KAPOW! One of the biggest comics clichés is the sound effects as costumed men punch each other. However, there’s a lot more to adding sound than reinforcing the idea that fists are impacting on flesh. The world is full of sound, most of which can’t go into a comic, it would clutter the page to the point of being unreadable. What sounds do you need, and what function can they serve in your work?
Analyze the Panel…
I think it helps to consider how people think about sound. Most people tune most of it out, most of the time. Consequently what registers are new sounds, unfamiliar sounds, things that are potentially dangerous, people saying our name, and anything else we are consciously listening for. So if you want to establish a soundscape as part of a mood, that can work, but you only need to do it once and then leave it. Most of the time, the images carry the sound. We see waves on the paper, we hear them in our heads. If the character cannot see the waves, but is at sea, then we might want the sound effect.
If the sound needs to be there for the story and the art cannot automatically convey it, that’s a good cue for a sound effect. For example if a character is doing something in a panel, and you can’t show them moving but need to convey the activity, a sound effect, along with motion lines, is a way round this. Inanimate objects sometimes need their sounds to make sense. A telephone as an image might be silent, or might be ringing. Only a sound effect can tell us. Potentially dead people are much the same. If there’s blood all over the page, your sound effect might mean the difference between life and death.
Of course, unless you’re playing with aps, by ‘sound effect’ what I mean is letters or a word on the page to convey the idea of a non-verbal sound. This is a huge opportunity to play. Think about the noise, and how to convey it. Think about the size and shape of your font. You can use regular words as sound effects as well. I have fond memories of Tom using ‘drip’ which is not a sound, but which definitely worked in the situation. Going for less familiar things can create interest, add humour, confuse, mislead and delight in turn.
Focus and Attention…
Adding a sound effect can draw reader’s attention towards certain details, creating emphasis and changing the focus. This gives it the potential to affect the mood and pacing of a page, or to shift the way in which a page is understood. They can also indicate where a character’s attention is focused. Sound can be emotive, and you can use it to echo the feelings of a character, or to emphasise them. We don’t normally hear the sound of a single tear falling, but there are situations where the sound effect of it might work well for emphasis. Sounds effects can be used to reinforce motion, the sense of speed, and impact in the kapow-laden fight scene applies other places too.
The trick lies not in thinking about what the scene sounds like, but thinking what it is you need your reader to understand. Used sparingly, as a creative tool to enhance the story telling, sounds effects can be brilliant. It is easy to fall into the painfully obvious. Biff. Thwap. Clunk. But you can do startling and wonderful things with the sound effects on your page if you venture away from the over used.
Now, what does a demon sound like when it explodes?
(Nimue and Tom Brown are the team behind Hopeless, Maine. An amazing piece of art and literature, Hopeless is well worth the read and something that we at Crafting Comics are glad to put the word out for. Please show them some love and check out their site.)