The Word Balloon in Comics

The long history of

A Mindful Webworker comments at Arlo and Janis blog. Jimmy Johnson had said, "I have been through brief periods when I experimented with dialog not within a “balloon,” as in today’s classic strip. Garry Trudeau pioneered this technique with Doonesbury, and many cartoonists followed suit, most noticeably Berkeley Breathed with Bloom County...."

JJ, pretty funny to have you say Doonesboy "pioneered" words without balloons. Doones was retro. At least, that's what I remember thinking when Doonesbury started. (I remember thinking something like that while reading the first strips; was also amused that Doones himself arrived at college from my ol' home state just as I was about to head out-of-state to college.)

Cartoons, e.g. early editorial toons, moved from just illustrations with captions below (generally) to having the words inside the cartoons, and words in balloons was actually a quick but still later development, as I recall my toon history. (Yellow kid wore his words! Krazy Kat! Little Nemo! Now, them was comic strips. Okay, I'm not THAT old!) The balloon became the standard, especially in strips as opposed to editorials. In the early days the bubble or even just an underline with just a single line indicating the speaker battled the upstart modern comic-book standard balloon with open stem. Dashed lines for whispers became standard early-on, cloud-like thought balloons standardized a little later. Or I could just be making all that up. I hate the web. Ruins all my stories.

I found numerous links to "The Evolution of Speech Balloons" at, but unfortunately that's now a 404.

Meanwhile, I found a link to an article about obscenicons, including a panel from a 1909 Katzenjammer Kids with a mix of bubbled and unbubbled words.

Speech balloon
One of the earliest antecedents to the modern speech bubble were the “speech scrolls”, wispy lines that connected first person speech to the mouths of the speakers in Mesoamerican art.

Discussion about the origins of usage
I've seen copies of cartoons from around the time of the American Revolution (and, I think, earlier) that depict speakers with "speech balloons."
Early examples of comics include late 15th-century German woodcuts

Okay, never mind what I wrote at first.
o | o