We care going to discuss technical matters today, using a hidden language defined by Mort Walker. Walker’s work in cartooning from early on led to his creation of an awkward teenager named Beetle Bailey. One day Beetle, fleeing some typical comic strip catastrophe, ducked into an Army recruiting office to hide, and a legend was born.
Walker was not merely a hard-working cartoonist but a man who thought about his job. Realizing there was a hidden language in the world of cartoons, he tried to capture, identify, and classify these fugitive bits of lingo, and set them out in a guide book, used now as a textbook in some cartooning classes, the Lexicon of Comicana.
One of his accomplishments in the Lexicon was his description and definition of what he called “emanate”, lines coming from a cartoon character to indicate some internal condition. You can see that our young man above is overburdened, but how do we know that? There are drops of sweat bursting from his brow. These drops of sweat are knowns as “plewds” (sometimes “pleuts”, out of a belief the word derives from the French word for rain.) They can be found wherever someone is straining against a burden, either physical or emotional
For example, in this postcard, the conflicted iceman is concentrating on his quandary, causing plewds to pop from his brow. The husband, meanwhile, is doing some cooking, the aroma of which is rising in Waftaroms.. (Waftaroms are curved, not to be confused with Indotherms, which are the straight lines rising from a bowl of soup to show it’s hot, or Solrads, which are the lines we have all drawn emanating from the sun.
I’m sure there’s a word for those flames emanating from her back, but I don’t have the Lexicon handy to check. I am also sure that the clouds rising from a skunk are NOT Waftaroms, but have their own name.
No one claims that mort Walker INVENTED all these symbols: he just recognized them for what they were. They seem to have been a phenomenon which multiplied in the 1920s and 1930s, for earlier cartoons lack many of the conventions we recognize. There are early examples, however, to show that some are older than others. The Whiteope, which shows a point of impact, seems to have existed at least as early as the turn of the century.
And the Briffit, the little cloud to show where someone was moving, developed through the years. Here we have a large cloud to show the man is in a real hurry.
While the little trail of briffits became fairly standard later on.
Showing drunkenness existed early on in cartoons, but developed a complex vocabulary. This man is merely somewhat flustered, as indicated by the row of Squeans over his head.
But this man is more thoroughly sozzled, since he has a Spurl above his head as well.
There are many, many more (we haven’t even considered all the different symbols used in a maledicta balloon—a word balloon full of symbols to show the character is cussing—there are more styles of these than there are easily accessible cuss words, but cartoon characters always did have some things easy.) I have provided here just a few elementary ones to provide you with something to think about while you’re trying to drop off to sleep.