What are Speech Bubbles?

In comic books and comic strips, speech bubbles are a visual means of conveying words spoken characters. Since the 19th century, when comics first appeared as satirical drawings, they’ve been used in conjunction with drawn characters. These bubbles are easily recognized as purposefully drawn shapes with text next to an illustrated character.

Speech bubbles are contained within the panel and used to convey the dialogue of cartoon characters. They are not to be confused with captions, which are generally reserved for narration rather than dialogue and take the form of squares of text attached above or below the panel. They represent spoken words, whereas thought bubbles represent the thoughts of a character and are distinguished their shape. Thought bubbles are typically cloud-shaped or circular, with an increasingly smaller chain of circles directed at the character in thought, whereas speech bubbles have pointed tails directed at the character speaking.

Speech bubbles come in a variety of sizes and shapes to help the reader understand the tone of the dialogue. Text inside jagged-edged bubbles, for example, could indicate angry speech or shouting. Text inside simple circular or square-shaped balloons usually indicates normal conversation. The shape difference may vary depending on the artist and the comic’s cultural influence. Manga artists, for example, may use them in a different way than American artists.

To keep the illustrated dialogue flowing, the placement of speech bubbles is critical. The tail usually aids in determining who said the words they contain. If a character is off-panel and cannot be seen, the tail may be pointed off-panel or inward toward the bubble itself. The tails of broadcast speech bubbles indicating radio or television dialogue are usually jagged, like lightning bolts.

In comics, speech bubbles are essential for expressing spoken dialogue and anything else that needs to be heard. In order to communicate the correct meaning and avoid confusing the reader, comic strip artists must carefully choose and place them. Their proper use helps bring comic strips and graphic novels to life for their readers, from basic balloons to those expressing emotion, thought, or even action, such as the “Z” speech bubble indicating sleep.