Comic Talk and General Discussion *

Swearing in comics
pkism at 1:07AM, June 8, 2020
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Trying to get a feel for the forums here so here's an attempt at starting a discussion.

Despite being quite comfortable with cussing myself, it's a different story when it comes to my writing. I'm always a little bit afraid that it will come off as forced or corny. How do you keep your characters from sounding like they just learned the f word yesterday? (Am I overthinking it? Probably.)
Do you feel like censoring overall helps or harms the experience?
How do you like to use swearing to build the tone or setting?
bravo1102 at 3:07AM, June 8, 2020
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This topic has been discussed any number of times before in news posts, quackcasts and in the forums.

What is the creator's intention? Shock, novelty, realism?

There are people who do say “f***” every other f***ing word. So does the creator censor them or find another way to express the same sentiments? One way is simple substitution. Farscape invented alien curse words because the characters did swear a lot but it got lost in translation because different cultures swear in different ways and some colorful metaphor used in swearing just doesn't translate.

I remember watching the subtitles on a movie in German and the character called another an arschloch Literally that's “asshole”. But the subtitles said “bastard” so they cleaned it up in the translation and some meaning was lost. The character was really an “asshole” in the classic sense.
bravo1102 at 4:17AM, June 8, 2020
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To continue:

Conversely there was the classic war movie A Walk in the Sun Being made in 1944 it couldn't reflect the swearing culture of the war (see Paul Fussel Wartime for a good examination of it)

“Loving” was substituted. If you know what it was put in place of it makes the dialogue realistic that might have been lost if left out entirely. So I insist that swearing has a place in works.

But this is not to say that I like the comics that want to sound mature so suddenly everyone is cursing up a storm just for the thrill of it. It has to work in context of the story and characters. I have characters that swear a blue streak and some questioned it at first but then understood it in the context of the character. That's how she talks. But there are characters who don't and it reflects their background and personality. It's not my thinking that adult language makes anything adult. You want adult language it's not just a few words but a whole frank way of speaking about topics not just choice colorful expressions.

There is shock. When the whole story is clean but something strikes someone as so wrong that they use an expletive. Consider how M*A*S*H fought the censors to have Hawkeye call an officer with no regard for his trooper's suffering “son of a bitch”. It stood out. Not only for the shock of hearing it on TV but that the character was expressing extreme emotion so it wasn't just shock for shock or a little kid discovering the term but a real dramatic moment.

That's what cursing can mean in fiction.
last edited on June 8, 2020 4:19AM
Ironscarf at 4:48AM, June 8, 2020
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One thing I like to use are grawlix, like !@*%$£?:, a series of symbols used to replace swear words. You can get creative with the symbols and what I like about them is that the reader can insert whatever word they think is appropriate, so they are international and cross cultural. Also in 100 years time, your comic's cursing will still be bang up to date. I don't think they are right for every comic, but I don't consider them to be censoring. I see them as adding something that is unique to comics.

I may be old fashioned, but if I was relying on swearing to build tone or setting I'd feel like I wasn't trying hard enough. I'd be fine with using it to add a bit of seasoning to the pot.
 
bravo1102 at 5:44AM, June 8, 2020
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Ironscarf wrote:

I may be old fashioned, but if I was relying on swearing to build tone or setting I'd feel like I wasn't trying hard enough. I'd be fine with using it to add a bit of seasoning to the pot.

Dunno I agree with Mark Twain that nothing sets tone or place than how people talk. A lot of anthropologists and linguists write that too.

For me though it's more about how a character expresses themselves. Grawlix only goes so far in establishing time, place and the attitudes of characters.

For example a couple of 19th century movies got language right by having Btitish natives and especially Irish using f*** creatively and often as opposed to everyone else. It establishes the time and character. Just the same as to how it became a universal all purpose word during the World Wars. Shaw said Americans and British were two peoples separated by a common language but once they got to curse words the language barrier disappeared.
last edited on June 8, 2020 5:45AM
usedbooks at 9:54AM, June 8, 2020
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It's a balance of characters and audience.

If your audience is adult, include the swearing as is organic for the characters. A character's diction defines them, so use the language that suits their “voice.”

If your audience is families, younger folks, or conservative types, but you have a character who needs some spicier language, you can either use the grawlix/symbols to indicate rough language or invent some colorful expletives for them (like Captain Haddock in TinTin). My friend who didn't cuss had some doozy not-swears. My favorite was “Cussbuckets!” That language set her apart in an amusing way.

Tbh, I wouldn't use the asterisk substitutes like f*** They just don't have the right look (while a string of symbols or invented word is better in print).

Just remember to separate yourself from your characters. Your characters' language is not a reflection of you. Unless you need to censor your comic for the audience, let the characters speak naturally. Strong language can impact the tone of the work or just of the specific character. Overall, it is entirely subjective as to whether it “improves” or “detracts” from your comic.
ShaRose49 at 7:37AM, June 10, 2020
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pkism wrote:
Trying to get a feel for the forums here so here's an attempt at starting a discussion.

Despite being quite comfortable with cussing myself, it's a different story when it comes to my writing. I'm always a little bit afraid that it will come off as forced or corny. How do you keep your characters from sounding like they just learned the f word yesterday? (Am I overthinking it? Probably.)
Do you feel like censoring overall helps or harms the experience?
How do you like to use swearing to build the tone or setting?

Personally (and this is just my preference) I don’t like it at all when characters are swearing every other word, it’s very distracting from what they’re actually talking about. I usually find it much more effective to use those words strategically, especially when characters are terrified or angry, or even trying to make a point. That way it makes more sense to me, and adds to what the characters are trying to say, rather than taking away from it. This is just my opinion though.

I only occasionally use some mild language in Sunstrike and Bluemist because I like to keep the story feeling innocent enough for older children to read, which is kinda weird I guess since the story is building up to some rather dark subject matter, but meh, I’m just more comfortable with writing dialogue that way. It’s definitely possible to make a dark and serious story without even using any language, Stephen McCranie’s popular Webtoon Space Boy is a good example of this.

(Edit) I just wanted to make it clear that I’m not telling you how to write your story, these are just my thoughts on the subject. If they’re helpful, great, if not—that’s totally fine. Write how you think makes the most sense for your own story,
last edited on June 10, 2020 7:46AM
bravo1102 at 8:43AM, June 10, 2020
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Personally (and this is just my preference) I don’t like it at all when characters are swearing every other word, it’s very distracting from what they’re actually talking about.
Exactly. That can be plot point, that no one can understand what the person is saying because of all the f***. Had it happen in the Army a couple of times.
ShaRose49 at 9:03AM, June 10, 2020
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bravo1102 wrote:
Personally (and this is just my preference) I don’t like it at all when characters are swearing every other word, it’s very distracting from what they’re actually talking about.
Exactly. That can be plot point, that no one can understand what the person is saying because of all the f***. Had it happen in the Army a couple of times.

Ouch, yeah that’d be hard
Genejoke at 1:25PM, June 10, 2020
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It's very simple for me, I let my characters swear as much as they like, no censoring. As for the amount, as usedbooks said, it's about the character and audience. I aim for an audience that doesn't mind swearing for the most part, except for a project I'm working on at the moment where I will be greatly refraining from swearing.
Tantz_Aerine at 5:10AM, June 11, 2020
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I don't censor cussing. It's not too frequent in Without Moonlight because the culture back then, in the broad strokes of the social classes the main cast is derived from was not to swear in front of children and women, so everyone sort of unconsciously restrains themselves somewhat. (Yes, it was that ingrained)

Not always though. And sometimes it's the kids that do it out of the blue. So I just let them say what they were going to say. It shows something when a cussword drops in their speech.
 
Banes at 3:11PM, June 11, 2020
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I’d agree that the right move is doing whatever’s right for your story. I’m not a fan of swearing in comics when it doesn’t fit naturally. Like, I’ve seen animations online (and even on TV) where it’s as if the swear is supposed to be funny or satisfying in and of itself. It isn’t.

Oddly enough, in the comics here that I read that have swearing I barely notice. It just fits in there naturally.

In my comics - in Typical Strange I think I used the first one (“bastard”) when I was about 500 pages in. In Chatterbox the character was supposed to be constantly uttering profanity but it just didn’t feel right (again, swearing for its own sake is worthless). About ten pages in, my supposedly foul mouthed lead said “asshole”. So I’m not big on using swearing myself. However, if it was right for a story/character I would be fine with using it.



last edited on June 11, 2020 3:12PM
Peipei at 7:26PM, June 11, 2020
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Interesting topic here! I often ask myself the same thing! Not all of my characters swear like sailors, but I do have a couple that do. It all depends on the character's personalities and whether or not the swearing would be called for given the circumstance they're in. I think it's natural for a character with a more brash personality to cuss up a storm from time to time.

bluecuts34 at 4:51AM, June 17, 2020
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I'm Australian and work in construction, so I naturally curse often and creatively. I don't enjoy reading much cursing.

I don't like it when it sounds forced, but the best way to get around that is to listen - really listen - to when people talk. Not in movies or youtube - in real life, in conversation. Pay attention to cadence and rhythm and other kinds of filler words, too - because this isn't really about swearing imo, it's writing dialogue that sounds real. Maybe take notes if you're sneaky enough. If you're in isolation, conversational podcasts might be a fun, non-creepy way of observing how people talk. Read your dialogue - aloud - to yourself. It'll help work out the kinks, like where to put that c-bomb and what kind of pause to put in.

If you don't already, read books and comics that have good dialogue - I'm a basic bitch and always point to Steven King. He has a great sense of how people really talk and is a master of using cussing in the best way to serve that character. Make sure to read people who can't write dialogue, like HP Lovecraft. The man had a tin ear for people and it's informative to read how to do it so very wrong.

My $0.002 as someone who likes a bit of dialogue despite writing a comic about architecture.
ozoneocean at 8:58PM, July 23, 2020
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I used to have a lot of swearing in Pinky TA but I scaled back from that… I can't recall if I took it all out or if I just stopped putting new stuff in?
I don't have any issue with swearing but I didn't want to limit my potential audience.
 
Digital_Genesis at 9:27AM, Aug. 7, 2020
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I wanted stark realism in my comics so I had lots of cursing. My comic “GodMode,” formerly “Children of the Gods” is a superhero deconstruction. What would happen if these guys lived in the real world so to speak. However, my wife challenged me to go from rated R to PG-13 because she felt I could tell the story without swearing, so I am now using grawlix.

I had already decided to redo my comic as a Director's Cut so I went back, updated the art, rewrote all of the dialogue and took out the swearing. I think it's now more accessible to a wider audience so I'm happy with the decision. It's been a challenge to convey the same type of raw emotion and authenticity but I'm working through it. Hopefully, it doesn't take away from the quality.


last edited on Aug. 7, 2020 12:35PM
El Cid at 4:40PM, Aug. 7, 2020
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Swear words are just something else in your palette to paint with. They'll work in some compositions and in others they won't, and a lot of it depends on the skill of the painter.

Personally, I feel that if your setting is such that the language feels like it belongs, it doesn't conflict with your creative vision insofar as mood or whatnot, and it's not inappropriate for your target audience, then there's no good reason to go out of your way to sanitize the language. Especially if it blunts your writing.
Digital_Genesis at 5:10PM, Aug. 7, 2020
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El Cid wrote:
Swear words are just something else in your palette to paint with. They'll work in some compositions and in others they won't, and a lot of it depends on the skill of the painter.

Personally, I feel that if your setting is such that the language feels like it belongs, it doesn't conflict with your creative vision insofar as mood or whatnot, and it's not inappropriate for your target audience, then there's no good reason to go out of your way to sanitize the language. Especially if it blunts your writing.

I agree 100 percent. My wife challenged me though to tone it down LOL. She's not a prude or anything, she just felt it was gratuitous. I in no way begrudge any one else for using it. I personally love comics with adult themes and writing. It is nice to know that almost anyone can read my stuff now.
last edited on Aug. 7, 2020 5:13PM
El Cid at 5:48PM, Aug. 7, 2020
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There are lots of good reasons to pare down the heavy language in a story. If it's excessive and out of place, that's a really good reason. There's a lot to be said for working from a “reduced palette,” as they say.

But I'll also say that in my opinion, toning it down to make your work accessible to a broader (i.e. “younger”) audience is usually a sketchy proposition. Your audience appeal will be determined by far more substantive factors than how many four letter words your characters use. There are tons of very mature audience oriented works that don't use any foul language whatsoever, and also plenty of grossly immature works where everyone swears like a sailor. If your comic is serious and introspective and deals with more grown-up themes, then your target audience is old enough to deal with pretty much whatever you throw at them. Making it PG rated won't draw in very many younger readers; they're mostly looking for a lighter read. Or playing games on their phones.

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