The mind is an absolutely fascinating thing. I imagine someone like David Attenborough saying that in his brisk yet sardonic tone, perhaps at the start of a documentary on how the human mind is able to power the future or something similar. And now you’re imagining it. I have successfully just implanted a sound in your mind. This is something every non-auditory media form tries to achieve.
Books and articles do it through the use of descriptive phrases and accents. Tonks in Harry Potter doesn’t speak with a northern accent just because the reader guesses she might be northern, she is written as a northerner, her words are changed slightly but deliberately to create her accent then her actual word choices give the necessary inflections to create the characters personality. The best example of this is probably in Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. In Welsh’s work the entire novel is written in a Scottish dialect. This is a technique that is still used rarely by authors as most fall back on speech attribution. Speech attribution is the simple ‘He said’ or ‘She whispered’, it’s a common technique for a reason. It works. But in a graphic novel it’s impossible to use, so artists and writers have devised other techniques to deal with the problem.
In graphic novels the problem of sound is approached from two different angles; graphically through fonts and visual queues, and visually through context given within the panel. Fonts and visual queues are the true language of comic books, a normal speech bubble means regular speech where as a cloudy speech bubble means thoughts and internal ideas. There are dozens of examples, most of which you would probably know without giving it a second thought. For example, in a comic book where the Avengers fight Ultron there might be a panel in which Ultron speaks with a jagged edged speech bubble, we as the reader know this means he is speaking with a loud metallic voice.
Picture source: http://www.filmfad.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/ultron-first-appearance-1.jpg [accessed 23/05/2015].
These visual cues are similar to speech attribution: a standard speech bubble is the equivalent of ‘he said’ whilst a thought bubble simply means ‘he thought’. There is still a lot to interpret when it comes to how the speech is delivered, but this gets us closer to the truth. For other situations where there is no speech but instead a sound we need more. We need to know exactly how it sounds, or at least be given a few more clues for us to interpret. This is where SFX come in.
Thrakkadoom! This is the sound made by the Hulk when he defeats Mr.Fantastic during World War hulk. In this single SFX we are able to imagine the pure power and strength of the Hulk’s actions. Without ever hearing a Hulk battle before, we are able to create the sounds in our head with this slight written prompt. The best part of this is that it is a creative process and so the sound I think of (something similar to a gorilla throwing a boa constrictor down on the ground) might be entirely different to what you imagine. However, even with visual shorthand and SFX we can only get so far. We also need context.
Picture source: http://www.marvunapp.com/Appendix5/world_war_hulk_event11.jpeg [accessed 23/05/2015]
Context drives everything and I touched upon it last week with the idea of time and context. This is where a reader gets creative. If we see Captain America giving orders in a panel then we know that his speech should sound like an order or a command. Where as we know when we see the Wasp and Antman in bed the dialog is suggestive(if a little too suggestive).
Picture source:http://mimg.ugo.com/201011/65031/cuts/antman_480x480.jpg [accessed 23/05/2015]
Context is key, which is why the artist is the key to making the dialog work. Many writers think they are alone in their struggle to communicate with an audience and make interesting characters. They are not. A graphic novel is a shared endeavour between a writer and an artist. This can be the most important thing to keep in mind when starting out writing in the genre.