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Sound Effects



The extremes of daily comic strip viewers are these: One type curls up in front of the air-conditioner with some Old Forester or chocolate eclairs and painstakingly reads each panel until he/she laughs out loud. The other type turns the page as swiftly as possible, each and every day blowing past Beetle Bailey and Brewster Rockit en route to news about the Cubs-Cardinals double-header or road closures in the metro area. Between these two extremes is a vast sea of lukewarm water that houses those whose interest in comics is narrow and specific ('I never miss Loose Parts. It's the first thing I turn to over coffee in the mornings.") and those who sometimes find themselves lashed to the sofa and cannot rise until they have perused each page of the paper at least twice.

It is in that sea that most of my swimming takes place.

In general, the funnies are better than ever. As Little Orphan Annie, Gasoline Alley and Katzenjammer Kids have faded, they have been replaced by wry and wise upstarts like Get Fuzzy, Bizarro and Speed Bump. In my salad days, there was no strip anywhere better illustrated than Prince Valiant, but that was many moons ago. Some strips now take themselves too seriously (Funky Winkerbean, Doonesbury) to be consistently funny. Others " and you can plug in your choice here " depend on a foreknowledge of Sophocles or Schopenhauer.

Still, I shed no tears for the departures of Barney Google or Smiling Jack or Brenda Starr. Contemporary strips in general are more sophisticated, and when they're not thrashing us about the head and shoulders with that sophistication, they're often amusing us.

That increased sophistication can even be found in one of the more esoteric aspects of comic strips, the one I call 'sound effects." You know, the kind of stuff that if it were part of a radio comedy would be generated by a guy knocking coconuts together, holding a sheet of paper next to a fan, etc.

In print, of course, these nonverbal sounds must be reproduced on the page, and those reproductions have fascinated me for a long time. You know, when Joe Palooka unleashed a whistling left hook against the chin of his villainous challenger, there was a mighty BLAM! exploding in the panel.

My earliest recall of these sound effects were of uncomplicated emissions like PLOP when someone in Barney Google fell on his keister or POW when Mutt bounced an ashtray off Jeff's noggin. One of my personal favorites attended the trajectory of Mutt's ejection of Jeff from a room; it was usually labeled ZOWIE.

But technology never stands still. New noises are being born every day, and every day cartoonists are striving to replicate them. How are they doing? Here from Zits are the sounds from the other room as a mother hears her teenage son come home: SLAM! CLOMP! CLOMP! CLOMP! Then her cell phone rings: FLEEDLE! FLEEDLE! FLEEDLE!

I must confess I have no remembrance of 'fleedle" popping up on panels of Red Ryder, but then again Little Beaver seemed to lack a cell phone.

Another example of the new technology spawning new sounds: In a Lio strip, a kid is piloting a crab-like lunar terrain vehicle when it suffers a motor shut-down (PPSSSHHH). The kid investigates, then walks away, pausing only to point his key chain at the vehicle and click his clicker: WE-WEEK.

Now here's a case of the new technology getting itself confused with something old, like a body part. The strip Baby Blues opens with a mom lying in bed and reading to her little crumbsnatcher. The crumbsnatcher reaches up to push his index finger against Mom's nose. DOINK! Next, Mom alone hears FLUSH! In the final panel, the crumbsnatcher is back 'doinking" the maternal nose and she explains: 'It's a book, Hammie. You don't have to put me on "pause' to go to the bathroom."

Not all this technology reaps obvious benefits. One of the single-frame cartoons, Close to Home, depicts a nerdy Sofa Cobra seated in a room swollen with high-wired gadgetry. He's on his cell and what we have here is a failure to communicate: 'What? I can't hear ya, Ma! You're breaking up! CCCKK! Hello? I lost ya, Mom!" And pegged to a nearby wall is a big speaker belching the following: BEEP! WHIRR! HONK HONK! SCREECH! At the bottom of the strip is this caption: 'With the help of his Road Noise Sound Effects CD, Mark was able to abruptly end annoying phone conversations."

P.S. I especially favored the CCCCKK depiction, even though I have absolutely no idea how to render it orally. I just love the Cyrillic-looking consonant cluster.

Lest you think that all these creative sound effects belong to the new breed of newspaper cartoonists, here's a couple from some old favorites:

First is from the venerable Viking Hagar the Horrible. In the opening panel, the title character slumps in comfort with his feet on an ottoman and his hands on a single-malt. But nearby a parrot is squawking for a cracker. In the second panel, Polly is joined by a dog and a duck, each wearing a Viking helmet and making their own demands. The dog grumbles GRRRR!, while the duck pleads KVACK!


The second oldie but goodie is from the evergreen Blondie. Dagwood's doctor dozes in front of his computer; his initial snoring is that long-time favorite ZZZZZ. But in the strip's final panel, Doc has progressed to the deeper SKNXX-X. I myself have never reached that level of exhaustion or resultant slumber.

Finally, lest you fear that comic-strip sound effect utterances lack couth and culture, check this offering from the sparsely sketched animal serial Mutts: In the opening panel, a dog and cat are greeted OINK by a passing porker. In the next, the cat leans forward and paraphrases Julius Caesar: VENI, VIDI, OINKI. In the final panel, he explains to his pal, 'Pig Latin."

OK, enough is more than enough. I'm going to slam down this pen, get up from this air mattress, go start my car, floor that sucker. WHAP! PPPSSHH! VA-VA-VA-VAROOM! RRRRRAAAGH!


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