Comic Books' Glimpse of Eternity - Page 2
This combination of reading comics panel-by-panel while also, out of the corner of our eyes, peeping at the overall design of the page is the hint of Eternity. Sequential, chronological time can still unfold as expected as readers move from panel to panel. The panels can be sped through quickly or they can be slowly savored. Either way, the readers’ mind animate the characters as their eyes enter the space between the panels, affectionately known as “the gutter.” Our minds fill in the action or relationship between the panels like missing frames of a movie. What a movie, however, does not offer that comics do are the entire unspooled story on the page. The entirety of what is to come lays in front of readers. The whole frozen sequence exists neither in the past nor the future but in an indeterminate space. In Eternity.
This idea of comics-as-Eternity is not entirely far-fetched. Literary critic Frank Kermode suggests that the prose novel operates similarly. If angels, he reasons, can operate both in Eternity and in mortal Rime, then they must have a hybrid sense of events, which Kermode calls aevum. He claims that novels operate in aevum: they are all potential and outside of Time until a reader opens the pages and applies human sequence (and meaning) to the words. Of course, novels lack a vital component of comic books, namely pictures. When verbal imagery and literal images combine as they do in comics, we move from novels’ aevum and into an alternating relationship between sequence and Eternity.
Beyond “with great power comes great responsibility,” can comics teach us something about human existence? We don’t see the division between moments in our lives, the “gutters” that link our actions together. If we cannot detect the small, therefore, why not aim for the large? As one second moves to the next and some great Eye slides to the next panel, maybe there’s a design, a layout, perceptible to us in the shape of Eternity.