Hey, kids, check out my review of Yoshihiro Tatsumi's The Push Man and Other Stories, published last month by Drawn & Quarterly... it's ginchy!
So, I was thinking recently about something which really shouldn't concern me in any way shape or form, but which upset me nonetheless. Quite simply, how do comic book characters with no lips speak in a normal manner?
Here's everyone's favorite Nazi war criminal, the Red Skull. Does he have lips on that shrunken red head of his? It depends on which artist you ask.
The answer according to Andy Kubert would be yes.
The answer according to Dan Jurgens would be no.
Think about it: try speaking without using your lips. Some words can be pronounced easily, like "red" or "death", but most words have labial consonants of some form, such as M, B, P, V, F and W, in addition to vowel forms that require lip movement, such the long O and U sounds. Imagine being unable to speak any word that had these letters without sounding like, to put it bluntly, a total ass.
Now, regardless of who's drawing him, the Ghost Rider has no lips. His head is on fire. But, I am inclined to give him a break because he's essentially a creature of magic: if you accept that his head is on fire and he's not already dead, well, I'm sure he has some sort of magical fix for pronouncing the word "map" and not sounding like a hungry dog.
Now here is a character who absolutely defies all common sense: everybody's least favorite Batman foe, the Black Mask. I have no idea who this guy is, but that mask is quite obviously not a mask. He shouldn't be able to speak at all, and yet here he is in a recent issue of Batman:
He shouldn't be able to pronounce half of those words, and yet there you have it. He shouldn't even be able to pronounce his own name, really. The closest he could get would be "I'n da Glack Nask!"
I seem to recall reading another Batman story a while back that hinged on the fact that Scarface (the dummy) can't properly pronounce labial consonants either, because his speaking comes from the Ventriloquist. So it's not like labial consonants don't exist in comic books. I guess people are just too polite to point out that Black Mask sounds real funny whenever he speaks, and the good people who transcribe Batman's adventures have the good sense to translate his words.