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  • Nov 28 2021

Let’s make comics with onomatopoetic words and object performance

A series of workshops delivered over one day on Zoom.

We will first talk about sound gestures and aural environment we experience in a daily life and how these have been implemented and expressed in comics as onomatopoetic words. Then, we share some games and exercises explaining how Japanese onomatopoeia is unique and fascinating. Japanese has over 1,000 onomatopoeia with syllabic and repetitive words to express behaviours, emotions and situations.

Step by step, we will assemble drawings, sounds and written sounds (onomatopoeia). After the day, the artists will make an interactive webpage of our own comic strips, partially with text-based sounding words, the rest actual sounds created in the session.

Let’s make our very own comics together!

Expression through Japanese onomatopoeia

“I’m interested in the intersection between sound and text, and how this works in different languages,” explains Ryoko. “In every language there is some onomatopoeia, but Japanese has over 1,000 onomatopoeic words. Japanese onomatopoeia works differently to the form in English. In English, onomatopoeia is a word that evokes the sound of what the word is describing – such as the tick tock of a clock. In Japanese, onomatopoeia has a much wider function and impact. The sound of the vocabulary does not simply imitate sounds that the word is describing, but can capture things like emotion, feelings, movement and states of being.

“One of the best known is examples of this is ‘doki doki’. It’s the sound of a heart palpitating, and can express excitement, nervousness, fear or the feeling you might get from being with someone you are attracted to.

“Japanese onomatopoeia can express a huge range of things with great precision – such as the different ways in which people walk – whether they’re doing it energetically or in a tired, slow way. It can tell you what falling snow feels like and what kind of snowfall it is. It can tell you whether the wind and rain form a raging storm or a light shower.

This use of language is the reason that Japanese is sometimes categorised as one of the world’s most poetic languages. It gives language a very particular and expressive way of describing different states. For me, as a sound artis, this is interesting.”

Audio visual art in a comic strip world

“This project and the situation caused by the pandemic has opened new doors for us at ame,” says Charlotte. “Prior to the pandemic, our work found audiences and participants at live exhibitions and residencies in Huddersfield. Now, doing online delivery via Zoom and similar platforms has become a default. I like that because it’s enabled us, through this project, to reach a much wider, international audience, all taking part for different reasons. There were artists, musicians and even someone who wanted to learn how to make comics for their grandson.

“Huge numbers of people are now comfortable with using Zoom and this has enabled us to reach new people, all of whom can make fresh discoveries and find surprising things to appreciate in the realms of experimental audio and visual arts. We’ve had really good feedback from participants. They’re enjoying a wealth of ideas and inspiration as a result of the workshop, which they can go on to use in wide ranging projects of their own.

“By using a cross disciplinary method of combining sound art and visual art within a comic book context, people have joined the project who may not have been interested in experimental music on its own. In this way, the ame onomatopoeic comic strip project has opened up more people to a world of creativity within experimental sound and visuals. In this way, we are supporting the wider UK and international experimental music scene, contributing to its ongoing, longer-term sustainability.”

New methods, new participants

Ryoko and Charlotte decided that the topic could be creatively explored through a workshop in which participants created their own comic strips. Charlotte was able to refer to her own experience in working with comic strip illustration. “There’s an abstraction and precision of emotion expressed in the words used within comic strips,” she says. “Our workshop was able to explore sound gestures and the aural environment we experience in daily life and how these have been implemented and expressed in comics as onomatopoetic words.”

Through ame CIC, they were successful in applying to the Outlands Network for funding and the workshop took place via Zoom on 28th November 2021. The workshop was free and participants joined from around the world, including Iran, California, Sri Lanka and India as well as the UK.

“The extensive promotional work and wide reach of the Outlands Network meant that a very broad range of people heard about it and took part,” says Charlotte. “To be honest, we didn’t expect to reach such a varied group, both in terms of geographical location and areas of artistic interest.”

The workshop was then split into two sessions over one day. The first session was spent learning about Japanese onomatopoeia – including the sharing of games and exercises and learning words.

In the second session participants began using the modes of expression they’d learnt in the context of creating comics.

“We assembled drawings, sounds and written sounds,” says Charlotte. “Sound for the project was recorded live during the Zoom workshop process but participants also re-recorded some sounds that they’d created on their own devices later, before forwarding to us to create a final version to exhibit as an online installation on the ame website.”


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