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Narrated Graphic Novels and Comics

A close-up of a black and white illustrated graphic novel panel.
Image source: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

In a 2022 post on the website EPUB Secrets, Rachel Osolen, production coordinator at National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS) provides an overview of what is currently happening in the world of publishing comics and graphic novels.

They explain that comics, graphic novels, and manga are a source of storytelling, world building, and entertainment and famous movie franchises, series spin offs, and novelizations have been created based on the characters, stories, and adventures found in comics. And everyone who enjoys storytelling should have access to the same stories (EPUB Secrets).

Adapting Visual Stories

Human narrated comics like The Sandman, which features image descriptions newly written and narrated by author Neil Gaiman, a music soundtrack, and a full cast, are changing the way audiobooks are being created.

The Vizling app allows blind and low vision readers to navigate through visual versions of comics on mobile devices. The app reads out the text, image descriptions, and gives haptic feedback which guides the user through the layout of the panels and the page indicating whether you are reading the comic panels in the correct order.

Here is a panel from a comic that describes the founders of the Vizling app on the right with the image description on the left.

Beneath the glowing word Vizling, we meet Aaron, a young man with a shaved head and short beard wearing glasses, and Darren, a graying man with a moustache and small beard wearing yellow glasses. Aaron, holding a laptop with a Vizling logo on it, say, “Hi, I’m Aaron, co-founder of Vizling, an interactive accessibility app for blind and visually impaired and sighted readers." Darren then introduces himself as well, “And I’m Darren, the other half of Vizling. Our aim is to provide a free and open platform for everyone to read multimodal texts in fully accessible, equitable ways.

You can read the entire comic that describes how the Vizling app works and listen to a narrated version here.

Illustration of a lit lightbulb

Spotlight: Audio Graphic Novels

An illustration of the Unseen audiobook cover of a person with black hair staring straight ahead. The title 'Unseen' is in uppercase white lettering.
Image source: Thomas Rodgers for Chad Allen's audio comic, Unseen

When comic book fan Chad Allen was 15 years old, he was diagnosed with Retinitis pigmentosa, and by the age of 28 he was completely blind.  He learned to read braille and listened to audiobooks, but comic books are a visual medium, a merger of text and graphic art. Allen notes that “the root of every comic is highly visual. But we don’t see those pictures with our eyes, we see them with our brain. It’s the whole story that matters. It’s how we describe to our brains what that story is.” (The Guardian, 2019).

Unseen is Allen’s first comic project. He first considered creating a comic series with braille and tactile images for people who are blind or have low vision but instead created an audio comic book. The first comic book aimed at blind people, Unseen is made by a blind creator and features a blind main character. Each panel is described, dialogue is spoken, and a “whoosh” sound indicates when to turn the page. The first issue begins at the US-Mexican border, where a tyrannical American regime is allowing immigrants to be experimented on for nefarious purposes. Enter Afsana, an Afghani-born assassin who is blind. She can also turn invisible, not unlike how some blind and disabled people may feel in society (The Guardian, 2019).

The first issue can be heard here.