Glossary of Comic Book Terms

Glossary of Comic Book Terms.

When talking to comic book fans it can sometimes feel like they are speaking another language. Trade paperback? Variant cover? Retcon? Splash page? It can all get all get a bit confusing for someone new to comic books. This Glossary of Comic Book Terms aims to help those unfamiliar with the comic book lingo so that they can join in the conversation.

Creative Roles Within a Comic Book Creation

All of these people collaborate together to make a comic book. I would consider all of these people storytellers in one way or another.

  • Writer – The writer writes the story and has the overall vision of how the story will go. They write the dialogue and how the story will progress.
  • Penciler – This person takes the script and draws the comic. They draw the comic in pencil which then gets inked and coloured later on.
  • Inker – The inker inks over the pencils that the penciler drew. Sometimes this is digitally but often it is with actual ink.
  • Colourist – This person gives the comic colour. This used to be done with coloured ink but now-a-days this is done digitally to allow for a variety of different styles.
  • Letterer – The letterer will take the script and place all the dialogue, word balloons, thought bubbles, sound effects etc into the comic in the intended places.
  • Editor – The editor makes sure that everything is good to publish in a comic. They will check for spelling mistakes, art problems and will also co-ordinate with other collaborators to make sure story elements will not interfere with other comic books.

Comic Book Formats

Single Issue  This is the serial magazine style format of a comic. Generally 20-32 pages of story but sometimes can be more, with some being up to 100 pages. These are generally numbered in chronological order eg. Issue #5.

Prestige Edition – These are comics that are generally 48-64 pages long that have a thin spine.

Digital Comics – Editions of comics that can be viewed on computer screens, tablets or mobile phones.

Digital First  This is where a comic is released in a digital format first then later in print.

Collected Edition – This is where multiple single issues are collected to create a whole story or set of stories, often collecting 5-6 single issues.

There are many kinds of collected editions including…

  • Trade Paperback (TPB) – This is the most common kind of collected edition where it is usually collecting 5-8 single issues. It is in a paperback format and can be often referred to as a “trade”. Read here to find out if reading in trade paperback is for you.
  • Digest – These are collected editions that are smaller in height and length. The most popular comics in this format are All Ages comics and Manga.
  • Hardcover (HC) – Similar to a Trade Paperback but the cover has a very thick stock just like a hardcover novel. Sometimes these collected editions can collect more single issues than Trade Paperbacks, with 12 issues common.
  • Omnibus – These are very large hardcover collections. These collections can can be 25+ singles issues collected. Often these collect entire series or a creative run on a comic series.
  • Graphic Novel – Often a fancier term for collected edition but can also be used to describe an OGN. Essentially any comic that is bounded like a book. Some people use the term graphic novel to make the comic book medium sound more serious.
  • Original Graphic Novel (OGN) – This is a comic book that comes out in the trade paperback/hardcover format without being in the serial single issue format beforehand.

Variant Cover – A variant cover is an alternative cover of a single issue. Most of the time it includes the art of a different artist and are often fewer of these available. More information on variant covers.

Incentive Cover – A variant cover in which the retailer has to order x amount of a cover to redeem the variant cover. For example the retailer might need to or 10, 25, 50 or maybe even 100 of the regular cover to be eligible to order the variant.

Limited Series/Mini-series – This is a comic series that has a set number of issues. Most commonly it is 6 issues but it will often vary depending on the story. The series has a beginning, middle and an end.

Maxi-series – A maxi series is a longer mini-series generally 12 issues or longer but often each publisher has a different definition. Often mini-series of 12 issues duration have been referred to as maxi-series.

Annual – An over-sized special of a comic book that are released in edition to the regular comics in that series.

Webcomic – Comics that are made for viewing on the Internet  This could be in a comic strip format or as an on-going narrative.

Mini-comic – A comic that is smaller than the conventional comic book size. Generally these comics are handmade with a DIY ethos and have small print runs.

Zine – Self-published and often handmade comic or magazine. I talk more about zines here.

Floppies – A slang term for the single issue comic. Called so as it is used with floppy paper.

Other Comic Book Terms

Panel – A panel is one of the boxes on the page of a comic book.

Splash Page – When a panel consists of the entire page.

Two Page Spread – When the comic book art spills over into two pages.

Manga – Japanese comics. These comics are read right to left, opposed to left to right like western comics. Discover more about Manga.

Manhwa – Comics that originate from Korea.

Anthology – These are comics that contain multiple short stories from multiple creators. One of the most successful of the format is 2000AD.

Zero Issue – Usually an issue set before issue #1 that acts as a prelude to the main series.

Creator-Owned – This means the creator owns the work that they create. This also means that the publisher doesn’t own the rights to the characters or story but just the right to publish it. The most successful creator-owned comic at the moment is The Walking Dead.

Solicitations – A block or text, generally accompanied with cover images, which details upcoming comic book releases that has been supplied by the publisher. I go into greater detail on comic book solicitations here.

Indie – Generally referring to an independent publisher who publishes comics independently from a large corporate entity.

Continuity – This is where a comic book’s narrative has a past which might also be shared within a universe of a vast array of other comic books. The majority of Marvel and DC Comics‘ comics involve continuity in one way or another. This allows characters like Batman and Superman to exist in the same universe.

Retcon – Short for “Retroactive Continuity”. This is when a past event in a shared universe or a character’s past is changed retroactively. This can be done to add new elements to an existing story that allows for future stories. It could also be used to update a character eg: originally Tony Stark (Iron Man) was wounded in Vietnam but Marvel comics retconed this and now it is in Afghanistan.

Crossover – This is when story elements of two or more comic books come together to create one storyline across multiple titles.

Event – This is a crossover story on a generally larger scale than normal. Often these events include many more comic book characters from a shared universe coming together. Also the outcome of the storyline often effects on-going titles for months and sometimes years to come.

Pre-Crisis/Post-Crisis – This refers to period in DC Comics’s history set either before (pre) or after (post) the story Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was released in 1985-6. Without going into too much detail, Crisis on Infinite Earths acted as a big housecleaning for DC continuity with parallel universes disappearing and characters getting modern updates. Many comics fans use the term Pre/Post-Crisis as a way to describe characters and stories either side of this story as due to the big changes that it created.

Pre-Flashpoint – This refers to DC comics between the 1986 and 2011 before the Flashpoint storyline. The conculsion of Flashpoint allowed for some housecleaning of DC Comics continuity and paved the way for the New 52 era.

New 52 – This is the era of DC Comics between 2011-2015 in which DC Comics did a soft reboot of their whole line. All of the comics went back to issue #1 and there were many changes done to their histories. Some franchises had more changes than others. Superman and Wonder Woman had many changes made why Batman and Green Lantern left relatively untouched.

One-shot – A story that is contained to a single issue.

Back-issue – A previous issue of a single comic. Back issues are a month or older and not the latest issue.

The Big Two – This a term used to refer to Marvel and DC Comics. Used as they are the two publishers with the largest market share.

LCS – An acronym for Local Comics Store/Shop. This acronym is often used in comics journalism.

Comixology – A popular online marketplace/app for digital comics.

Am I missing any Comic Book Terms?

If you believe that I am missing any terms feel free to let me know and I will add them to the list.

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Comments (29)

  • What is the word called, that is the name of the words describing an action, example, POW, BAM, they are usually in capital letters and have a pointy outline around them to stand out.

  • What is it called when instead of full page art is on a comic book page they divide the artwork on the page into boxes?

  • What do you call missing issues in a small run. For example Metal Men silverage, lets say I missing issues 5, 15 and 22. Do you use the term filler?

    • Hey Mario, there is no official term for it, but you could say that the missing issues are holes in your collection.

  • What does off panel mean? I’m reading through scripts and I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to visualize on the page when something is off panel

  • Composition:
    panel, border, gutter, bleed, trim line, specifications, height, width, setting, stage, props, light source, light angle

    plot, sub plot, scene, sequel, story arch
    cause, effect, stimulus, response, backstory, hidden story, setting, timespan, tension, conflict, action, suspense, drama, foreshadowing
    lettering, onomatopoeia, sound effects, thought balloon, thought bubble, call-out

    extreme close-up, close-up, medium-close, medium shot, medium-long shot, long shot, extreme long shot, point-of-view (POV), Dutch tilt, shot, worm’s-eye view, bird’s-eye view, panoramic view, wide angle view

    Perspective and Drafting:
    linear perspective, isometric perspective, picture plane (frame), horizon line, station point, vanishing point, orthogonals, height line, azimuth, altitude, one point/two-point/three-point perspectives

    Design Elements:
    symmetry, balance, asymmetry, space, depth, foreground, middle ground, background, harmony, contrast, focus (emphasis), focal point, line, gesture line, action line, motion line, color (hue), gradation

    pose, gesture, appearance, features, motive (intent), costume, personality, manner of speech, habits

  • I am new on the comic reading and I am lokking to some of them online and they say Library edition, does this means it would have likecan extra issue on it that the other editions don’t have??

    • Hi Lola, Library Editions are a special edition of comics which the publisher Dark Horse Comics release. These are larger editions which collect large amounts of comics in a hardcover format. They look rather nice on the shelf and are often a great way to binge read comics.

    • Hi Maddie, you can call them sound effects. They’re also know as onomatopoeia, which are words which share names with what they sound like.

    • Hi Chris, thanks for the question. New format referred to a certain paper stock that was used at the time. It was a bit better than the newspaper like stock that was being used regularly at the time. DC and Vertigo used it a fair bit during the late 80s and 90s.

  • I can not remember what term is used for a group of consecutive comic books in a series, usually sold in a bundle of three, I believe. Could you help me?

    • Hi Jess,

      If it is print I would say it is a collected edition such as a trade paperback or a hardcover, depending on the format. Although Dark Horse does do bundles of 3 comics digitally at a discounted price and they call them bundles. Hope this helps 🙂

      • A TRADE! Oh my goodness, THANK YOU so so much! I could not remember what that was called and I needed to call my local comic book store and see if they had any IDW TMNT trades in store. Otherwise I would have to order them online and there’s a shipping delay right now with the SDCC going on. Thank you again!!!

    • I am not familiar with “GR”, but I think “MR” could be Mature Readers. I would have to look at it in the context of online listings.