Vworp. Kapow. Biff, bang, pow! The onomatopoeic words we’ve seen splayed out across comic pages over the years are some of the most important parts (and iconic) of the medium. But how do artists and writers actually come up with the words? For legendary Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, there’s a lot of fun involved.
Gibbons—who has of course worked on everything from Doctor Who Monthly to Superman to many, many more comics—was recently a guest on Stephen Fry’s regular BBC Radio 4 linguistic programme Fry’s English Delight, which explores the story of sound and how we discuss it in the English language. Gibbons’ appearance, of course, focused on sound in the medium of comics, and how we use words to describe nonhuman sounds in a visual format.
It’s a fascinating thing to ponder—how comic sounds like “pow” or “kaboom” get standardised, or how even different cultures create some onomatopoeia that might not translate elsewhere (Gibbons has a particularly good story about the how the “sound” of Captain America’s shield hitting someone used to be somewhat... lewder to British audiences). But the most fun is hearing how Gibbons used to challenge other artists to drinking games to try and come up with new sound effects for their books. All in a day’s work, isn’t it?