“Between €600 and €1,500 per minute”: why creating an audio comic for the visually impaired is so difficult

With nearly 10 million audio-readers in 2022, the audio book is a growing mode of reading. However, comics are struggling to find a place in this format. However, it allows the 1.7 million disabled and visually impaired French people to access this part of culture.

An audio comic? A priori, the concept seems surprising, as the image is at the heart of this very graphic format. Very few comics are available on audiobook listening platforms. ” I didn’t know it existed, as I listen to a lot of audiobooks. For me, the illustration was fundamental in a comic strip “, is surprised Sarra Triqui, doctoral student in criminal law and blind from birth, with Numerama.

The audio to access the images of the comics

Still underdeveloped in France, the audio format allows the visually impaired and disabled to access the world of comics, manga, comics or webtoons. ” There is a big expectation from young people [déficients visuels] who are immersed in the world of manga via their classmates and who want to discover it too “explains Sandra Bernarot, president of Mangomics-Access. Created in 2012, this association adapts manga in audio format and in text format (readable by a screen reader) to make them accessible to blind and visually impaired people. Volunteers transcribe the text of the manga, up to two volumes per series and per year, and record audio versions of these texts. ” We have a long list of suggestions, which grows very regularly! “, adds Sandra Bernarot.

The work of the association is permitted by the Marrakesh Treaty. Ratified by the European Union in 2018, it establishes an exception to copyright to facilitate the adaptation of books in a format accessible to visually impaired people. While adaptation in Braille is possible, Nicolas Karasiewicz reminds us that only ” 10 to 15% » visually impaired people read Braille. ” From a practical point of view, it is much more complicated to walk around with books in Braille “, explains this former business manager, who has been blind for twenty years.

Audio adaptations are made in several formats: transcription into text readable by a screen reader (as the Mangomics-Access association does), reading of the text of the comic strip by a narrator, or dubbing by actors embodying different characters. These different modalities meet different needs. Sandra Bernarot emphasizes that young visually impaired people registered with the association ” come a lot for the reading aspect, more than for the audio book aspect “. Nicolas Karasiewicz, he appreciates ” rather staged versions, halfway between film and book “. Sarra Triqui, meanwhile, would like an audio version with “ a description of the image », close to the audio description used in films.

The option of dubbing each character by an actor or actress is the one chosen by several collectives who have embarked on the dubbing of webtoons, these online comics originating from South Korea. A long process, because to the voices of the actors are added music and sound effects, as explained by Chloé, a psychology student who participates in the dubbing of several webtoons: “ With everyone’s busy schedule, it can take a month to get the recordings back, plus a few weeks to finish editing.. »

A time-consuming and expensive format

Making a comic book audio adaptation with actors requires more prep work. ” It’s a work quite similar to the audio book, except that there is a stage of transcription of the text and adaptation with the addition of sound effects “, explains Kahina Braham. She is responsible for Asterix project from Audiolib editions who released the six-album audio version of the series created by Uderzo and Goscinny. ” What is the most time-consuming is that we work with a lot of actors, there are scheduling constraints. »

Contrary to the novel, it is necessary to transcribe the entirety of the text of the comic strip before being able to double it with actors or actresses. Some adaptations are also sometimes necessary: ​​add a quote, a line of narration or a description to allow a better understanding. ” We adapt 5% of the text, the comic strip is already very oral “says Timothée Borne, the founder of Blynd, an application that offers around twenty audio series adapted from comic strips, video game universes or books. To the voices of the actors embodying the characters, are then added sound effects and music that restore the atmosphere of the comic strip: footsteps, rain, explosions…

Screenshot from the Lanfeust de Troy audio series, produced by the Blynd company.  Contains a description of the series and the list of actors (Lanfeust de Troy Immerse yourself in the universe of Troy, a world that fascinates with the diversity of its fauna, its flora and the variety of its inhabitants! A cocktail of action , humor and magic in the pure tradition of great adventure and heroic fantasy With the voices of: Narrator: Gérard Darmon, Donald Reignoux, Dorothée Pousséo, Frédéric Souterelle, Jacques Chambon, Sarah Cornibert, Emmanuel Curtil, Jérémie Covillault... A BLYND creation) as well as an illustration presenting several characters from the comic strip.
The Lanfeust de Troy series. // Source: Blynd

A long and expensive process which partly explains why the format is rare for Timothée Borne: “ audio content with several actors and music costs between €600 and €1,500 per minute. We embarked on Lanfeust of Troy, there are 150 characters in all, so 70 actors. It’s a 150,000€ project.. Nataly Villena Vega, editorial manager at Audiolib, offers the same explanation: The post-productions are also quite expensive, since it’s very meticulous detail work. The project is not easy to make profitable after. »

It remains to make this format known to allow it to develop. The audio comic book is a format that concerns everyone, underlines Nicolas Karasiewicz: as for the audio book, ” everyone can enjoy it. Someone who is dyslexic, who has reading difficulties, who has not learned to read can use it. »

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