“Balloonics: The visuals of balloons in comics.” In: Joyce Goggin and Dan Hassler-Forest (eds), The Rise and Reason of Comics and Graphic Literature: Critical Essays on the Form, 56-73. Jefferson NC: McFarland.
Abstract: The tailed balloon is one of the most defining visual conventions of the comics medium. One need only insert a stereotypical balloon-with-tail into an image— whether an advert, a photograph, a film still, or even a piece of high art—to turn that image into a comics panel. In this chapter we will examine the conventions of the balloon in more detail. Our main goal is to present a provisional blueprint (on the basis of a corpus consisting of Tintin, Lucky Luke, and Asterix albums as well as Marvel and Disney comics) of the visual variables governing balloonic information, and thus contribute to comics scholarship. Such a blueprint will be a useful tool in the analysis of comics, allowing for a comparison of styles and the identification of idiosyncrasies. More generally, quantifying variation among balloons sheds light on how visual elements can be meaningful at all. We will also hypothesize that at least some balloon variables display ‘natural’ processes of representation rather than being governed by arbitrary convention. Finally, the approach adopted here allows us to discuss some instances of how the ‘standard’ balloon can be adapted in the service of creative play.