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Find more Graphic Novels on Audio
It seems incongruous—how is it possible to listen to a book created in a visual format? With a title range spanning classic comics, nonfiction, realistic contemporary, and more, publishers are taking on the challenge as the popularity of both graphic novels and audiobooks continues to grow.
Text-heavy graphic novels seem an obvious choice for audio format and may be a good entry point to both graphic novels and their audio adaptations for readers unsure about melding these formats. Two memoirs fit this bill, each featuring a single reader, making the experience more similar to a traditional audiobook. In Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography (2013), narrator Ezra Knight gives Andrew Helfer’s work a straightforward presentation and gravitas fitting the subject. For the graphic memoir of comics legend Stan Lee’s life, Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir (2015), Peter Riegert embodies Lee, creating an intimate connection to the listener and still bringing conversations to life.
Listeners who enjoy full-cast recordings may be an audience eager to explore graphic novels on audio. While full-cast recordings of traditional books are easy to find, a graphic novel with a full cast sounds significantly different. A traditional full-cast recording tends to shift narrators at chapter or section breaks. The use of multiple narrators in a graphic audio allows for a clear distinction between characters and quick back and forth dialogue that simulates the word bubbles on a page, creating a radio-play feel.
Sound effects are another element borrowed from radio plays. Just as graphic novels simulate sounds with zings! pows! and screeches!, audio editions of graphic novels find creative ways to elicit the mood of the images through sound. For the recent audio adaptation of Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl (2018), scene-setting recordings of actual roller derby bouts, including the sound of wheels on the wooden track and the sharp whistles of the referees, made their way into the production. Background sound effects abound in graphic audios. A campfire, class-dismissal bells, or crowd noise aid with understanding the context. Sounds and production effects convey action too, and explain how characters are relating to one another, as in video game tones, or the muffled voices through a telephone in Jerry Craft’s New Kid (2019).
Music, an audiobook feature that is typically limited to brief introductory or closing tracks, is another tone-setting addition to graphic audios. For the audio version of Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin’s depiction of a perilous immigration journey in Illegal (2018), music conveys a mood when words are absent. Powerful visual spreads are translated with evocative original music, moving while listened to on its own, but truly cinematic if listened to with the print book in hand for an immersive experience.
Listening while reading is a strategy often suggested for younger readers to aid in understanding. Paired with the growing print trend for younger readers of hybrid novels that incorporate illustrations, such titles as Lincoln Peirce’s Max and the Midknights (2019) and Terry Liebsen’s Just Jaime (2019) become multisensory delights. Liebsen’s tween coming-of-age story gives each main character a narrator and subtly incorporates descriptions of illustrations where necessary. Pierce’s Max journeys with a full cast, sound effects abound, and music is played for humor and scene setting, really playing up the cartoonish feel of the novel.
In listening to graphic novels, one realizes that what the audio and graphic format have in common outweighs their differences. Both work to create an immersive reading experience and allow the reader to draw on multiple literacies in absorbing stories. Beyond that, they are great fun, and create a modern listening experience that harkens back to the Golden Ages of both radio and comics.
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