Reading Comics Aloud

By | Monday, August 10, 2009 4 comments
Here's a random Peanuts strip...
If you were reading this aloud to someone else, you'd probably just read the dialogue with each line preceded by a "Linus says" or "Sally says". Pretty simple and straightforward, right?

How about this one...?

Would you read it the same way? Or would you maybe add something else to indicate Charlie Brown's somersault in the last panel? Maybe something descriptive like "And then Charlie Brown gets flipped over" or maybe just a sound effect like "Whooop!"

Here's another...
Charlie Brown's speech in the third panel is technically illegible. As readers, we know from his posture alone that he's feeling alone and rejected, but as speakers, how do we convey that? It would seem that Charlie Brown is actually saying something, so maybe we could simply provide a string of unitelligible mumbling? Or maybe add audible dialogue that would still fit his character and the situation: "Rats!"

One more...
You could explain Sally walking up to the house and ringing the doorbell. You can relay her dialogue from the last panel. But how do you explain that comedic beat in panel 3? It needs to be there for the joke to work, but it's just a visual pause. We don't know (or, for that matter, need to know) if someone has answered the door or not. We don't know what Sally's thinking. We don't even know how much time elapses.

A friend of mine has been reading a Peanuts collection to his four-year-old in lieu of "traditional" bedtime stories. His daughter really seems to enjoy them, but he's repeatedly struck with how to articulate what Shultz has drawn on the page precisely because of these types of situations. He frequently resorts to adding his own dialogue, although I imagine in this last case, one would be hard-pressed to come up with anything remotely appropriate. (Maybe some idle humming, but that doesn't really work here that well.)

To add an interesting dimension to things, reading to your child isn't just reading generally. Lots of parents effect different voices and ask questions ("What do you think happens next?") and use hand gestures. Would acting out the same actions as the characters be appropriate? Especially the listless staring into space bit to emulate the visual comedic beats of the comic strip.

Clearly, comic strips aren't designed to be read aloud. The combination of words AND pictures to tell a story makes translation to words only often awkward and/or difficult. But I do like the idea of reading bedtime comics to kids, as it can inspire a lifetime of not only reading, but also an appreciation of the comic medium. With that in mind, are there any other suggestions for how to tackle the surprisingly difficult process of reading comics to your kids?
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bob said...

Wait, are you saying he's reading the strips to the kid without showing her the pictures? That doesn't make much sense to me. Whenever I've read a book with pictures to a kid I've always made sure they see the pictures, especially if they're more than incidental to the storytelling, which is obviously the case with Peanuts. Reading to a group of kids I can understand that not being practical, making comics less suitable for that kind of reading, but one-on-one with a kid you've gots to show them the pictures.

Marc Sobel said...

I can really relate to this post, Sean. My 2-year-old son LOVES Hope Larson's Salamander Dream GN. We've literally read it to him several hundred times. Since large passages of that story rely on silent cartooning, we usually improvise a narrative, but honestly, we change it so often, I don't think the story is what appeals to kids. In fact, sometimes my wife and I have fun seeing how bizarrely we can narrate the story, mostly just to keep ourselves entertained, and my son barely even notices.

For my son at least, I think its more an aesthetic reaction to the artwork and the experience of being read to that he responds to. Your examples of reading Peanuts strips seems to me like it falls into the same category. I wouldn't worry too much about trying to capture Schulz's exact meanings with each strip; that level of appreciation will come later with maturity.

@bob No, he does point to the drawings as he's reading, but his original question was along the lines of, "What? Do I just point to the blank panel for 5 seconds, or say something, or...?"

@Marc Excellent points; I'll be sure to pass them along to my friend.

Anonymous said...

yes, she's looking at the strips as I read them.

even without trying, I am sure that I don't narrate the blank panels the same way each time I reread a particular strip.

I was just curious what others did/thought as it hadn't really occured to me before that perhaps I should somehow be "reading" even the panels without dialog.