Have you ever wondered how speech was shown in illustrations or oil paintings before the humble speech bubble was invented, well I did and it surprised me!
The speech symbols employed are much older than I'd imagined, some dating back to 600BC.
A comic is similar to a play with real actors, its vitally important to know who said what to whom. And the humble comic words also need to be identified with a particular character along with indicating the emotion of that comment.
So a graphic symbol-the 'speech bubble' has evolved to show the difference between shouting, talking and a thought. Below are the modern examples of how the shape is used to convey intent. The oval represents speech, the dotted oval is a whisper, a line of small bubbles is a thought and a jagged speech box square, round or oval represents anger, fear, or upset. So the speech bubble is invaluable in telling a graphic story.
I can’t think of another way of doing it, but there have been many concepts to clarify who is saying what and in what tone.
A common European technique dating back to the thirteenth century is the banderole and I think the most beautiful of all the balloon styles, its a floating fabric ribbon coming from the mouth of the speaker, with the words written in old script onto the flowing scroll dating back to 1506, see below.
Examples from Medieval Books
The Speech Scroll
The word balloon first appeared in Benjamin Franklin's 'The American Revolution' pamphlet wars. The image below was printed in Boston, USA, dated 1776.
The corner caption is another well-established method of informing the reader of the time, location and situation. They are generally rectangular and are often placed in the corner of an illustrated page as not to interfere with the graphics or illustrations.
Historically the term "cartoon" then meant a finished preliminary sketch on a large piece of cardboard or cartoon in Italian. Punch appropriated the term to mean political cartoons and the term became widespread as a comically illustrated scene.
The most unique speech mechanism
Having peered through the history of speech bubbles, I believe the most unusual method of displaying text is found in the comic "Yellow Kid". This wonderful technique employs the long shirt of the child to act as a billboard for all his comments.
The comic first appeared in 1895 in John Pulitzer's New York World and later William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal. The character was created and illustrated by Richard F. Outcault in the comic strip Hogan's Alley.
Even though technology has moved from print to digital the same speech symbols still remain today. #FreshQuestcomic designed by #selficom the latest digital comic features auto-editing software for instant #selfie placement within the #scificomic illustrations the speech bubble is still the mainstay of speech identification in the 21st century. So what will be the next mechanism in the digital age?.
For further reading on this fascinating subject check out the links below