Beyond speech balloons and thought bubbles: The integration of text and image

Neil Cohn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


Speech balloons and thought bubbles are among the most recognizable visual signs of the visual language used in comics. These enclosed graphic containers provide a way in which text and image can interface with each other. However, their stereotypical meanings as representing speech or thought betray much deeper semantic richness. This paper uses these graphic signs as a platform for examining the multimodal interfaces between text and image, and details four types of interfaces that characterize the connections between modalities: Inherent, Emergent, Adjoined, and Independent relationships. Each interface facilitates different levels of multimodal integration, tempered by principles of Gestalt grouping and underlying semantic features. This process allows the possibility of creating singular cohesive units of text and image that is on par with other multimodal interfaces, such as between speech and gesture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-63
Number of pages29
JournalSemiotica : revue publ. par l'Association Internationale de Semiotique
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • visual language
  • comics
  • multimodality
  • graphic communication
  • thought bubbles


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