If there was a defining symbol of comics as a medium, it’s the comic balloon.. bubble… Holding shape for the text. Heck, we even plopped one in our Webcomic Alliance logo. So, at some point as a cartoonist, you need to master the balloon. But not just the balloon itself, but the flow of the writing and how to make your comic reader-friendly. The comic strip medium’s key component is brevity, and readers like to be able to read your work (that takes you HOURS to create) in less than a minute. Your job, like it or not, is to set up your comic to be absorbed quickly. So how about some starter rules?
5 Rules of Comic Balloons
- Easy Does it. The top writing skill you should focus on fine-tuning is brevity. Some even say the key to humor IS brevity. Find the shortest phrase/sentence needed for each balloon, your readers will appreciate it. I, myself, am guilty of being long-winded, especially with my one characters who tends to be cumbersome and elaborate. Other than that, I try to keep everything as conchie as possible. That’s my excuse, find your own ;0)
- Keep it Clean. Balloons should be a holding shape for your text, by showcasing it and allowing it to breathe.. Not competing with it. Best to stick to a simple and clean format.. Allow the text to do its job.
- Make Your Point. The tails are extremely important. Which way they point is detrimental to how a reader follows along. Keep them big enough to grab attention, but not take over. And for heaven’s sake.. Have them point to somewhere NEAR the character’s mouth. No more talking ankles.
- Keep it in Order. People, in the US we read LEFT TO RIGHT first, and then TOP TO BOTTOM. Your balloons should follow suit. Although it may be easer sometimes, disrupting the flow of your writing can be lethal for a comic strip. And it lengthens that “under-a-minute” lifespan a typical reader wants to hang out reading your confusing comic.
- Pretend We’re All Far-Sighted. Keep that text big enough to read. Actually, make it another point size bigger, while you’re at it. Not everyone can read 7 point type. Devote a large section of each panel to the text, bubbles, and tails. If you’re unsure if you’ll have enough room, make more room. Better to have too much than too little.
And now for a little tutorial.
I remember the days where I would hand-write the text for each comic. But I have sloppy hand writing and now resort to fonts. I also remember the days, in my naivety, when I would ink the balloon.. Scan it.,.. And add the text in later. Very few people have the estimating ability to pull that off. As much as I brag about being a good planner… I do not have this capability. I have found the best way is to create the balloons and text in Illustrator, but there is still some guess-work in figuring our how big or small to draw your characters. Which is why it’s highly recommended to write your comic first, so you know how much text you are dealing with. Anyway, without further ado, a quick demonstration on how I create balloons in Illustrator:
The holding shape. I usually use the rounded rectangle box, with the corner radius set to 0.5. You can use an oval, or any combination of rounded shapes, but I find the rounded rectangle works best for me. White fill with black stroke. I use a calligraphy brush stroke I created so the line looks less harsh and more like it matches my own line work.
The tail. Using the same fill and stroke, I select the pen tool and make the tail, but do not connect the final points. That way the white “bleeds” right into the balloon shape, making the two elements appear as one. This is very helpful if you need to rearrange, flip, or resize the tail. Best way is to start the path on the bubble, the next point around the mouth of the character, and finally the last point back to the bubble.