It is next to impossible to find a comic book story without speech balloons. Speech Balloon (also known as Word Balloon and Speech Bubble) is the term for the limited space in the story's panels where the drawn characters speech and thoughts appear. Carl Barks was a master of not only creating dialogue for his characters, but also placing the dialogue in inventive and interesting speech balloons that strengthened the reader's understanding of what was happening in the story.




Most balloons in a comic book story are pretty straightforward and easily understandable. Barks' first 10-pager WDCS031 'Victory Garden' has been chosen to show you the fundamentals of speech balloons. Basically, a speech balloon is text in a white, fluffy looking area which in some way resembles a normal cloud. The balloon is usually found in the upper half of the panel. The balloon is always adjusted to fit the other graphic elements in the panel.

If a character is speaking, the balloon will have a short arrow pointing in the direction of the speaker.

If several characters speak, it is important to show the balloons in the exact order (from left to right) in which they speak.

If a character is thinking, the balloon will have a series of circles - decreasing in size - going towards the character.


Speech balloons can contain much more information than just written dialogue and thoughts. As seen below they can also be used to emphasize what is happening in the panels.


The balloons can strengthen the expression on a character's face. Rage can be illustrated by a thunderous cloud, love by adding small hearts to the balloon, and singing by showing a few musical notes. Here we see that the icicles attached to Donald's balloon are a dead giveaway as to what his emotions are.


The old saying 'A picture is worth more than a thousand words' really comes into play when balloon dialogue is replaced by a separate drawing, in which we actually see the character's thoughts in graphic form.


No funny animal comic book would allow the reader to actually read the nasty words that a character may say when swearing. So swearing is illustrated by substituting text with assorted symbols: lightning, bombs, stars, skull and crossbones, and much more in order to indicate that the character is swearing.


Barks made numerous balloons to fit his purposes in specific situations. Not all of them were invented by him, but he always succeeded in choosing exactly the best solution at the given time. Here are some examples:


A dumb, speechless creature such as the Junior Woodchucks' hound may indicate what he has found in an illustrated balloon as seen here in WDCS261 Medaling Around. Gyro's human-like Little Helper is frequently seen 'talking' in his balloons; in FC1095 The Bear Tamer he even demonstrated cunning scientific skills!


Occasionally, Barks added strange letters and signs that created the illusion of foreign languages such as Arabic and Bengali. But he also 'invented' even stranger types of dialogue as for instance in U$05 'The Atlantis Story' (the Atlanteans) and in U$18 Land of the Pygmy Indians (the fishes).


Balloons in Barks' stories can almost have a life of their own. In WDCS089 'The Night Watchman Story' Donald is dreaming of a shoot-out which causes him to act out his dream while still asleep. And in FC0256 Luck of the North a 'bad conscience' balloon is physically grinding Donald to the ground.   Date 2005-05-25