Was it his Fantastic Four run with Mark Millar where Bryan Hitch started dropping the hard panel borders, preferring soft, nonexistent edges with thick wide gutters? It might have been before that, but that’s where I remember it showing up. And every artist save Carlos Pacheco uses that layout style in Age of Ultron. Except for in issue 10 when Pacheco does it, too, and Joe Quesada doesn’t. How fucking weird is that?
The white gutters with no drawn panel borders is the most superficial example of Hitch’s influence on Age of Ultron. However, given that not a lot of artists use that look, it’s somewhat significant that it’s maintained throughout the series and, most importantly, the final issue (save for Pacheco and Quesada…). Age of Ultron #10 has seven different art teams and six of them maintain that look. As far as I know, only one of those art teams has used it elsewhere consistently. Besides a certain look, I’ve been trying to consider what that means. I can even dismiss the Pacheco stuff not following it, because it took place before the Hitch-drawn parts of the story – whereas everything we see here happens at least after the beginning of Avengers #12.1. It’s all part of a reality shaped by Hitch’s visuals. If the reality of comics happen within panels and in the gutters, then it’s appropriate that every artist maintains the reality Hitch began. This is a world of no borders and thick white gutters.
The lack of borders and the thick white gutters actually work against one another in a sense. The lack of borders means there’s no hard edge to the moment of time we’re seeing in the panel. There’s a soft transition between the moment that came before and the moment that comes after. One moment bleeds into the next with greater ease, suggesting something more akin to animation or constant movement. However, the thick white gutter acts as a large division between moments. Instead of panels placed right next to one another with a thin, hard division, we get ambiguous wide gutters that make those moments harder to bleed together, reinforcing the sequential art nature of comics, working against the idea of animation or constant movement. At the same time, the white gutters do allow for a soft transition, a purposefully large blank space where that constant movement does happen in the reader’s mind. For the most part, Hitch also uses a very orderly grid-like layout structure, only rarely placing panels in a overlay manner or having figures break panel borders. It’s a very straight forward look; an ordered one.
Hitch sets the tone and, looking at Age of Ultron #10, it’s one that followed in that very obvious sense. Most of the artists don’t need to actually take their cues from Hitch. The David Marquez pages, for example, don’t have much of a reason for following what Hitch starts since they show Ultimate Spider-Man. Even the Alex Maleev-drawn Hank Pym pages could be their own thing without too many difficulties. The only artist that really needs to take his cues from Hitch is Butch Guice and I would argue that he doesn’t. I may change my mind about that when I write about it tomorrow, though. Come back and see.