El Deafo and the graphic novel format


So, there were a bunch of reasons for why
the graphic novel format was just perfect for El Deafo. One of the less big reasons
was the book is a superhero story. I mean it’s about me using this giant hearing aid
to hear my teachers wherever they were in the entire school. I mean that’s a super
power. So, comics have always been one of the main formats for superhero stories. So
that just made sense. But the main reason, the bigger reason was
the speech balloons that are such a big part of graphic novels. So the speech balloons
I was able to use to sort of show the experience of being deaf. In the very beginning of the
story I actually do have hearing, and when I was about four and a half I got really sick
and was in the hospital for a couple weeks and lost my hearing during that time in the
hospital. So in the book there are speech balloons that
start out with text that is black, but it gradually fades away to gray and then to nothing.
And so the reader sort of is wondering, just like I probably wondered as a kid, well, what’s
going on? Suddenly I don’t understand anymore. That’s what the reader’s thinking, and
that’s what I was thinking too probably. Then later after it’s official that I’ve
lost my hearing, a lot of the speech balloons are simply blank. And in that case the reader
is also trying to be exactly — or was trying to do exactly what I was trying to do, which
is figure out what was going on by looking around me for other clues, just like you’re
looking around the panel trying to figure out what’s going on in the story. So, blank
speech balloons when I couldn’t hear and then speech to me today and it’s very garbled. I have to be able to see the person speak.
If I can’t see them, then I have no idea what they’re saying. It’s sort of I can
hear vowels but not consonants. And so the speech in those cases in certain panels where
I’m not looking at the speaker, it’s all garbled. It’s nonsense and gibberish. And
so once again kids reading the book are having to figure out what’s going on from the other
clues in certain panels. So it was just a perfect format and much more
immediate. If I had tried to describe what I was hearing, I would have lost my readers,
and they wouldn’t know what it felt like. But they’re right there in the moment, and
they know — every time they know exactly what I’m hearing, what I’m not hearing.
They know what I’m hearing just by reading those speech balloons and they are right there
with me, and the experience becomes their experience, too, so it’s a great format
for showing deafness I think.

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