Balloons vs. Bubbles: The Semi-definitive Word on Comic Lettering Capsules

A feminine person holds a baby who is reaching for a bubble. They are in a park with trees, surrounded by balloons

Earlier in the year, comics critic and creator Claire Napier reached out into the Twitter-verse to request an answer to an important comics question:

The ensuing discussion offered many reasonable reasons for one or the other, with several people noting that there seemed to be an element of gatekeeping when it comes to preferred lettering terms. The lean seems to be towards “balloons,” however, pointing to the annual Thought Bubble Comic Arts Festival, the suggestion was made that there may be a cultural difference between the United Kingdom and North American comics terms.

Some of our favourite experts in the lettering field chimed in:

Twitter thread describing comic word thingies

Someone suggested that bubbles are less mature. Bubbles are for babies; balloons are for murder clowns?

Is it perhaps a matter of surface tension, asks our Dani Kinney? Logistically speaking, bubbles are not very sturdy. They will pop and all the words will fall out. Balloons are slightly more sturdy. Perhaps what we need is sturdier material for word containers. What if the word containers were made out of lead so that Superman would never be able to discover Lex Luthor’s nefarious plans until it was too late?

Perhaps it’s not about the containers, but the imagery. Before Blambot’s Nate Piekos officially ends the debate with his upcoming Essential Guide to Comic Book Lettering from Image Comics, we at WWAC have taken it upon ourselves to offer some helpful alternatives to bubbles and balloons to help take your comics to a whole new lettering level.

  • Kayleigh Hearn’s recommendation is word bazooms — shaped like big old bazongas.
  • Claire approved of Ariana Maher’s word blobs.
  • Amy Garvey offered up word mason jars — “for the hipsters, still see through but also relatively fragile.”A whole aesthetic, Nola speculated that authentic users would insist on paying far too much for these word containers, despite their availability at the dollar store.
  • During our behind-the-scenes conversations, Masha Zhdanova claimed the term talk circles. I felt the shape definition was too limiting. What if I am inclined to use a different shape? What if I want a talk dodecahedron? Claire determined that this would be illegal. I promised to still refer to them as talk circles, no matter what geometry I enlisted, which seemed to appease Claire.
  • Finally, Amy returned with a dialogue sausage, complete with links.

Feel free to make use of any one of these in your future comic lettering endeavours.
The words "You're welcome" in a dialogue bubble

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Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.

3 thoughts on “Balloons vs. Bubbles: The Semi-definitive Word on Comic Lettering Capsules

  1. also a letterer…i’ve always gone with balloons for speech, bubbles for thought and boints for pointy, yelly ones…

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