The reader fills in what takes place in the gutters by using the information supplied in the story and, at least in part, by referring to his or her personal experiences. For example, if the artist creates a martial arts fight sequence, a reader with martial arts training may fill in the gaps with mental images that are different from those supplied by someone who has never set foot in a dojo. Similarly, a reader trained in traditional karate may fill in the gaps with visuals different from those of a reader trained in kung fu.
To use an imperfect parallel from traditional cel animation, the comics creator is drawing key frames and the reader is the in-betweener, filling in the action between the key frames the artist created.
This additive activity of filling in the gaps sometimes creates memorable images in the mind of the reader. It is fairly common for comics readers to retain clear images from a favorite comic book story for many years. When the readers finally review the actual comic, they are surprised to find that not all of the visuals they remembered actually existed on the page. The readers mentally generated some of the memorable visuals when filling in the gaps between panels. This demonstrates the power of the comics medium and the power that comics creators have.
Excerpted from The DC Comics Guide to Creating Comics by Carl Potts, Foreword by Jim Lee. Copyright © 2013 by DC Comics. Excerpted by permission of Watson-Guptill, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.