In comics theorist Scott McCloud‘s seminal work Understanding Comics (1993), there comes a point following his convoluted description of Magritte’s “The Treachery of Images” where he asks the reader, “Do you hear what I’m saying?” In the next panel he adds, “If you do, have your ears check because no one said a word.” The joke is, of course, that while his comic doppelganger is depicted as talking through the use of word balloons, no words are being spoken. We are reading, not hearing. And yet, sound (or rather, its representation) remains a crucial part of reading and enjoying comic books.
I recently got my hands on a complete set of Marvel Comics’ Dazzler, a comic from the early to mid-80s that featured Alison Blaire, a mutant with the power to transform sound into light. She was the result of an attempted collaboration between Marvel and Casablanca Records. The idea was that rather than publish a comic based on a pre-existing musical act (as they had in 1977 with KISS), Marvel would create a character and Casablanca would, in the words of one of the co-creators, “create someone to take on the persona,” with the potential for a movie tie-in. Casablanca dropped the project before the first issue of the comic, but Marvel re-tooled the character and went ahead with the Dazzler—a talented, yet struggling singer stuck playing at cheesy discos and small clubs while dreaming of wider success.