Article: Transcribing Screenreadable Comics

Introduction

I want my comics to be accessible not only visually, but also tactile and acoustic to be read via screen-reader and text-to-speech or braille display. I need a transcription into pure text. To make decisions while transcribing I need to know my objective. My first goal is accessibility. A second goal is to make text search possible and have googleable content. A third goal is to get to know my comic on a deeper level. Making decisions about how to transcribe makes me more aware of its visual language, its storytelling and the shifts of perspective. Transcribing is therefore also a tool to evolve as a comic artist.

Wanting to make make my comics accessible beyond the visual has a lot to do with my own audience. I wrote about this in my first blog post on screenreadable comics, which includes a list of all the comics already transcribed.

Accessibility and the analysis of one own work where the focus during the first workshop “Transcribing Screenreadable Comics”. Here I want to talk about two aspects: storytelling in the transcription and decisions with regard to depth of details.

Storytelling

The story line in a comic is supported by many different layers. There is the dialogue found in speech bubbles. There is a narrative voice found in boxes. There may be more that one visual layer. Sometimes a fantasy world is parallel and in contrast with the real world or the story visually moves between different historical epochs. All layers combined result in cohesive and harmonic storytelling.

I think the storytelling should by at the center of transcribing. It is more important than completeness or chronology. I enjoy movies and series with audio-description, especially while I am drawing or sketching. I was always amazed at the skillfulness of the audio-descriptions of the German detective story “Tatort”. They aimed at preserving tension. Looks and clothing of the main characters are not described right away, but later during more quiet scenes.

My workflow consists of first transferring all text elements and then adding short descriptions of the visual elements. Afterwards I leave the visual comic and work with the raw transcription only. I rearrange elements to make the storytelling work. Mostly, I group paragraphs covering one to two panels and two to three visual descriptions.

Depth of Details

How many visual details I am describing depends very much on the comic and its structure. It is possible to just use the text elements and names of the characters. This would be comparable to theater scripts and works really well for dialogue based comics. Oftentimes it is still worthwhile to describe atmosphere and facial expressions.

The description of many separate details may result in a very tedious read, for example: “In the room is a table, a blue couch, a green armchair, a pastel blue armchair, two chairs made of light colored wood, a coffee table with scattered peanuts and two couch cushions on the carpet.” I ask myself, do I need all those details for the stroy. Would a visual reader of the comic linger to look at each and every detail or keep on reading after recognizing a “living room”. Often I prefer to gives short descriptions and concentrate on the atmosphere and anything that is special or sticks out, like in “In the comfy living room peanuts are scattered all over the coffee table. Somebody must have thrown the couch cushions on the carpet.”

Workshop

It was worth it to have a workshop with a small group of people. At first, we met in a video call environment to introduce ourselves and get to know everyone a little bit. Then we turned off the video and kept the audio while looking at the Comics and the first transcription trials online. Each participant had started transcribing the first couple of panels of their comic beforehand. It was big fun to look at each others work. We discussed what worked for the reader and what could be improved upon. While transcribing my first twenty comic I realized that with experience it became easier to make decisions. My transcription style really does depend on the individual comic. Transcribing a comic is a form of translation and at the same time an art form in itself.

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