Four-Color Sound: A Peircean Semiotics of Comic Book Onomatopoeia

  • Sean A Guynes Department of American Studies University of Massachusetts Boston


Onomatopoeia are the representation or imitation in language of sounds from the natural world. They occur in the phonic modality of speech, the written modality, and a third modality combining word and image. The latter is a common device in the sequential art of comic strips and comic books, and is particular to the American tradition of comics. Onomatopoeia diversify the experience of sequential art and have unique signifying properties. Though there have been significant attempts to provide a structural analysis of the comics medium, these have often ignored onomatopoeia’s uses in the comics medium. This study utilizes the concept of an American Visual Language (Cohn, 2013) within a Peircean framework to offer theories of the individual (onomatopeme) and structural uses of word/image onomatopoeic expressions in mainstream American comic books.