The SCREECH of doom followed by KABOOM! | Daily News

The SCREECH of doom followed by KABOOM!

Many boys of my vintage were captivated by comic books since we were around six or thereabouts. Actually we were obsessed by them and for many of us they were our first primers. Contrary to popular conception, I firmly believe they are actually good for young children!

I myself could be living proof of this, having read sheaves of quality comic books as a child from publishers such as DC, Marvel and Dell. I can tell you with certainty that they initially helped increase my vocabulary and instilled in me a love of reading. A lot of the criticism of comics came from people who thought that children were just looking at the pictures and not putting them together with the words.

Possibly it may have been in the case with some children. But not in mine! My maternal grandfather realised quite sagaciously that comics were the first step in inculcating the reading habit in impressionable young minds. And he was spot on.

We revelled in reading the exploits of the American cowboy celebrities of the time such as Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Wild Bill Elliot, Tom Mix, The Lone Ranger and a host of other Hollywood screen idols. The comic book world has its own slang and jargon just like any other publication.

Even more than books with lots of dialogue, comics can be easy to understand and full of idiomatic language as it is actually spoken. I also learned quite early that American English was strangely different from British English.

I was also made aware by the very presence of ungrammatical sentences not to use them. You latch on quickly to certain words and phrases in American dialect such as for example “allow, guess, reckon”, which means to think. Or the word ‘gotten,’ where ‘got’ is being used as the past participle of ‘get.’ But, most atrocious to the stiff upper-lip English purists was the heavy use of contractions such as ‘ain’t, can’t, don’t, and couldn’t’. So, as a matter of fact, you learn not to use words and phrases you shouldn’t. Sorry, should not.

There were many comic books that had hyper-muscled dudes in tight-fitting duds beating up wrong-doers. Superheroes reigned supreme on the bookshop stands. In those halcyon days there were comics of every conceivable genre, horror, Westerns, schoolgirl romances, and war stories.

All shared TOP billing with the guys in ridiculous capes or two-gun toting cowboys wearing ten gallon stetsons. Romance comics were also really popular, but largely with the girls. All we guys were set on was action and adventure with a ‘biff’ and a ‘bang’ and a ‘whack’ and a ‘whop.’ Naturally all this type of avenging heroics inspired a whopping good time in fisticuffs in the compounds and playing fields of boys’ schools at the time.

Looking at all these words with analytical eyes, I discovered just how much the impact of an image lies in the internally heard sound effect that I read as I took in the image. The ‘SKREEECH’ of a car sliding around a corner helped me to hear as well as see the image!

And then the climactic huge, juddering ‘KABOOOM!’ The massive crash was dramatically complemented by stars of all varieties amplifying the effects and impact of the collision or explosion. All in all, the illustrations were also exceptionally exciting to our tender susceptible minds.

You even begin to notice little things, such as the way otherwise empty panels sometimes contain coughs or sighs which breathed life into the image. I learned much later that the genre was called onomatopoeia, which in simple anglo-saxon means the formation of a word, such as ‘kapow, slam, honk and vroom,’ by imitation of a sound made by or associated with its referent.

I was still surprised to learn that words such as ‘bam’ goes as far back as 1922, having been used in James Joyce’s Ulysses. ‘Pow’ goes back even further, first appearing in an 1881 issue of Scribner’s. ‘Ka-boom’ goes back to E. Field’s Slug, published in 1876.

So you see, you can’t blame comics for words or nuances that have been conjured up by reputed masters of classical literature such as Joyce or Fields who were trendsetters of such fanciful terms. Comic books were educational, they were empowering but also educational and inspiring.

Those special sound effects they conjured up were imaginative works of comic book literature. They described an incident with amazingly constructive economy. When I analysed my early reading experience, I realised just how important onomatopoeia is with regard to the comic book writer’s lexicon.

For instance, think of the image of a punch being thrown with POW! being emblazoned in large explosive letters. Now take POW! away, and what does the image look like? Just the punch, all by itself, which loses a lot of its zap!

With the benefit of hindsight I must concede that that many of the comics at the time bordered on the ridiculous although their creators must be given full credit for their bizarre imagination. Spiderman had a large spider emblem on his SHIRT, which is rarely the best way to make friends and influence people. Captain America’s outfit seemed dazzling to me when I first clapped eyes on it as an eight-year-old. When it comes to dealing with baddies, you simply can't beat a combination of red, white and blue.

Sadly, when it comes to such areas, superheroes such as the famous Superman have a terrible reputation for dress sense. He and his many imitators have been ridiculed for wearing their underpants over their trousers. As though that weren't bad enough, there were also such lapses in taste in the heroines such as Wonder Woman's star-spangled abominations and Supergirl's bright, red-hot pants. And so it was with the curvaceous Valkyrie, who zapped the older teenagers with metal hubcaps to hide her well-endowed appendages of Valhalla. There was also Conan the Barbarian who followed Tarzan who still towers over his fictional peers with aplomb.

But those with a little imagination should tell them a thing or three about indecent exposure. For both the superheroines as well as the Barbarian and Ape Man their outfits may be eye-catching, but one fears that such skimpy adornments might also prove uncomfortably cold in winter.

Imitating them might be dangerous because the cops might ‘kapow’ you to boot. And I’ll join in with a ‘KABOOM!’ And a big smile.

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