X's for eyes of the dead

My four-year old niece telling me about her new pet gerbil: “I like to hold him but don’t squeeze him hard. Then he would die. Then he would have X’s on his eyes.”

I knew she must have got that idea from cartoons, but it got me to wondering where that originated. Animated cartoons or older print comics, or even earlier art? Any ideas?

I’ve seen it in comics dating back to the 30s (?). No earlier than the 1890s I think, and starting in the assembly-line illustration of newspaper cartoons.

It caught on. It’s an easy shorthand to distinguish dead (X) from sleeping (-)

I’ve seen X’s used for unconscience characters, but they were knocked out, not just asleep.

They probably had stars and little birds around their head too. :slight_smile:


Everybody got to elevate from the norm - Rush

Could it have anything to do with the tradition of putting coins over the dead’s eyes? Using “X” as a monetary increment, of course.


“Teaching without words and work without doing are understood by very few.”
-Tao Te Ching

It’s used for dead-drunk, too, which raises the possibility that the iconic “XX” on whisky barrels and bottles may have a connection.


John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

Search engines are better now than they were in 1999, but I’m not having much luck finding a decent answer to this. I don’t care why X’s are used, but who started it and when?

I have seen somewhere that this was originated by Peter Arno.