Monday 18 December 2006

Hold that Thought balloon!

My pal Evans just sent me this link from the Australian: "Myth, legend and the academic discipline of history all serve the same end, to enrich our understanding of ourselves, argues Alex Miller."
This fits with my earlier statement (dec. 6) that I'm interested in the blurry areas between things. In this case, between fiction and non-fiction (history, reportage, biography). "Each generation rewrites history for itself and, in doing so, refutes the truth of much of the history written by its parents' generation." The next part strikes me as extraordinary: "...a retired German historian who is driven to write a factual story not as history but as fiction. He does this to preserve the story against the revisions of future generations." Think about that one. He dressed the facts as fiction for their own protection
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My pal mr j, last seen here on (dec. 4) sent me his latest cartoon, this one in response to the Hayley Campbell horrors I've been showing. click to enlarge

Speaking of which,
The Ripper Files, Part 5: this is the last of those I scanned while I had the 'Files' out. The second one is a guest spot by me. I never dreamed the wee lass, then aged 7, would adopt Morticia Addams as her fashion mentor.
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Make sure you've read the comments for yesterday's post as the subject of my piece, John Coulthart himself, threw in a couple of paragraphs of pure information.
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Andrew J. Bonia, who contributed that great little Simpsons piece here a couple of days back, which involved tinkering with a speech balloon, writes about the elimination of thought balloons from the conventional comic book style and their replacement with turgid running voice-overs. The 'thought' bubble (or balloon) is one of the few inventions truly indigenous to the twentieth century comic strip and it would be sad to reject it in order to make comics more like movies (see comments on this theme under 'Things' two days back), or because it is somehow pictorially unseemly for a tough heroic figure to have fluffy clouds around his head. When you tell an anecdote orally it's commonplace to say 'I thought' and 'she thought' etc., and perfectly logical to codify that on paper in a thought bubble. And if it makes your character less heroic, try taking the pole out of his ass. Always works for me.
Here is a History of speech balloons since the dawn of time. But observe Thierry Smolderen's admonishment in Comic Art #8 in his very excellent and lavishly illustrated essay, Of labels, Loops and Bubbles, that the exact function of these comparable devices needs to be interpreted in entirely different ways for different historical periods.
waitaminute. the phone.
Anne? yeah, what... yes of course they know I meant take the pole out my character's and not actually my own. yeah, sure... very funny... yeh...anyway, remember to pick up the cat food... and thanks for roning.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although it's not directly related to thought balloons, my favourite use of a speech balloon was at the start of From Hell.

We see the two men in the distance on the beach (Abberline and the guy who fakes visions), with a speech balloon between them, but the text is obscured, because they're too far away from us to 'hear' them.

Badly described, but I guess anyone reading here knows what I'm talking about. Who's idea was that device, I've not seen it used elsewhere?

18 December 2006 at 07:11:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Manic The Doodler said...

I like Voltaire's definition of history: History supplies little beyond a list of those who have accomodated themselves with the property of others.

18 December 2006 at 10:49:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Phillip Smith said...

The speech balloons article begins, "Speechballoons are not a necessary characteristic of comics, (nor is the existence of any text),..."
But can we also have comics with no pictures, only text? Surely the answer is 'yes'. I can visualise a comic that has a single speech balloon per panel, with no other content. I can even imagine a comics page that is, say, a 9x9 grid with panels that contain only narrative text. The experience would be quite different to reading a straight page of prose because the pacing could be controlled. I predict that one day all comics will be like this and we will no longer need artists.


18 December 2006 at 14:25:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Hawthorn said...

I love the idea of making something fiction to set it in stone. That's completely fascinating.

The lack of thought balloons in modern comics has confused me for a while now. They seem only used in that kind of post-modern, self-mocking way anymore. It's too bad; we should rehabilitate them.

I was also thinking about comics with no art. If you want to look historically speaking there's always Invisoworld, but I was thinking of taking it a bit less literally.

Artless Comics 1

(Quite artless.) Here is a comic using only words, but using the grammar of comics rather than of sentences. That said, this is still cheating as I'm using the words as pictures by moving them about and such, so it still isn't comics without art.

Artless Comics 2

This is a cleaner version, with just words taking the place of everything else, but still working like a comic and not a paragraph.

On the other hand, and taken a bit sideways, using this example one could write the word "Tree" slightly above the word fire, making a logic puzzle within a comic and literally representing "tree on fire". Are there any other examples of this kind of stuff out there?

19 December 2006 at 12:47:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

19 December 2006 at 16:16:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

reposted to fix goddamn spelling

Eddie Campbell said...
talking again about the fuzzy ares between things.

seems to me like you are finding your way from comics toward what is usually called 'concrete poetry'.
first look at:
and if your curiosity is piqued, here is an index of links. Some of these are school level stuff and others are very sophicticated. it's worth browsing around.


19 December 2006 at 16:19:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

still didn't fix it.

read 'areas'

19 December 2006 at 16:19:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...


oh i give up... i'm going back to reading the random word generator

19 December 2006 at 16:21:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Thanks also to Emmet and Buddhamonkey.
we can always use Voltaire around here.

19 December 2006 at 16:22:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Thanks also to Emmet and Buddhamonkey.
we can always use Voltaire around here.

19 December 2006 at 16:23:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A comic with words and no pictures sounds rather like Byrne's "Snowblind" issue of ALPHA FLIGHT.

In my own comics writing I have stopped using thought balloons, and use captions only sparingly, but not because of Alan Moore at all ... because of Dave Sim. The man is so adept at portraying emotions in his characters' faces that I decided that that is how comics ought to be ... showing instead of describing.

20 December 2006 at 12:47:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Hawthorn said...


I think the ability for the art to communicate and not just be setting is a lot of the time ignored in comics, not just today but constantly.


I'd completely forgotten about those types of poems since I was in junior high and thought I was incredibly clever for writing them. Poorly.

20 December 2006 at 14:39:00 GMT-5  

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