COMIC BOOK TERMS — A GLOSSARY FOR THE INDUSTRY
Heard people use comics terms, but weren’t sure what they were actually saying? Would love to know more about comics, but not sure who to ask? I gotchu.
Here’s a good glossary of terms related to the comics industry. I’ll just start with ones I think folks could use some clarity on, and you can let me know, dear reader, if there are any others you’re confused be. I’ll keep adding to it as needed.
TRADE PAPERBACK (TPB)
A trade paperback, or “trade,” usually collects a comic title’s story arc into a single bound edition. The story arc usually has appeared as several individual “floppy” issues of comics. Contrary to the name, this can be a paperback or hardcover edition.
Honestly, this is most often used interchangeably with “trade paperback.” The two are printed slightly differently but, outside of that, the main difference is that graphic novels typically are printed as a single, original story as opposed to a collection of previously printed issues.
A single issue of a comic book, usually thin and stapled together.
A story told within a comic title, often over several issues. It has a beginning and an end and takes place as part of the title’s greater continuity. For TV, this could be a single season of a series.
An agreement you have with your local comic shop to reserve or pre-order a comic book for you when it comes out. These reservations are often used to judge a title’s success (viewed as an archaic industry practice by many).
Short for “retroactive continuity,” this is often used to reference when a writer changes, contradicts or ignores plot points established in previous issues. It is usually frowned upon.
It's not a weapon or a camera. When people talk about this, it means something that officially happened in a comic's narrative timeline vs. something that was imagined, from fan fiction, or elsewhere.
An image that spans across more than a single page.
A single box or frame on a page. It’s often bordered and has word bubbles or captions in it. Pages are usually made up of several panels.
The space between panels.
A person who does most or all of the art duties, and usually implies they also wrote the comic.
The person who writes the comic. This usually starts with a script, plot or story that the penciller can create art for. The “writer” term usually encompasses creation of plot, script and dialogue.
The person in charge of coming up with the comic’s overall plot. This could be a vague idea of where the story is going to go, or it could be very detailed. Often, especially at Marvel, a loose plot concept is given to the artist first, so the artist/penciller can get started on their work while the writer/scripter develops the details of captions and dialogue.
The person in charge of writing the breakdown of a comic’s plot and dialogue for the penciller. Sometimes, this can mean just writing the captions and dialogue, if someone else devised the plot.
Anyone who draws or creates the art in comics. This includes pencillers, inkers, colorists, flatters and other designers attached to the comic. Sometimes, one person does all of these jobs, and other times, a different person does each.
The first artist who touches a comic. They create the original, basic line art for each page, as well as panel number and placement. The art created by them is sometimes called “pencils.”
After the penciller finishes, an inker goes over the pencil lines and sometimes embellishes upon the pencilled artwork using ink or its digital equivalent. This makes the drawing darker and higher in contrast, but can also change the original art based on corrections made, new lines drawn, or greater/lesser emphasis on some lines over others. The art created by them is sometimes called “inks.”
The person who adds color to the art once the inker has finished going over the penciller’s line art. Often, digital colorists hire a flatter to help with some of the upfront coloring tasks. While the job sounds like it’s just filling in color, a good colorist contributes to the comic’s tone and follows a specific color scheme for the title.
Someone who digitally prepares the comic’s artwork for the colorist using solid (or “flat”) colors. This makes it easier to see which parts of the line art work together, and also to select each section in order to add color to it without effecting other sections of the art. They are usually hired by the colorist, and aren’t usually credited within the comic book.
The person in charge of putting the text in the comic, as well as placing the word balloons and caption boxes on the page. The letters can be typed or handwritten. Some letterers also create the sound effects on a page, but these are often left to the comic’s artist. Letterers can also decide on (and sometimes create) text fonts and word balloon effects to enhance the story’s tone. For more information, read my article on lettering!
The person in charge of one or more of the following: hiring creative talent, making sure the comic is created on time, reviewing creators’ pitches for new comics, helping those creators in the storytelling process by suggesting ideas or solutions to problems, or by keeping the story within the publisher’s intended direction for the title.
The period of time when comics first became popular, back in the 1930s and ‘40s. It’s marked by the rise of some of the most popular superheroes, like Captain America, Batman & Superman.
Wedges between the Golden Age and the Bronze Age, this period came about in the mid-1950s, when superheroes became increasingly popular and started dealing with more real-world problems. Many of the superheroes of today were created during this time. You can also see an upgrade to the Bronze Age’s art in the comics of the era.
The period of comic books between the Silver Age and the Modern Age. There’s a rise in minority characters, hero team-ups and topical themes, like drug abuse.
The age of comics that we are currently in. It started in the mid-‘80s, and is usually marked by darker tones, antiheroes, moral gray areas and large crossover events. You can see a large contrast in the art of today when compared to the Bronze or Silver Ages, thanks to the rise of creative and printing technologies.
Short for “comic convention,” this term is often used for any large comics-related event. Want to know more in-depth info? Check out my article.
A term derived from “costume play,” it means dressing up like a fictional character. People often take part in cosplay at comic cons or other conventions.
Named after an early, incredibly talented comics creator, the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards are the comic book equivalent of film’s Oscars. A great deal of prestige within the comics community comes with winning an Eisner Award. The awards are presented during San Diego Comic-Con. Fans and comic book professionals can vote on who they think deserves the awards.
Named after noted cartoonist Harry Kurtzman, these awards are also well-respected, given each year to the best talent in comics. Unlike the Eisners and other awards, only comic book professionals can vote on who they believe deserves a Harvey award.
Comic Book Collections for Libraries by Bryan D. Fagan & Jody Condit Fagan