• [Creator Tutorial] Dialogue 101 for Comic Artists

    May 11, 2021

Dialogue 101 for Comic Artists

A lot of us want to make comics online, and one thing that makes a comic stand out is having good speech bubbles! I will go over a few standard practice speech bubble techniques to help take your comics to the next level! 

Bubble Anatomy

When designing your bubbles you want to make sure that no matter how you are doing it, it fits the style of your comic and also has expressive qualities. Dialogue is part of the page and should be treated as another area of interest, because it is often solid white or solid black. 

In general the tail should start at the center of the balloon and extend outward until it is halfway between the balloon and the character’s mouth. In U.S. comics it's a common note to point the tail to the characters actual mouth or whatever is currently speaking. Manga will sometimes not do this, that is just fine, as long as it’s clear who or what is speaking. Whichever style you choose the important part is to keep it consistent across the whole comic (unless it's just for fun I guess!) You can add fun and expressive designs to your balloons to show things like sadness, anger, love, etc. The tail might change shape, the balloon might change shape. Generally it's not a good idea to make the balloon interior or text anything other than black or white, for readability.

However, every comic is different and so every balloon style won’t be the same. Make sure to look at your favorite comics to see how they use balloons so you can study it. I use balloons in a very print standard United States way, like you will see in Marvel or DC because one of my favorite comics is Spiderman! To see the concepts I will be talking about in real life you should also check out a Marvel comic Like Ms. Marvel or Squirrel Girl (my other faves). A good company will always use professional designers to create their dialogue. 

Rule of Thirds

The first general rule of speech bubbles is the 3x3 grid. This grid is used a lot in composition for comics and film. The idea is to make sure you’re giving your characters enough space between their head and the word balloon. Covering heads is generally not something you want to do. To use the 3x3 grid, make sure that your character is in one box and the dialogue is in another box of the grid like this:

This grid is so commonly used that it’s been named the “Rule of Thirds” There’s many ways to use this grid but, I won’t get into it in this tutorial! 

For expert comic word balloon placement, make sure they follow a zig zag path across the page just like reading a prose novel, and that they overlap things in the panel to make them feel like they are a part of the image. 

Text Size

Next, make sure to make your words big enough.  I think this is an issue that’s unique to webcomics because we are not reading in a printing format. I actually use 10 point size “Webletterer BB” from Blambot. This size is easier to read on small devices, while not compromising my personal sense of page design for digital and print together. Tapas uses an 18 point font size for their comics, this size works best for their scrolling, digital only, panel by panel, format on small devices. Because of better printing techniques and new ways to read comics, text formatting can vary a lot more than it used to. But if you take time to further understand the principles of type design, you can usually find a good solution!  

Image size is also important for text size, keep in mind that your digital canvas DPI/PPI can change how big or how small a font seems. It’s always best to work at a larger size and scale down before posting! 

Lastly, for text size, make sure to keep all point sizes the same at all times (some exceptions are yelling, screaming, etc.) and, keep your text in the middle of the balloon and make sure not to put too much text or it will be hard to focus on. 

This text is too small and has too much information: