Into the Unknown

We’re pulled into stories because of unresolved questions. As Ira Glass demonstrates, even a story about nothing, an average man in a quiet house, can be made compelling if it is framed and structured in a way that makes the audience ask questions. By calling the silence in the house unnatural, it primes the audience that there’s something intriguing, something unusual about the silence. And if the silence is unusual, then logically there should be a reason for why it’s so quiet. The very fact that a story is being told suggests (but doesn’t guarantee) that there is a point, a reason, as Ira Glass says “for wasting their time.” So the audience wants to know what that reason is, and it gets reinforced by the reiterations of how silent the house is.

The story remains interesting for the rest of the example as the man gets out of bed and goes down stairs in part because that question is reinforced but also because there is a sense of progress (the man moving through the house) which assures the audience that they will get an answer to their question. Of course, there is no resolution in Ira’s example, but we can see how even something unassuming as a man in an oddly quiet house can be made intriguing.

J.J. Abrams expands on that with his talk about The Mystery Box. Just like they always say with horror movies, the less you show the monster the better, and similar to McClouds theory about how we can project more onto simplified, iconic faces, giving the audience the room to start wondering about their questions allows them to get themselves involved in the story.

I find that digital literature both excels and struggles with this, especially with hypertext fiction. The work usually begins in medias res and due to the non-linear method of storytelling becomes fragmented: the audience isn’t given all the information they need in the order in which is most convenient for them to get it. Instead, the user needs to either seek out that information or wait for it to be presented. In works like afternoon, a story the pieces at first lack context to such a degree as to being almost meaningless, but as the user reads more and more lexia, they start to make connections. Characters begin to be recognized, themes emerge, and a causal narrative can begin to be pieced together.

This initial disorientation can be great, because it leaves the audience with questions and the desire for answers which makes them more engaged. However, this also needs to be tempered with assurance that the resolution will be satisfactory. If Ira Glass continued his story with the man exploring his quiet house and nothing happened, eventually the audience will get bored. I experienced this with J.J. Abrams’ show Lost, where I was very engaged during the first couple seasons because I wanted my questions answered, but by the third season the answers the show provided felt unsatisfactory and were quickly replaced with new questions, which resolved just as disappointingly.

It’s a balancing act in the end, keeping the audience intrigued by raising questions without becoming frustrating or confusing, but keeping them invested by providing just enough answers so that it doesn’t feel pointless. This can be difficult in interactive media because the author has given up the tailored experience for the audience to be able to interact with the story, and the cycle of questions and answers becomes more delicate. However, it could also allow the audience to choose whichever lead intrigues them most. This is why, even though I love combinatory poetics and storytelling and their emergent aspects, the self-driven aspect of hypermedia I think is a better fit for my final project.

Final Project


https://dtc-wsuv.org/jclapp19/FinalProject.html

Disappointed in the results of the randomization aspect of the previous draft, I remade the project in Twine 2 and redesigned it as a hyper-link based non-linear narrative. Taking inspiration from Grammatron and afternoon, a story, the narration follows the disjointed thoughts of the main character by allowing the user to select keywords in the text to go on loops and tangents. Some passages are still randomized to add variety to the story. These semi-randomized passages act as hubs that will be looped back to multiple times by most users, and the randomized text acts to make it less repetitious but also links randomly to other passages and helping a user that may be stuck in a loop. While some passages loop back towards the beginning of the story, I tried to control the connections so that most later passages will funnel the user towards the end rather than indefinitely looping them back to the beginning. While loops, fragmentation, and repetition are key themes in the story, it is intended for the user to eventually reach the end.

I wanted to incorporate more media initially into the piece, but switching from HTML/CSS and JavaScript to Twine 2 ended up being trickier than anticipated, so more focus was put on fleshing out the text of the work and the picture elements from the first draft were cut.

On a personal note: This story is (mostly) auto-biographical about a time I was grappling with suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, homelessness, and trauma. The crash at the end of the story was something I had planned to enact, but in the end I didn’t. I decided to go back to school. It hasn’t been easy, but at least I’m still here. I guess this project was a way of trying to process it all. I eventually had to say goodbye to the Jeep, but it always got me where I needed to go.

The notorious Jeep in question, always pulled through.

Hypermedia Project: The Pain of Standing Still

https://dtc-wsuv.org/jclapp19/HyperMedia/

The Pain of Standing Still is a brief, semi-autobiographical hypermedia project and the initial draft of my final assignment. It’s an experiment with fragmented storytelling and ideally emergent elements of story telling. Several elements of prose are snapshots of moments (roughly) from my life selected in a semi-random order, presented along side randomly selected images found from on stock photo websites. The story focuses on the feeling of claustrophobia a person can feel when they feel like they have no control over their life, the way they can spiral out of control, and the freedom of the open road. The user progresses through the piece by clicking on the pictures to redraw a random selection of text and pictures. The text and pictures are semi-randomized and categorized by 3 phases (daytime, dusk, and nighttime), with the user moving through each of the three phases gradually as they reset the elements, and the themes of the tone get darker.

Moving forward as a final project, I plan to refine the prose and images (especially cropping and lowering the file size to increase loading speed) in the project, fixing some quirks in the JavaScript (particularly the same images popping up repeatedly) and modifying the means of progression through the story. Possible options include a timer that will reset elements automatically, forgoing the randomized images and text in favor of a multi-linear hypertext model, or a combination of both.

Keeping up with a Multi-Linear Narrative

An initial reading of Pry can be disoriented. A slurry of fast moving text, flashing images, and clips of video oscillate between a thoughtful and meditative pace and a barrage of media stimulation. Simple touch screen gestures alternate between multiple modes of narrative and progress the story, which is given to the user in a fragmented order to be pieced together. It can be a lot to take in for the first time, but it utilizes the montage effect quite deliberately to create a specific experience and mood.

The opening scene of Pry (after the introduction) centers on a moment of sleep paralysis experienced by the main character. The work focuses on a first-hand view of their experience, and as is common in digital literature, throws you into the thick of the narrative to grapple with and understand the narrative without a lot of context.
It should be noted that the introduction is a non-interactive video that lays a nice groundwork for the piece, establishing an implied context that might not be immediately understandable but at least introduces the user with some of  the visual and narrative themes of the story.

Much of Pry focuses on the theme and motif of eyes and vision. On one level this works similar to the way that Galatea plays with the idea of a human interacting candidly with a simulacrum, with the narrative mirroring the way the user is interacting with their computer; similarly, with the screen we are seeing into the life of the main character. The mobile device used to view Pry becomes the window, our eyes, into the world of the narrative.

Most chapters have transitions of video as well as “cutscene” style videos during which the user can’t utilize any real agency, but during the “playable” portions of the work, the typical modus operandi involves switching between three distinct narrative modes. The first is usually a black screen with white text providing a first person narrative. The user then can use gestures to move between the other modes. Placing and separating two fingers will force the main character to open their eyes, and releasing the gesture will cause them to fall back shut. By placing your fingers on the screen and pinching, the user can clamp the eyes shut tightly and get glimpses of the main character’s deepest thoughts.

This works well in the first scene to reinforce the idea of sleep paralysis: the passive activity is to lay with your eyes shut and a train of thoughts playing through the character’s head. Action must be taken by the user to open their eyes, to see the space around them, and if they should at any moment let go, they slip back into the passive mode. Similarly, to dig into the character’s psyche for additional clues, the user has to take action. While the story may progress linearly, it requires active choice on the user as a participant in the story in order for it to continue.

Another way in which Pry utilizes juxtaposition and montage is in the braille scene. Instead of the previously mentioned “prying” gestures, the user has to slide their finger across lines of braille, which the character then reads aloud. Forcing the user to pantomime reading braille in order to progress the plot, it increases the verisimilitude by immersing the user into the character’s experience and pushes them again into an active role as a participant in the narration rather than passive observer. But while the text is read allowed, a Bible story no less, Pry juxtaposes each word with an image, many of which are in some way related to the word. In the above example, the word “set” is said while playing a short video clip of the sun setting on the horizon. By showing characters from the main story appearing in correlation with characters from the Bible story, we can gain greater understanding of Pry’s story through the connection between them. While it deviates from the 3 modal model of interaction in other parts of the work, it reinforces the theme of sight in a different way while still acting as a window into the narrative space.

The montage effect in Pry is compounded, because at any moment there is a juxtaposition between the video clips playing out as well as the text and images that may appear, the three modes of gameplay, but also the method of interactivity. Opening the character’s eyes feels like a willful and defiant choice to expose oneself to the outer world, while clamping them shut can feel either securely shutting out the outside world or claustrophobic isolating with the character’s thoughts. If collage works by juxtaposing adjacent elements in a 2D or 3D space, and montage works by juxtaposing elements in time, Pry adds entirely new dimensions of juxtaposition while still utilizing the previous dimensions effectively.

Conversation as Gameplay

A sculpture of Galatea and Pygmalion from the myth (picture from Wikipedia.org and used in the public domain)


Galatea
is a piece I wish I could enjoy more. As a piece of interactive fiction from the year 2000, it presents a very robust conversation system for the time period. In fact, nearly the entirety of the experience is focused on a conversation with the living statue, the eponymous Galatea. Based on the Greek myth of a lonely sculptor whose creation is brought to life by the gods to be his companion, you placed in the role of an art critic standing in a dark gallery where Galatea is on display.

The piece acts as an experiment in simulating human interaction. You are provided with simple text prompts of the situation and some pieces of narration, but the majority of the interaction is done by asking or telling Galatea about different topics. The narrative parallels the reality of the moment in ways, as while your character is talking with Galatea, a statue brought to life, you are simultaneously conversing with a computer which has been programmed to respond in a convincingly human way.

Galatea seems to have aspects of her mood that are changed depending on which topics and in which order they are brought up in conversation. Furthermore, picking the same topic multiple times doesn’t always result in the same response: she may offer more information, tell you that she has nothing more to say on the matter, or even chastise you for asking the same question over and over.

In other examples of interactive fiction, conversations are often very basic with a list of topics made of responses that are static and can be looped around and revisited. Some pieces incorporate an element of mood for the character where if their disposition changes from key choices, then new options are opened up. However, these can often feel very inorganic and more like fumbling with a puzzle rather than interacting with a person.

Galatea drops you into the experience with a brief narrative prompt and a text parser, leaving the user to explore their way through the piece. There’s no set list of actions, keywords, or topics made immediately available to the user, which forces them to generate actual narrative choices rather than strategically weigh presented options. This also makes the user uncertain of the total possible choices available at any given moment.

That feeling of “open-endedness” goes a long way in making a simulated conversation feel organic. The hidden machinations of the piece is what creates the verisimilitude. We can tell that Galatea’s disposition changes not because the game directly tells us or because a bar hits a certain point on the screen, but by the way she acts and speaks in the narrative. But not being able to see all of the gameified options and variables, the user is permitted to let go of game-like goals such as “winning” and is allowed to immerse into the narrative: Galatea isn’t a game to be won, it’s a story to be experienced, one that we’re fortunate enough to not just be a passive viewer, but an active participant.

Abstract Chronotopes in Hypermedia

‘Time, as it were, thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space
becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history’

-Mikhail Bakhtin

“Chronotope” is a literary term borrowed from the scientific fields and literally means “space-time.” I first encountered the term while reading reviews of the classic science-fiction film Stalker. When used to talk about literature, “chronotope” refers to the subjective and artistically presented space and time as it occurs in the narrative.

Scene from Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker,” image from yggdrasille.com

With this tool, a story can breeze by months, years, or more in a single sentence, but as we’ve seen in Story of an Hour and An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, a single moment can be stretched just as indefinitely, especially when exploring the cognition and experiences of a character. Chuck Palahnuik played with similar conventions in his early books, with the nameless narrator directly informing the reader of flashbacks and segues in Fight Club and and recalling the disjointed nature of newspaper and magazine articles (story continues on pg. 47…) It’s something to which McCloud devotes an entire chapter of Understanding Comics, though never using the term directly. Technically it refers to the way language changes our experience of space and time, but it carries over into other media through visual language.

The “Fight Club” film leaned heavily into the fragmented and surreal chronotope of the plot, often breaking the 4th wall and referencing it (image from reddit user u/Hijongo)

 

Because of the modular nature of hypermedia, it can often feel like pulling passages of a story out of hat and trying to piece together the narrative in your head afterwards. After watching a live traversal of afternoon, a story I was reminded of my first reading of Mark Amerika’s Grammatron. Each lexia of text initially feels like a stand alone object: a poem, a moment of candid conversation, a thought pulled directly out of a character’s head, simple statement of fact. Sometimes the paths of the narrative loop back and iterate, taking you to the same lexia again and again like the refrain of a poem or chorus of a song, creating a rhythm and reinforcing themes.

Without the ingrained structure of linear media however, it can’t always be assured that the reader has already experienced a given lexia prior to any other. While specific lexia may include solid details that make the space and time of the moment concrete, the next lexia may well take place earlier, later, or adjacent in the timeline to another without any real transition, making the chronotope of the work on whole more fluid. The fluctuation between fluid and abstract chronotope and anchoring moments of a lexia can create the rhythm and pace of the narrative.

“…several seconds stretched over many pages, a preoccupation with physical spatial descriptions, and no sense of time until the vague statement that time simply “passed.” Time becomes heavy like space; space becomes a vague yet active force like time.”

-Derek Gingrich, “Adapting Worlds” (the-artifice.com)

Like McCloud explains that without a gutter to contain a panel, it’s space and time bleed off the edges and the moment depicted becomes timeless. Without transitions between passages or lexia of a story, the moments all bleed together into a single collage, without beginning or an end. This isn’t an experience unique to hypermedia. Robert Coover’s The Babysitter both Stephane Mallarme’s A Throw of the Dice Will Abolish Chance both accomplished this without networks. The Dadaists and William S. Burroughs created emergent media from found or randomized objects and texts. But hypermedia compounds this by being able to juxtapose pictures, sound, video, text, and nearly every conceivable form of media.

Screencap from “Inanimate Alice: Episode 1”

Inanimate Alice is a story that’s linear, but uses Flash to combine media. The story is told mostly through text that moves across the screen. Images and videos appear in frames on the screen to accentuate the story, similar to the juxtaposition of images and text in CityFish. Audio provides another layer of juxtaposition, making the user create connections between the sounds, the images, and the language of the text. While afternoon, a story used black text on a white background, and My Boyfriend Came Back from the War integrated simple images with the text, Inanimate Alice is much more media rich and creates its experience though the combinations and relationships between these media objects as seen in the mind of the user.

Going with the Flow in Hypermedia

In a lot of pre-digital media, there is a general understanding or assumption in the way the media should be “read.” A book, or written text in general, is the most obvious example perhaps. In the West, we read following two rules: left-to-right, top-to-bottom, and in that order. Western comics typically follow this order as well, with panels starting in the top-left corner and working to the bottom-right, but not as strictly due to the irregular sizes of comics panels.

Japanese however, goes top-to-bottom, right-to-left. While you start on the right side of the page in Japanese comics, you still read the top row first before moving to the next row, which reads differently than plain text. This is also most likely why comics, and books in general from Japan, start from what we in the West would consider the “back” of the text, which is conducive with the “right-to-left” rule.

Cinema has its own ways of controlling the flow and order of information being presented. While every frame of a film coexists within the medium that contains them, they are presented one frame at a time at a very controlled rate which makes the illusion of a causal narrative possible.

However, when editing multiple shots into one film, it can be tricky to make sure the audience can follow the continuity between shots. Things like keeping the on-screen eye level of characters consistent and matching on the action of cuts can keep the audience from being confused by the sudden change in camera angle. There are also concerns of visual clarity, as is also the case with a static image: contrast, lighting, color, and composition all play into the way a shot will be read by the audience and determine whether they will be able to understand what is going on before the film moves on.

This can become even more complicated when film decides to emulate or incorporate other forms of media.

Star Wars‘s iconic “text crawl,” image from hips.hearstapps.com/

The inclusion of text can be simple enough, since text is such a part of our every day life. Adding elements of montage and collage become quickly much more complicated.

Scene from 2003 “The Incredible Hulk” displaying the famous comic book inspired effect, image from pyxis.nymag.com

By incorporating multiple moving shots onscreen at once, the visual complexity can be a delicate balancing act. Unlike an actual comic book, the audience is not guaranteed to be taking in all the information in a specific order as their attention is divided among four different shots all playing at the same time. It’s important to consider the visual languages that inhabit our culture and the unspoken context they are providing audiences, whether that’s the way you want it to be interpreted, and if not how you can combat those assumptions

J.R. Carpenter’s CityFish is quick for the audience to acclimate. Though mixing multiple types of media in a collage fashion, it moves generally left-to-right with passages of text interspersed with images and video. Each passage of the text is fragmentary, keeping to a loose timeline, but with lines of poetry mixed throughout. The movement of time is clearly linear, but with large chunks of time cut out. The poems, images, and video all provide greater context to the moments depicted in the passages, making them feel more concrete, but at times slightly disconnected. The suitcases link back and forth to each other in the story, but otherwise the reading experience is largely linear, but leaves the reader to take in the passages an images in their own way.

The fragmented style of storytelling is common in hypermedia, because it allows for passages (or lexia) to be read in different orders and pieced together after the fact, like pulling pieces of a jigsaw puzzle out of the box one at a time. In this way, each “reading” of the text will be different every time, but will still be consistent. This makes the reader an active participant that chooses to explore the narrative space rather than a passive audience being shown, but also risks losing impact from having a less curated and controlled experience.

Olia Lialina’s 1996 work My Boyfriend Came Back from the War partitions the web page into a progressively increasing number of frames, ending up reminiscent of comics and collage. By clicking on these individual panels, new text and images appear and occasionally fragment into more frames. While the panels of a comic are presented with an intended order, and multiple shots may be shown in a film for a period of time, there is nothing in this work that forces the user to explore certain panels before others. The user is then free to choose their order and move between panels at their leisure. This story is more fragmented than CityFish with no easily discernible timeline. The black background, disordered and juxtaposed panels, and modularity of the text creates what McCloud referred to as a sense of “timelessness,” where everything in the story seems to be happening both instantaneously and eternally at the same time. As an audience we are left to piece together pieces of a staggered conversation with the only assurance that time is actually passing being the hands on the clock moving forward.

The Fall

For my visual narrative I experimented with photobashing to create a storyboard for a short animation I’m working on. I wanted to draw on surrealist art and stream-of-consciousness writing bring the two into a multimedia form. The narrative depicts a man going through a near-death experience and bridges the gap from The Crash (my typographic narrative) and an old hypertext narrative I did for a previous class, The Monolyth. The intent is to use text, visuals, and audio to tell a story about a broken mind and to explore the idea of a human mind merging with a machine intelligence. In this sequence, the nameless narrator struggles to regain consciousness in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt, but can’t discern reality from memories from fantasy.

Show and Tell

Show, don’t tell.

Such a common truism that it begins to lose its meaning. When writing, it’s simply more effective to convey a story through highlighting the details and putting the reader into the story. It’s much the same in comics and film in a way, and it’s a connection I didn’t make until watching An Occurrence at Owl Creek.

Does this shot need any clarification? Perhaps… (image from learningenglish.voanews.com)

 

One of the first things I noticed watching the old Twilight Zone episode was the pacing: long shots of the environment and minimal dialogue brought the film almost to a crawl, compared to a lot of other Western films. The opening shot is a freeze frame of a sign warning that any civilians that tamper with the railroads will be executed by hanging. After the shot comes to life and pans away, we see a railroad bridge with union soldiers preparing to execute a man. They tie him up, place a noose around his neck, bind him with cloth at the ankles, knees, and wrists. Each step of the process we see unfold in front of the camera, as other soldier get into position, standing guard over the bridge or in standing formation and watching the proceedings from the edge of a cliff overlooking the bridge, rifles and a single canon at the ready.

While I watched this video with the luxury of decades of film literacy socialized into me through cultural memory, I have to imagine that the meticulous pacing of the film was intentional, as the minutia of the situation was likewise conveyed in the short story the video was based on. Long before the reader has any sense of a protagonist or any real sense of baring for the narrative, one is introduced to a detailed description of the scene: the stance and arrangement of the soldiers, the outfit of the man about to executed, and the processes by which he was bound and fitted into a noose.

The scene could have been quite easily portrayed by the man having been already bound and with noose around his neck, the soldiers already ready to step off the board and let him fall to his death. It wouldn’t be too much a stretch for the audience to piece a lot of the details from what could have been reduced to a single panning shot, similarly to how a narrator or opening text could sum of the scene by saying “Peyton Farquhar was about to be executed by hanging for trying to sabotage the rail road in an effort to aid Southern troops fight off The North.” But that wouldn’t be showing, it would just be telling.

Periodic shots from the first-person perspective reinforce the way the audience sympathizes with a prisoner we know almost nothing about. (image from cinemasojourns.com)

 

Instead, the film using juxtaposition of, as Mamet would call them, uninflected shots, it falls on the viewer to piece together the narrative. While the information could be conveyed faster, the uncertainty and tension of watching an unknown man about to be hung raises too many questions, and the audience is compelled to continue watching.

This is accentuated interestingly when Peyton emerges from the river, to find the adrenaline of the situation had sharpened his senses, and everything around him unfolded in slow motion for a few moments. The amazing thing about film is that the audience can actually experience the disorienting introduction of slow motion while the short story had to convey it much more directly, and losing some of its power.

Not the entire story plays out in this elongated chronotope, however. Once leaving the river, Peyton’s escape through the woods becomes a surreal blur, even more so in the text compared to the film. As film is focused on the visual and auditory, it can be difficult to convey ideas relating to the other senses. Writing however treats all the senses equitably, and the phantasmal sensations depicted clearly through the text. Either way, the story comes to an abrupt end that will shock in either medium.

Morning Commute

My goal was to depict the morning routine that has emerged in my life since quarantine and distance learning have taken effect, and to represent that in 5 pictures taken from my phone. After reading Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, I was most intrigued by trying to use transitions that were moment-to-moment (type 1) and aspect-to-aspect (type 5). I knew I wanted an establishing shot of the ceiling to indicate a starting point (waking up), and an ending shot of the computer for the completion of the “commute.” I tried to capture the feel of the aspect-to-aspect transitions by removing myself as much as possible from the shots and choosing the three central shots as mostly unrelated outside of the context of a morning routine. These pictures were also taken in a subjective angle that suggests a first person view to make the whole narrative experiential. I tried getting multiple shots of the egg cooking, using a tripod and timer to show the egg uncracked before hitting the edge of the pan and post cracking as the egg is dripping into the pan, but it was a difficult shot to get the timing and angle on and I ended up using my last egg unsuccessfully getting the shot. Instead I used a single shot of the egg frying in the pan and added a picture of coffee being poured to reinforce the timing. Ultimately, the transitions in this failed to be aspect-to-aspect as they still imply a flow of time, making the transitions technically more akin to subject-to-subject. I feel it still retained a sense of time ambiguity, or as Scott McCloud puts it “timelessness,” through the uninflected nature of the photos in a way that conveys the subjective feeling of time in quarantine.

Juxtaposition in Storytelling

David Mamet is a screenwriter and director. Scott McCloud makes comics. Both have written well received books on their craft, and they both talk about the importance of juxtaposition in visual storytelling.

On Directing Film

David Mamet spends the majority of his book, On Directing Film, explaining to the reader the importance of uninflected shots, which is to say a shot of film that portrays the subject in a straight forward way that, on its own, does not particularly evoke any emotional response or importance. The reason for this, Mamet argues, is that the best film implies meaning through the juxtaposition of multiple such shots. It’s up to the audience then to connect the two visual elements, and stories told in this way have greater impact than one where everything is stated plainly to the audience.

Uninflected shots leave the audience to connect the dots. This is known as the Kuleshov Effect. Image from premiumbeat.com, depicting the original experiment of Kuleshov.

The Kuleshov Effect

Named after the Soviet film maker form the early 1900’s, the Kuleshov Effect is easily understood from Kuleshov’s early experiment. Film clips were displayed with two juxtaposed shots, the first containing one of three things: either a bowl of soup, a young girl laying in a coffin, and a woman laying on a couch. The second shot contained a neutral faced man, to which many audience members would later commend the man for his subtle acting prowess, how he conveyed hunger when looking at the soup, mourning when looking at the girl in the coffin, and desire when looking at the woman on the sofa. Of course, in each scenario, the shot of the neutral faced man was the exact same clip, it was merely the juxtaposition of the two shots which guided the audience to find connection and meaning between the two.

Blood in the Gutter

Scott McCloud explains “blood in the gutter,” the importance of juxtaposition in comics, in his book, Understanding Comics. Image from adrireadscomics.tumblr.com

In film, juxtaposition occurs in time, as each frame of the film replaces the previous one several times per second. Comics exist in stasis, all events and narrative spaces coexisting on the page. The “gutter” is the colloquial term used to refer to the white space between panels in a comic, with each panel acting similarly to different shots in a film. The gutter acts as a buffer to communicate the change from one arrangement of space-time in the narrative to another, that time is passing or that the audience’s perspective is moving in space, or both. And just as film, and just as symbols derive additional meaning from what surrounds them, once you place two panels side by side, the human mind will try to make additional connections even if that means creating meaning that was unintended by the creator. It’s important then to think about not just the smallest unit in a visual medium, whether it’s a shot or a panel, but the way that it interacts with the whole, what the unspoken communication is telling the reader and what it isn’t telling at all.