There have been many attempts at arriving at a definition for the comics medium. One of the defining elements in many of these definitions is the sequential arrangement of panels, arranged spatially adjacent to each other and separated out by the empty space surrounding them, the so-called “gutter” (see for example Kunzle 1973:2, Sabin 1993:5, Haymann and Pratt 2005:423). Thus one of the constituent elements of comics is the gap. In order to be able to follow the fragmented story told in the individual images, the reader has to mentally fill in the gaps, a process Scott McCloud called ‘closure’ (67). Both narrative and temporality are created in the gutter. In other words, the gutter is the major place for meaning making. This inter-frame gap has been extensively treated in research (i.e. Barnes 2009, Low 2012, Miller 2007). R. C. Harvey demonstrated in his 2001 essay ‘Comedy at the Juncture of Word and Image’ that the same principle of closure also applies to the gap between word and image in that the reader has to link both to be able to fully understand the panel. Finally, Barbara Postema showed in her dissertation Mind the Gap that gaps can be found on every level in comics: in image, page layout, sequence, image-text combinations and the narrative itself (3). She illustrates that according to Wolfgang Iser, the gap is an integral part of all fictional narrative as it ‘is always a matter of leaving openings to draw readers on’ (Postema 2011:5). This implies that gaps are responsible for engaging the reader, who must produce inferences to construct meaning in a narrative. The prime example for this is the crime story – the reader is left trying to figure out who the murderer is by interpreting the hints provided by the text and filling in the information gaps. While in literature this procedure is often invisible, the gaps in comics are often very noticeable, like the aforementioned inter-frame and word-image gaps. However, gaps can also be used to create narratives in which the gap explicitly takes on a thematic role.
This is exactly what happens in the comic El Cosmógrafo Sebastián Caboto: Trazar un Mapamundi (1992), in which Lorenzo Mattotti and Jorge Zentner apply the logic of the gap to the story itself. It is an account on the Italian explorer Sebastian Cabot who sailed to America shortly after its discovery by Columbus. Unfortunately, our knowledge of him is very patchy, his biography ‘nebulous’ (10). While gaps are something most biographers have to deal with to a certain degree, the ones Mattotti and Zentner are confronted with are particularly large. This may have influenced their decision to not smooth them over to create one harmonious, consistent story as is often done in fictional reconstructions of the past but to put its fragmentary nature at the center of their narrative, thus using the comic’s gutter structure to reinforce their own fractured narrative.
Read the rest of this entry »