BANG! POW! What Was That? Find Out at The Comic Book Sound Effect Database

Two people dive in front of a car to save a dog. The drive steps on the brake

Looking to shine a light on the creativity of letterers, as well as hone his PHP coding skills, Rick Metzroth has carved out a unique corner of the internet with The Comic Book Sound Effect Database. A site dedicated purely to the fine art of comic book SFX, Metzroth has meticulously been adding panels of quirky and interesting SFX that have caught his eye from as far back as the Silver Age of Marvel comics.

The completely searchable database includes a number of unique tags that covers more gasps, kapows, thwips, snikts, and zings than you can imagine. Intended to serve as an educational resource, The Comic Book Sound Effect Database is designed to “show the evolution of the sound effect over time, and spotlight the unsung letterers who create them.”

Though there have been some tweaks over time, Metzroth has two criteria for inclusion in the vast database:

1) The sound effect must be in display type. In order to add as many comics as possible, I can’t read every word. This means the sound effect has to be significantly bigger or in a different type style than the regular dialogue to be seen and included. This rule also puts a greater focus on the art of lettering.

2) No spoken words allowed. I want to add verbal onomatopoeia lke “BWA HA HA” and “AIEEE” because they are a critical part of comic book sound effects, but I’m not going to add someone saying “WOW!” or “NO!”, even if they are in display type, because those are not sound effects, just words. This also applies to dialogue derived from real words, like “WOWEE!” and “NOOOO!”

To learn more about the database and Metzroth’s motivations for creating it, WWAC had a few questions to ask.

What inspired the creation of this site?

I just started noticing comic creators getting more creative with their sound effects. I can’t quite recall any single issue that spurred me to get to work on the site, but it was probably something in the vein of Ryan Browne’s hand-drawn sound effects in God Hates Astronauts. I’ve also always loved this Neil Gaiman quote, which offered some more inspiration to create a database to differentiate between sounds: “But surely ‘argh’ is the sound of a sort of strangulated scream. ‘Aargh’ is the sound of a stabbing, or a falling off a cliff. ‘Arr’ is, I think, the noise you’re looking for. It’s the noise pirates make when they don’t have anything better to do. ‘Arr, Jim Lad’ = Pirate noise. ‘Aargh, Jim Lad’ = sound of pirate falling off a cliff.'”

On average, how much time do you spend working on the site?

Not nearly enough. With the weekly social media posts I take about 3-4 hours to go through the week’s new comics and pick out the FX I want to feature and schedule them out. The actual website, which features on older comics, I can probably only devote about two hours a week. I wish it could be more, but that’s life. The database might not get updated very quickly, but I’ve been at it on and off for about five years now, so I’m committed to keeping it going, at least.

Over time, you’re criteria has evolved, such as adding musical notes to the database. What other elements have you incorporated? Do you have a few favourite SFX that stand out for you?

There are a few neat little tags I’ve added as I’ve noticed patterns as I add comics. One of my favorites is, “What was that?“—pretty much any panel that features a sound effect and someone curious about what made that noise.

An armoured knight here's the sound of a howling dragon in Journey Into Mystery (1952) #81 Marvel, June 1962
As the site grows it’s somewhat difficult to create searchable tags for new items, as I would then have to go back and check the earlier FX I’ve made to make sure it’s all consistent. I can be kind of OCD in that way, I suppose.

For the social media posts, I’m looking for any new or creative use of sound effects. It could be how the FX interacts with the art, or anything from an unusual size or color or transparency. Anything that I find interesting, really!

What kind of feedback do you get from visitors to the site or on social media? Do you have a lot of interaction from industry people, particularly letterers?

Although I’ve been running the site for a few years now, I gave it zero promotion, the thinking being that I wanted a good number of comics in the database before trying to draw attention to something with such little content. But I started the social media accounts last year with a slightly different focus—I’m not adding the newer comics to the database yet—because I wanted to draw attention to the cool work that’s being done with sound effects every week in comics.

There seems to have been a fairly good reception among pros when I promote their new works, and certainly I appreciate the retweets from the likes of a Brian Michael Bendis, Tom King, or Adam Hughes, which help grow the following for my accounts, which in turn encourages me to keep working on the site.

I haven’t had too much interaction with pros beyond the odd compliment on the site here and there (or to nicely correct me when I credit the wrong person). I’m not an industry insider or anything like that, just a fan. I think letterers are criminally underappreciated in comic fandom, and I hope my work on the sound effect database shines a little light on the neat things they’re doing.

You began with Silver Age Marvel comics and have moved into DC, yet you’re reading list encompasses a wide variety of comics that aren’t necessarily of these areas/companies. Do you have a timeline of other companies and eras to add to the database? Does a cool SFX in a current read ever tempt you to rethink your strategy? 

I don’t have a timeline to adding new books, really, though I think I’d like to get through all the Marvel Comics at least through 1970 to have some type of sense of completion. I really would like to add some of the newer books to the website, though, and I think I will take a look at merging the social posts on the site in some way in the next year. I’m really not a programmer, just self-taught, so any changes will take a while, but I think a redesign to add in the new books is probably overdue.

What do you foresee or hope for as the future of this site?

Potentially, I think the site could also house tutorials, resources for letterers, free fonts, things like that, if people would be interested in such a thing, but I know that’s likely some years off. Kurt Busiek was also wishing aloud on Twitter a few months back that there was a database of old house ads, and that’s something I’ve begun laying the groundwork behind-the-scenes for a possible extension the the site.

Visit The Comic Book Sound Effect Database to find examples of classic SFX usage in comics, or follow along on Twitter to discover more current uses.

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Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.