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 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. The inker can also be known as the finisher – especially when they have added additional detail to the art which the penciler has not provided.
  • Colourist – This person gives the comic colour. This used to be done with coloured ink but nowadays 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 a 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 has been referred to as maxi-series.

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

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

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.

Comic Book Grading Terms

I don’t really go into the collecting side of comics on this website, but if you’re looking to purchase comics online then it is good to know what these terms mean.

Mint Condition – The comic is perfect in every way and has no damage or blemishes.

Near Mint (NM) – It is very close to perfect.

Very Fine (VF) – It is close to mint but will have very minor damages or blemishes.

Fine (FN) – Has some wear but that is more noticeable than a Very Fine copy.

Very Good (VG) – A used comic book which has noticeable wear.

Good – Has a lot of wear but is still okay for reading.

Fair – Has a lot of wear – more than a Good copy.

Poor – A very damaged comic.

Key Issue – A often very collectable comic. Key issues tend to have events in them – such as first appearances or deaths – and are high in demand on the secondary market (eg, eBay or at auction)

Heritage Auctions has a great guide and more detail on these terms and how they align to a score out of 10.

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 of text, generally accompanied with cover images, which details upcoming comic book releases that have 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 retconned 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 affects on-going titles for months and sometimes years to come. Find out more about event comics.

Pre-Crisis/Post-Crisis – This refers to a period in DC Comics’ history set either before (pre) or after (post) a comic called 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 on 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 conclusion 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.

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

Back-up Feature – This is a short story in the back of another comic book. Often these will feature a secondary story of the character, a new character that the publisher is testing the water with, or a character who isn’t popular enough to warrant their own series.

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

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

Run – This is a number of consecutively published comics of a series by a writer and/or artist. For instance, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s run on Fantastic Four lasted 100 issues.

Off-Panel – It’s the things that happened between the comic panels which the reader didn’t see. It’s the comics version to the movie term off-screen.

Onomatopoeia – The sounds effects that you see in comics (eg. BOOM, POW, BANG etc)

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

Story Arc – An extended or continuing storyline that spreads over multiple issues or smaller stories of a comic book. Can also be known as a narrative arc.

Diamond – This is the shorthand name for the Diamond Comics Distributor. Diamond is the major distributor of comic books and graphic novels.

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 (123)

  • I am new to purchasing comics and I am starting my son off with his own modest collection for his 18th birthday. Is a sourcebook the first one with all the information about characters etc? I am asking because I just saw ‘Bone sourcebook’ for sale but not sure if it would be any good for the collection.

  • In my comic book store they have “fx” to the right of the price of some comics, (fx 25$) does it mean something ?

  • Lucas– That info is called the indicia, or sometimes referred to as ‘publisher’s info’

    Other terms: vignettes (most people just say ‘floating heads!’)…other art-related techniques or tropes.

    For instance: Comics uses a lot of ‘background images’ or ghostly representations of those not present. Think of the original X-Men in the backdrop of the cover of “Giant Size X-Men # 1”

    I know there’s a name for that type image but can’t recall.

  • Hi!
    Can you please tell me what the small print writing on the inside front (or back) cover is called, where it tells you the name of the comic, issue number, publisher, date, print edition, etc…? Thank you.

  • I started with chapter one 6 months ago which is a mistake and I need it to be successful. Can you give me advice on creating a comic book series that is good for readers.?

  • I want to create a comic book series about witches that is aimed at girls at the ages between 5 and 18 but in order to do so I need to create a one shot.

  • Hi
    I was wondering if u knew the difference between a regular graphic novel and a library edition?
    Thank you,

  • Just wonder can you explain what the wizard authentic label found on some comet books mean and do they add value?

    Thank you.

  • greetings, I just started reading, collecting the DC comic books on Superman series. But I am lost with the numbering system could you help me out with this? Thanks in advance.

    gale rose-carmack

  • Hi
    I didn’t see “spec book” in the terms…
    Isn’t that a comic book term?
    I heard it used so I was looking it up because I didn’t really know what it meant.

  • This little seminar has been like a mini educational vacation! Thank you and many blessings.

    • RI stands for Retailer Incentive, which usually refers to a variant cover where a comic book shop will need to order a specific amount of comics in order to be eligible for it. If it has an A at the end it will mean that it’s the first one and that there could a B and C too.

  • Hello, I’ve been looking at a couple of websites but I can’t seem to find what upspree means. Do you know?

  • I’m not thinking of a term per se, but have you already explained in another post what are the different types of print that appear in a character’s bubble; e.g., when Thor speaks his bubble print is kinda in italics? Unless it’s on this page and I just missed it..?

    • I have never seen it used in the context of comics, do you have an example of it’s use? In general terms, it’s used at the front of a number when it’s an approximation.

    • Hey Wayne, great question. Canon is the official history of a story, series or franchise. To put it in Star Wars terms, the movies are considered canon but if I wrote fan-fiction about one of the characters then that wouldn’t be considered canon.

  • Hi, Thank you for your great work. My question is related to the selling part, often seller are talking about “Claim or BIN”, what is the difference please ?
    Thank you

  • Your glossary of terms is incredibly helpful! I’m looking for a particular comic to buy and I’m new at this. You had answered lots of my questions, but I couldn’t find this one… what does “1B 2nd Printing” mean? Actually, I’ve got the 2nd printing. Secondly, is there an indication on the cover of a comic indicating which printing it is?

  • Congratulations for your superb work!
    Could you, please, define “emanata” as applicable to comics and synonyms thereof?

    Thanks a lot!

  • I know that there’s a virgin variant of some special covers, what does that mean? I have a thought that it might be like the cover but with no title, barcode, issue number, etc.
    I know that the opposite of that is a blank variant (no artwork but title, names, etc.)

    • You’ve hit the nail on the head. The virgin variant is simply the artwork without any of the titles or branding to get in the way.

  • what is the name of the text that’s sometimes on the cover, that details what happens “the mighty thunder god searches for his hammer”, “the avenging angel enspells her prey”, “the strongest avenger faces his foe”

  • I was the first person to EVER get a Donny Cates Thor #1 signature. What is that called? He signed it with a big “#1”.

  • This is where I saw the term C06. – Spider-Man and Batman Disordered Minds #1. 1st print C06
    Do you know what it means? Is it anything to do with the storyline ?

    • Marvel and DC did a bunch of crossovers with each other in the 90s. As far as I can tell, C06 refers to this issue being the 6th crossover.

  • Hi. Could you please tell me, What does CO6 mean?
    I have found a couple meanings, but the meanings I came across don’t seem to have anything to do with comic books. Thanks!

    • Hey Matt, the 1/2 numbering isn’t anything special. It was done to signify that it was one fo the Wizard issues and so it didn’t disrupt the flow of the ongoing comics.

  • Great site, thanks for putting it together!
    I have seen both Big and Giant used intermittently.
    For instance this month I have seen Aquaman Giant, DC Ghosts GIant, Spider Man Big , Batman Giant, etc.
    I checked your page to see what the “Giant” signifies(I assume more pages)
    and since I didn’t see it, I felt perhaps the term could find a place on your page.

    • Hey Mark, there’s nothing special about the use fo the word Giant. They’re called that because they have more pages than the usual comic.

  • I was looking at a listing for a book and after the title it said “HC DM ED”
    I know HC stands for hard cover but I don’t know the over two.

    • Hey Tom, great question. DM stands for Direct Market, which refers to comic book stores and retailers who order through Diamond Distributors. The ED is shorthand for Edition.

  • Thanks for Glossary! I came here looking for a term, that describes the first instance of a comic. Is it called Issue? Episode? Some context: trying to describe in comic book term, a business models first appearance and build in the “origin story” of the characters. Thanks again! THom ps. Would certainly welcome a path in your site to figure out on my own, if you would guide me there (rather than just answering question!) TH

    • Hey Bobby, good questions. Paper will often yellow over time, especially the paper used of older comics, so comics can sometimes be graded on the whiteness of the paper. The whiter it is, the better the condition.

      Slabbing refers to the preservation method that some people do after a comic book is graded where the comic will be encased in hard plastic in order to keep it in the same condition. They refer to it as a slab as the comic starts resemble a plastic brick after the process.

  • I am undertale comics fan and I keep hearing people saying “who is going to get shipped?” and I have NO IDEA WHAT THEY MEAN. if you know pls tell me!! thx

    • Hi Caramel, Shipping is a fan-fiction term which means pairing two characters up in a relationship.

  • I’m reading an article about Mo Willem’s Elephant & Piggie series and how it has aspects of picturebooks, easy readers, and comics. A few of the terms I’m looking for (Wiki didn’t have them) are indexical path lines, upfixes, and reduplication. These are terms Neil Cohn used in his book, THE VISUAL LANGUAGE OF COMICS: INTRODUCTION TO THE STRUCTURE AND COGNITION OF SEQUENTIAL IMAGES, and the E&P series employs them.

    • Hi T, it’s been a while since I dived into the more academic side of visual language but I’ll see what I can do to help. Reduplication is repetition with slight variation. Often used for emphasis. Indexical path lines seem to be the author’s term for indexicality. Upfixes are some kind of symbol that appears above a character’s head. The most common example is where a character has an idea and a lightbulb appears. I hope this helps you in your quest! If you’re looking to read more into the language of comics then I highly recommend checking out Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics if you haven’t already.

  • i am curious about 1/2 issues. are they just half the common 22 page? or is there some type of character crossovers involved also? for example the half issues of such like witchblade/tombraider etc

    • There are two ways 1/2 issues are usually used. 1. They could be set between two particular issues. Or 2. These comic books were part of the Wizard Magazine exclusive offers. They were numbered as 1/2 as to not to disrupt ongoing numbering of the comics involved.

  • Kevin Smith recently used a term in an interview with his daughter concerning detective comics issue 1000.

    The term was tech or tek.

    “In the industry we call it tech 1000”

    • Hey Allen, tec is short for Detective and is sometimes used by fans as a nickname for Detective Comics.

  • Hi I was going through eBay when I saw a 83# journey in to mystery advertised as a “GRR varient”.. what does this mean?

    Also there was another advert which read “True Believers Mighty Thor #1 Journey Into Mystery 83 Reprint Signed by Stan Lee”.. the cover actually had “true beliveres” printed at the top”. Was this also a variant? It never mentioned the print year.

    • Hi Thilina, GRR stands for Golden Record Reprint, which are reprints of comics from a few years after original printing. True Believers are a range of $1 reprints of older comics that readers can pick up to easily read older stories. Marvel like to release these $1 reprints around the same time as the movies come out. Most likely, this Journey into Mystery #83 was reprinted around the time of one of the Thor movies.

  • I noticed some of the recent marvel issues have a “HU” that comes after the number. For example: ASM # 16.HU. What’s that about?

  • KAPOW!!
    … etc
    would love to know the meaning of such words as I’m new into this
    Thanks buddy 😀

    • Hey Adam, great question. These are sound effects which are made to convey certain sounds in a comic book story. For instance, BOOM! might represent the sound of an explosion or ZAP!! the sound of a raygun. I hope this helps.

  • I just found out the secondary comic at the back of a comic book is called a backup feature. Is that right? For instance, I have issues of The Phantom with Young Indiana Jones comics in the back.

  • Hi! I learned so much here already! I’m looking for any and all info you may have about the tiny margin characters that sometimes appear, with comments or dialog that’s often tangential to the subject or story… ranging from witty quips to pertinent background info. Do these characters and/or their dialog have a name?

  • There’s a name for girls who work in the comic book industry, mostly in-store. Do you know what the name is??

  • Hello on the classic Marvel covers the issue usually depicted the heads of the characters who were prominent in the book. Is this image called something?

  • An explanation on publishing would be nice! Something along the lines of years when independent publishers were popular and who all is out there.

  • How to express long and vertical shape manga format, a layout form of the comic, often see in manga reading application.

    • Hey Veronica, from my understanding they don’t have a name. I would just describe the panel’s shape and size.

  • What are the main differences between comic serials and comic strips (with regards to panels, pages, stories, etc.)?

    • A run is typically the collective term for a certain writer’s time writing a specific comic for multiple issues in sequence, or the specific re-branded title of an existing franchise. I’m having a hard time coming up with a more specific definition, but here’s an example using ‘Astonishing X-Men’:

      Astonishing X-Men was first written by Joss Whedon, so his time writing Astonishing X-Men would be referred to as the ‘Joss Whedon Run’.
      After Joss Whedon’s stopped writing Astonishing X-men, Warren Ellis began writing Astonishing X-men, which would make that the ‘Warren Ellis’ run.
      (I think someone else had a run after Warren Ellis, but I don’t care.)

      Also, in and of itself, Astonishing X-men could be considered a ‘run’ of X-men, as it has its own self contained story line.

  • 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

    • Off-panel refers to something that ‘happens’ but isn’t ever illustrated in a panel of any issue and is only said to have happened. An example would be some of the major exploits of the super heroine Squirrel Girl. She is sort of a ‘joke character’ who is said to have defeated many of Marvel’s big bads, but you generally don’t see it happening (I personally haven’t read anything with Squirrel Girl, but she is known to have defeated at least Dr. Doom, Galactus, and Thanos; though I’m not sure if any of those victories are ever shown). I’m not giving the greatest explanation I don’t think, but basically something that happens off-panel is any occurrence that is mentioned or inferred but isn’t actually depicted within a panel of a comic.

  • 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

    • Hey Nathaniel, a story arc is an extended storyline that goes over multiple issues/episodes.

  • 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 Cheryl, great question! Diamond are the company who distribute the vast majority of print 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.