Follow TV Tropes


Rebus Bubble

Go To
Uncle Scrooge gives us all a lesson in Elementary Villain Arithmetic.

When you want to show the keen, obsidian-sharp mind of characters at work, or lay out their cunning and complex plans out in a Comic Book, Web Comic or similar media, the best way to do it is with a Rebus Bubble. Simply show (Person 1) + (Item/Event/Person 2) = Result. For Result, expect an Idea Bulb, Stuff Blowing Up, Hilarity Ensues, or a gravestone.

People more practiced in these mental mathematics can also subtract, multiply, divide, and do other awesome algebraic equations in the Rebus Bubbles to show more complex thoughts.

It's not rare for a given comic to replace all text in Speech Bubbles with Rebus Bubbles for especially funny non-verbal exchanges.

It should be noted that this doesn't actually have very much to do with an actual rebus, which is where a word or phrase is represented by images of objects, whose names are homophones (they're a central part of the game show Concentration)... Which, in turn, should not be confused with Rebis. It should also not be confused with Speaking in Panels, which shows a story in a bubble. And certainly not with a hard-bitten Scottish policeman.

A type of a Pictorial Speech-Bubble. Exposition Diagram is often used much the same way. See Formula for the Unformulable when a character attempts to solve a non-scientific problem with maths and science. For this concept applied to tropes, see Troperithmetic.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In the first episode of Excel♡Saga, Excel thinks "dog = creature = food" upon seeing Menchi.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • It has Potato + Tomato = Pomato, and the rather disturbing results of the possible combinations of Major Armstrong's parents.
    • Ed goes through two involving a see-saw and labeled weights when he contemplates Al's learning to transmute without a circle while his arm isn't even working. The first bubble is before: Ed(Older Brother's Pride + Alchemy Skill + Strength) > Al(Strength + Height), and the second bubble is after: Ed(Older Brother's Pride + Alchemy Skill - Strength) <<< Al(Strength + Height + Alchemy Skill + cat(?))
  • Rurouni Kenshin:
    • Hajime Saitou's logical reasoning for making new insulting names is graphically depicted this way:
    • If Megumi = kitsune (fox) and Kaoru = tanuki (raccoon dog), then Misao = itachi (weasel)
  • Yusei Fudo in Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds does a dramatic variation of this when he think of a combo that will defeat his opponent. In the final season, he did it one last time with CGI effects to add to the impact of the scene.
  • Today's Menu for the Emiya Family: One story features Caster trying to learn how to cook boiled taro. When she tried to think about how it's prepared, her mind jumped to: Taro roots + Pot on stove = Shirou Emiya.

    Asian Animation 
  • In Pleasant Goat Fun Class: Travel Around the World episode 8, Tibbie thinks a panda bear gets its black-and-white fur because it's the child of a white bear and a black bear, and her thought bubble shows that a white bear + a black bear = a panda bear.

    Comic Books 
  • The comic Owly uses this instead of dialogue, and can throw out some quite complex combinations.
  • In Tintin, it shows up with Haddock in Tintin: The Red Sea Sharks. There is also a Snowy sequence with these later in the album, but no maths involved. Whiskey bottles and chickens feature in Tintin's thought bubbles in Tintin - Tintin in Tibet.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe:
  • Bart Allen thought in pictures at some points of Young Justice, but mostly in his own title, Impulse. Unfortunately, this disappeared when he became Kid Flash and lost his Fun Personified status.
  • This was done extensively in a Cerebus special, dealing with Cerebus introducing an apprentice to the world of alcoholism. After he gets the boy drunk, the boy starts bashing his master (using speech bubbles with a picture of the master in a clown costume), and, after the master finds out, murder ensues.
  • The Birger the Barbarian strip, featured in the swedish RPG magazine "Fenix", uses these almost exclusively for communication. (Though things like signs and the like are written normally.) The only exception was when a random female character says something with an overly long, absurdly complicated rebus, Birger thinks for a long moment, then says (with actual text) "Sorry, but what the heck did you just say?"
  • Occasionally done in Archie. If one character thinks another is a nut, a thought bubble with a nut (of the construction-related variety) will be their only reaction. Once, Archie's and Reggie's antics were observed by a background character for a while, until she finally turned away, with a thought bubble with a screw and a baseball.
  • Also used in some The Flintstones comic books for Dino's thoughts on the subject. (For example, a tree, key, pile of cash, and another key — "Okey-dokey")
  • This is how characters in Mortadelo y Filemón (And other Spanish works) swear.
  • In MAD's "A Mad Look At...", all dialogue is presented this way. One notable exception, though, is when some Secret Service agents yell "GOAL!", and it is revealed that they were listening to radio coverage of a soccer game on their earpieces.
  • In issue 15 of the Adventure Time comic book, Finn and Jake are forced to talk like this after Magic Man uses his powers to steal their voices.
  • Kathy uses one in The Mask to hypothesize that Stan + the mask = Big Head.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Far Side's "Creationism explained" had a lecturer pointing to a complicated equation on the board with a drawing of the globe on the right-hand side and pseudomathematical rebus expressions on the left, including the product of battery and battery combined with flashlight, the square root of cat and "your age" squared times "mass."

    Fan Works 
  • The Many Dates of Danny Fenton: When Danny is dating Penny, he meets LaCienega, who describes her date as a guy she "thought was a total hottie, only to discover he is just some super geek that was obsessed with tech and meat". Upon hearing that, he deduces Geek+Technology+Meat+Overconfident profile= Tucker.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • There are sequences in The Flintstones featuring Fred's thoughts as filmed bits in thought bubbles.

  • A piece of fanart for Wicked using this.
  • In Myth-Fortunes, a family of Kobolds (natives of Kobol, a computer-obsessed dimension) speak in their native language, causing clouds of dingbat-style symbols to appear floating above their heads.
  • Played for Drama in The Book Thief, when Liesel deduced what could have happened to her mother after finding out she was a Communist and her letters to her went unanswered.
    "The word communist + a large bonfire + a collection of dead letters + the suffering of her mother + the death of her brother = the Führer."

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of My Wife and Kids, Michael tries to help Jay study for her psychology test using what he calls "Psy-Kyle-Ogy", using rebus images to teach key terms (example: Lion + Shaquille O'Neill = Rorschach). This causes Jay to fail the test, so she gives him a "Psycolo-Jay" image reading "Booty on Lockdown". After Michael successfully convinces her professor to give her a retest, Jay hands him another image and walks off:
    Michael: "Spank that donkey"? Why would I want to spank that a- ("Eureka!" Moment) Baby! (chases after her)
  • Larry Kubiac had his moment in a Parker Lewis Can't Lose episode involving Jerry Steiner's coat.
  • In an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Sabrina has to figure out her "family secret" before her Witch's License is approved, and is given a rebus puzzle as a clue. (She solves it quickly, but the hard part comes later...)

    Pro Wrestling  

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Planescape, the Dabus are a race of goat-horned municipal custodians who only communicate this way. There's also an Ethereal race that communicates only by creating glowing, floating words, which seems to have been created solely to spawn Epileptic Trees about the relation between the two.

    Video Games 
  • The dialogue in Dropsy, which avoids text almost altogether and has every character Speaking Simlish. It fits Dropsy's odd worldview.
  • According to the first mission of Elite Beat Agents, everything can be calculated to a quantity equal to "football". (American football, incidentally.)
  • LUNA: The Shadow Dust: Whenever the boy tries opening the door to the next floor without first solving the puzzle, a thought bubble in it appears above his head as he wonders how he can unlock the door.
  • All dialogue in the adventure game Machinarium is in rebus bubbles.
  • In Quest for Glory II, the astrologer has a Rebus image on his wall. It reads "Peek-a-boo, I see you".
  • Quite a bit of dialogue in The Sims is enhanced through the use of this trope.

    Web Animation 

  • In The Stupiders, Cheche the ridiculously cute furry boa, is incapable of saying anything other then "Hi"and "Darko", so he thinks with these[1].
  • This well-known Death Note comic on DeviantArt has a particularly hilarious example — you really have to have seen/read the whole thing to get it, though, and it's a spoiler past episode 27/chapter 60.
  • This sequence from Girl Genius, though (follow ups are more distinctly arithmetical), with bonus Stealth Puns.
    • Agatha's creations communicate this way.
  • This Penny and Aggie did one for "Aggie likes girls".
  • A Princess Random comic called "Bleeping Beauty" uses this in place of dialogue.
  • In Sluggy Freelance the dig-bots all speak like this. It's unclear what exactly the other characters are "hearing" when this happens.
  • Craving Control combines this to create a recap and a Long List here.
  • Achewood uses the trope Here and here to show Roast Beef's extreme panic and confusion.
  • Early on, Nerf NOW!! used Rebus Bubbles exclusively, except for rare occasions. Starting in September '09, however, normal speech has been cropping up more and more.
  • Used once in Adventurers! to show Ardam's train of logic regarding Eternion's backstory.
  • When Jason of The Wotch is transformed into little Sonja, with some mental alterations being part of the transformation, she mostly only "speaks" in rebus bubbles, though most of them are sans addition (though she says "Thank you" at one point). When temporarily becoming a super-feministic teenage girl later on, she doesn't speak and still gets an image in her bubble. Apparently, Sonja with her own brain (as opposed to Jason's brain) is a near-mute.
  • This is used to show a robot's literal-interpretation-turned-logical-meltdown in Mountain Time.
  • Alien Dice had one where Vic imagined Lexx with Chel, then himself strangling Lexx.
  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja: Everyone knows that Gorilla + Bazooka > Ninja.note 
  • In Fite!, most of the dialog is in Simlish, but the parts that the reader is meant to understand use pictures.
  • Used in the "A Picture's Worth" arc of General Protection Fault (focusing on the conflict between Sharon's allergies and Fred's need to be in a filthy environment) in a few ways.
    1. Explaining the situation as is shown. Fooker shows a picture of Sharon having an allergic reaction to explain to Fred why things need to be clean, and Fred later has a "(Fred)+(Bleach)=(Tombstone)" to reiterate that cleaning products can kill him.
    2. Literal indicators of dialogue by way of Visual Pun, such as Fred's bubble showing sewing to indicate him saying "So...?" and Sharon's bubble with a well to say "Well..."
    3. Pictures that show the situation through metaphors. When a solution is found, Fooker sighs in relief and imagines a lit dynamite fuse being cut.
  • The fancomic Roommates gave us 1+1=<>< (poor Erik tried to understand the family relationships of the magical people), and Legolas = Will Turner (Jareth figured out why James can't stand the elf's face) here.
  • In Sidequest Story, literally every page with dialogue makes use of this trope exclusively.
  • This is how everyone communicates during the Hink & Carmickle sections of Marla, even characters who speak normally the rest of the time.
  • In Rhapsodies, Paul has a series of these when a night with his girlfriend is interrupted by a need to go to the bathroom, and made all the more difficult since she's still asleep on his arm.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Kim Possible: Ron + Battlesuit = Victory.
  • Chuck Jones' Looney Tunes short "Cheese Chasers" has mice characters Hubie and Bertie attempting to commit Seen-It-All Suicide by inducing Claude Cat to eat them. Claude's reaction to their initial attempt:
    • Map of Scandanavia + Denmark highlighted = "Something rotten in"
    • The short Bartholomew Versus the Wheel has the titular dog blaming wheels when a scooter runs over his tail. Wheel = Arrow pointing to squashed tail.
    • And on several occasions, Bugs Bunny showed his poor opinion of somebody by holding up a sign with a picture of a screw, and a ball. This exact one was used in Duck Amuck, which was, not-so-coincidentally, animated by Bugs himself.
  • In the Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "My Fair Ed", where Edd tries to curb Ed and Eddy's rude and destructive tendencies by ripping bandages off of the back of their heads. Eddy uses this with Double-D's Hand + Band-aid = Pain when Edd threatens to remove his bandages again.
  • Grojband does this in "Rockersize", when Corey loosely relates the gym to music by explaining Iron ---- Rock = Rock Music
  • Of course, The Simpsons has done this. Homer + Beer = Car crash. "Wait, did I add that right?" Redo: Homer + Beer = President Simpson the basketball star.
  • Like on Spongebob Squarepants, with "Sponge... + Starfish... = Scallop!?"
  • Here is a Spy vs. Spy cartoon which plays with the idea.
  • It's also done in one of Chuck Jones' Tom and Jerry shorts.
    • Tom + A Second Cat = Jerry laying dead holding a lily
    • Jerry + Lettuce + Ham + Cheese + Tomatoes + Onions + Sandwich in a lunchbox = Fat Jerry
      • Tom's response goes: Fat Jerry + Sandwich in a lunchbox = Jerry Sandwich
    • In another short, after a kitten is introduced to the household:
      • Tom + House = Heaven
      • Tom + Kitten + House = Hell
  • Teen Titans: Raven + Larry = Explosion.
    • And Beast Boy + Meat + Eggs = Not Himself (Source: "The Beast Within")
    • Also, according to Terra: Starfire's Homemade Glorg = Sushi + Ice cream
  • The Itsy Bitsy Spider had one interesting scene, in which the Exterminator - very, very determined to kill the spider realized he's about to step on his own grenade.
    • Exterminator + Grenade = Foot on Grenade = KABOOM!
  • The Mask:
    • Obnoxious Old High School Bully + The Mask = Nuclear Explosion
    • Monster - Shadow = Skillit
  • Mickey Mouse has one in an episode of House of Mouse when he realizes that Mortimer Mouse used a newspaper ad to dupe Mickey and steal Minnie from him. Mortimer + Newspaper = SUCKER.
  • Donald Duck, in the short cartoon "Honey Harvester", finds a bee in his greenhouse, and thinks: Bee + Flower = Hive = Honey
  • Randal Graves has one in Clerks: The Animated Series: Monkey + Burrito + sickened Leonardo - Burrito + (Due to the recent lawsuit by Dustin Hoffman over the alleged unauthorized use of his likeness, the face of Dustin Hoffman in Randal's cartoon brain calculation will be played by... Al Pacino!) = OUTBREAK!!
  • In the Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation: P.O.O.L.", Numbuh 4 is stuck in a Bizarro Universe where everyone's personalities and alignments are reversed. While watching his "teammates" act increasingly out of character, Numbuh 4 comes up with the conclusion... that 2 + 2 = Pizza.
  • Beany and Cecil had Beepin' Tom, a little alien who spoke in word balloons filled with rebuses.
  • South Park: Cartman's take on Osama bin Laden (e.g. holds up pic of rooster and lollipop) shows that the rebus can also come without solution (which the viewer adds on the fly). Of course, the gag is a nod to analogous ones on Looney Tunes.
  • Jellystone! has an atypical example in that the equation is also spoken out: Doggie Daddy struggles to interpret what Yogi Bear means when the latter suggests hiring a babysitter for Augie so Doggie Daddy can go bowling with him, Boo Boo, and Captain Caveman. First, he thinks the babysitter comes with him and Augie at bowling (Babysitter + Doggie Daddy + Augie + Bowling), then that he and Augie stay home while the babysitter goes bowling (Home + Doggie Daddy + Augie and Babysitter + Bowling), then that the babysitter stays home while he and Augie go bowling (Home + Babysitter and Doggie Daddy + Augie + Bowling). Boo Boo then enters Doggie Daddy's thought bubble to clear things up (Home + Babysitter + Augie and Doggie Daddy + Bowling).


Video Example(s):



Doggie Daddy has trouble grasping the concept of not having his daughter with him.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (19 votes)

Example of:

Main / RebusBubble

Media sources: