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Today’s entry is a hard-hitting, face-kicking, explosive extravaganza. I hope you brought some extra consonants. (Pat, I’d like to buy an archive.)
231. Sound Effects
Pow! Bam! Comics are just for kids anymore! I’d intended to do this kinda thing more often when I’d originally conceived the column, but I became trapped in the cycle of character-creator-work. Sometimes, we forget about the techniques, the tools, and the little details. Sound effects are here today, however, not with a whimper but with a bang! And probably a blam!
As a kid, I loved the Adam West Batman TV show, with all my heart, and I took it deathly seriously. My favorite bits, naturally, were the fight scenes, with the glorious sound effects overlaid over the action. “Ka-Pow!” “Kayo!” “Sock!” “Oooff!” “Biff!” “Whap!” and all the rest. My favorites were and still are “Zap!” and “Zowie!”– something cool about z-words, I guess. (For a handy list and index of the show’s sound effects, check out this Argentinian site.) The show was just copying a vital element of the comics, but it impressed upon me a need for all action sequences to have sound effects. I’ve got an Aquaman comic where I took a pen and wrote in some “Pows” and “Bams” because I thought a fight scene needed sound effects. It just wasn’t right without them.
I don’t know who devised the written sound effect, but they introduced a tool that’d make the comics reading experience that much more interesting. These glorious onomatopoeias They’ve thrilled us, they’ve chilled us, and they’ve killed… characters much like us. We’ve laughed, cried, and punched the sky. After all, who could forget this one:
Or this one:
My “silliest sound effect” award has to go to this Iron Man/Hulk fight, though:
What the hell’s a “Fwa-Wha-Wha-Bwom”?
My absolute favorite sound effects come from the mind of Walt Simonson and the lettering of John Workman. My God, these guys really commit to the art of sound effects. Why, the average Simonson/Workman sound effect goes on for miles and miles. The one at the top of this post? That was them. And check out these next few:
Yes, the sound a Robo-Stalin makes when it punches a Mr. Fantastic is “THKRHRHAAM!”
All Simonson comics are like that. Orion #5 is a sound effect fan’s wet dream:
Nowadays, lots of writers are phasing the sound effect out, because it’s not “cool” anymore. And, you know, that’s the writer’s prerogative. I’d hate to see some kind of “no sound effects” company policy, though. That’s just robbing the medium of a unique tool that it can use to tell a story. Not every writer uses sound effects properly, however; it’s an art. Really, it is. You can’t just slap any old syllable onto the page.
Sound effects can be fun and kitschy and wacky. They can punch up a fight scene (some of that pun’s intended) or add some kind of element to the page. Me, I like it when they’re truly incorporated into the art. I also love it when you get a sound effect that’s blatantly not an onomatopoeia– one thrown in for levity purposes, like this Scott Pilgrim example:
And let’s not forget the glorious violence of Street Angel:
Ahh, sound effects. The stuff what dreams are made of. Alright, so maybe not. They are, however, a true comic book utility. Why be ashamed of sound effects? I love it when the comics medium does something that nothing else can do. Well, nothing else but an ingenious little show like ’60s Batman. Zowie indeed.
What are your favorite sound effects? Me, I’m quite partial to “SPLUTCH!”
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