure can happen within a panel when for example we only see a small part of a situation and we need to fill in the rest using our imagination and inferential faculties. He writes, “By showing little or nothing of a given scene [...] and offering only clues to the reader [...] the artist can trigger any number of images in the reader’s imagination” (86).


McCloud then gives a sequence of six panels with just dialogue and sounds to show how the reader makes visual closure on the basis of sound clues (87). [This could be interesting in that it might be a sort of synaesthetic sort of closure.]


[So these are instances of closure happening within a panel.] Yet McCloud is still the most fascinated with inter-panel closure. [He then notes the element of animation involved in this sort of closure. In the same way that an animator might ‘tween’ two distant moments of action by drawing the series of small continuous intermediary steps, our minds in a sense conduct this same procedure.] “We already know that comics asks the mind to work as a sort of in-betweener - - filling in the gaps between panels as an animator might” (88).


But McCloud thinks there is more to closure than this inter-panel tweening. [As we will see, this other element is possibly a sort of synaesthetic closure.] To bring this other feature to light, he shows a four panel aspect-to-aspect sequence of a woman cooking. He asks if the sounds were confined merely to the panels where they were displayed, or if we hear them outside the panels as well. [At this point, what McCloud is saying is not entirely clear to me. At first we might think he is saying that we still hear for example the chopping sound from the second panel after having moved to the third panel where we simply see the woman’s face. But then he says that the reason we hear sounds outside the panels is for the following reason. When looking at the panels, we are confined to no more than the visual sensory mode. But in between panels, we are confined to no sense whatsoever. And thus between the panels we are liberated to engage all our senses. So what is not clear to me is whether he is saying that we only introduce our other senses in the transition between panels, or if in fact they can carry over such that we hear sounds within the panels. Also, what about the panels where the sounds appear. Is it that we do not hear them in those panels of first appearance, where vision dominates the experience, and we have to wait for the gutter to hear them? I think McCloud might be making a more general point about the functioning of the gutter, and maybe that point is that because intermittently throughout the comics work we have periods of sensory non-constriction, that has a global effect on our capacities to be liberated from the strictly visual mode of perception even when simply looking at the panel contents. Below are the passages I am discussing, and I think they are important from a phenomenological standpoint, given their relevance to synaesthesia.]

 photo McCloud. Understanding.p.88.5-8_zps73q30jyz.jpg


 photo McCloud. Understanding.p.89_zpsibyrmp4i.jpg


McCloud then uses the metaphor of the reader leaping into a sort of unrestricted void between each panel, and he wonders, “is it possible that closure can be so managed in some cases [...] that the reader might learn to fly?” (90). [He does not follow up on this question, and it is also not clear to me what he means exactly by the reader flying. Perhaps the idea is that instead of the reader coming to the next panel, they remain in their own story imagination and let it develop all through their own free accord. But I am not sure.]


McCloud then returns to the topic in chapter 2 about iconic and non-iconic drawing styles, and he wonders if they affect closure. [We have not summarized this section yet, so the following will simply restate McCloud, and later we can elaborate more after we do that section.] Closure seems to be more fluid when the drawing style is iconic rather than photorealistic. This second case of realistic imagery seems to present an experience of seeing a series of still pictures rather than one of continuous action. He also says that “when comics art veers closer to concerns of the picture plane, closure can be more difficult to achieve, though for different reasons. [...] Now it’s the unifying properties of design that make us more aware of the page as a whole, rather than its individual components, the panels” (91). McCloud says that when readers are more aware of the drawing art, achieving closure involves more effort on the reader’s part (91).


McCloud’s next point is a sort of reiteration of his running idea that the special role of closure makes comics a unique art form, and this element brings the creator and reader together into an intimate bond [a sort of co-consciousness like Iser describes] and it also brings together into intimate contact the seen and the unseen [what is shown and left out visually, along with all the other non-visual modes of perception that come into our imaginative awareness when reading comics].


 photo McCloud. Understanding.p.92_zpsaxjeamce.jpg


McCloud ends the chapter by noting that as the creator of this comics work we are reading, he has been working with our power of closure as best he can, asking us as readers to contribute our “world of imagination” (93).





McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. Northampton, Mass.: Kitchen Sink Press, 1993.



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