This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. The four most common speech balloons, speech games for children of early age to bottom: speech, whisper, thought, scream.
Before the 20th century, speech was depicted using bands, flags, scrolls, or sheets of paper. In this 1807 political cartoon opposing Jefferson’s Embargo, the form and function of speech balloons is already similar to their modern use. 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 between 600 and 900 AD. In Western graphic art, labels that reveal what a pictured figure is saying have appeared since at least the 13th century. These were in common European use by the early 16th century.
Outcault’s Yellow Kid is generally credited as the first American comic strip character. His words initially appeared on his yellow shirt, but word balloons very much like those in use today were added almost immediately, as early as 1896. The most common is the speech bubble. It comes in two forms for two circumstances: An in-panel character and an off-panel character.
When one character has multiple balloons within a panel, often only the balloon nearest to the speaker’s head has a tail, and the others are connected to it in sequence by narrow bands. This style is often used in Mad Magazine, due to its “call-and-response” dialogue-based humor. The first is a standard speech bubble with a tail pointing toward the speaker’s position. The second option, which originated in manga, has the tail pointing into the bubble, instead of out. This tail is still pointing towards the speaker. In American comics, a bubble without a tail means that the speaker is not merely outside the reader’s field of view but invisible to the viewpoint character, often as an unspecified member of a crowd.
Thought bubbles come in two forms: the chain thought bubble and the “fuzzy” bubble. The chain thought bubble is the almost universal symbol for thinking in cartoons. It consists of a large, cloud-like bubble containing the text of the thought, with a chain of increasingly smaller circular bubbles leading to the character. Some artists use an elliptical bubble instead of a cloud-shaped one. Often animal characters like Snoopy and Garfield “talk” using thought bubbles. Thought bubbles may also be used in circumstances when a character is gagged or otherwise unable to speak. Another, less conventional thought bubble has emerged: the “fuzzy” thought bubble.