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File:Unca scrooge rebus bubble.gif

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

Speech Bubbles + Images + Addition = Rebus Bubble

When you want to show the keen, obsidian-sharp mind of a character 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... Which, in turn, should not be confused with Rebis.

Exposition Diagram is often used much the same way. For this concept applied to tropes, see Troperithmetic.

Examples of Rebus Bubble include:


  • In the first episode of Excel Saga, Excel thinks "dog = creature = food" upon seeing Menchi.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist has Potato + Tomato = Pomato, and the rather disturbing results of the possible combinations of Major Armstrong's parents.
    • In the manga, 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(?))
  • In 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)
  • In the D.N.Angel manga there's a side story about Daisuke's birthday which uses this exclusively.
  • This southbird in One Piece, to Zoro's chagrin.
  • Yusei Fudo in Yu-Gi-Oh 5D's 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.

Comic Books

  • Asterix does this a few times, particularly with Courtdetennis (Ptenisnet in English), the Egyptian who speaks in hieroglyphics.
  • The comic Owly uses this instead of dialogue, and can throw out some quite complex combinations.
  • In Tintin, it shows up with Haddock in 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 in Tibet.
  • As seen in the image above, the Don Rosa Uncle Scrooge story "A Little Something Special" features a more elaborate than usual application of this trope as Scrooge puts together the facts to realize that Glomgold and Magica have teamed up
    • Also used in Don Rosa's story based on the Finnish national epic The Kalevala, where a character's rebus bubble is translated into Kalevaic prose for the reader's convenience.
  • 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 Filemon (And other Spanish works) swear.
  • In Mad Magazine'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.



Live Action TV

Professional Wrestling

  • From a 2007 episode of WWE Raw, when Chris Jericho challenged Randy Orton for the WWE Title:

 Jericho (Me) + Cookie Monster (Want) + WWE Title belt (Title) + Lit match (Match)


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

  • According to the first mission of Elite Beat Agents, everything can be calculated to a quantity equal to "football". (American football, incidentally.)
  • Quite a bit of dialogue in The Sims is enhanced through the use of this trope.
  • All dialogue in the adventure game Machinarium is in rebus bubbles.


    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.

Western Animation

  • 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 Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy episode "My Dear Ed" uses this with Band-aid + Hand = Pain.
  • Of course, The Simpsons has done this. Homer + Beer = Car crash. "Wait, I didn't 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 lilly
    • Jerry + Lettuce + Ham + Cheese + Tomatoes + Onions + Sandwich in a lunchbox = Fat Jerry
      • Tom's response goes: Fat Jerry + Sandwich in a lunchbox = Jerry Sandwich
  • Homestar Runner: Teen Girl Squad Issue #6: "Lion's mouth + Decemberween present / peer pressure X height = TRIPLE SALCHOW!"
  • Teen Titans: Raven + Larry = Explosion.
    • And Beast Boy + Meat does 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
  • 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 essentially steal his girlfriend. 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 + Dying 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 Codename: Kids Next Door while watching the odd behavior of his teammates They were evil versions from an Alternate Universe Numbuh 4 comes up with the conclussion...
    • 2 + 2 = PIZZA!

Scratch Projects

  • In this project, Astro thinks X-Cube + 4000 lemonade cups = rich Astro when X-Cube says that he will take all the lemonade Astro has.