Word Balloon

Word balloons are an iconic image of a comic book. In a word balloon, a bubble appears beside and pointing towards a character’s head that tells the reader what they’re saying. Differing from the cloud-like thought balloon, the word balloon specifically depicts what the character is speaking aloud.

These balloons can come in different varieties depending on the attitude that the character is currently putting off, as well as using different lettering styles depending on the character and their personality.  (Walker, 39). 


These balloons each can give an indication of a character trait, attitude, or simply differentiate between characters.

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Figure 2. Marvel’s Young Avengers #4. 2013.

In Young Avengers #4, Jamie McKelvie uses the technique of different fonts, particularly with Loki, who gets a more Celtic font compared to the other characters. This differentiates him as more alien than any of the others, as well as more ancient, even while the balloons themselves are simply circles. McKelvie does this instead of altering the balloon shape, while also simply using the simple circle bubble to indicate that the characters are simply talking – not yelling, not scared, just talking.

Figure 3. Jim Davis, 2007.

Where word balloons become complicated is in their body structure – while they can be an assortment of different sizes, they cannot have a shape similar to a cloud, as this would confuse a reader as to whether it is a thought or an audible remark. For instance, in Figure 3,  John’s statement is in a text balloon, while Garfield’s (obviously) inaudible response is in a thought bubble. Each artist can put his or her own twist on the traditional balloon, make them different sizes, use different borders, but they all get across the same basic message – a character is speaking.

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Figure 3. Alan Moore, The Killing Joke, 2008.

Lastly, the shape of the bubble matters in conveying how the character is speaking. In The Killing Joke, Brian Bolland shows the Commissioner as yelling, making an ordinary text balloon inadequate. Therefore, he gets the jagged edged “boom” balloon (Walker, 38). This message would read quite differently if it were not in this shape, and would be ineffective in truly conveying the message. Typically, it is understood that the larger the bubble, the louder the person is speaking or yelling. 


Walker, Mort. Lexicon of Comicona. iUniverse, 2000. Print. 

Alan Moore & Brian Bolland. The Killing Joke. 2008.

Kieron Gillen & James McKelvie. Marvel’s Young Avengers #4. 2013.