On the above recent Sunrise page, I struggled for a long time while trying to decide whether to use the cliched sound effect kaboom. This is supposed to be a serious moment, and kaboom conjures up superhero silliness just as much as biff and pow. At first I tried coming up with an original sound effect (I believe it said baWOOM up there for a while) but ultimately decided to go with kaboom, not despite its longstanding reputation, but because of it.
What I realized was that using an unexpected sound effect is a distraction. It calls attention to the sound effect itself, and draws the reader out of the story. Take a look at this sequence from Jason Lutes’s (highly recommended) Berlin: City of Smoke:
What transpired here should be fairly obvious: a man puts a gun to himself, and the big PAK seems to indicate that he fired it. The problem with PAK, though, is that it’s not a sound effect we typically associate with guns. When I read this book, I stared at these two panels for a long time, wondering if I was misreading them; if maybe PAK was supposed to indicate something different. I was pretty sure I knew what it meant, but not completely sure. Had it said BANG, I wouldn’t have skipped a beat.
Thus I decided to go with kaboom, even though it seems like a cliche. In a dramatic moment, I want my readers to be thinking explosion, not “baWOOM?”.