Friday, January 11, 2008

The Ultimate Comic Icon

So, the time has come for me -- as it does for many people -- to reorder one of those most insignificant of home office staples: the return address label. I actually discovered that I needed them back in December when I was mailing my Christmas cards but, not having enough time to order some professional ones, I ran some Avery stickers through my printer at home for a short-term solution.

But that got me thinking that I have the ability to put anything I want on the label. Obviously, it'll need my name and address, but a lot of companies produce labels with flags or smiley faces or religious symbols or whatever. The idea is that the address label reflects something of who you are, as well as conveying the basic contact information. So the question arises: what imagery would suit me most personally?

Well, my biggest interest for years has been comic books, so something comic related makes the most sense. But what conveys the notion of comics? If I put an image of an actual comic, it'd be too small really see. If I used a comic book drawing, it might be legible but it would also be very specific to a certain character or characters. And while I do have my preferences, I'd rather speak to the medium as a whole rather than just an individual creation. Ah, but then it hit me...

The speech balloon.

The speech balloon is almost universally recognized as THE method of tying a character's dialogue to the character him/herself. It's used in comics literally all over the world and, while there's no single defining form for the balloon itself, it's an aspect of comics that has permeated world-wide culture so universally that it's not infrequently used entirely out of context for the exact same purpose. Even poorly drawn ones are instantly recognizable with a large-ish shape that can be of almost any geometry as long as that little tail hangs down from it.

Take a look at this...
I think that's a pretty clear indication of my interests, don't you? Here's another image, inspired by some of Mark Evanier's recent blog postings...

In both cases, the speech balloon says, I think, a fair amount about the individual in question and recalls the notion of comics in and of itself.

It's a mandatory feature of comic creation software...

It's frequently used as a help feature within many software packages...

It's used in advertising...

It shows up in commercial products as a way to tie any body of text to any specific item already in existence...

It's used in graffiti....

It's shown up in various forms of Halloween costumes...

It seems to me that the speech balloon is the ultimate comic book icon. While the general notion of visually tying speech to a drawn figure dates back at least 7 centuries and we have no idea who first came up with the idea, the speech balloon as we recognize it today was largely solidified in terms of design in the early 20th century. But to all those who've contributed to the artistic expression of language within the context of the speech balloon, I would like to extend a hearty thanks for making the comic imagery so iconic throughout the world.

2 comments:

jasonturner said...

I was just thinking about speech bubbles recently when the new marketing plan was released at a store I worked at. It included speech bubble shapes... but they sort of didn't make any sense as speech bubbles any more! The form but not really the content.

You can see it .

When they start using bubble shapes pointing to other ones as a design element... that is not working to me!

Mike Lynch said...

I need to order some return address labels too. And you're right, a word balloon is a far better symbol to put on their than the ubiquitous guy shackled to a drawing board waving at the viewer image that I see on many, many cartoonists' business cards, sites, etc.