In recent years, reading scholars have increasingly attended to children’s responses to picturebook page breaks, reasoning that the inferences young readers make during the turning of the page are central to understanding how children construct continuous narratives in semiotically rich texts. In this paper I argue that comics (including comic books and graphic novels) offer similar gap-filling affordances as picturebooks, but for older children and adolescent readers. A major site of meaning-making in comics is the “gutter” between panels. This is where much of the magic occurs for readers while transacting with the medium. Since the comics medium is popular with many students and has received increased attention from teachers, researchers, and curriculum developers during the multimodal and multiliterate turns of the past decades, I argue that it is vital for educators not only to use comics in their classrooms, but to focus explicitly on gutters in order to exercise the medium’s full potential. Pulling from numerous sources, I provide several pedagogical activities that emphasize gutters as rich sites of constructing meaning.
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Throughout this article, the medium of comics will be treated as a singular noun (like ‘film’) as is the scholarly fashion. Also, for the purpose of this piece, ‘comics’ will be used more or less interchangeably with the term ‘narrative sequential art’ (Eisner, 1985). Finally, although I do not focus my attention on graphic novels, per se, the bulk of this article’s arguments may apply to them as well, insofar as graphic novels rely on similar visual and textual storytelling affordances as comics.
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Special thanks to Lawrence Sipe, Rachel Skrlac Lo, Robert LeBlanc, and Katrina Bartow Jacobs for their generous feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript, to Annette Wannamaker for her help in readying this piece for print, and to David Petersen for his enthusiastic permission to use images from Mouse Guard: Fall 1152.
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Low, D.E. “Spaces Invested with Content”: Crossing the ‘Gaps’ in Comics with Readers in Schools. Child Lit Educ 43, 368–385 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10583-012-9172-5
- Sequential art
- Graphic novels
- Inference making
- Visual literacy