Thursday, June 10, 2010

Geek of the Week: Comics

Comic books have a fun outlook on life. Examine the stereotypical comic book format: wonderfully overblown characters, impossibly proportioned bodies, and the sweetness of superpowers, for starters. Add in characters talking to themselves to describe narrative action ("Head spinning...stomach empty...gotta have sandwich...") and pages gushing with splashy action and you have a great gumbo of enjoyment. My favorite absurdity, however, is the sound effects. For one of the best examples of this trope, witness the Batman fights via Adam West:

Start your smorgas-soundboard off with "Sock," "Pow," and "Zok" with plenty more to come. There is a lot of silliness to the Adam West Batman. A LOT. But it's a head-first, fun-loving dive into an ingrained trait of comics.

Comic book sounds can be so ingrained that they take on a life & recognition of their own. Some characters can lay claim to their own unique sound effects. "Snikt!" is closely tied to the X-Men's Wolverine and "Thwipp!" to Spider-Man just to name a couple. According to Wikipedia, these sounds are trademarked by Marvel Comics, but a detailed search of the US Patent and Trademark Office did not confirm this (always double-check Wikipedia, kids).

As this is Geek of the Week, I have my own broad sampling of the comic sound effects oeuvre. Here follows a shortened classification:

Contact Sounds (usually fist-on-face), i.e., the Adam West Batman specialty:
  • Pow! Wham! Boom!

Vocal Reaction to Contact Sounds. What the fist-on-face recipient says after said action:
  • Ooof! Ungh! Argh!

Weapon Sounds. Those made by lasers, eye beams, energy blasters, and other props:

  • Zaakkkk! Bzzzzt! Va-Whoom!

Character-Specific Sounds:

  • Snikt! Thwip! Bamf! Zapt! Shazam! Krakadoom!

During the so-called Golden Age and Silver Age of comics, these types of sound tropes were common. While some of these onomatopoeic (Vocabulary! Ka-Blam!) methods remain in place, modern comics seem to favor a shorter, more efficient sound style. Instead of "Yeeeeeaaaaarrrggghhhhh!!!" a character today might simply say, "Nnf." Although nothing tops the single-digit sound effect, often employed when a character dies or passes out:


Shortest word balloon possible.

To me, the sound exclamations are a big slice of the fun pie that is comics. Within this brand of literature, imagination runs wild and any flight of fancy is within reach. It is also a visually-based medium, allowing simultaneous expression through pictures partnered with text. I like things graphic, so comics are specially simpatico with me. Fortunately, many good writers, past and present, have graced this medium. Which brings us to The League of Awesome.

This show furthers the medium's indulgences. It's a romp with appreciative nods to classic and modern comic stories. It's also girl-centric and girl-penned. Women writers are a very underutilized branch of the comic book tree. This trend is changing, and The League of Awesome is a terrific trailblazer.

I can't say what sound effects will be employed, but I know L.O.A. has action abounding. I expect this show to have the cheeky fun of Adam West's Batman but be far cooler to look at and much smoother in its execution. My money's on it. In fact, I expect the smart whips involved in this show will find a way to leverage cool sound. They are a group of super heroes after all.

Until next issue, WHAM! (the sound, not the horrible music group)