Bold words in comic book dialouge

I’m currently rereading The Watchmen. I never have been a big comic book fan, but Moore’s brilliance is undeniable. I plan to start a thread on the merits of the book once I’m done. Meanwhile, I have a question for comics afficiandos. What does it mean when a word is bolded in speech bubbles? Am I to read this word as having more emphasis than the surrounding words? When did this become the style for comics? How common is it?

Thanks for fighting my ignorance.

It’s been a convention in comics for many years. It can even be found in Action Comics #1:


(The original was in all caps, so I followed suit.)

It probably was used in newspaper comics before that. The reason was mostly likely because bold text is easier to pick out in comics than italics, the convention in books.

In Archies, I usually assume they’re errors, because the words make no sense if you emphasize them.

But Archie, Reggie’s going out with Ronnie tonight, so you can’t!”

In my comics, the words are emphasized with no rhyme or reason
ie Hello I am the man of steel!
it would make sense to maybe emphasize man of steel, but it seems to be random.
Also, good choice for a Graphic novel.

Word on the Archie comics. They also tend to have a little trouble with colour continuity. Sometimes Archie’s hair is purple (or should that be “sometime’s Archie’s hair is purple”).

There was a lot of sub-par lettering from about the 50’s thru the 80’s, which leads to nonsensical bolding. The bold words are supposed to be emphasized, but only if the letterer did a good job. In the 90’s computer lettering largely took over, and while there are many faults to that (the primary one being that everyone thinks it removes all need for skill or care in lettering, which it most certainly does not), it has greatly cut down on inconsistent line thickness.


Writers have radically different instincts about which words to emphasize; when they worked on New Teen Titans, Marv Wolfman (the writer) and Len Wein (the editr) reportedly had loud arguments about this very subject.

Jack Kirby had arguably the worst instincts about which words to emphasize. From The Demon #1:

Of greater concern is comic book dialogue where sentences are a lot likelier to end in exclamation points than periods.

Hmm—well, I thought exclamation points were used instead of periods for the same reason all caps are used instead of lower case. They’re simply easier when you’re using itty bitty little 6-point lettering.

When I was younger I used to get a really poor magazine-sized comic from Warren called ‘The Rook’! I was flipping through an issue one day and only then did I notice that every single sentence ended in an exclamation point! I immediately took a stack of issues and went through them! Several of them didn’t have a single sentence that ended in anything except an exclamantion point or a question mark! There were only a handful of sentences ending in periods! What surprised me the most is that it took me so long to notice!

I think this is a holdover from the EC days of horror comics! I’ve noticed that effect there too, and have noticed that when people are spoofing or paying homage to EC comics, the number of exclamation points goes way up!

I always thought the bolding was there for emphasis. And indeed, I found that if you read the dialogue with that in mind, you can get a sense of the emotion the characters are supposed to be conveying in their speech.

Including emphasis on the characters’ and places’ names, as well as the names of important things. Anybody ever notice how each time such a name is used in dialogue, it’s also bolded?

Picture a Superman cover, showing Superman in an angst-ridden pose (hand on head, look of anguish on his face). The Man of Steel is thinking something like the following in a thought bubble:

Luthor has captured Lois and has her in his infernal Machine of Flaming Death! But there’s a meteor heading for Metropolis right now! … Who do I save? Who do I save?

Oh, and the cover is complete with splash panel reading something like “The hardest choice Superman will ever make.”

Hey, this is kinda fun, and you know, the exclamation points add that special touch! Maybe I should post it, and then get some coffee while I think of more!