Why Gutter Colours In Comics Matter More Than You Might Think

2016 Artwork Comics Gutters Article Sketch

Although this is an article that will help you to design your own comic, I’m going to have to start by talking about both a print comic I bought in 2011/12 (and rediscovered recently) and several of the webcomics that I’ve made over the past few years. As usual, there’s (sort of) a reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

Anyway, the comic that I rediscovered was “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?: Dust To Dust (Volume 1)” By Philip K. Dick, Chris Roberson and Robert Adler.

This comic is the first part of a prequel to the movie “Blade Runner” and it’s just as cool, quirky and futuristic as it sounds. But, I don’t plan on reviewing it here. The reason I mention it is because, looking at it again, I noticed something very interesting that I hadn’t thought about before.

All of the “gutters” in this comic are filled with black ink. If you’ve never heard of a comic “gutter” before, it just refers to the spaces between each panel on a comic page. The thing that surprised me was that I’ve been using black gutters in most of my own comics since about 2012/13, but I never really noticed it in “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?: Dust To Dust” until I looked at it again this year.

This also made me think about the effect that gutter colours can have on comics. Since comics are a visual medium, I thought that it might be easier to show you what I mean. Here are two versions of the same comic, the first one has my usual black gutters and the other one has white gutters – the difference is quite striking.

"Damania Reappears - VR" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Reappears – VR” By C. A. Brown

This is the same comic, but with white gutters. As you can see, it makes more of a difference than you might think...

This is the same comic, but with white gutters. As you can see, it makes more of a difference than you might think…

One of the advantages of using black gutters is that they contrast a lot more with the brighter colours in each comic panel. This makes every panel appear slightly brighter and more vivid than it might do if you used white gutters. Not only that, the dark background itself doesn’t really “stand out” much, meaning that it’s slightly easier for the audience to focus on what it happening in each panel.

In addition to all of this, using black gutters can be a perfect way to give your comic an “edgy” look. It’s absolutely perfect for cyberpunk, horror, noir, gothic etc… comics.

However, as well as taking slightly more effort to make, one slight problem with black gutters is that it can be slightly harder for your readers to instantly see the borders of each panel (especially if you’re using dark backgrounds in your comic panels). Whilst this can give your comic more of an “organic” look, it can also lead to confusing comic pages if it isn’t done well.

On the other hand, white gutters have a more “traditional” look to them. Since comic makers have used white gutters for most of the history of comics (eg: since it saves on ink and is easier to print), it will look instantly familiar to your readers. Not only that, it can also help to soften the colours in your comic pages slightly and it can make darker areas of the page stand out even more.

Not only that, the panel borders are clearly visible if you’re using white gutters, which means that the comic may be very slightly faster and more intuitive to read. Plus, it also means that you don’t have to spend several minutes filling in the gutters after making every comic page.

Of course, gutters don’t have to be black or white, they can be any colour. In fact, one interesting technique might be to choose a gutter colour that compliments the dominant colour in your comic’s panels (eg: the colours should be directly opposite each other on the colour wheel). For example, if most of the artwork in your panels is painted using a fiery shade of orange, then it might be interesting to use dark blue gutters.

But, for something that is explicitly designed not to be noticed by comic readers, the gutters can have much more of an effect on the “look” of your comic than you might think…..

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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