History of comics question -- talk bubble and think bubble

You know, the talk bubble means someone is talking, and is a bubble with a pointy part coming from the person doing the talking, and the think bubble is the puffy bubble with little dots coming from the thinker.

When did this become standard in comics? Do these have names besides “talk bubble” and “think bubble”? Were there any other attempts to show silent thought that didn’t quite catch on?

Thank you!

Coincidentally a friend of mine, the scholar/poet Peter Middleton, recently sent me an essay of his called “Dirigibles” which opens:

Hope that helps. Nothing on thought-balloons I’m afraid. Peter does point out though that the idea of speech balloons is hardly original to comics–you can find them in the illuminated books of William Blake.

The thought balloon, IMO, is an obvious evolution of the speech balloon. I have no idea who first did it, but it seems to me that a cartoonist, wanting to represent thought, looked at the speech balloon and thought that it was a good means of denoting communication but then realized that in order to show that it was not outward communication, it had to be a broken link to the thinker.

The thought balloon is also like a series of bubbles… almost not there… about to disappear the moment they’re created. It’s very dreamlike.

Hold on now. Much as I’d love to see “New York newspapers in the eighteen-nineties” get credit for this great advancement in western literature, I do believe ndorward’s pal is ignoring much earlier examples.

I’ve seen copies of cartoons from around the time of the American Revolution (and, I think, earlier) that depict speakers with “speech balloons.” These primative-by-today’s-standards balloons – which are often filled with long, windy political chatter – were squeezed into whatever white space the illustrator could spare; sometimes the balloons even ran vertically, not horizontally.

My best guess tells me they were French, at least definately European.

delphica wanted to know “when did this become standard in comics?”

The good old Britannica sums it up Britannica

And let us not forget the whisper balloon, which is a standard talk balloon drawn with dashed lines.

I too would like to know the origin of the thought balloon. I am a big fan of E.C.Segars Popeye strips, which span the 20s and 30s. When Segar wanted to represent thought, he made a word balloon with an arrow pointing at the thinkers head and the word “thought” written next to it. From this you can conlude that at least up to this point no standard had yet been agreed upon.

stuyguy wrote:

I’ll confirm this. I’ve seen several political cartoons from just prior to the American Revolution which utilized word balloons. As stuyguy noted, the words in the balloons were often vertical, rather than horizontal.

So frankly, the Brittanica entry cited above which claims that word balloons “had fallen largely into disuse since the 17th century and its occasional appearance in the English caricatural strip around 1800” is just plain wrong. Both stuyguy and I have seen some of the many examples from the mid-18th century.

spoke- You said

And you know that word balloons were used more in the mid-18th century rather than in the 17th century HOW?

How much have you searched for their usage in the 17th century? I simply offered what appeared to be a well-researched link. It may not have been. Please supply some evidence for your statement.

Hmm… I’m trying to think back to ancient Japan. They had e-makimono (picture scrolls) that had interesting methods of adding text. E-maki are the first examples I know of using linear pictorial storytelling, as in comic strips. I’ll have to do some research through some old art books, there’s related material probably from 1100 to 1700 AD.

Geez, don’t be so defensive, samclem. I’m not criticizing you; I just don’t thing the statement in the Brittanica entry is accurate. The Brittanica entry says that until the Yellow Kid came along (1890’s?) the word balloon had not been in common use since the 17th century. That just ain’t so. It was a staple of political cartoons from the mid-17th century to the mid-18th century at least. Both stuyguy and I have seen examples from the American Revolution (with quirky, vertical balloons). I’ll try to find those on the web.

In the meantime: Here’s an example of a political cartoon utilizing word balloons from 1814. Here’s another from 1813. Here’s yet another from 1813. Here’s one of Abe Lincoln from 1861.

That’s just a sample, but enough to prove, I think, that Brittanica is wrong when it says that word balloons had fallen into disuse between the 17th century and the advent of the Yellow Kid in the late 19th century. Do you want to notify the good folks at Brittanica of their error, or shall I?

Here’s a political cartoon from 1862 with word balloons.

Here’s one from 1864.

Here’s another from 1861.

Here are a couple more. The “Loco Foco” cartoon would be from the late 1830’s.

Here’s one from 1856.

I’m still having a hard time tracking down cartoons from the American Revolution, but you can see thumbnails here. Note the cartoon with word balloons in the lower right hand corner. The link to enlarge that cartoon doesn’t seem to work.

Hmmm. Some of my links aren’t working. Well, here’s a link to an 1892 article on the history of caricature in America, including several of the early cartoons (with word balloons) referenced above.

Clearly the word balloon was thriving in America long before the Yellow Kid came along.

tsk, tsk. Who says this is human in origin?

If any of you have read Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, you’d know that’s just the way 'toons talk. Some more humanlike 'toons, as a means of completing the illusion, can suppress their speech balloons (Jessica Rabbit being the best example), but for the most part when 'toons speak, their words appear next to them in a balloon.

Sadly, this detail didn’t survive the transition from book to movie . . .

Anyway when comic strips are photographed, the balloons show up on film just like the stars and the sets. Which is why we see these in still images as far back as we’ve been able to find.

Last year I asked a cartoonist friend about the jagged balloons used for interjections. Here’s what he had to say:

I actually have a contribution to make to this topic!

In the “Golden Age” of comics (the 1940’s), thought-balloons were often shown as ordinary word balloons, but with the words (ie, thoughts) in quote marks, as if they were “asides” to the reader.

It should also be noted that thought balloons are somewhat passe today. The thoughts of characters are treated as narration, and show up in the caption boxes.

The only cartoonist (to my knowledge) who actually made fun of the speech balloons was Walt Kelly.

At various times in POGO, Kelly pulled tricks like:

  • People puncturing the balloon and letting the letters drip out
  • An insect (bee?) getting caught in a balloon and unable to fly out
  • One character thinking of a picture-image (such as an ice cream soda) and another character reaching into the thought balloon to grab it
  • One panel with a character giving a long speech, and the other character cramped in the bottom corner of the panel, muttering about how the balloon took up all the space
  • The most complicated: one character had trained fleas to spell out words, and was trying to sell this idea. You don’t need to talk, the fleas will talk for you. (This ultimately led to a punchline where one character was complaining of spots before his eyes.)

I would bet that the “speech balloon” is a simplified style evolved from the “speech banderole” which had been in use in painting and then print since God knows when, which looks like a curling slip of paper with a pointed end emerging from the character’s mouth – think of the medieval/ Renaissance Annunciation scenes where Gabriel speaks. I have before me a copy of an english print from 1643 with something approaching the speech balloon-- sort of an intermediary step in beteen the two. Oh, another from 1624 (see Kunzle, The Early Comic Strip 1450-1825). The thought balloon, though. . . hmm.
Interestingly, in old meso-american painting there was a convention that looked a lot like the speech balloon-- like a curling slip of wind coming from the speaker’s mouth to indicate speech (although it doesn’t have any text or content within it).

This book:

may have a good answer to the “thought balloon” origins, but
I can’t find what the origins are.

The way in which balloons communicate without cluttering
the reader’s brain is interesting. A dark-bottomed, stormy
looking thought balloon communicates thoughts of despair
without the reader consciously thinking about it.

I’ll check my books on the history of comics when I’m at home.