We’ve Evolved into the Gutters

Using Cognition and a Graphic Novel to Kill Shakespeare

Series:

Joe Keener

Abstract

The graphic novel Kill Shakespeare: Backstage Edition is a collection of twelve issues released independently over a five-year period. The book creates an Avengers-style universe in which characters from all of Shakespeare’s plays have broken the surly bonds of the original scripts and take part in a new narrative: there are two warring factions, those who believe Shakespeare, their god, will put things right, and those who want to usurp his power and live beyond the text.

This chapter discusses just how image, page layout, and, more importantly, empty spaces, make meaning. More specifically, it offers an understanding of distributed cognition, image schemas, and other forms of cognition and how they interact with the spaces between the panels, the gutters. The theatre has implied time and space just offstage, and Kill Shakespeare certainly follows suit, but its gutters put these implications right there on the page. What makes this particular graphic novel interesting is that it not only contains the implied time and space of its narrative proper, it also contains Shakespeare’s previous works, previous representations of those works, and the culture icon that is Shakespeare, to name only a few. In other words, the gutters in Kill Shakespeare are even more load-bearing than the average graphic novel. These phenomena are understood not in a passive or merely symbolic way, but are part of a distributed system of cognition that contains the reader, the author, past representations, cultural influences, etc., all taking part in a reciprocal system of cognition, that constantly moves back and forth, making and being made. Kill Shakespeare seems to revel in just such a system.