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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #231

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

Sound effect 7.JPG

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:

Sound effect 1.JPG

Or this one:

Cap Wank!.jpg

My “silliest sound effect” award has to go to this Iron Man/Hulk fight, though:

Sound effect 3.JPG

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:

Sound effect 10.JPG

Sound effect 9.JPGSound effect 6.JPG

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:

Sound effect 4.JPGSound effect 5.JPG

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:

Sound effect 2.JPG

And let’s not forget the glorious violence of Street Angel:

Sound effect 8.JPG

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!”


If you go back and find my review of FF/Iron Man: Big in Japan, you’ll see it’s all Seth Fisher’s sound effects. Very cool stuff. It made a groovy comic even groovier.

I have that Captain America comic, and have read it easily two dozen times. And never one did I notice Cap was a WANK-er.

It also contains one of my favourite lines of dialogue in a comic.

“Annoying gnat, i will crush you!”
“No, but you can try”

There’s a picture of the Joker I just saw online (maybe here on CSBG, maybe at the ISB, I’m not sure) where he’s walking towards you with the sound effects of him laughing are wrapping around him in 3D. I don’t know what comic it’s from – hopefully somebody will remember this and post a link – but it’s one of the coolest looking sound effects I’ve seen.

Off topic: who are all the contributers to this blog?


August 19, 2007 at 10:04 pm

Fury commands Captain America to wank?

Who wrote that?
Or lettered it?
Someone knew what they were doing when they put that in.

I should have included this in my off topic post.

With sound effects going out of vogue, panel layouts need to make up for it. But when there is a silent action scene (no sound effects), and the panels are uniform (the ‘widescreen,’ every panel goes from page-left to-page-right, or just uniform boxes), the eyes will just gloss over an action scene to the next words. It makes the read much shorter and basically eliminates a chunk of content–it doesn’t matter how Spidey beat up those bad guys, because our eyes will move right to the finish (or past it). It’s bad comic-making.

I can’t think of any examples off of the top of my head here.

I like sound effects, and more so, I like well-crafted layouts.

Simek was the Kirby of Sound-Effects.

It is the one sound effect that has most pervaded popular culture and will forever be associated with a particular action. Genius. Simplistic, descriptive. Genius.

Whenever you hear “snikt” or see the word on a page, regardless of what the context is, you know EXACTLY what’s happening.

Sound effects are the best thing ever, and I really don’t like it when comics leave them out. I love the English sound effects with the big chunky colourful letters saying things like ‘KA-BLAM!’ and I also love the Japanese ones, spiky katakana letters, because they have culturally known sounds for undefinable things that don’t even really make a sound, like ‘somebody makes a flashy entrance’, ‘ZAAAAA!’ (you will notice, in Scott Pilgrim, when the band appears at the end of vol 2, it even says ‘ZAAAA!’ in english, which I think is rocksome.

No honorable mention of the Gwen Stacy *snap*?

I don’t really like sound effects when they’re over-the-top like in some of the above examples. Also, the Simonson/Workman examples up there seem wrong to me because of the fonts. I dunno, they don’t look like sound effect letters to me.

Sound effects always look great in Japanese, though. That’s one area in which manga has us beat, hands-down.

Well on the one hand you have NOT using the sound effects, on the other hand however..

What I really dislike is people substituting sound effects for stuff they can’t draw. Can’t draw a person walking? that’s okay, just make sure you have a sound effect ready that says “walk walk walk”!
There’s a jar that needs to be opened, but you can’t figure out how the person has to stand? Just juxtapose “TWIST!” over it!
A door opens but the way you draw makes it look like the door hadn’t moved in near to three years? Well just make sure you can write “OPEN” !

Solo Avengers #14. She-Hulk has spent all day corralling Titania, in the midst of her first ever presentation to the Supreme Court. Titania’s kept on escaping, forcing She-Hulk to interrupt herself time and time again. Finally, the Court has adjourned the case, a catastrophic setback for Shulkie’s client (and legal career.) As she’s walking out of the courtroom, Titania hits her over the head with a car. She-Hulk turns to Titania, growls…

And what follows is just a full page of sound effects. Followed by a beat-up Titania explaining that she’s very sorry, she promises to go back to jail and behave like a good girl, and that she really didn’t mean to be any trouble at all.

Excellent work from Chris Claremont.

My favourite has to be from Transformers: Generation 2 issue 1 by Simon Furman and Richard Starkings and is split over two panels – BA-THROOM!

Pffh. That same sound effect is much better used in Alan Davis’ run on Excalibur, where the Technet accidentally blow up the only toilet in the lighthouse that the team uses as a head-quarters. The “Ba-THROOM!” sound effect is perfectly used there.

(Oh, and as an honorable mention, just because I’m a sucker for a Doctor Who reference, in FF #322-324, featuring Kang the Conqueror, Kang’s energy blast shoots out with the sound effect of, “TARDIS!”)

I’ve always been partial to Bamf and Zark.

Aside from maybe ‘BAMF!’ my favorite non-Simonson sound effect is ‘FAARP!’ From a Barry Windsor-Smith Thing vs. Human Torch story, it’s the sound a balloon shooting across a room, but it comes from behind the Thing, so that’s what you hope it is…

Tyson: I think I know the Joker panel you’re talking about, and it was from the Engelhart/Rogers run of Detective in the 1970s. Rogers was up there with Simonson using sound effects.

I’m very surprised the article doesn’t mention what I thought everyone regarded as the high point of sound effects as design element: Chaykin and Bruzenak’s work on American Flagg. Really, if you haven’t seen it, you have to go out and find the first twelve issues (subsequented collected in 3 or 4 books). They’re amazing.

Rats, John Seavey beat me to it. That “Ba-THROOM” in Excalibur (I think it was #42) literally made me do a double-take, and I’ll remember it forever.

Cerebus also had some great sound effects, both onomatopoeic and non-, if I recall correctly.

Rob M beat me to it but:


Somebody FINALLY mentioned American Flagg, thank God. That was awesome. Especially the buildup in the first or second issue, whatever it was — guns that go MOW, bombs going off with a muffled OOM, motors stuttering PAPAPAW…. and then it’s all on the same page, PAPA OOM MOW MOW. Which, for those younguns that might not know, are the first words of “Surfin’ Bird.” Genius.

We spend a day in cartooning class on sound effects. You’d be amazed how hard it is to persuade the kids to not use POW or BAM and make up their own, but once they do, there’s no stopping them.

Ummm guys… “THWIP”. Thats my favorite sound effect.

I’m recalling one of John Byrne’s issues of Fantastic Four when the Thing gets hit through the wall and the action is inside the sound effect. I’ve only ever seen it out of context of the comic, but its stuck in my head every since.

Yeah, say what you will about the man personally, but Dave Sim is a master of the sound effect and really used it well in Cerebus not just to get sound info across, but also for a lot of humor.

I also enjoy any use of Ba-throom. I saw it used again recently, but I can’t remember where. Bamf and Skint are also classics, classic enough that the sounds had to be acuratly reproduced for the movies, and fortunatly were.

As great as a letterer as Workman is, I think I’ve read somewhere that Walt draws his own sound effects.

My personal favorite is the “THUF” from the end of Green Arrow 101.

Mary Marvel’s pimp slapping “smek”.

You just can’t beat Don Martin in this department: http://www.collectmad.com/madcoversite/dmd-alphabetical.html

And who can forget Beta Ray Bill’s transformation into Beta Ray Thor: BADA BOOM!

And Surtur beating on the Sword of Twilight: KRAKA-DOOM!

But my all time favorite is from Manhunter: KLIK SNAK RATCHET RATCHET

I enjoyed Neal Adams’ nod to another illustrator in a GL/GA story — KaLOOTa!

In addition to the ones mentioned, there was Scourge’s ‘pum-spak’.

I remember a letter to Dragon magazine once where some guy mentioned he had the perfect way of naming a barbarian character–just name him after the sound his weapon makes when it hits someone: Thug, Smush, Bamboosh. The Dragon editors responded, “That’s nice. (Bamboosh?)” One of the players in my game would certainly have named such a barbarian character ‘Kateesh’.

And let’s not forget the Green Arrow villain Onomatopoeia in this context.

This is definitely something to love about comics. The sound effects are one of those things that make a comic so uniquely a comic.

One of my classic favorites is the helicopter sound:


Flush it all away

August 20, 2007 at 3:42 pm

Speaking of Captain America, I just read the Winter Soldier TPB and noticed that at one point, the Captain catches his shield to the sound effect of, “FAP!”

So we’ve got Wank! and Fap!

That Captain is a dirty, dirty boy.

Heckler #4, where the villain is taken to the hospital on every right-hand page (it’s a very Road Runner/Coyote style story.) At first, the ambulance is going, “Oo-EE!”, then the next time it goes, “Oo-A-A!”…then the next time it goes, “Ting-tang!”, and finally “walla-walla-bing-bang!”

Fine, fine sound FX work from Keith Giffen.

For my contribution, I present a hilarious digression from one of Eric Engelhard’s generally hilarious Spidey Super Stories reviews:

You would think that in the post-Batman tv series world of the mid-70s, they’d know a little something about good sound effects. I swear, if I were writing comics then instead of not even being a gleam in my mother’s eye, I would put ZAP! POW! KAZOOIE! like four times in every panel.

But no, here he slips, (SLIP!) and bumps into something (BUMP!). I can see where this is going to lead. One day Spidey’s grilling bratwurst (Mr. Sound Effect: GRILL!) for the poor neighborhood kids (Mr. Sound Effect: POVERTY!), when the Vulture attacks (Mr. Sound Effect: ATTACK!) and Mary Jane runs away (Mr. Sound Effect: FLEE!).

Best. Sound Effect. Ever: Swamp Thing 7. Batman picking a lock: “Pik. Pik. Pik. Unlok!”

I’m with joecab, Don Martin was THE sound effects master.

From Amazing Spider-Man #38, “Just a Guy Named Joe!”…


You guys reminded me of “Don Martin’s Guide to Some Very Obscure Comics Sound Effects”, from MAD Magazine!

Some selected highlights (unfortunately without Don Martin’s excellent art):

“McPwaf”: Superman trying to catch a safe loaded with Kryptonite.

“Snap–Ploobadoof”: Wonder Woman releasing her Amazon brassiere.

“Thiz-ziz-ziz-ziz”: Spider-Man’s secret web fluid backfiring.

“Skwappo”: The Silver Surfer wiping out on a meteor.

“Geeen”: Plastic Man giving a guy on the 32nd floor the finger.

And finally,

“Arrarghnnarrgh”: An entire dialogue script for the Hulk.

I also like Martin’s “The Sounds of Captain Klutz”, especially the sound of Captain Klutz rescuing a woman tied to some railroad tracks with a train on its way.


Ah, lots of fine memories aith that Don Martin stuff–he was the king of comic sound effects–the superhero ones once came in a Mad Special as stickers…

I think the “KRAKOW” laser hits from Spaceman Spiff are pretty good. There are some good sound effects in that new Iron Fist comic to name a recent one, especially when the panel itself transforms into the sound effect: http://www.the-isb.com/images/KICK-IronFist06.jpg

can anyone help me find an example of “bloomp!” I think of it as used when, for example, someone’s 8 arms suddenly expand from their shoulder girdle, surprising everyone to find they are actually an octopus.(although, I suppose it also could be another sound for wonder woman taking off her bra.)

Let’s not forget David Anthony Kraft’s DAK-KOOM!

In an issue of “Uncanny X-Men” from back in the eighties, I forget which one, Rogue flies down at like Mach-Improbable into a bad guy and the sound effect, across the entire panel, is…
My personal all-time favorite.

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