Friday Night Fights: Gutter Analysis!

We’re in the 12th and final round of the latest cycle of FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS! And it’s time to really unleash the brutality! Behold — from 1993’s Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud:


Holy — That’s it?! Irma Lou, whar’s mah whuppin’ stick?! That idjit comic book punk jest went TOO FAR!

Now wait a minute, wait a minute, we’re gonna have to analyze this one a bit. Now for any of my readers coming direct from the LubbockOnline site, who may not be as familiar with comics, this comes from a section of the book where McCloud is explaining something called the gutter. What’s the gutter? See that little strip of empty white space between the two panels? That’s what they call the gutter. ‘Cause it’s the gutter between the panels, see?

If you take 24 frames of film and run them through a standard movie projector, you get a whole second of story. Run 172,800 frames of film through the projector, and you get a two-hour movie. You’re not aware of every individual frame of film because your brain is able to ignore the micro-gaps between the images and string everything together so that it makes sense.

Comics are the low-tech version of that. Each individual panel functions as a frame of film, or a moment of action. The gutters act as the flicker in the projector that helps you get the images transitioned. It works because the reader’s imagination actually creates the transition, instead of relying on a mechanical effect from the camera, or by fooling the brain into blending images together.

For example, take the two panels above. If you consider them separately, there’s nothing about them that gives them any inherent meaning. There’s a guy with an axe. There’s a cityscape with a screaming word balloon. They could even come from two different comics, right? But the gutter is there to tell you “There is a connection between these,” and your brain and your imagination intuitively grasp the connection.

But ultimately, in those two panels, where is the violence? The first panel shows a guy with an axe and a potential victim. The second panel shows a scream.

Where does the violence take place? Where is the impact that would make this a Friday Night Fight?

The violence took place in the gutter between the panels. And that means the violence took place inside your head.

Did the axe hit the victim in mid-back? Did it sever the artery in the leg? Did it get buried in the victim’s skull? Did it take his head clean off? Did the madman miss the victim entirely and, overbalanced, fall screaming down the stairs? Did the victim’s wife step out of the doorway and shoot the madman before he could land the fatal blow?

You tell me. All the violence took place in your head. You made the transition. You scripted the action. You decided who lived and who died. Inbetween the panels, you became a god, able to decree how brutal the fight was, how bloody, how final. It was all you, man.

That’s the power of the gutter.

And dang, after all that analysis and theoretical flimflam, I think we all need to take a few minutes to ROCK OUT. Everyone on your feet for Savatage!

No Comments

  1. Friday Night Fights:G7 Round 12 | Said,

    August 14, 2009 @ 8:20 pm

    […] Hero Sandwich is all about the deadly “Gutter Ballet!” […]

  2. swampy Said,

    August 16, 2009 @ 7:41 pm

    do you really want to see what goes on inside of my head?