How do you prefer to buy and read your comics? There are (by and large) no right or wrong answers, so long as you’re reading and enjoying them it’s all good, but there are plenty of options to consider…
Electronic subscriptions bring the advantage of instant access to the latest issue and mean you can buy as many comics as you can afford without having to struggle with the issue of how and where to store them all. For me, the drawback to e-reading such a visual format is that, to do full justice to comic art, I prefer to see it on a larger screen than that of a standard Kindle or tablet and I just can’t curl up in the comfy way I like to indulge in comics when reading on a big PC screen or even on my laptop (beloved as it is, “laptop” is a bit of a misnomer when you have a chunky, big-screened gaming laptop that probably weighs more than many desktops!) I’m pretty much an e-reader convert when it comes to novels but when you add “graphic” to the mix I still prefer the dead tree format.
Getting each issue of a series from a local comic shop as it comes out can be very much part of the comic experience, a pleasurable ritual in its own right. But with long-running stories the delay between issues can be frustrating – particularly when comics are published in the States and arrive in the UK on a sporadic and unpredictable import schedule. I find this can dent my enjoyment and my handle on the plot. So, as you may have figured from the above photo, here at Chez AddAltMode, our preference is to wait a little for the collected volume(s), get them from our local comic shop a couple at a time, and then indulge in the comic equivalent of the DVD boxset binge.
This means we’re usually a little behind the times when it comes to latest plot developments, but there’s something really delicious about picking up a series then being able to get really in to it, reading an issue every night or so rather than every week or every month. Go big or go extinct as the Pacific Rim tagline said. Turns out giant robots can be the solution to so many of life’s problems!
How do you feel, then, about reading comics aloud? B and I are fond of reading aloud: we often read short stories to each other and back when I was a postgraduate studying Jacobean drama, he used to help me with my research by reading plays aloud with me: we’d just divide the dramatis personae between us and get stuck in. It’s far easier to understand a play, and far more fun to engage with a script, in this way than by just reading it silently on the page. Particularly with more archaic language, there are so many times a line seems puzzling on the page but when spoken aloud its meaning quickly becomes clear. Now, comics are different. They’re a much more visual media. There can be panels and panels of meaningful action or developments with no dialogue at all. So it’s hardly surprising that over the years there’s been plenty of debate from comic fans and creators on the issue of whether performing comics aloud is something that works or not.
Comic dialogue should never be divorced from its visuals: if you are going to read aloud, it works best where you, any co-performers, and anyone you’re reading to all have access to the comic in question. And even then reading aloud doesn’t work for every story. But where a series is fairly dialogue heavy, fairly humorous and has a good balance of recurring characters I do think that – in the right company – reading comics aloud can be a fun way to enjoy them . It just so happens that IDW’s Transformers More Than Meets They Eye – which tells the story of Rodimus and the crew of the Lost Light on their somewhat meandering quest to find the Knights of Cybertron – is the perfect candidate for this kind of treatment.
And I’m not the only one to have reached this conclusion! The brilliant Audio Knights Theatre think so too. TATK are a group who, in their own words, set out “to provide the comic book industry with a more complete, immersive reading experience, providing voice-over, sound effects and music to comic books!” They’ve been performing MTMTE for a while now, in fact they’ve just got up to issue 5 with it. B and I actually started our MTMTE binge by following along with the comics in front of us to TATK’s performance (this was also a nice way to enjoy the material together and not fight over who got our hands on each volume first!) The troupe do a great job with the series’ large cast, giving each bot a distinctive and enjoyable voice, sometimes clearly recalling established characters’ voices in other TF incarnations, sometimes offering an enjoyably fresh take on them, but always adding a further dimension to the series’ already lively art and narrative! Do check out The Audio Knights Theatre and their recordings here!
B and I enjoyed this way of engaging with MTMTE so much that when we reached the final issue that TATK had performed we decided to continue in the same spirit and read the rest of the series aloud just by ourselves. We’re not very professional but we’re having a lot of fun, and having to read the dialogue aloud really makes you consider the inflection and subtext of every single line, so it’s a good way to engage with the story.
We just divided up all the characters between us. How did we choose? Well, we both had characters we particularly love who we wanted to “claim” (me: Ratchet; B: Ultra Magnus). We divided up characters who frequently have a lot of dialogue together (e.g. Chromedome and Rewind) so that neither of us would end up talking to ourselves for pages and pages at a time (we don’t always get this right). And we also targeted a few characters where we felt one of us would do a considerably better job on the voice than the other. Of course there are very few female roles in MTMTE (we haven’t even got as far as Nautica yet but when we do, she’s mine!) So I’m currently reading a lot of male characters, some more convincingly than others (though apparently I do a pretty sweet Rodimus) but then we’re not going for the Oscar, we’re just out to have a bit of fun and to share a story and characters that we enjoy.
Just for a laugh, here’s a list of some of the regular Lost Light crew members and how we divided voice duties for them between us. The ship’s psychologist, Rung, may have a few thoughts on what these character preferences might say about us though I’m not sure I want to hear them.
Megatron / Nautilator
To sum up, if you have someone or a group of someones with whom you feel comfortable reading aloud then doing so can be an amusing way to share the comic love. There are plenty of book clubs in the world, I think it would be a really fun thing to start a Comic Club where people could get together, have a few drinks and bring comics to life in this way.