Semiotics of Onomatopoeia Typography in Comic Books

Comic books combine verbal and nonverbal signs to communicate a narrative to their audiences. According to Saraceni (2003), comics consist of four major components: panels, gutters, balloons and captions. While a comic page is usually composed of a number of rectangular frames named panels that are separated among them by a blank space called the gutter, speech balloons in which text is inserted, are imposed into the panel which also contains the pictures. In addition, the caption is not inside the panel, but as a separate entity at the top or bottom of the panel, can either represent the narrator’s voice or the dialogues among the characters in the balloons. These four components have been researched not only in terms of their shape and layout, but also from the perspective of semiotics as a visual language on its own. For example, a speech balloon may vary in shape, and depending on what the linguistic message is, it can be of rectangle, square, circle, oval or undefined to reflect tension, anger or wavy for dreams and inner thoughts. The aim of the current paper is to investigate the visualization of verbal language in comic books, and explore the semiotics of letterforms, punctuation marks and other symbols in the context of their linguistic meaning, and particularly in onomatopoeias. A semiotic analysis will be implemented in specific examples, using the semiotic dimensions of Typography as defined in the compiled model of Zantides (2018), and explore the variables of visual hierarchy, shape, size, value, texture, colour, orientation, placement and connotative linguistic meaning. The results show that additional meaning is visually imbedded through Typography and while comic language has its own visual codes of communication, it mostly attempts to imitate sound and sequential narratology.

Evripides Zantides

Cyprus University of Technology

Professor in Graphic and Visual Communication at the Department of Multimedia and Graphic Arts of the Cyprus University of Technology. He has published and presented research papers at a number of journals and international conferences on Semiotics, Graphic Design Education, Typography and Visual Communication, and has participated in refereed Art and Graphic Design exhibitions. He is involved as a reviewer in scientific journals, in accreditation bodies, conference and Art & Design evaluation committees. He is country delegate of Cyprus for the International Association for Semiotic Studies and for the Association Typographique Internationale. He is founder and director at the Semiotics and Visual Communication Research Lab of the Cyprus University of Technology (

comic books
graphic design