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Thought Bubbles: Outdated?

HippieVan at 12:00AM, Sept. 16, 2016

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 Do you think they’re outdated?

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usedbooks at 6:28AM, Sept. 16, 2016

Another thing worth noting is that the internal monologue is really suited for a single main protagonist situation. It has the essence of a first-person perspective. If your story is third-person, as an outside observer, you'd not be privy to thoughts. That's probably why I've found it natural to include only for a person alone with his thoughts. The story viewpoint in those scenes essentially switches from third to first person. If I shared only the thoughts of one character ever, it would change the focus of my story. That person would become the narrator, the main character, the one readers project themseves into. Much the way Sherlock Holmes stories are first-person narrated by Dr. Watson. Readers insert themselves into Watson. They don't get to know how Holmes thinks except via Watson's observations.

usedbooks at 6:20AM, Sept. 16, 2016

I use them infrequently, usually only if a character is alone (like Prototype mentioned). My comic is scripted like a show or movie, and most seem to use very limited internal monologue these days. If I watch something enough, I'll end up accidentally influenced by that style. So, if I end up on a MacGyver kick again, my characters start internally monologuing (and often in more interesting predicaments).

HippieVan at 5:38AM, Sept. 16, 2016

@Ironscarf: Aw, man! I was trying to figure out if I had written about this before because I had a vague memory of a newspost. Apparently I was stealing from you and not myself!

Bruno Harm at 5:36AM, Sept. 16, 2016

I do a lot of internal monologue in my comic, And I use boxes. I've used one thought bubble for someone imagining something visual. I'm not opposed to the thought bubble, but I think the standard tool for internal monologues have changed, and thought bubbles have a much more niche function. the thoughts of supporting characters maybe? shorter thoughts. Maybe in action scenes.

Ironscarf at 4:53AM, Sept. 16, 2016

As I mentioned in my SFX newspost, they were largely killed off in the nineties in favour of placing the character internal dialogue in captions at the top of, or elswhere in the panel. This suited the grittier approach of Alan Moore and others who were looking for a new voice. Moore ditched sound effects too at the time, but that didn't take hold in the same way, maybe because he wasn't replacing them with anything. But the internal dialogue caption boxes reign supreme to this day. They are also mauch easier for digital letterers to create. Personally, I think it's time for thought bubbles to make a comeback!

Prototype at 3:06AM, Sept. 16, 2016

I use them occasionally, but not very often. When the character is alone and there needs to be some kind of info dump it is better to put a thought balloon in there than the character talking insanely to herself. (unless that is a character trait...)

Gunwallace at 1:54AM, Sept. 16, 2016

Thinks to self: "That's a great newspost."

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