How Comics Produce Sound On The Page To Create A Cross-Sensory Experience For Readers-Art-and-Culture News, Firstpost
The language of comics offers creative freedom to expand the auditory lexicon.
Kaboom! and splash! on every page. Unsplash / Miika Laaksonen, CC BY
Generally, comics are considered silent media. But while they don’t come with a soundtrack, the comics have a unique grammar for sound.
Fundamentals like symbols, font styles, and onomatopoeias (where words mimic sounds) mean that reading comics is a cross-sensory experience. New and old examples show the endless potential of this art form.
Sacred Batman onomatopoeia!
Onomatopoeia – is not unique to comics but comic book artists certainly have perfected this figurative form of language. POW! BAM! CLICK! appear on the page when Batman and Robin land a punch. BLAM! is the sound the Penguin’s umbrella makes when it shoots from a distance.
The list of sounds represented by onomatopoeias is limitless in terms of creative potential. There are words that directly mimic sounds, like SHINE! (the sound emitted by an object falling into water) and invented sounds like that of Wolverine’s adamantium claws (as we will see later).
The language of comics offers creative freedom to expand the auditory lexicon. A online database lists over 2,500 comic book sounds with links to comic book images in which they have been used.
It can also present peculiarities challenges for translators. The sounds depicted in comics can interval speech sounds (subject to linguistic rules, including those governing how syllables may be formed) to non-verbal sounds of human origin such as sneezing, sounds produced by objects and environments.
The visual context is also important. We only recognize the warning of Wolverine’s violent revenge in SNIKT! when the word is drawn and displayed next to the furry mutant.
Likewise, the word THWIP! in itself may not mean much. But when placed in context, it can imbue a comic book page with excitement and adventure.
Imagine a young man in a tight red and blue bodysuit diving at high speed from the top of the Empire State Building. Suddenly, just before hitting the ground, THWIP! he pulls cobwebs from his wrists, using them to swing from building to building. Readers and the crowd of enthusiastic fans on the page react: “This is Spidey!”
The way they say it
Comic book creators also use font style and size and different shapes and effects of voice bubbles for shouting, whispering or shouting a language.
Bold, italics, point, faded or irregular characters are used to emphasize different characteristics of written words: fear, courage, volume or silence.
In My friend Dahmer, created by a school friend of the infamous serial killer, the protagonist is seen carrying a dead cat on the way home by a group of children. Comic book creator John “Derf” Backderf applies larger print words to one of the children’s speech bubbles to emphasize the screams and surprise of onlookers.
Music to my eyes
The manga of 1973 Barefoot generation, written by Keiji Nakazawa, explores his direct experience of the bombing of Hiroshima and its aftermath.
Gen, the main character, sings through several pages of the story. The author uses a musical note symbol (♪) to indicate where the bubbles are sung. In the last pages of the fourth volume, Gen sings to celebrate the fact that his hair is starting to grow again after being affected by radiation poisoning.
When preceded by the easily recognizable musical symbol, it is practically impossible to read the dialogue without “hearing” a melody:
♪ “Red roof on a green hill…
A bell tower in the shape of a leprechaun hat …
The bell rings, ding-dong-ding …
The kids are singing, baa-baa-baa… ” ♪
By developing this concept, How to talk to girls at parties by Neil Gaiman contains musical panels where the combination of drawings, words and signs presents a soundtrack.
In cinematic terminology, it is his diegetic – noises or tunes from inside the story world – as opposed to a narrative voiceover or musical soundtrack that the characters cannot hear in the story.
In Gaiman’s comic, a combination of illustrations, musical notes, and words (including onomatopoeia TUM for a basic drum beat) make the music seem to fill every room in the house where a party is taking place.
In the political satirical comic that inspired a movie, Stalin’s death creator Fabien Nury and illustrator Thierry Robin present lines from Mozart’s orchestral score for his Piano Concerto No. 23 at the bottom of two pages. It adds drama to a climactic scene where the Russian frontman suffers from a stroke.
The next time you read a comic, be sure to listen carefully. KABOOM!