as a weekly practice I listen to npr and do a little sketch on one of the stories. take a look, you can click on the illustration to make it bigger!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Sound Of Superman

We all know what Superman looks like. Big yellow S, red cape, lots of blue spandex. But what does Superman sound like? DC Comics has taken some of their biggest characters — Wonder Woman, Superman, and Green Lantern — and turned their comics into audiobooks with a company called Graphic Audio. I went to the New York Comic Convention to find out what fans thought of the audio books. But most of them had never heard of them. It’s fair to say audiobooks haven’t exactly swept the industry.

So how do you get Superman’s iconic look – cape, curl, and all – into audio? “I had to put the curl in my voice,” says Scott Brick. He’s narrated hundreds of audio books and won two Audies – the audiobook version of the Oscars. And he’s done the voice of Superman. Twice! To voice Superman, Brick says he would envision the comic’s artwork and use techniques from the Golden Age of radio.

“I can start off way far back on the microphone, and come gradually in if it’s a scene in which I’m supposed to enter,” says Brick. “Similarly I can go back on the microphone if I’m leaving. I can shout things if I’m, Superman’s shouting over a crowd. And you know, it may not convey the entire imagery, but it’s enough.” One of the biggest tricks Brick had to pull was turning Clark Kent into Superman – without a costume change. For Brick, it was all in the voice.

“If you’re doing Clark Kent and he’s very, you know, ‘golly gee whiz, you know, I’m here in Smallville’ and then suddenly,” Brick says, taking a pause. “’This looks like a job for Superman!’ You can feel it go from, literally, from the top of your head down into your larynx.” Even for an old pro like Brick, doing Superman still gave him a thrill.

“With something like Superman, it’s just, it’s permission to fly.” Voice actors like Brick might be ‘flying’ more in the future. At New York’s Comic-Con, everybody was talking about motion comics. Those are online comics that use classic comic book art, but are semi-animated and voiced by actors. Paul Levitz is the president of DC comics. He says he doesn’t know if motion comics will take off with fans.

“We’ll see whether it becomes a sustainable, distinct form or whether people say, ‘eh, that’s halfway between a comic book and an animation, I’d rather stay at either end of the spectrum and not in the middle,” says Levitz. But whether motion comics fly or flop, Levitz thinks sound will play an important role in comics. He reminded me that the Superman radio show once made a lasting contribution to the classic storyline.

As the story goes, Levitz says, “Bud Collyer, the voice of Superman, wanted a vacation. So the writers scratched their heads and came up with the idea that there would be this magic rock that Superman could be exposed to. And it could de-power him. They were able to use a voice stand-in to just lie there for a week and go “uuuhh.” And so kryptonite was born.

-excerpt from NPR

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