Get a peek at the upcoming 'sign language issue' of Fraction & Aja's Hawkeye

One of the most acclaimed superhero comics of the past two years might be ending soon, but not without at least one more ambitious new storytelling ploy.

Since it began in 2012, the current run of Marvel Comics' Hawkeye, by writer Matt Fraction and (primarily) artists David Aja and Annie Wu, has grown from a well-reviewed new take on a lower-level Avenger to a full-blown fandom phenomon. "Hawkguy," as it's affectionately known, has inspired tons of cosplay, fan art and quirky merchandise, and though its scheduling has been off a bit in recent months, it continues to draw acclaim and attention whenever a new issue hits, and not just because the stories are so consistently entertaining.

Fraction and company have also turned heads with several bold storytelling moves, from dividing the run between bi-coastal stories of Clint Barton and Kate Bishop to dedicating an issue to Hurricane Sandy (and giving the proceeds to Sandy relief) to, of course, crafting an entire issue from the point of view of Lucky the "Pizza Dog." Earlier this month, Fraction announced, to the dismay of many readers, that the series will end later this year with issue #22, but before Hawkeye's gone, we'll get another issue that plays with the comics format in a daring way.

Issue #19, which hits stands next Wednesday, July 30, is the followup to the events of issue #15. By the end of that issue, Clint and his brother Barney had been severely wounded in a battle to save Clint's apartment building from the ever-present Tracksuits. As issue #19 picks up, Barney's in a wheelchair and Clint is deaf. So, to tell the story from Clint's point of view, Fraction and Aja will integrate sign language into the comic. It sounds like a cool visual gimmick, and it is, but it's also Fraction's way of trying to convey to his readers, in a realistic way, what life might be like for someone who can't hear.

“If nothing else, it’s an opportunity for hearing people to get a taste of what it might be like to be deaf,” Fraction said.

To convey Clint's experience without hearing to the reader, word balloons in which characters are speaking to Clint will be left blank. When characters are signing to Clint, diagrams depicting their gestures will be shown, but without a caption or translation. It sounds daunting to the reader, but as this sample page (and accompanying script page) shows, there's plenty of visual context to help you follow along.

“There’s so much subtlety and expression on the page,” editor Sana Amanat said. “You can understand what’s going on even without the balloons.”

Fraction was inspired to put the issue together in part by his experience using sign language with his children, which they were taught so they could better express themselves before they knew how to speak.

“When my wife and I had children, we taught them to sign,” Fraction said. “It cut down on their frustration immensely because they can tell you want they’re thinking.”

Fraction also consulted with sign language expert and teacher Rachel Coleman, founder of Signing Time, to help convey the unique and often very complex expressions of sign language in an accurate way.

“There was a different grammatical and idiomatic structure,” he said. “Facial expressions were very important.”

So get set for another groundbreaking issue of one of the best superhero comics out there, and pick up Hawkeye #19 next week.

(Via The New York Times)

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