SFX Blogger Steven Ellis goes all Biff! Badoom! Kapow!
I’ve said on previous blogs I love my comics me, but there is one aspect of comic books that I think sometimes gets overlooked and it’s a part that I really like and something that deserves a mention.
Comics are, like books, a silent medium, they use pictures and words to get the story across, but sometimes for dramatic effect there is a need for noise and that’s what I’m here to celebrate. And boy, you really have no idea just how much trouble spell-check had with me writing this piece. Something like 20 new words I’ve added to my Word dictionary that I’ll probably never use again…
Of course I’m talking about those wonderful onomatopoeic words you sometimes find emblazoned across the artwork, be it to depict an explosion (“Kaboom”) or gunfire (“Bdooowm”) or even the popping of a zit (“Squit”) these words just add something to a comic panel. I like to say them out loud when I find them. Some of them are just fabulous words. Some are downright bizarre. I imagine the artist or writer mimicking the sound effect they want and then spelling it out, saying the word they’ve created out loud. And they really are such fun words to say out loud: “Sptang” for a ricocheting bullet, “Budda budda budda” for the sound of a machine gun or “Skatash” for the sound of a door being kicked in.
Sure we have onomatopoeic words all over the place in our lives, from the sounds of animals, to the sounds of cars or planes, but the way they are used in comics is just so fun and inventive. If I had to mention one comic or graphic novel as a prime example of the great use these made up words can be put to it’d be Barry Ween: Boy Genius . Aside from the fact that the tales of Barry Ween are great in their own right, Judd Winick uses onomatopoeic words to great effect all the way through from “Shuup” for the pulling on of a glove to “Plap” for Barry landing face down on the desert floor and “Toonk” for an electric cable being unplugged.
These funny little words aren’t needed, especially. Whether they bring anything to a story beyond a little bit of fun I honestly can’t say either way. There are plenty of great comics and graphic novels out there that have none, and I’m sure it’s an artistic choice whether you want these odd words splashed across your work. Good story, good art, good character; like any work of fiction, these are the thing that make a good comic. But as I said, I do enjoy them. And the comic book sound effect is something unique to the medium, unless you want to mention the “Bam! Pow! Smack!” fisticuffs in the ’60s Batman TV show. But I think that show got the idea from the comics anyway so it doesn’t count!
So, whether you like these odd little words or not you’ve got to admit they are a pretty interesting little oddity from the world of comic, and I for one think they deserve a little bit of celebrating.
Oh, and don’t you dare tell me you haven’t been saying all these word out loud as you read this blog!