Reading Comics Aloud

By | Monday, March 13, 2023 Leave a Comment
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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