Tuesday, April 28, 2020

From Screen to Sound: The Art of Comic-to-Audio Adaptation

Adapting a book into an audiobook is a fairly straightforward process. But what about an audio comic?  ♦ 
"Thank you for listening to Adventures in Odyssey!” host Chris Anthony says as she ends the latest episode of the audio drama, and then the CD stops. Seven-year-old me takes the disc out and eagerly replaces it with the next in the series. I grew up with audio dramas like this one: I would play in my room for hours listening to stories interwoven with voices, music, and sound. As I got older, I admired the talent that went into making these stories and decided to make some for myself. However, I wanted an extra challenge: converting image into sound. It’s easy enough to make an audio drama from a written script that can be read aloud. Could I also adapt the images in a comic to an audio drama? How would I stay faithful to both the comic’s text and images?

To begin, I chose a simple, slice-of-life comic I’ve been reading for years: Humor Me by Marvin. Humor Me focuses on a no-nonsense girl trying to get through school while also taking care of her younger brother. Meanwhile, a young model mistakes the girl for an obsessed fanboy and tries to get her kicked out of the school. The comic’s dialogue, story, and visuals seemed simple enough at a glance but gave me a lot to consider as I adapted them for audio.

The first step was to write a script. I needed to include the characters’ lines, sound effects, and descriptions for places and actions that were drawn but not mentioned in the comic’s text. I knew a narrator would be necessary at times but preferred to “show” action through sound effects. To do this, I reviewed each scene and identified what was important for the listener to know. For example, in one scene, the main character walks from inside of a store to the outside street. I needed to portray movement from indoors to outdoors without overwhelming the listener with different sounds. To signal the setting change, I faded the store sounds out and inserted the sound of a door opening. Because of sound cues like these, a single chapter of this comic turned into roughly 15 pages of script with 11 characters.

Next, I needed to cast my characters. I recruited my amazing group of friends to help me out with this project. Some were actors, and some were not. As a result, I had to be a good vocal director and accurately explain what performance I wanted from them. This was by far my favorite part of the process: I loved helping people who had no acting experience learn how to use only their voice to act.

Once I had all my lines, I went through the script and made a list of sound effects I needed to find. For this project in particular, I was lucky enough to find the necessary sounds on royalty-free websites. For past projects, however, I have pulled out my blue Yeti mic and recorded sounds myself. Some examples include walking in my bathtub in heels to imitate a woman walking downstairs and splashing a pot of water into a sink lined with towels to imitate water spilling onto a shirt. Though I didn’t have to create my own sound effects for this project, I still needed to be creative with how I searched for audio tracks. For example, I couldn’t find a sound that imitated a hug, so I settled on an audio track called “body falling on floor.”

Once I had all of the sounds and music I needed, I started to piece everything together in the editing program, Adobe Audition. The editing process took several hours, and each track had to be laid out as a separate Wav file. This means I was managing between 20 to 30 sound files at the same time. The most time-consuming part of this process was timing the sound effects correctly in relation to the other tracks. If a sound is even half-a-second too early or late, it is very noticeable. This is especially true for dialogue. To make the dialogue sound as natural as possible, I spent a lot of time moving lines back and forth within the editing program until they synced up just right. Another time-consuming task was adding effects to the sound effects. While it may seem redundant, this task is absolutely essential. For the walking and running effects, I changed their pitches and speeds to distinguish the different characters’ walking patterns. I also manipulated the dialogue's frequency to represent when characters were talking on the phone.

This entire process required a lot of work, but I loved every second of it. Starting off, I was a little worried that my audio choices would not properly represent the comic. As I continued, however, I realized that I understood the heart of the story being told. My choices were unconsciously portraying my view of the comic and its story. If you’d like to try creating your own audio drama, give yourself a lot of time! Audio editing takes more of it than you’d think. It’s a lot of listening, re-editing, and tweaking the tiniest details. However, once it’s done, you will definitely be satisfied.

  • About the Author
    Gina Moravec is a current senior at Miami University with a Professional Writing major, a Media & Culture co-major, and a Theater minor. Gina has been making audio-based projects since she was 16. You can find her current work on the Internal Comms Pro, the Podcast as the Associate Producer as well as The Successfully Funded Podcast as the Executive Producer. When she’s not working on projects, she likes to take walks around her college campus or the woods in her backyard.

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