Biff! Bam! Pow!

The other day I was sorting a pile of "recent" purchases and wound up re-reading A-Force v2 #5-71. If you haven't read this fun little three-issue arc you probably should. It's chock full of great character bits and humor, plus an alternate universe Dazzler who is also Thor, a soul-consuming dragon who is defeated by the power of love, and Ben Caldwell at the peak of his artistic powers.

What surprised me on this re-read, though, was that Marvel had allowed Ben Caldwell to do many of the sound effects. You almost never see that in assembly-line comics, which is a pity because a good artist can produce more effective, dynamic sound effects than the average letter and fold them into the page in an effective, organic way. By way of example, check out this sequence from issue #6, where a powerless A-Force is forced to do battle with a berzerk She-Hulk...

Thoom Thoom Thoom Thoom Thoom Hrr? Flip Crash BoomEffective use of sound effects.
A-Force v2 #6 (August 2016), page 13
Art by Ben Caldwell.

These sound effects are an integral and well-utilized part of the overall page composition.

  • The "thoom"s in the top tiers fill up what would normally be negative space, enhancing the claustrophobic atmosphere Caldwell is trying to create. Imagine these panels with a rendered background - it'd be too cluttered and the specificity would make it feel static. The sound effects bypass that problem entirely.
  • The wonky thickness of the letterforms on She-Hulk's "Hrr?" makes the interjection seem even more hesistant and uncertain.
  • The "crash" in the fourth tier tier uses jagged letterforms to enhance motion in a way similar to speed likes or a starburst. It also effectively enhances the readability of the page by partially diverting the rightward-motion of She-Hulk's lunge, and then uniting with the negative space in the panel borders and the bottom tier to draw the eye downard.
  • And finally, the "boom" in the bottom tier meshes organically with the billowing debris clouds. They manage to stand aside from the art thanks to the coloring, but the whole thing feels of a piece and enhances the feel of crumbling masonry and billowing debris clouds.

These issues also provided a good example of the way assembly-line comics handle sound effects. Which is to say, not bad, just actively mediocre. Here's an example from issue #5...

Ka-PowLess effective use of sound effects.
A-Force v2 #5 (July 2016), page 9 detail.
Art by Ben Caldwell, sound effects by Cory Petit.

Know what looks great here? Caldwell's "krak" at the top of the panel, though Ian Herring's choice of rendering it in lime green makes it almost impossible to notice. Know what doesn't look great? The "ka-pow" over the dragon's head, which actively interferes with your comprehension of the art without adding anything to tye dynamism of the scene. In fact, by dragging the eye downward to the bottom of the page it actively subverts the art, which is trying to use Captain Marvel's upward thrust and Dazzler Thor's hammer strike to direct your eye diagonally upward to the top of the next page.2

  1. It's apparently called "Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light!" though you won't find that title anywhere in these three issues.
  2. There's an even worse example in issue #7, where the sound effects a) go on top of a very dramatic scene that would have been more effective isilent, and b) really make it hard to see beneath them to what's going on.

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