Squeans are symbols such as bubbles, asterisks, starbursts, or circles that radiate from a comic character’s head when they are disoriented, sick, drunk, or intoxicated. The amount of detail and particular design put into the squeans are an indication of how intense a character’s state is. For example, if a character is meant to be represented as intoxicated and has “a couple of tiny circles above his head . . . he’s just a little bit tipsy” (Brownlee, 2013). Suppose there is a swirl in addition to the circles; then he is “loaded” or very drunk. Adding even more symbols, such as a bird and music note (as shown to the right) indicate that the character is at a full-on disoriented state.
The term was first used in 1980 by Mort Walker in his book titled The Lexicon of Comicana. Walker is a credible comic book artist and is well known for his creation of the comic strips Beetle Bailey (1950) and Hi and Lois (1954). The Lexicon was Walker’s way to identify symbols used in all sorts of comics. The terms Walker created were not particularly meant to be taken as serious terminology but rather silly words. However, the terms became a part of the comic world and are still relevant today as The Lexicon has been studied in art schools and used as a textbook.
This second depiction of squeans was found in Zippy Stories comics. This second image includes several random symbols floating around Zippy’s head. These symbols are used to show that that the character is completely disoriented and has no idea what is going on.
This third image was retrieved from the online comic strip, Drunk Talk by Francisco Marciuliano. The squeans illustrated around the character’s head are used to emphasize that he is drunk. The author’s choice to illustrate the character with droopy eyelids and holding a drink in his hand also help the reader to associate the floating symbols with his state of being.
Brownlee, J. (2013, July 15). Quimps, plewds, and grawlixes: The secret language of comic strips. In Fast Company Design. Retrieved from http://www.fastcodesign.com/1673017/quimps-plewds-and-grawlixes-the-secret-language-of-comic-strips