September 17th, 2014

Ask A Cartoonist: Character Voices

by Countess Tea

Comic characters live on the page, and while we occasionally see them brought to life in animation or live action television or movies, when we read their speech bubbles, the only hints we have to their voices are in the words that cartoonists choose to put in their mouths.  

This week, I asked cartoonists to talk about character voice– who or what inspires them, who they imagine their characters sound like, and how they distinguish between characters when they write them.


Back in the mists of the 90’s, when I thought I had an animation deal  
for Zippy (to see more on the whole, sad story, read here), I was asked about his voice—which prompted this strip.
–Bill Griffith, Zippy the Pinhead

The voice I hear the most is Sarge yelling like Al Sharpton. Sharpton can’t say hello without yelling at the top of his voice. I wonder when his voice is going to wear out. That’s my Sarge image. Now Beetle has the midwestern soft lazy voice, just the opposite of Sarge. But more like my voice.
–Mort Walker, Beetle Bailey

I don’t think about their voices so much except when the voice IS the joke. Instead, I am thinking about the pacing– how someone is speaking the joke to themselves.  This means not just punctuation, but where the line breaks are in the word balloon.  So it’s a mix of getting the words right, at the right time, and in the right place.  It’s like poetry in that regard.
–Hilary Price, Rhymes With Orange

Because I write gags for Snuffy Smith I have the pleasure of using old timey  words and accents that I heard as a child. I lived in a small town and about 20 minutes away was a perpetual auction held every Thursday night. My Dad couldn’t resist. That was where I learned Bachelor Farmer Talk!  

Here’s a “Fer Instince.” “Git over here young-un . Ain’t Nobody never larnt ya ’bout slurppin yer soup?!”
–Margaret Shulock, Apartment 3-G and Six Chix

It’s interesting to depict voices in comic strips using particular fonts. I think that a character using the Papyrus font would have a whiny and rather irritating voice.
–Alex Hallatt, Arctic Circle

Sid’s voice is like Bogart’s only kind of weasley . I had an uncle from Bridgeport who was perfect. Kind of like Bogey. 25 years ago or so the guys in charge were looking to maybe create a tv sitcom. I recorded my uncle’s voice and sent it in. Nothing ever happened. Too bad. Great voices that were imitated over the years for animated cartoons were Jimmy Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Jimmy Durante, Marjorie Maine, Peter Lorre, and Henry Pratt (aka Boris Karloff). Two wonderful voices that were never used were Fred Allen and Lulu McConnell. Here’s a clip of Lulu on a forties radio show called “It Pays to Be Ignorant”.

And, of course, the best of them all was Mel Blanc.
–Bud Grace, Piranha Club

For Dethany’s voice I’d choose Sarah Vowell, but her grown-up NPR voice, not her “Teenaged Violet Parr from The Incredibles” voice. 🙂  For Fi, Janeane Garofalo at her most deadpan.
–Bill Holbrook, On the Fastrack and Safe Havens

I was pleasantly surprised when the animated DENNIS series, produced by DIC entertainment, used comic legend Phil Hartman as the voice of Henry Mitchell AND Mr. Wilson. He was the perfect choice and I’m glad DENNIS is a part of his comedy legacy.
–Ron Ferdinand, Dennis the Menace

For Stan Defoe I hear the voice of a young George C. Scott.
Lyndon Peel… Brian Stoke Mitchell.
Samuel Rhodes… Michael Sheen.
Sophie Defoe… Ann Hatheway.
Gillian Jaggers… a young Meryl Streep.

It’s hard to say how much time I spend thinking about character voices and vocabulary. It’s more instinctive than conscious and part-and-parcel of the whole process.
Something Stan Defoe might say would definitely jar if I put those same words into the mouths of Samuel Rhodes or Lyndon Peel.
There’s more room for manoeuvre with Samuel and Lyndon. They have similar likes and dislikes so their vocabulary is often interchangeable (especially in the diner).
–Kieran Meehan, Pros & Cons

I confess Barry’s voice is particularly distinctive in Intelligent Life to me. He literally speaks a certain way, inspired by some “bro’s” and dudes I’ve known. And even “physically,” I mostly cannot help but hear a Patrick Warburton type of voice come out of him every time he “speaks.”
–David Reddick, Intelligent Life




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