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The Joy Of SFX

Ozoneocean at 12:00AM, July 15, 2016

Hello Fellow Duckers. Today I want to talk to you about a sensitive topic, but one that many of us enjoy, so there’s no need to feel embarrassed. We’re all friends here after all. I’m talking of course, about SFX.

My entry to the mysteries of SFX came with my first exposure to a genuine comic script. Sandwiched between the panel descriptions, captions and dialogue were those three magic letters. They heralded Klangs, Kabooms, Sighs and Clicks enough to turn any young man’s head. Previously I’d thought these were made up by the artist or the letterer, but here was evidence of writers burning the midnight oil to satisfy their onomatopoeic cravings. I had to know more.

I spent my nights with an endless selection of well thumbed publications, gleaning what I could. American cartoonist Roy Crane ( was the first to SFX up our comics. Others soon followed suit. SFX Splonked and Thwaarked their way into the popular consciousness. In the golden age, SFX became as recognisable a feature of comics as the characters they fought for panel space. They were soon parodied, never better than in this example (, by the great Wally Wood.

In the silver age, jack Kirby gave them centre stage, often filling whole panels with wild SFX. They fought for screen time with Adam West and Burt Ward in the iconic 1960s Batman TV series and even made their way into art galleries, courtesy of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. They became the most recognisable feature of the comics vocabulary. Even today, classic SFX have their fans and custodians. Try clicking a few at the Comic Book Sound Effect Database ( There was bound to be a backlash.

In the nineties, writers like Frank Miller and Alan Moore pioneered a grittier approach and looked for a new language of comics to satisfy their needs. Thought balloons went out of the window, to be replaced by angst ridden captions. SFX were under threat. Moore excluded them from the action in his genre defining Watchmen, creating a very different, unsettling effect. Some thought it was time to put SFX firmly in the closet. Today, you’ll still be hard pressed to find a thought balloon. SFX on the other hand, have survived, prospered, branched out into a thousand new forms. Let’s face it, SFX sells!

So how do you like yours? Do you display them proudly for all to admire? Do you tweak them for hours, or bash them out and forget about them? Perhaps you like them transparent, or in outline form, so we can see what’s going on underneath? Some prefer the human touch, while others employ every technological advance at their disposal. Some find their vision is best served by complete abstinence for all forms of SFX.

Whatever your stance, comic SFX are unique. While most writing is confined to balloons and captions, SFX leap clear of the text to join in with the action, throwing a few punches of their own along the way. In our sequential world they bridge the gap between words and pictures, giving us a soundtrack into the bargain. How loud is that explosion? How do you know a picture has been taken without that telltale click? Who’s that lurking in the shadows? It’s Wolverine of course - we can tell by his Snikt! SFX offer endless scope for originality and expression, even morphing into backgrounds and props if need be. Lose your inhibitions: SFX are fun!

Thanks for reading and until next time consider this: what sound does a freckle make, when it pops out to play on a balmy summer’s day?

This cheeky and very SFXy newspost was bought to us by our very own Ironscarf!
You should know dear scarfy from his excellent comic Awfully Decent Fellows!



irrevenant at 7:29AM, July 22, 2016

This is interesting timing. I was just working on a page and agonising over whether or not to use a sound effect in the page I was working on. I came down on the side of 'no' - the page just looked starker without it. But the page before it *did* have SFX and they worked great so... I guess it depends?

phinmagic at 12:59PM, July 17, 2016

That Wally Wood stuff is brilliant!

Ironscarf at 4:17AM, July 16, 2016

The Dictionary Of Comic SFX deserves a full section on this.

bravo1102 at 8:14PM, July 15, 2016

@ozoneocean: exactly. I grew up on war comics and after my military service it got me that all guns were blam! or ka-pow! When in fact memoirs talk of knowing who was shooting because of the specific noise each weapon made. And then there was Heartbreak Ridge with that fabulous line "this is the AK-47 assault rifle, the preferred weapon of your enemy. It makes a distinctive sound when fired."

Ozoneocean at 7:47PM, July 15, 2016

@Bravo- I did that with a PPSH-43 and a Vickers. These guns have very particular rhythms because of the power of the bullets and rate of fire, it's very individual. Not that a reader would know, hahaha, but guns don't all sound the same.

cdmalcolm1 at 6:42PM, July 15, 2016

I agree with banes. I only really use them if it is needed. With that being said, action type comics calls for them more over other types. The noise level in action type tends to be obnoxiously huge and can sometime take of panels if there is a need. Or what some time happens, the story may call for a very silent place and something like a soft dripping sound can Radiate a room as the dominant sound. Do I use them? All the time. It helps trigger the readers imagination on how that sound should sound like. Now as much as I see Wolverine's "snikt" I always hear a short sword being pull out of The holster. (If that even make sense to you).

bravo1102 at 6:08PM, July 15, 2016

I remember sitting through videos of AK-47 shooting to get the sound right for Attack of the Robofemoids. And then brainstorming to get a beam sound that didn't sound like any other I'd seen.

Ironscarf at 2:43PM, July 15, 2016

This topic has thrown up some great responses! I wanted to add some manga SFX to the cover art Amelius- they look so cool - but I wasn't confident enough to know I was grabbing SFX and not something else. I also wanted to cover the non-sound SFX which are in a category all their own. THIIIINK! is a great example; as are CAAAATCH! and GRIIIIN! Ashtree House, your comic is absolutely packed to the gills with SFX! I might have to borrow some of those myself!

ashtree house at 12:47PM, July 15, 2016

I need to work on sfx! They add so much to a comic, but I have no idea how to make such creative effects!! It leaves me stumped. I guess I need to experiment more and be inspired by other comic artists!

PaulEberhardt at 12:47PM, July 15, 2016

I love SFX!! They offer so much room for creative ideas, and a huge, dirty, gritty GRRROARRR!! gets across the idea of a really loud and angry Tiger roar so much better than something like a caption saying "imagine that Tiger roars now, like, real loud, you know". I like SFX that don't represent actual sounds, too, even if I hardly ever find ways to use them myself, for example: 1st panel - A tells B to think hard about it, 2nd panel - large sound effect over B's head: THIIIINK! Also, I'll second Amelius. Don Martin is the true king of sound effects. I used to have a copy of "Don Martin Steps Out" as a kid until it fell apart. Must have read it a trillion times and it stayed uproariously funny each and every time. I don't know how exactly it inspired me but it must have.

Amelius at 11:38AM, July 15, 2016

Heh heh, this was a delight! My favorite sound effect guy is Don Martin, in fact typing his name in search brings up "Don Martin sound effects" as an option. My parents had a copy of "the MAD Adventures of Captain Klutz" and reading through that as a kid really inspired me!I've also found that reading manga where the SFX aren't translated still carries over, because it's an indicator there IS a sound, you can just fill it in yourself. Nausicaa had a glossary of the sound effects translated to English, it was very interesting to see what those fighter planes and insects were actually supposed to sound like!

Bruno Harm at 9:22AM, July 15, 2016

I'm all over the place with SFX. Being fairly new to making comics, I haven't gotten any concrete Idea's about the topic. I've hand drawn some, and used Photoshop (also with Blambot fonts!) I just kind of take it one SFX at a time. My favorite so far was "PIMP!"

Ozoneocean at 8:19AM, July 15, 2016

I just distort the "badda bing" (I think it's called) front from blambot, using Illustrator. Mostly I make them transparent, but with a darker outline.

dpat57 at 8:16AM, July 15, 2016

Fun read! For me it's never "Should I?" it's always, "Where can I put them?"

Banes at 8:03AM, July 15, 2016

Everything we wanted to know about SFX but were afraid to ask. Phenomenal article! I keep my SFX to a minimum; it's only for special occasions. Like when sound is important to the scene or of it adds a comedic/character flavor. Like a character scratching their head: adding a little "scritch scritch" can call more attention to the action...and it's a funny word. One that I always remembered was in an old Hulk comic - an avalanche of rocks with the hulk in the middle of it was expressed with a bold "SKRA-DA-KROOM!"

ayesinback at 7:12AM, July 15, 2016

Nice topic! I rarely (read: almost never) do pages any more but, back when, I'd add SFX to advance a story, although not to punctuate, probably because I was concerned I'd be overly taxing the reader (they already had to bear with my limited art). Yet the only "voice" on my latest page (for Genejoke's We Are The Duck) is a SFX

fallopiancrusader at 7:11AM, July 15, 2016

When I was growing up, I loved Joost Swarte's SFX the best. I can't even imagine how his sounds were supposed to be pronounced. Nowadays, I use a lot of Blambot fonts, but the SFX in GirlSquadX were all hand-lettered. I can't say I miss those days of hand-lettering. Very tedious.

Ironscarf at 6:01AM, July 15, 2016

Thanks guys! Kim, I've had the same issues when trying to add SFX to painted art. Painting them in never looked quite right and a lot of programs aren't flexible enough to measure up. I settled on Inkscape (very poor person's Illustrator). Bit of a learning curve, but the freedom of vectors allows you to get much more creative and balance with the art. With the aid of a few Blambot fonts!

KimLuster at 5:00AM, July 15, 2016

Excellent read! I've kept my SFX relatively low key, mainly because I don't know how to draw them well, and the added one (entered by my primitive Draw App, the same one I use to do text) are limited and don't really look good overlaying the watercolor backdrop.

Ozoneocean at 4:56AM, July 15, 2016

It's an amazing Newspost!

Gunwallace at 2:18AM, July 15, 2016

said the actress to the bishop.

Ironscarf at 2:15AM, July 15, 2016

Not really. Sounds more soluble headache tablets dropping into a glass of water.

HippieVan at 1:50AM, July 15, 2016

Hmmm, well that doesn't quite work, does it?

Ironscarf at 1:35AM, July 15, 2016


HippieVan at 1:21AM, July 15, 2016

Upon examination, it's something between a soft "plink" and a bit of a "twinkle."

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