Comic Issues: Food for thought (balloons)

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Superman Vol 1 #127 (1959) - © 2012 DC ComicsI paid a visit to my local comics shop this past Wednesday and picked up a handful of new books; in particular the Fantastic Four #1, the first comic in Marvel’s latest re-envisioning of its brand of heroes and villains, called “Marvel Now.”  (Not a bad book, and even though I’m not big on reboots, I like the direction the FF is headed.)

With the state of the economy and the cost of a single book, I don’t get the opportunity to purchase or read many comics these days, so when I got home with the precious periodicals I devoured them like a famished mutt who was tossed a doggy treat (in this case my lovely and wonderful wife provided me with this delicious four-color feast.)

After finishing the last book and letting the warmth of this rare but beloved literary experience sink in, I was struck by the realization of something that has long concerned me, but that I had forgotten about since my last round of comic-based bliss several months ago; the absence of something that has been missing, for the most part, from comic books for the past several years, but that was once a staple of sequential art storytelling.

I’m talking (or thinking) about the time-honored thought-balloon, the beautifully bubbling narrative device that allows the reader to literally get inside the head of a character. I can’t pinpoint exactly when the balloon burst, but somewhere along the comics’ history timeline the unpretentious little thought-capturing contraption became passé and I for one think that comic books suffer because of this slight.

Oh, we still get to know what our characters are thinking in today’s comics, but nearly every thought is presented in a stylish box without any bubbles connecting it to the person’s head, as if all our heroes return home from a hard day fighting crime or saving the universe, then sit down for an evening of journal entries that will later be used to fill in the gaps of their documented action.

Giant-Size Super-Stars Vol 1 #1 (1974) - © 2012 Marvel ComicsWhich heroes have time for these pseudo journals? Some characters can’t even write (see the Hulk) and besides, I want to know what they are thinking during the heat of battle, not the edited afterthoughts from days later, when they have had time to reflect and potentially embellish on their thought process. The thought-balloon gives us immediate access into our hero’s personality and motivations.

I have many theories regarding the disappearance of the beloved thought-balloon, from lazy letterers to egotistical artists upset by having their efforts covered with little white bubbles, but in the end, it’s the comic-buying public’s acceptance of the thought-block style diary entries that has allowed the art form to veer away from free thinking characters who proudly own their own thoughts.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love & respect comic-book creative types and they have provided my life with thousands of hours of delightful entertainment, but it’s time to bring the thought-balloon back; not only to the interior of the books, but to the front covers as well (which unfortunately are also missing word balloons these days – an issue for another day.)

It’s time once again to let us know what our heroes (and villains) are thinking, and if you agree (or not) let us hear from you in our comments, but most importantly, the next time you are at a comic-convention or a creator appearance at your local comic shop, let them know you prefer your thoughts in the form of a bubble.

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.


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