Integrating Text And Images In Comics

I’d like to take a little time to talk about creative ways to integrate text into comics. When I first started making webcomics, I didn’t give much thought to how the text would become part of my images. I drew the art, scanned it and typed in the words in the last stage of the production. This led to some very awkward passages in my webcomics.

Usually, text is used in speech balloons; sound effects; narration boxes and in very rare cases, the words become part of the image themselves. But sometimes artists stretch these standards to make something truly innovative in their work.

In this panel from Paul Hornschemeier’s Mother Come Home, the narrator steps in and takes over the storytelling.

It’s not certain that the offstage dialogue really says "A present," but the gist of the dialogue is given to us by the narration box. I just love the way the balloon continues on into the second panel.

In Derik Badman’s latest mini-comic, Repetition. Sound. Appropriation., Badman takes this to extreme logical conclusion of this idea. The entire two page story is told in this fashion and is similar to a narrator drowning out the dialogue with a “voice over” in a film sequence.

The next one, again by Paul Hornschemeier (from Let Us Be Perfectly Clear) is a twist on an old standard use of the off-stage dialogue (or off panel dialogue).

Normally, in this case the tail just goes off to the edge of the panel like the first example, but in this case, the tail looks as though it is squeezing through the crack between the door and the door frame. This makes things more specific which I think is a good idea as comics start enjoying a wider readership. New readers need more specific images especially if they haven’t been initiated into the cliches/language of traditional comics.

Here’s an eloquently designed interruption from Hornschemeier’s Mother Come Home.

Some artists would treat this like you would in prose; putting two balloons side by side and having the words end with a "-" in the first balloon and continue on to the second. Hornschemeier poetically places the second balloon right on top of the first piece of dialogue- even obscuring it a bit.

Sometimes, as Neil Cohn wrote about in his article, Loopy Framing, balloons can become images themselves and the images can depict something that words just simply wouldn’t do justice with if the balloon was used in the traditional way.

In my latest comic, A Week in September, I was trying to convey what it would have been like for the main character to hear about the second plane flying into the World Trade Center. I knew I would not be able to mimic what was said in the news report if I had drawn the balloon coming out of the radio with the text inside, and I also knew that it would be more powerful, since comics are a visual medium if I put images of what the news would have been reporting inside the balloons instead.

Another great example of the use of this technique is in Nick Mullins‘ silent comic, Carnivale: a Kit Kaleidoscope Story. In this passage, two people meet and start to dance. The balloons actually become figures themselves and dance on their own away from the characters, to imply the kinds of conversations that might occurs as a couple dances for the first time. Mullins could have written out every interchange between the two characters, but instead, the balloons convey what is said as the balloons become more figurative.

In this example from Paul Hornschemeier’s Let Us Be Perfectly Clear, the balloons contain neither word nor images. These balloons imply generic conversations that are unimportant to the plot. Not specific at all, but convey a general sense of conversational hubbub.

I’d like to propose one new way to integrate text into comics that I’ve never seen before, so I had to invent my own way of doing it (with a hat tip to Tym Godek for suggesting how to tweek the idea.) In my forthcoming comic, My Life in Records, I wanted to show the character lip sync-ing to various songs. The songs are show in their own balloon and then there is a dotted line balloon surrounding the balloon with the sounds and lyrics.