Written Speech

The Great Outdoor Fight has come and gone. As I suspected, my interest in Achewood faded with it, and I’ve closed the book on that particular tale.

For all that Achewood, as a whole, doesn’t really work for me – I have to give credit to Onstad for bringing at least one stylistic element to my attention – the use of different text for different characters.

I’d seen it done before, of course. But this was the first time that I noticed it so keenly, and it worked so well.

A writer has control of the words his characters speaks, and the language that they use. He can, to a large extent, help to form the speech the reader ‘hears’ when they read the strip – but that control isn’t absolute. Everyone might have a different voice they’ve invented for each character, and it can vary wildly from one reader to the next.

And I’ve seen writers use little tricks to distinguish the speech from different characters – different colorations, different fonts. Cat Legend is a good example – almost every character has their own, unique, speech. Which sometimes works very well – it can make it easy to follow dialogue, and sometimes the chosen fonts and colors are very appropriate indeed.

And for a strip like that, it works especially well – the main characters are faeries and elves and similar sorts. It feels fine to have that sort of gimmick. Unfortunately, it does simply end up as a gimmick, since it applies to every character. It becomes part of the setting, rather than something special – which is fine. It just means that it doesn’t truly help the author establish the character’s voice any more than normal text would.

Achewood, though… Achewood was different. Roast Beef speaks softly. All the other characters that I saw spoke the same, and, as usual, my mind found a voice for them. But Roast Beef, regardless of how I heard him, I knew was speaking differently.

The contrast is palpable when talking with others – especially Ray. Roast Beef’s text is smaller. That’s it, nothing more. It is a simple change – but everytime he speaks, you can feel it. He is a soft-spoken man. Yet his own soft speech makes the other language – even though it is the norm – seem too loud, too bold, too heavy.

I was impressed. That small alteration changed every scene he was in, and very powerfully determined the way I saw – and heard – his character.

I began paying a lot more attention to comics, and noticed more than a few used this device without me having noticed it before. Home on the Strange broke it out, to easily show off the sound of constant nattering and babbling. I’ve seen a dozen more that slipped by mind. It’s a nice device, easy to use, and gives the writer a bit more control over the character.

But in the end, Achewood really did it best. I go back now and glance through the archives – and, as usual, I find it difficult to get engaged. But I take another jaunt through the Great Outdoor Fight, and the scenes between Roast Beef and Ray resonate strongly – in no small part thanks to the contrast between them, one that is powerfully aided by the voice of Roast Beef.

It isn’t it alone – the language he uses is very well chosen, and often somewhat poetic, and it works very well.

It speaks very well of Achewood that even with limited exposure, for someone who wasn’t drawn in being the Great Outdoor Fight, it has shown itself so favorably, and has left its mark on me.

I might not be staying around in Achewood anymore, but kudos to Chris Onstad nonetheless!

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