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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Comics out Loud

-->  It’s hard to read a comic out loud. Storybooks are easy. One picture per page, and the words match. Strangely, with a storybook the hardest parts to read are the pages without words, when the narrator and the characters are silent. What do you do then? I make sound effects. 

When I was a kid, the comic I read the most was The Mighty Thor—in particular, numbers 337-382, the Walter Simonson run. It’s still my favorite comic story. I had to buy the omnibus edition when it came out in 2011, and his new Ragnarok series draws me to the comic shop the day each new issue goes on sale.

Despite owning the omnibus, I’ve never done more than flip through it until recently. I know the story well enough that I don’t need to read it straight through. I flip through it, looking at specific moments and battles. It’s a fantasy comic, much moreso than it is a superhero comic, and it rewards this kind of revisitation. But a few weeks ago, I go lucky when my five-year-old son asked me to read the whole thing to him. I’m not sure what prompted this request, but I wasn’t about to refuse.

Now, understand that my kids ask me to read comics to them quite a bit. After the first time, I’ve said no about seventy-five percent of the time. We’ve read a few Super Dinosaur, Transformers, and Uncle Scrooge, but not many of them. But they’re all a bit of an ordeal. You’ve got to point to the panel you’re reading, often back and forth between multiple speaking characters in the same panel. And characters frequently speak off-panel just to complicate things further. The sound effects often sound altogether wrong when uttered. Then, in some comics, you’ve got to differentiate between thought bubbles and word balloons. And if you do voices…

Storybooks lack that complicated structure—even though many of them are almost exactly like comics, lacking only word balloons.There's usually just one or two pictures per page spread, and often I can read through the words quickly enough. With a comic, there are so many pictures per page that it's hard to keep his attention on a single panel at a time. He often asks about what's going on in a panel on the bottom of the recto whilst I'm still reading narration for the first panel on the verso. Sorry for the obscure diction. That just happens sometimes.

So, yeah, I do voices. My Odin is a lot like John Houston. Thor is an octave lower than my own. Balder is soft and light. And the warriors three are probably what you'd expect: Volstag bellows everything. Fandral is my attempt at Errol Flynn. Hogun is Charles Bronson (I don't remember where I came across the information, but I'm fairly certain that Kirby had these men in mind when he designed the characters). I do my best fox impression for Loki, even though it makes no sense. And for reasons I don't understand, I make Beta Ray Bill sound like John Hurt. Nobody has an English accent. I don't even want to describe what it sounds like when I read the women's dialogue.

Then there are sound effects. What I have found is that, strangely, these almost never work for me when I read them out loud, so I end up just making a noise like what I think the thing would sound like.

So far, we've read nearly 500 pages of the omnibus. Lots more to go, but it's a fascinating, challenging experience.

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