Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Most Compelling Argument For The Return Of Thought Balloons!!!

I'm not sure exactly when or why it happened, but at some point the venerable thought balloon became verboten in the comics world. Go ahead, try and find one in any recent comic (especially from the Big Two)--I dare you.

No, literally all we get now are pretentious narrative captions, as if every single character is writing a novel of their own life, and deigning to share it with the audience.

Hey, I'm flexible. There are certainly instances when captions are superior--nay, even preferable--to ye olde thought bubble.

But for some reason, the entire industry moved in lockstep to more or less simultaneously ban a convention that had been part of comic books nearly from the beginning. I couldn't begin to tell you why--maybe all writers fancy themselves budding novelists, maybe editors are afraid to buck the cool trend, maybe there's some arbitrary diktat in place from some Powers That Be.

Yet I remain firmly convinced that, in many (if not most) instances, the thought balloon is superior.

Why? The cover of My Love #35 (1975) shows why America needs the return of thought balloons:

Can you see it? Look more closely:

If you look at the cover just right, the two lil' bubbles of the thought balloon trail that pass over the reflection of that dress/nightgown whatever look like the dead eyes of some closet monster!!

Look again:


See, that couldn't happen with a narrative caption!

(I'm being totally serious here--that's what I saw when i first looked at that cover!!)

Thought balloons: they can make us think we see monsters on the covers of romance comics!! That's reason enough to bring them back!!

[Oh, yeah, and thought balloons work great on covers, whereas narrative captions wouldn't. That's another reason. Not as good as seeing nightgown monsters that aren't there, but still a fine reason to bring back though balloons!]


SF said...

Treating the issue seriously, 1st person narrative captions are cool IF they have a reason to be: say they are from a diary, or someone telling a story of what the pictures show. It's a really nice way to open up a parallel stream of information for the reader, with lots of potential.

Classic thought balloons, on the other hand, are great because they are a simple, clear way to reveal character's internal state to the reader. It's what X is thinking NOW. It's still very common in prose fiction, and I do not understand why comics seem to have completely abandoned the practice.

Likewise, classic third person narrative captions are awesome too, and seem to have mostly disappeared.

It's something I harp on all the time... for some reason with modern comics, many artists don't seem to have the storytelling chops the previous generations did AND writers have decided to rely more on the art to tell the story. That's a combination that has resulted in many unfortunate comics that seem only marginally competent at best.

So in the old days, Byrne would clearly set the scene and action and Claremont would narrate the hell out of it; whereas today you cannot figure out what is going on in the pictures AND the writer is like, "Naw, it's cool, I'm going to let the artist tell the story here."

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

As a writer myself, I've often found narrative boxes lazy as hell. I can write a narrative story much faster than I could one with dialogue. And I hate the red on black narrative boxes. Black on grey. I'm going blind when I read Ultimates.

SallyP said...

I agree so much with all of this.

Smurfswacker said...

I think dumping thought balloons was the result of creators trying to make comics more like movies. This isn't bad in itself, but insisting on "movies on paper" robs you of useful narrative tools unique to comics. On the screen a character's thoughts are communicated through movement, gesture, and intonation. This sort of thing is difficult if not impossible to duplicate in a frozen image on a page. I personally favor letting comics be comics. Choose the methods that give the richest story. This includes thought balloons and old-fashioned narrative captions. I'm not sure how the fad for Spi9llane-style first-person narration developed;. Probably the after-effects of Millerism.

Anonymous said...

Great, now I'm going to have to inspect all my clothes for eyes before I sleep.