Experiencing Panels and Gutters in an Art Gallery: Thoughts on Comics, Art, and Literacy

Sample comics-page from Daytripper (Moon & Bá, 2011)

As a student of comics (i.e., sequential art), my thoughts often turn to the effects of panels and gutters as literary components.  Panel delineation draws the reader to consider pieces of story, and gutters are intentional spaces which assign control to the reader (McCloud, as found in Chute, 2014, p. 25) – thereby allowing the reader’s cognition, context, curiosity, and imagination to mingle.  Story and ‘visual silence’ combine in sequential art; it is a unique form of literature that draws readers forward while allowing for pauses.


SBU Gallery SUMOn March 23, I experienced the effects of panel-like components and gutter-like spaces in works of art in the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery at Stony Brook University.  The gallery currently showcases works by Logan Marks, Myda El-Maghrabi, Ye-seul Choi, Heather M. Cruce, and Victoria Febrer in “SUM: MFA 2016 Thesis Exhibition.”

Within the remarkable art in the exhibition, there are squares and rectangles delineating and forming fields of color, pattern, shape, and images.  There are also ‘silent spots’ that allow for pauses and reflections.  Just as in comics-reading, such features enhanced my visual experiences, enriched my interpretations, and increased my appreciation for the works.

Although the sequential nature of the art in comics and graphic novels is not necessarily characteristic of the art I viewed, it was interesting to experiment with both sequential and non-sequential visual navigation within the works.  Also, incorporating assemblage tasks which occur during navigation through a comics page (Cohn, 2013, pp. 95-100; Eisner, 2008, p. 41), and then altering the visual process was an intense but rewarding way to enjoy the art from different perspectives.

Some tangential notes (and food for thought) for librarians and literacy specialists:

Each of the approaches above formed a distinct experience, and this brings to mind many possibilities in the experiences of readers of comics and graphic novels when they explore images, text, and layout.  This also brings to mind the benefits of multidisciplinary approaches for literacy support in general, which Vukelich, Christie, and Enz point out in their discussions about literacy development (2008); they note that creating art is important (pp. 97-98).  Inspired by my visit to the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery, I will add that readers benefit when art for viewing is included in library offerings – in the form of trips to galleries and museums, or in a multi-media community gallery housed in the library.

To conclude, I recommend a visit to “SUM: MFA 2016 Thesis Exhibition.”  In particular, readers of comics and graphic novels will be intrigued by the ‘panels’ and ‘gutters’ waiting to be discovered there.  The exhibition runs through April 9.

The following works in the exhibition inspired this commentary:

SBU Logan Marks     Logan MarksStatic, Remote Control & the Leftover TV Dinners, 2016

SBU Myda El-Magrhabi  Myda El-MaghrabiEach body is a strange beach, 2016

SBU Ye-seul Choi  Ye-seul ChoiAn Aerial Scene, 2016

SBU Heather Cruce  Heather M. CruceSee Canyon Veil, 2016

SBU Victoria Febrer.jpg  Victoria FebrerMoving Mountains #2, 2016 (Untitled Marine Vistas #173, 174, 175, 176, 177)


Chute, H. L. (2014). Outside the box: Interviews with contemporary cartoonists. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.

Cohn, N. (2013). The visual language of comics: Introduction to the structure and cognition of sequential images. London, UK: Bloomsbury.

Eisner, W. (2008). Comics and sequential art: Principles and practices from the legendary cartoonist (Rev. ed.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

Moon, F., & Bá, G. (2011). Daytripper. New York , NY: DC Comics.

Vukelich, C., Christie, J., & Enz, B. (2008). Helping young children learn language and literacy: Birth through kindergarten (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.


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