Silent Comics

Authored by: Barbara Postema

The Routledge Companion to Comics

Print publication date:  July  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415729000
eBook ISBN: 9781315851334
Adobe ISBN: 9781317915386

10.4324/9781315851334.ch22

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Abstract

Silent comics, also known as wordless comics, are comics without text in captions or word balloons. Silent comics are not strictly silent, because they often include sound effects in various forms such as pictographs in word balloons. One could say that silent comics are soundless in the same way that silent film is soundless, namely that while they do not include verbal dialogue, they show or imply sound in numerous ways because the worlds they represent are not silent. There are, however, some significant differences between silent film and silent comics: in the early cinema, silence was a result of technological limitations that didn’t allow for a soundtrack. Comics, on the other hand, always had the option of including text for dialogue, narration, and sound effect, whether as a caption, word balloon, or other textual insertion, and comics did this from their earliest appearances. Furthermore, silent films often used intertitles, a screen with captions, to provide narration or supply snippets of dialogue: silent film is not also wordless, as silent comics are. In the traditional comics form, captions are commonly used, but the silent comic genre actually tends to avoid most forms of text, and so employs captions only very minimally. This is why “wordless comics” is an alternative term for silent comics. However, just as silent comics are not silent (or are just as silent as any regular comic, in that they never produce any actual sound), wordless comics are frequently not completely wordless: silent comics will regularly include words that are part of the image— in the form of newspaper headlines, street signs, and advertising billboards—labeled iconotext by Peter Wagner (1997), and intraiconic texts by Nikolajeva and Scott (2006: 73).

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