I’ve written already about panel gutters, back in a column about Moon Knight, and another fantastic example has come up this week in Doom Patrol #3 by Gerard Way, Nick Derington and Tamra Bonvillain.

Over on my web series I discussed how Doom Patrol has multiple layers of narratives, and a need to visually separate them so that it doesn’t get too confusing for the audience. In that example, the caption boxes and dialogue were all separate and the three narratives clearly broken down --- and in the latest issue it’s done with panel gutters.

So Casey has entered “Dannyland” through the magic of the ambulance in the last issue. This is a world separate from Earth in some way, and the team need to find a way to separate it, as otherwise it looks pretty similar to the world we already know. That regular world is presented like this, with panel gutters, and stopped --- usually --- from reaching the page edge. It only happens on specific big moments, otherwise it’s all constrained like we’d normally expect in a comic book.




In Dannyland, however, the world bleeds to the edge of the page every time. There are no black panel outlines, just the white gutters, and nothing that formally ‘constrains’ the images. Which, thematically, makes a lot of sense for where she is. This is a weird world where Danny has created everything, making the inhabitants up, and everything is shifting and changing. So the creators have come up with a way to show that visually, without disturbing the flow of storytelling or making it overly confusing. It’s a simple visual that, as you move through the book and see the various narratives play out, let’s you know where you are and what you’re following.




There’s a moment near the end of the book where Casey wants to leave Dannyland --- Way and Derington know it falls on a page turn, as well, and they change the border and gutter style. Suddenly, the page becomes black.

Page turns can let you get away with this sudden change a bit easier, because the two pages aren’t laid out side-by-side, so the differences are a little less noticeable. Here, the images don’t run to the page edges anymore, they’re constrained. If we take it mean bordered panels indicate reality, then she’s in danger --- because we know outside of the ambulance where Dannyland resides are the bad guys of the book. Which is exactly what happens on the final panel of this page, with one of the villains grabbing Casey’s arm, and pulling her into the regular world --- where everything is black borders and white gutters again.




This again falls on a page turn, and cleverly through the scripting, that single page with the black gutters ends up being almost a mid-way point between two worlds, half existing in Dannyland and half in reality on Earth. The fact it’s separated by page turns and exists on its own is also really clever, because it does start to feel isolated.




It’s simple touches like this, where creators are aware of the medium and how they can play around with it, that make comics so much fun as an artform. It’s not just the same as storyboarding a film for cinema and laying them out sequentially; it has it’s own language that can be exploited and manipulated to generate effects and responses. This is just another great example of that.


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