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How Hawkeye #19 Portrays The World Of A Deaf Superhero To A Hearing Audience, For Next Year's Eisner Awards

Hawkeye #19 by Matt Fraction and David Aja is published today and already it's a shoo-in for next year's favourite single issue, just as Hawkeye #11 just won this year.

Because this is the deaf issue. The sign language issue. Which, of course, is ironic, because every issue of every comic book could be a deaf issue, operating as it does in a purely viual medium.

Except that's not quite true. Born deaf can have more difficulty reading than those born hearing as there are no audio hooks to hang words on. And there are experiences and sound effects taken as granted in comic books that can provide a disconnect. But certainly, I know a number of deaf people who find a connection in comic books in a way they can't as easily with TV or film, as this is a visual medium is that is meant to be read. And I am very interested to see hearing-impaired Bleeding Cool contributor Kirk Staley's take on this comic.

But the majority of the audience for this comic will be those with functioning hearing and little familiarity with sign language, which permeates the comic. That could have been offputting to come. But the comic makes some clever choices in introducing you to this world, through your familiarity with the characters.


Because that is "Clint" isn't it? There's no other possibility here in this context. And the unfamiliar becomes instantly familiar.

It's also worth noting that you don't generally see the character using sign language. Mostly you see the sign itself, as a dispassionate, blank mannequin, posed in the correct position. It conveys clarity, but also that this is a word or a ketter or a sentence rather than a person. It merely extracts the meaning.

Also, speech balloons are unfilled when Hawkeye isn't looking at the person, when he isn't able to lip read. And when he is, he dialogue appears like this.

Image (13)

Snatches of typed words, separately, pieced together into a sentence, sometimes wrong, but the lipreader is a detective, doing their best to transfer an audio medium into a visual one.

So the comic teaches you some, lets you intuit he rest and in some cases inspires you to do you own research. But, as with Monty Python's "Summarising Proust" sketch, you get it, even if you don't get all of it.

Image (12)

Okay, sometimes it holds your hand. But not much.

And that's the greatest achievement of this comic, it creates the world of guesswork, or detecting, of putting pieces together and coming up with the result, often correct but with a few missing pieces and a few things wrong, with the worry that you have missed something along the way.

And that is often the experience of the deaf person dealing with a hearing world. No matter how experienced or talented, there's always something…

They might as well just give this comic the Eisner right now.


Comics courtesy of Orbital Comics of London. currently exhibiting the work of Sally Jane Thompson.


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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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