Ears on the Odyssey

Graphic Novels as Audiobooks: A Perfect Combination

Let’s go, Team Graphic Audio! Sarah Hashimoto shares her love of graphic audios and reviews some must-listen audios for all ages.

Until recently, graphic novels and audiobooks were seen as occupying two completely different ends of the spectrum–all about the visual on one side, and all about the audio on the other. Totally different approaches, and it seemed like you had to be Team Graphic Novel or Team Audio. No way for anyone to be Team Graphic Audio, right? Well, guess what? Times have changed, and now, thanks to the fantastic talents of audio publishers, producers, narrators, and graphic novel authors and illustrators, Team Graphic Audio is a real thing. And it’s awesome! 

You probably won’t be too surprised to find out that I have always been a huge champion of audiobooks, but I have been a little wary of graphic novels. I am an auditory learner, and it’s sometimes hard for me to process large amounts of visual input. Even regular text can frazzle my brain sometimes, whereas audio puts everything into perspective. For me, the idea of reading graphic novels was out of the question–until I listened to Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona, which was published by HarperAudio and narrated by Rebecca Soler, Jonathan Davis, Marc Thompson, January LaVoy, Natalie Gold, Peter Bradbury, and David Pittu. Talk about a game changer!

Nimona was selected as an Odyssey Honor book in 2017 (that was Natalie, Lizzie, and my year!). Produced by HarperAudio’s super talented Caitlin Garing, Nimona made it clear that graphic novels can be brilliantly translated into audio. The best graphic audios don’t try to be straightforward readings of the text. Instead, they exploit the medium of sound, celebrating the ways that sound can create mood and atmosphere and bring dialogue to life. While graphic audios are undoubtedly different than the original graphic novel, they nonetheless make for a powerful listening experience. Here’s how:

  • Full cast production. Graphic audios often employ a full cast, creating an atmosphere that is more audio drama than traditional audiobook. Dialogue can be fast-moving, requiring a back-and-forth repartee that we don’t often hear in most audiobooks. 
  • Sound effects. Sound effects are often indicated within graphic novels, but in graphic audios, they come into their own. Here, listeners can hear the clash of swords, the zing of a magic wand, the rumble of a cart’s wheels, and so much more. 
  • Music. Music is certainly a part of many audiobooks, but it tends to be isolated, occurring most frequently in intros, extros, and bonus tracks. Sometimes narrators will treat us to a song here and there, but rarely does music run throughout. With graphic audios, however, bits and pieces of songs appear frequently, and music is often featured as an effective backdrop. Music contributes to the atmosphere of the book and can lend gravitas, add poignancy, or ramp up the tension. 

While I still read with my ears more than my eyes, graphic audios have really opened up the world of graphic novels for me. I have become a real fan, so that my bedside table now boasts more graphic novels than anything else. I never thought that I could be a graphic novel reader, but with the help of graphic audios, I’m all in!

Here are a few graphic audios that have caught my attention in recent months. These are some really great audios–think that we might see another graphic audio recognized by this year’s Odyssey committee?

The Agony House, by Cherie Priest, read by Haven Burton, Thérèse Plummer, Jesse Vilinsky, Tristan Morris, and Adam Grupper. 6 hours, 53 minutes. Scholastic Audio, 2018.

The Agony House is a genre-bending, hybrid book–mainly traditional text, with some really awesome graphic panels interspersed throughout. The story centers on 17-year-old Denise, who has moved to New Orleans in order to renovate a ramshackle old house with her family. Unfortunately, the house’s increasingly nasty ghosts seem determined to chase them out, no matter the cost. Narrator Haven Burton’s warm and earnest voice is a perfect match for Denise, who energetically sets out to stop the unfriendly specters, using a long-lost comic book as her guide. The audio really comes into its own with the comic book’s panels, which are layered with eerie music, evocative sound effects, and spot-on, period character voices. Listeners won’t want to miss this spine-tingling graphic audio, which is sure to intrigue and amaze.

Max and the Midknights, by Lincoln Peirce, read by Kristen DiMercurio, Marc Thompson, Christopher Gebauer, Jessica Almasy, Fred Berman, Dan Bittner, Michael Crouch, Jonathan Davis, James Fouhey, Jim Frangione, and January LaVoy. 2 hours, 48 minutes. Listening Library, 2019.

Max and the Midknights is a blast of a graphic audio, bursting at the seams with sound effects, music, fantastic voices, and so much more. This hybrid novel (part traditional novel, part graphic novel) tells the story of young Max, a young knight-in-training (yes, she’s a girl, but girls can be knights, too!) who must save the kingdom of Byjovia from an evil king. Max is joined by a somewhat hapless group of friends, all of whom are hilariously voiced by a full cast of talented narrators. Listeners will laugh aloud at hearing Max’s Uncle Budrick’s very shaky singing, Mumble the Magician’s startling spells, and the book’s many jokes and puns, all relayed with perfect comedic timing. Sound effects and music are interwoven throughout, adding a fun and realistic flair without calling too much attention to themselves. A hugely entertaining listen for the whole family. 

New Kid, by Jerry Craft, read by Jesus Del Orden, Nile Bullock, Robin Miles, Guy Lockard, Peyton Lusk, Rebecca Soler, Dan Bittner, Phoebe Strole, and Marc Thompson. 1 hour, 58 minutes. HarperAudio, 2019.

Jordan is moving to a new school for seventh-grade, and he’s not at all sure that he’s going to fit in. Riverdale Academy Day School is a long way–geographically and culturally–from Jordan’s Washington Heights home. There aren’t a lot of kids like him, or, as Jordan’s dad comments, “diversity” is sorely lacking. The book follows Jordan as he encounters new experiences, confronts casual racism, and makes good friends, moving from being the New Kid to being just Jordan. The full cast of narrators is perfectly cast, including Robin Miles and Guy Lockard as Jordan’s encouraging parents and Jesus Del Orden as anxious, but hopeful Jordan. Sound effects and music move the story along and provide realistic details that match the tone set by the illustrations. When the impact of the story depends primarily on visual details, the narrator supplies necessary information so that listeners can follow along. These details are seamlessly incorporated and help to alleviate any confusion. With the school year right around the corner, it may be time for the whole family to take a listen to this thought-provoking graphic audio! 

Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson, read by Almarie Guerra, with Jesse Bernstein, Ron Butler, Abigail Caro, Robbie Daymond, Giordan Diaz, Em Eldridge, Christopher Gebauer, Kelly Gildea, Kim Mai Guest, Kirby Heyborne, Hillary Huber, Rachel Jacobs, Sarah Jaffe, Linda Korn, Jorjeana Marie, Kathleen McInerney, Alex McKenna, Cassandra Morris, P.J. Ochlan, Adenrele Ojo, Georgette Perna, Kate Reinders, Tara Sands, Monika Felice Smith, Bahni Turpin,and Julianna Wilson. 2 hours, 30 minutes. Listening Library, 2019.

Roller Girl is right at the top of my Odyssey picks for this year, and I couldn’t be happier that it is a graphic audio. Yes! Prickly Astrid, just heading into middle school, signs up for roller derby camp, and wow, does it change her life. This will be a summer of big changes–heartbreak, hope, disappointment, and forgiveness, all because of roller derby. A huge cast of rock star narrators fills this audio with energy and personality, communicating the excitement of the camp and also Astrid’s hesitancy and doubts. Sound effects and music are top-notch, with a true-to-life roller derby soundtrack and realistic sounds of the many bumps and bruises that Astrid sustains. This audiobook is fun and poignant and full of all the wonderful things that audio can do. This one is a winner!

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