One comic that doesn’t get enough praise––despite the fact that it gets a ton of praise––is Jeff Smith’s comical fantasy epic, Bone. It’s a landmark book that really staked the flag for independent comics during the ’90s.

Probably not since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles before it, Bone was a fully independent comic that got mainstream attention. By fully independent, I mean that Jeff Smith was not only writing and drawing the comic, but he was publishing it himself as well, apparently driving around and selling it to comic shops and at conventions at the beginning. While it bounced between being self-published through Smith’s own Cartoon Books imprint and Image Comics (the largest indie comics publisher), Bone became its own franchise all while being run and owned by its original creator, which is an astonishing feat. While I could talk about Bone forever, I want to talk about an aspect that had a particular impact on Long John.

Source: Cartoon Books

In comics, dialogue balloons work pretty much the same way all the time: it’s an oval with a shallow tail that points in the general direction of the speaker’s mouth. Since Hellrider Jackie is a weird, spooky character whose general presence borders on the supernatural, I really wanted to emphasize her personality on top of what’s already emphasized with her design and her dialogue. That’s when I remembered Bone and its antagonist, The Hooded One.

The Hooded One had an incredible yet simple design, exuding nothing but creepy evil. However, one of the things that makes the character incredibly creepy is the dialogue balloons used. Though the dialogue font was the same as the rest of the book (just as the Hellrider’s is), Smith made the balloon itself jagged and wobbly. Even worse––and I don’t know why this comes off as especially creepy––the tails were long and equally rough, but instead of subtly pointing toward the speaker, the tails stretched across the panel and disappeared underneath the falling folds of the hood that covered the villain’s face.

Smith’s approach to The Hooded One’s dialogue balloons greatly influenced my approach to The Hellrider’s dialogue balloons. Source: Cartoon Books.

While I didn’t pull out my copy of Bone to take notes of Smith’s technique, the Hooded One’s unique dialogue balloons specifically inspired the wobbly line weight and extended tails of the Hellrider’s dialogue balloons.