Friday, August 27, 2010

Do You Miss Thought Balloons?

Karen: I miss thought balloons. And narrative boxes.
These are two tools of the comics trade which have gone out of fashion. Today's writers seem to prefer using only dialog to get their stories across. But why? Thought balloons and captions were perfectly legitimate methods of advancing a story. The most obvious reason for their abandonment is that comics are trying to move closer to films in format, and films only have dialog (typically). But that's ridiculous. A comic is not a movie. Each does certain things well, but there's no reason a comic should emulate the methods of film. Most books have both dialog and narrative -does anyone ever complain about that?

Karen: What are your thoughts regarding this change in comics? Do you miss thought balloons?


18 comments:

Steve Does Comics said...

This is weird. I was reading Thomas and Thorne's Marvel Feature, Red Sonja #7 a few minutes ago, to review on a certain blog of mine, and what leapt out at me was just how much of the story early on was being carried by captions. I was going to mention it in the review but in the end couldn't be bothered.

What made it stand out was that generally I'm not big on captions but in this case it worked perfectly - possibly because the moodiness of the Hyborean Age lends itself to a greater wordiness than the average super-hero strip.

As for thought balloons, I am generally in favour of them although Chris Claremont did wreck the concept for me somewhat in the X-Men where his characters at times seemed to be in a contest to see who could generate the most thought balloons in one scene.

Kid A said...

I'm generally ok with thought balloons and captions, but some books can overdo it and then I start feeling bogged down with all this unnecessary exposition. Bendis tried bringing it back on his run of Mighty Avengers, but for me it didn't really work.

Ramiro said...

been missing them for a while...

MOCK! said...

I think the way Bendis tried to bring them back was painful....but when I reread some older books (heck even something relatively recent like X-Men The Hidden Years) some of THAT exposition can be painful.

I miss it, but can't pinpoint the transition from the overboard usage of the 80s and 90s to total stoppage now....

MOCK! said...

Joss Wheddon used them in Astonishing X-Men....one with Wolverine to a particularly good end....along the lines where all the heroes have these long inner monologues during a pitched battle...when we finally get to Logan his is along the lines of "I really like beer."

ChrisPV said...

Personally, if I have to choose between Claremontian exposition and none at all, I'm always going to go Claremont. Sure, folks who've been around for 150 issues get annoyed when Storm goes into detail about her power for no particular reason. But that new guy who's never seen her before? He needs that to know what's going on. It's just another reason why new comics have become so new-reader unfriendly of late. Final Crisis may be the best story ever (haven't read it completely, can't judge) but I have seen enough of it to know that if you don't already have a good working knowledge of DC lore, you're toast. Doesn't matter how good the story is if John Q. Reader can't tell what's going on without a guidebook.

Andrew Wahl said...

Put me down solidly on the "miss 'em" side. I think they're a great narrative tool and one of the devices that make comics unique. (I also might be in the minority in that I like how Bendis tried to bring them back in Mighty Avengers.)

Cheers,
Andrew
ComicsBronzeAge.com

Eric Goebelbecker said...

Put me down for missing them. Sure, Thomas, Englehart, Conway, Gerber, Claremont et. al could get a tad wordy at times but that could be part of the drama and the fun.

Karen said...

I'm always amazed when reading an older comic how long it actually takes me to finish compared to modern books. Modern books are mostly 5 minute affairs -hardly worth the money. But when we did the recent Roy Thomas series (for example), those issues were a good 20 minutes to read! You really got some bang for your quarter!

Karen

Sean Strange said...

I don’t actually read modern comics, because the few I’ve looked at were awful, but if they’ve gotten rid of captions and though balloons then that’s all the more reason not to bother with them. As you say, comics shouldn’t try to be film storyboards; they are their own art form, somewhere between literature and movies. Without captions they lose most of their literary and intellectual appeal and become rather two-dimensional. Maybe I’m expecting too much from comics, but that’s probably because I grew up reading them in a time when they were a legitimate form of pictorial literature, and I miss those glorious days!

Anonymous said...

I'm so out of touch I didn't even realise they were gone.


cheers
B Smith

J.A. Morris said...

I miss the balloons. I don't read too many comics,but I work in a library so I'll occasionally thumb through tpbs of the new stuff.
I read about of a 'Spider-man/Jackpot' trade the other day,seemed like half the dialogue was inside jokes that could only be understood by people who read comics 20 years ago. It got me thinking about the truism that "every comic is someone's first comic",if that issue was someone's first,it would probably be their last.
So yeah,a bit of Claremontian exposition is good,even though he went overboard with it.
Speaking of thought balloons,here's one of my all-time favorite panels,not from the Bronze Age,but still fun:
http://tinyurl.com/27364am

Doug said...

JA --

That panel is hilarious!! Thanks for posting it. It's very reminiscent of Silver Age DCs, too.

Good points from all on this topic. I am one who found the constant reminding of a hero's powers, etc. to be really annoying. It's particularly annoying when reading from the trade paperback. For an example, see Claremont/Miller's Wolverine mini-series. Adamantium claws that kill and a healing factor -- in all four issues. Thanks for letting me know, Chris!!

Doug

joe bloke said...

forget Chris Claremont! all this talk of thought balloons/captions, and no mention of Don McGregor?!! come on!!! what would Jungle Action or Amazing Adventures have been without them? seriously, go out and buy yourself a copy of the new Black Panther Marvel Milestones book and tell me that thought balloons/captions can't be used to fantastic effect.

Greg said...

Yeah I absolutely miss thought balloons. Captions too although a bit less so. I know some got a little excessive maybe, but frankly I'd rather have that than none at all. And footnotes... I'm a continuity guy, so for me growing up it was essential to know where to look for stories that were referenced. That was part of the fun for me! Again, that larger universe...

Heck I want letters pages and bullpen bulletins too, but those days are gone. :)

Edo Bosnar said...

Man, I miss thought balloons, too! And why didn't I comment when this was originally posted? Must have been on vacation or something.
Anyway, thought balloons rule.

Doug said...

Hey, reviving a true oldie today! Thanks, to the LinkWithin widget and to Twitter!

I always thought it was dumb when a character would talk to him/herself out loud, rather than thinking. Talk about neurotic! I was never sure why the scripter or letterer chose the speech balloon rather than a thought balloon.

Doug

Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, I recall an issue of Justice League - it was definitely drawn by Perez - in which characters talking to themselves was addressed: Elongated Man is all alone in the JLA satellite making a sandwich, and complaining out loud about how tedious monitor duty is, concluding that he'll probably end up talking to himself...

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