Comics Empower sells and makes in-house audio adaptations of comic books for the blind and visually impaired.
Photo via Flickr user Iván Santiesteban
I've been blind since birth. Growing up, I devoured novels translated into braille and adapted into audio books, but there was never an equivalent for comic books. While my sighted friends were enjoying Batman and Spider-Man comics, I became complacent with hearing about them secondhand but never experiencing the stories for myself.
Later, I would discover companies like Audio Comics and Graphic Audio, which have produced audio versions of comics. But browsing the websites that sell their audio comics can be challenging when you're blind. Which is exactly why Guy Hasson created Comics Empower, an online comic book store for the blind.
The Comics Empower website was designed to put blind and visually impaired customers first by providing original and adapted audio comics produced in-house, plus audio comics produced by other companies. The store is completely accessible to the blind or visually impaired using a high-contrast display or a screen reader. On the contrary, sighted people who visit the store will need to use adaptive tools and techniques to navigate or ask a visually impaired person for assistance.
I reached out to Hasson to ask him about why he created the store and what he envisions as the future of comics for the blind.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
VICE: Tell me about how you got into comics.
Guy Hasson: I grew up in Israel. We didn't really have any comics—not Spider-Man, not Superman. We just had two comics, which were both in black-and-white. One was Tarzan. I don't remember the other's name, but it was kind of a Tarzan rip-off, with adventures in Africa.
When I got to the United States at age 11, the first thing I bought was a Spider-Man comic book. And that's it, I was hooked. Three years later, I was in high school, and I'd go to the used comic book store two minutes away from the school at the end of every day, where I would pick up some kind of old, cheap comic book with my lunch money.
How did you come up with the idea of making a comic store for the blind?
I was running an indie comic book company called New Worlds Comics for a year and a half, when suddenly a thought came to me: Why are there no comics for the blind? And then I figured out how to do it, how to translate everything to audio, how to build the website, how to create the store, and so on. In a month and a half, the website was up with a few comic books, just to see if they were done right. Once people reacted well to them, we were off to the races.
But you're not blind or visually impaired, right?
No, and there was no one blind or visually impaired in my family or friends at the time who could have triggered this thought. There was no real reason for me to think of it. But once I had figured out how to do it, it was just a crime not to do it.
There are literally tens of thousands of kids, teens, and adults out there who would love to read the same comic books their sighted friends are reading and to talk to them about it, without waiting for the friends or family to read the comics to them. By accident, it turned out to be one of the most important things I've done in my life.
Comics Empower has created its own in-house audio adaptations of comic books. What's the difference between those and, say, Audio Comics or Graphic Audio adaptations?
Those are really good productions. We actually sell Audio Comics productions at Comics Empower, and I hope that Graphic Audio will allow us to sell its comics as well. We're a comic book store, not a comic book publisher—so anyone who creates great comic books can be sold at Comics Empower.
Having said that, Comics Empower does create a lot of audio productions for comics, and we do it differently from Graphic Audio or Audio Comics. They have great productions with a big cast and music and they create, as they say, "a movie in your head." Comics Empower, on the other hand, creates comic books with one actor per comic, and no music. We give the comic book experience, rather than a movie experience, going page by page, panel by panel, to give you the entire experience of reading a comic book in a way that keeps your interest going, start to finish.
We did a little poll after releasing Audio Comics, and it turned out that though people like both types, there was a large preference to the comic book experience rather than the movie experience. That actually surprised me.
How did you decide to have panel descriptions and a single narrator?
That's how you read a comic book. There's only one voice: the voice in your head. And you go page by page, and you go down each page from one panel to another, following the story, reading the speech bubbles, the captions, and so on. That's the comic book experience I have, that everyone has, and that is the experience that's inaccessible to so many people.
What is your future outlook for blind comic book writers, and why do you think that way?
We've had two winners for the writing competition for a blind or visually impaired comic book writer. After all, now that you can read comics, there is no reason in the world you can't write comics. And, indeed, there are two first-place winners because their writing was really good.
One comic, Bakasura, is about a mysterious demon haunting a town in India. And the other, Unseen, is about a blind assassin. Both are very different from each other, and both are very good. There is no reason that the writers, Pranav Lal and Chad Allen, can't sell their comics to Marvel or DC, and maybe in the future get TV or movie deals. And there's no reason other blind or visually impaired writers can't do the same.
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