Skaar, Son of Hulk #1

Skaar #1 cover

Written by Greg Pak
Illustrated by Ron Garney
Colored by Paul Mounts

People were raving about Skaar, Son of Hulk last week, so I figured I'd give it a try. I'm not sure what the fuss was about - it's a pleasant enough read, but I won't be dumping my back issues of Conan to make room for Skaar any time soon. There's really nothing in the story and art to carp on.

No, what I want to carp on are the lousy sound effects. Here are some of sound effects sprinkled liberally throughout the first issue.

A planet being torn asunder.

The approach of a great horde.

A dragon breathing fire.

These sound effects all have one thing in common - they're boring. I blame computers.

I understand the appeal of computer lettering from a production standpoint. As someone who hand lettered a comic strip every day for four years, I know old-school lettering can be hand-cramping drudgery. A well-tuned font can make lettering so easy that a trained monkey could knock out a 22-page issue every day. It allows editors and writers to make changes right up to the moment the files go off to the printer. The average comic reader can't tell the difference between computer lettering and hand lettering, and usually doesn't care even if he can). Sure, you lose out on some of the idiosyncratic possibilities of hand lettering, but then superhero comics have rarely made use of those possibilities to begin with.

So no, I don't have anything against computer lettering per se. My problem is that computer lettering encourages you to take shortcuts everywhere. Especially with sound effects.

Sound effects aren't dialogue or captions - they shouldn't be regular and repeatable, or they become lifeless. When every "snikt" is the same they just become visual clutter, something to ignore, and when prepackaged effects are used they're frequently inappropriate. In the above examples, the letterforms in "Krakooom!" are just way too thin to convey the agony of a planet being reduced to rubble. The rough edges and the baseline shift in "Rrrruuuummmblleee" is just too regular to convey the violent approach of an army. And there's nothing that makes "Hrraaaaaa!" particularly fiery or load except for its size.

Sound effects really should be treated as part of the art - and the artists and letterers who use them well actually do. Walt Simonson clearly designs his pages with sound effects in mind, as do Erik Larsen, Adam Warren, and a whole host of talented manga artists. Sure, it takes a bit more time and effort, but the results are an order of magnitude more exciting. And isn't excitement what superhero comics are all about?

Besides, if I see one more out-of-the-box "snikt" I'm gonna scream.

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