Briffits may not be a well-known word to comics aficionados, but they are very recognizable to most.Whenever Roadrunner sprints from Coyote, whenever a rocket launches, whenever any character make a quick escape, the astute reader can find briffits. A clear example is shown in Figure 1, as Calvin fires a projectile from his slingshot, showcasing the need for the insurance he is selling.
Briffits, a term created by cartoonist Mort Walker in his The Lexicon of Comicana, are the clouds of dust and particulates that remain when a character needs to be shown moving very quickly. In the adjacent image, a Calvin and Hobbes strip from December 1985, Calvin is shown running quickly away from something (later shown to be his mother and her desire to bathe Calvin). A briffit has a fairly narrow meaning–a cloud signifying a character or object’s rapid departure–but this meaning translates to hundreds of different situations, so viewers young and old quickly learn to associate briffits with speed and escape.
A more realistic association briffits have is with the humble vehicle exhaust cloud, as shown in Figure 3. Cars are very fast, just like Roadrunner, but they create clouds of smoke in reality, so they provide a more concrete example of briffits. Spaceships also occasionally emit briffits, as exemplified by the December 1985 Calvin and Hobbes panel in Figure 3.
Briffits serve the dual purpose of removing the artist’s need to provide extra panels to explain movement while also presenting a visual symbol. The symbol’s meaning transcends written language, as shown in the
Walker, M. (1980). The Lexicon of Comicana. Port Chester, N.Y.: Museum of Cartoon Art.
Watterson, B. (1988). The essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes treasury. Kansas City, MO: Andrews and McMeel.