Figure 1. Scene from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. (2015). Criminal The Last of the Innocent #1-4 (July).

The use of captions in comic books is one way that the writer chooses to narrate the story. Captions can also be used to tell a character’s thoughts. They are most often in a rectangular box that is separate from the rest of the panel.

This way it is easier to tell that it is something different and not what the characters are actually saying out loud. Captions also tend to have a different tone than the other writings in the comic, for example very different from the dialogue of a character (which is often depicted in speech balloons).

Figure 1 depicts a page from Criminal: The Last of the Innocent. This is an example of captions being used to present thoughts of the main character, Riley. Throughout the comic, the reader receives Riley’s personal thoughts on what’s going on which is also being used as a narration. The captions are very obviously placed by being in rectangle boxes that are colored yellow to differentiate from the white speak bubbles. This comic book was released very recently during a time where crime and drugs is apparent in all the different kinds of media. In this scene, he is sharing a blunt with his high school best friend who has been sober for years. The captions are telling us Riley’s thoughts as he is convincing his friend to smoke this blunt. As the reader, you get a real insight to why Riley is doing this seemingly, horrible act. It all goes to work with his plan and the only way the reader gets this knowledge is through the use of captions.

Figure 2. A panel from Batman Arkham Asylum written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Dave McKean. This is an example of how the caption boxes have little chips in the border. Image Source: Grant Morrison. (1989). Batman Arkham Asylum. DC Comics.

In the graphic novel Batman Arkham Asylum, captions are displayed differently than most normal comics. The thing that stands out the most is there are square boxes depicting someone talking to a character. Most often circular speech bubbles are used to show someone talking. But in order to tell that it is a caption, the box has a different format. Most boxes have straight lines with no breaks. But for this comic book, the caption boxes have little chips in them. When you see these boxes in this comic, you know that the narration is happening and they are setting up the scene. This comic came out in 1989 and has a real sense that people should pay for the crimes they have committed. Even though the villains who are placed in this asylum are “insane”, they have a responsibility to pay for what they have done. The captions are used throughout the comic to put in that sense of purpose. In this comic, they are more to set up the scene and not as much from a person’s point of view.

The panel from The Green Lantern (see Figure 3) has another perfect example of captions that aren’t the typical thought of square. When the narration is happening (the caption), it is in a rectangle that is colored yellow. The lines aren’t straight; it looks almost like someone drew them just straight onto the page. These rectangles are usually at the top of the panel so that it is the first thing that the reader sees. The use of captions in this comic is to tell you action by action scenes. If there is an attack going on, as it appears in the figure, the yellow captions will be telling you who is doing what. If the scene ever changes, the yellow captions are also used to tell you where the characters are at that given point. This comic was written in the 1950’s which is also known at the Silver Age. This was an age when many superheroes were being created, like the Green Lantern. That is why the yellow captions are used to tell the different actions of what was happening because it was the easiest way to do it. [[You can fold in more specific details here when analyzing the panels. In what era was this comic book published? What sorts of things are being explained in the captions?]]

Figure 3. This page from The Green Lantern, written by John Broome, uses yellow captioned boxes throughout the comic.