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Thought Bubbles: Outdated?

HippieVan at 12:00AM, Sept. 16, 2016
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One of the really cool things about comic making is that we have so many tools at our disposal that people who tells stories in other mediums don’t necessarily have. One of those is the ability to show a character’s inner monologue without interrupting the external narrative or an actual conversation. Movies and tv shows will do inner monologue voiceovers occasionally (Peep Show is the most obvious example), but it’s definitely trickier to pull off. Thought bubbles allow comics to be more introspective in that way than film.

Given how useful thought bubbles are, it seems odd that – at least in my observation – they’re being used less and less frequently in modern comics. Since I noted this trend I’ve been thinking a lot about whether, and how, I would use speech bubbles in my own comic. Even when my character is on her own, I find myself preferring to simply have my character talk aloud to herself than use a thought bubble, despite it being less realistic. The only scenario I could think of in which I’d use a speech bubble would be to make it obvious that a character was thinking something they didn’t want the character they were in conversation with to know.

Old superhero comics, like the snippet from Spiderman above, are chock-full of thought bubbles. To some extent, these old thought bubbles can seem a bit ham-fisted. In the example above, just about everything Spidey is thinking could probably be conveyed without text: in the first panel, he could be obviously holding his arm in pain. In the third, a simple look of shock would do; the reader can fill in the cause. So could the demise of thought bubbles actually be part of a trend towards more subtle comics, rather than a trend away from introspection? I think that’s possible, but it doesn't quite explain why I would avoid thought bubbles even for things that are pretty clearly part of an internal monologue.

Do you use thought bubbles in your comic? Do you think they’re outdated?



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Amelius at 1:21PM, Sept. 19, 2016

EssayBee- Exactly! The more tools the better! And that's an example where it was pretty necessary too! I can't believe I forgot to mention psychic conversation! Professor X even used to have action lines on the sides of his thought balloons to demonstrate the sort of projection his psychic speech had and to differentiate between inner-conversations, then later they added lightning-tails to the cloud-bubbles.

EssayBee at 10:00AM, Sept. 19, 2016

There are times when they are necessary, even if a comic uses boxes for inner narrative. I used it just last issue to differentiate Fusion's mental conversation with Bob vs. her narration to the reader (http://www.theduckwebcomics.com/Essay_Bee_Comics_Presents_Fusion/5511554/ ). I usually just have her speak aloud to Bob, but this was a situation where she was traveling at hypersonic speed, so regular speech wouldn't exactly work. The more tools in a comic storyteller's toolbox, the better I say, and thought bubbles still have a place depending on the story.

Amelius at 7:27PM, Sept. 18, 2016

Udyr: Thank you!(what! it's over 9000?!)-- I was thinking about this more and I suppose I just want to add, I'm not seeing thought balloons disappearing in the same way- webcomics are the modern comic, Corporate print comics are the old guard. Despite this, very popular professional webcomics have not done away with the thought balloon where Marvel/DC have. Some of the best web and print comics out there use them, so, outdated? Heck no! They're not limited to text dialogue either, pictures and scenarios playing in someone's imagination within the standard thought balloon are a thing, too. When you consider the amount of potential, discarding it from the comic toolbox is about as innovative as Apple discarding the headphone jack. Go ahead and ignore an old standard if it's not your thing, but it doesn't make anyone a lesser writer for utilizing it nor does it justify anyone being a dog in the manger about it.

Udyr at 2:07PM, Sept. 18, 2016

Amelius: Yes. Let's go with what you said. That. I agree over 9000.

sleepyhollow76 at 12:48PM, Sept. 18, 2016

I still use the thought bubble in my comics.

Z74 at 4:38AM, Sept. 18, 2016

The old Comics were just a lot more wordy than they are now they had more dialogue as well as thought balloons

Ironscarf at 2:56PM, Sept. 17, 2016

This thread is making me want to start a comic with nothing but thought balloons.

Amelius at 1:29PM, Sept. 17, 2016

Maybe if you have a super-serious 2edgy grimdark comic they won't gel but even Cerebus did thought balloons. Groo the Wanderer, Obelix and Asterix, and many adventure/comedy comics from Europe use them frequently for joke asides and character inner-monologue. I use them when appropriate- it's hard to show a character talking under their breath and until I got Illustrator whisper balloons didn't look right. And characters shouldn't be talking aloud about sensitive matters when another character is sitting right there! One joke I did was a character saying "I can't read your mind" and the other thinks "Thank goodness for that!" Like ANY comic making element, you just have to know when and when not to employ it. If you've never done thought balloons, don't start in the middle of the story, for example! Consistency is the key.

Amelius at 1:09PM, Sept. 17, 2016

I use them, and will continue to because they are a legitimate tool of the comics making process no matter what some folks say- I refuse to be complicit in the loss of the unique language of comics (even if that's mostly Western/European comics). Stan Sakai frequently uses thought balloons, and Usagi Yojimbo is brilliant work. Mainstream Marvel/DC have been trying hard not to be comics for years-- they hardly qualify as something comic makers should be aspiring to emulate. They're more interested in making works that can be easily adapted to TV and movies and since you can't get inner monologue in either, they shy away from it. Even Moore's choice not to use them is more complicated, and Frank Miller's choice to replace them with narration boxes was widely ridiculed.

Udyr at 3:12AM, Sept. 17, 2016

I still use them. But it might depend on the genre of the comics. If its touching realism it's definitely better than them talking to themself. Though if the characters are drunk I see no problem with them saying every thought popping up out loud. In real life some people do tend to have conversation with themselves, me being one. I still think inner monologue is an important tool to use.in some ways it makes it more interesting but only by using them if the thoughts are unrelated to what's going on around them.

jerrie at 1:32AM, Sept. 17, 2016

like another person has said...I grew up on thought bubbles. I dont have a problem with them. I like reading what characters are thinking about.

Banes at 7:34PM, Sept. 16, 2016

Great topic and discussion! Kudos on this one, Hippity!

bravo1102 at 7:30PM, Sept. 16, 2016

I tend to use them in scripts and the discard them on finished pages. Boxes are certainly easier to letter but often it is not clear who is talking. I usually only use them for memory association. That is a character's interior reaction to something they can't externally respond to, or if something reminds them of something that is relevant.

Zimeta at 3:01PM, Sept. 16, 2016

I've only used them in my comedic comics. Otherwise I don't.

sarokophoenix at 1:51PM, Sept. 16, 2016

I pretty much grew up on thought-bubbles so it doesn't seem all that odd or a big deal to me. Personally, I go back and forth. If I can show what's going through their head without any form of dialogue, great. The 'show-not-tell' style really appeals to me as a writer. But sometimes, the character just wants to sit down and think through the situation in their head. And sometimes, there are no handy props in the room to help convey what they're thinking about. When that happens, I go with the bubbles. I've got more to say on this issue, but it's getting kinda ramble-y already.

usedbooks at 12:30PM, Sept. 16, 2016

Yeah. That's the one. It started with finding a coin. I was talking about knowing everyone's thoughts, not using them as a literary device. Internal monologue is the film/TV method of making a work first-person present. (Narration is first-person past.) I don't watch much modern stuff, but the show I enjoy that uses a lot of thinking type voice-over is MacGyver. The old Sherlock Holmes shows do past-tense narration (via Watson) to match the memoirs feel of the original material. Most of the anthology shows like TZ do voice-over. It captures that short story feel.

HippieVan at 12:17PM, Sept. 16, 2016

@UB: There are quite a few TZ episodes with heavy internal monologue voiceovers! It's one of the few shows where it works really well imo. "The Hitchhiker" is the first episode that jumps to mind. I think the one you're thinking of is "A Penny for Your Thoughts"?

usedbooks at 10:50AM, Sept. 16, 2016

I think if you followed everyone's thoughts, it would be a mind-numbing insane feeling like "What Women Want" or the Twilight Zone episode (title escapes me but it starred one of the Darrens from Bewitched.)

El Cid at 10:28AM, Sept. 16, 2016

@HippieVan: True... however, usually in literature you only hear the monologues of the character whose point of view you're being shown. Novels frequently bounce from one character's perspective to another, either by chapter or within subchapters... though it's rarely done paragraph-to-paragraph. It works well enough, for that medium. With a third person omniscient narrator, you *could* get away with blending everyone's internal monologues in directly with the dialogue, but it's hard to do without completely trashing the flow and ending up with a cumbersome mess of a narrative. I've seen Cormac McCarthy do it and make it work, but most writers aren't Cormac McCarthy. It usually doesn't work, and I've never seen it done well in a comic.

usedbooks at 9:19AM, Sept. 16, 2016

I show thoughts of antagonists too -- when they are the focus. I actually write prose the same way. It's probably a very bad way to write. I call it "shifting third-person limited," and it's not a real thing. -_-

HippieVan at 8:44AM, Sept. 16, 2016

@El Cid: To play devil's advocate - seeing characters' internal monologues is pretty common in literature.

El Cid at 8:13AM, Sept. 16, 2016

Personally, I feel like thought balloons are outdated and should die a much deserved death, never to be seen or heard from again. I've always found them to be tacky, and I don't think I've ever seen a thought balloon being used that felt truly necessary. There's no reason your readers should need to read verbatim what any of the characters are thinking, unless that person is also the narrator, in which case the letter box approach works so much better.

KimLuster at 8:00AM, Sept. 16, 2016

I'm all into internal monologue, but like Bruno I use boxes instead of thought bubbles, and like Usedbooks, only from a singler person perspective, to give the reader a mind's-eye of a main character... I just don't like the way thought bubbles look... Except that I can certainly see their merit when it comes to humorous or light-hearted sitations! It's funny - some of the older comics with Lois Lane's thought bubbles as she laments Superman rejecting her yet again can be quite hilarious!!

KAM at 7:24AM, Sept. 16, 2016

I believe the elimination of thought balloons is due to people trying to make comics resemble TV & movies. Although some people claim they are just trying to make comics like real life... in a medium dominated with superpowers, magic, aliens and monsters... riiiiiiiiiiiiight... Eliminating thought balloons will make people forget they're reading fiction. Yep, yep, yep...

Ironscarf at 7:18AM, Sept. 16, 2016

@HippieVan: Well this is more about the merits of using or not, so it's another subject! For my comic I would definitely use thought bubbles, bearing in mind that ss others have mentioned, the grammar has changed. A thought bubble now lends a humourous or at least light hearted tone to the text inside in my opinion, so if that suits your purpose, go for it!


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