How to successfully tell a graphic story?

We will explain to you what happens between vignettes, so that you can understand what process is applied and how, using psychology and playing with the reader’s imagination.

What happens between the vignettes of a comic book?

Have you ever noticed that when we read our favorite comics we are not really seeing everything that happens in the story? A fight between Superman and Doomsday can be drawn in many vignettes. However, it would be impossible to want to show every second of the battle in the pages we have to capture the scene.

The magic of gutter

Image: McCloud, Scott, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: Harper Collins & Kitchen Sink Press. 1994.

This is where a very important element in comics comes in: the gutter! Don’t panic! The gutter is simply the space between the bullets.

What is gutter?

The gutter is the place where the magic happens that allows us to tell the events we want without having to draw infinite squares for every thousandth of a second that passes in the story.

If in one vignette we see a character driving while talking on a cell phone and the next vignette shows us that same character lying on the street and a car crashed, we quickly think that he had a traffic accident.

How do we know what happens in between those two vignettes?

When we see the vignettes separated by the gutter, that is, the space between the vignettes, something called closure occurs. This is a psychological phenomenon that consists of seeing the parts of something, but perceiving the whole. Every day, in our daily life, we do the cerrado by mentally completing what is incomplete.

The secrets of psychology

The law of closure: A brief explanation

Gestalt psychology can help us to understand it. This current of thought, which emerged in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, postulated a series of laws that explain the origin of perceptions from stimuli.

One of these laws is precisely the Law of Closure: according to this rule, our mind adds the missing elements to complete an incomplete figure looking for the best possible organization.

As we could never see the world in a complete way, we are permanently imagining the missing parts. If I am drawing in my house, I can imagine that outside it there is a street, that it belongs to a city, that it belongs to a country… ok, you get the idea, right?

Constantly our mind makes closed, and this is only possible through experience. In many media this resource is often used.

We can imagine a thriller movie in which a frightened child sees a shadow with a knife through the curtains. As viewers we imagine the worst, without having actually seen what is hidden.

Exercising the closed mind in comics

Let’s go back to what interests us most: comics. This is one of the media that makes the most use of the cerrado through the gutter.

Between each vignette, experience tells us that there must be something there. If we see each vignette as a separate part, it might seem like discontinuous moments. However, the closed one allows us to connect those events and mentally construct a continuous and unified reality.

“But if after the vignette where Doomsday raises his arm I don’t draw the exact moment when Superman gets hit and just do it on the floor, in the next vignette I don’t know if it would be understood” Stop right there, fear not!

Every action we draw in our comics will have an accomplice who will imagine and complete what is missing in the sequence: the reader. The participation of the viewer, his imagination, is the key to make things “happen” in a comic.

Without someone who performs closed, time and movement could not be simulated in our stories.

Playing with the reader’s imagination

Knowing all of the above, we comic book writers and artists can play with the reader’s imagination. In this way we can decide what things we show them and what things we don’t show them.

The skill of the one who writes and draws each story is in the way, how he takes the reader to imagine the incomplete.

Comic artists will have to make assumptions about readers’ experiences. Some may be obvious and others less so.

Consider the case of two cartoons: in the first, we draw an open mouth and in the second, a closed mouth. We trust that intuition will lead the reader to quickly imagine that the mouth is closed.

To give another example, if we wanted a more active participation of the reader, we could make a first vignette in which we see a gun shooting and another vignette in which we show a tombstone in a cemetery. In this case, the reader will have to work much harder to complete the action he received incomplete.


As we have seen, closure in comics is a kind of secret pact between creators and readers. For a comic book to work there must be a good handling of this contract by the creator.

What happens in between the vignettes? What happens depends largely on the reader’s imagination, and it is up to the reader to decide. This, plus the hints given by the creator, give a special closure to the story.

In future publications, we will tell you how to exercise the craft to master the different transitions that we can achieve in our comics taking into account the magic of the gutter.

Bibliography: McCloud, Scott, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: Harper Collins & Kitchen Sink Press. 1994.

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