Text comics or a text comic is a form of comics where the stories are told in captions below the images and without the use of speech balloons. It is the oldest form of comics and was especially dominant in European comics from the 19th century until the 1950s, after which it gradually lost popularity in favor of comics with speech balloons.
A text comic is published as a series of illustrations that can be read as a continuous story. However, within the illustrations themselves no text is used: no speech balloons, no onomatopoeias, no written indications to explain where the action takes place or how much time has passed. In order to understand what is happening in the drawings the reader has to read the captions below each image, where the story is written out in the same style as a novel.
Much like other comics text comics were pre-published in newspapers and weekly comics magazines as a continuous story, told in daily or weekly episodes. When published in book format the comics were sometimes published as actual illustrated novels. In some cases the original text was kept, but only a few drawings were used as illustrations, rather than the entire comic. In the Netherlands text comics were published in small rectangular books, called oblong books, due to the shape of the books.
Text comics are older than balloon comics. Ancient Egyptian wall paintings with hieroglyphs explaining the images are the oldest predecessors. In the late 17th century and early 19th century picture narratives were popular in Western Europe, such as Les Grandes Misères de la guerre (1633) by Jacques Callot, History of the Hellish Popish Plot (1682) by Francis Barlow, the cartoons of William Hogarth, Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank. These images provided visual stories which often placed captions below the images to explain a moral message.
The earliest examples of text comics are the Swiss comics series Histoire de M. Vieux Bois (1827) by Rodolphe Töpffer, the French comics Les Travaux d'Hercule (1847), Trois artistes incompris et mécontents (1851), Les Dés-agréments d'un voyage d'agrément (1851) and L'Histoire de la Sainte Russie (1854) by Gustave Doré, the German Max und Moritz (1866) by Wilhelm Busch and the British Ally Sloper (1867) by Charles Henry Ross and Émilie de Tessier. Töpffer often put considerable effort in the narrative captions of his graphic narratives, which made them just as distinctive and appealing as the drawings. Wilhelm Busch used rhyming couplets in his captions.
During the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century text comics were the dominant form in Europe. In the United States of America the speech balloon made its entry in comics with 1895's The Yellow Kid by Richard F. Outcault. Frederick Burr Opper's Happy Hooligan and Alphonse and Gaston further popularized the technique. As speech balloons asked for less text to read and had the advantage of linking the dialogues directly to the characters who were speaking or thinking, they allowed readers to connect better with the stories. By the early 1900s most American newspaper comics had switched to the speech balloon format.
While speech balloon comics became the norm in the United States, the format didn't always catch on as well in the rest of the world. In Mexico and Argentina speech balloons were adapted very quickly, while in Europe they remained a rarity until deep in the 1920s. In other parts of Europe, most notably the Netherlands, text comics even remained dominant as late as the early 1960s. Many European moral guardians looked down upon on comics as low-brow entertainment that made the youth too lazy to read. Christian comics magazines and newspapers closely supervised the content of their publications and preferred text comics, as the format still encouraged children to read actual written texts. They were also ideal to adapt classic novels and guide young readers towards "real" literature. In some instances foreign balloon comics were simply re-adapted by erasing the balloons and adding captions underneath them. It even happened with the European Tintin in the Land of the Soviets (1929) by Hergé, which was republished in the French magazine Coeurs Vaillants, but with captions. Other comics, like Pip, Squeak and Wilfred by Bertram Lamb, used both speech balloons and captions. Under the Nazi, Fascist and Communist regimes in Western and/or Eastern Europe balloon comics were even banned in favor of comics with captions underneath them.
The success of The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé from 1929 on, influenced many other European comics, especially in the Franco-Belgian comics market, to adapt speech balloons. Translations of popular American comics such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Popeye throughout the 1930s and especially after the liberation of Europe in 1945 further encouraged the speech balloon format. By the 1960s text comics had lost popularity worldwide and only a few remained.
The British comics magazines Jack and Jill and Playhour published most of its comics in text comic format.