Comic Book Terms Glossary – What Do These Words Mean?

Hey there! Welcome to Heroes vs Villains, and welcome to the first official post of this blog! Today we will be discussing about some terms and jargon used specifically in the comics world. I have compiled the comic book terms glossary which is essentially a list of words or phrases that are commonly used in today’s comics industry. Please note that this post is purely for the benefits of new comics readers, if you are a long-time reader feel free to exit the post as you might find it really basic and boring. But feel free to stay and read on, and if I made any mistakes or you feel the list is not complete, do let me know in the comments, any input will be very much appreciated! Let’s help our baby readers together!

So for our new readers, if you are just starting to develop an interest in comics and you want to know more about it, but you’ve come across some weird terms and you wonder what they mean, then this post is totally for you. I’ve divided the list into a few categories as follows:

  1. The Creative Team
  2. Book Formats
  3. Page Layout
  4. Events
  5. Others

Without further ado, let’s get on with the glossary of comic terms.

The Creative Team

The creative team is the absolute heart of any comic title, simply because without a creative team, there’d be no comics for us to read. And these are the roles of each team member and what exactly they do:

  • Writer – the writer is responsible for developing storylines for a book. They lay the foundation of a book and develop the script and provide a vision where the story is going.
  • Penciler – the script is then passed on to the penciler, who interprets the script by sketching, using a pencil (hence the title of the role), the initial art for the book, which provides a backbone for other artists to work on.
  • Inker – the inker uses black ink to enhance the pencil art, often adding more details to the
    A great series, if you can stomach the art

    existing art, such as the facial details and shadows.

  • Colourist – as the title suggests, the colourist colours the book.
  • Letterer – the letterer is not only responsible for writing down the dialogues in those speech balloons, they also handle captions and sound effects KA-BOOOOM!
  • Editor – the editor is the ultimate inspector, they need to check for any spelling or grammatical errors, any art errors, and they need to make sure any events happening in the book do not interfere or contradict with other titles within the same universe.

A good creative team is so critical for a comic book’s success. Take Jeff Lemire’s New 52 Animal Man for example, I almost gave up on the series just because I thought the art was awful, but I’m glad I didn’t because, that title is definitely one of the best books from the New 52 Initiative.

Formats

As time goes by, the world of comics evolves as well. The time where you have to go to your local comic shop to grab a single issue every month has long gone, while many people still prefer to read issue by issue, others choose to read comic books in different formats. This section explores the different formats and sizes comics come in.

  • Issue/Single Issue – this is your most conventional comic book format. A single issue is published like a magazine, depending on the frequency of its release, generally monthly or fortnightly. These books usually have 20+ pages, however, sometimes an issue is released as a special giant-size edition, these special issues can go up to 100 pages, and of course they cost more.
  • Annual – a special edition issue that is released annually. These issues generally have more pages than a normal issue.
  • Trade Paperback (TPB) – often simply known as a ‘trade’, TPBs are common collected editions of a comic book title. These books normally contain 4 – 8 issues that have already been published as single issues, these issues are generally from the same story arc, they are then compiled into one trade, and this is also known as a volume. An entire comic series often has multiple volumes, and each volume is assigned a unique title. Take Animal Man for instance again, the whole series has 29 issues, when they were released as trades, they were divided into 5 volumes and each volume has a unique title.
  • Hard Cover (HC) – HCs are essentially similar to TPBs just that these books have thick, hard covers. And they may contain different number of issues from a trade, as a HC normally has up to 12 single issues compiled into one volume.
  • Omnibus – I love this word, it even sounds magnificent! An Omnibus is an upgraded version of a HC, it usually contains an entire series or an entire event.
  • Graphic Novel – any collected edition that is bound like a legit book. Essentially a fancy term people come up with to sound less childish.
  • Volume NOTE that this volume is different from the volume we discussed in the TPB section. A long-running comic book series or character often has multiple volumes. For example, Marvel plans to publish a 50-issue series for Captain America, after #50 is published, the whole series is concluded and we can call this series Captain America Volume 1. If another series of Captain America is to be published, it will usually be renumbered from #1 again, but this series will be known as Captain America Volume 2. 
  • Limited Series – a comic series that is scheduled to run for a limited number of issues, usually 5 to 12 depending on the scale of the events, the events will conclude when is series concludes. However, sometimes the conclusion of a limited series will lead to another event or series.

    The iconic X-Men #1 (1991) had 5 different covers

  • Variant Cover – an alternative cover art to the main cover for an issue, the content within the issue remains the same. Collectors love to collect all available variant covers, however their availabilities are usually lower than issues with main cover.
  • One-Shot – a story told in a single issue.
  • Webcomics – comics that are created to be read online only.
  • Digital Comics – comics that are created to be read digitally instead of physically, this can be on the internet, mobile phones or tablets. Some popular digital comics platforms are Marvel Unlimited and comiXology. 

 

Page Layout

  • Panel – a panel is one of the boxes on a comic book page. There are typically dialogues and other interactions between characters within each panel, the panels move the storyline along in a sequential manner.
  • Speech/Word Balloon – one of the most common features inside a comic book. They are those rounded or rectangular white-out areas where captions and dialogues go in.
  • Splash – a page that contains only one panel, where the majority of the page is filled by art.
  • Two-Page Spread – similar to the concept of a splash, a spread ‘spreads’ across two continuous pages.

 

Events

  • Story Arc – a story arc is a storyline told in generally 4 to 6 issues. Each arc usually has its own unique title, while each issue is a chapter of the arc.
  • Universe – a universe is a world shared by all the characters under the same brand, within the same universe, different characters are allowed to interact with each other. Sometimes certain events happen and alternate universes are created, characters from the main universe will not be able to interact with those from the alternative. However, certain characters have the abilities to travel through different dimensions/universes, and they might be able to bridge the gaps between universes (Yes Flash I’m talking about you). The main universe and the alternate universes are collectively known as The Multiverse.
  • Crossover – a crossover happens when characters from two or more comic book titles interact, this can happen within the same universe or inter-dimensionally. Crossover events generally go on for a few months or even a couple of years, a new series will often be created as a core series for the event, there will also be multiple tie-ins based on the scale of the event.
  • Tie-in – a tie-in is an issue whose character is somehow related to or affected by a crossover event. For example, in Civil War, due to the massiveness of the event, so many superheroes were involved, so during the entire event, issues from those superheroes’ own titles became tie-ins of Civil War. I think it had over 80 tie-in issues! And don’t even ask me how many tie-ins Secret Wars created.
  • Continuity – continuity refers to the consistency of a character throughout the history of their books. In 2011, DC introduced the New 52 which cancelled all their existing books and introduced brand new titles that have still the same characters but with more modern origins. This initiative alternated the original continuity of DC’s almost 80 years of publishing history, and created a whole new continuity that is accessible and relatable to new readers. Even after the conclusion of New 52, this new continuity is still ongoing in the DC Rebirth era.

 

Others/Miscellaneous

  • Golden Age – this refers to the era from 1938 to 1956, this period was absolutely crucial and foundational to today’s modern comics, many notable characters were created during this period of time such as Batman, Superman and Captain America.
  • Silver Age – this refers to the era from 1956 to 1970, this period saw the creation of superhero teams such as Justice League of America, Avengers, Fantastic 4 and the X-Men.
  • Bronze Age – this refers to the era from 1970 to 1986, writers and artists started to include social issues in their comics such as racism, drug abuse and social justice.
  • Issue #0 – most issue #0s are NOT published before issue #1, they are usually published in the middle of a series to include a story that acts like a prologue to the main storyline, or a story that explains a certain character’s origin.
  • Run – this refers to the number of consecutive issues written by the same writer.
  • Origin Story – a story that tells how the character becomes the character.
  • The Big Two – Marvel & DC, who else?
  • Indie – an independent publisher. Basically everyone else other than the Big Two, I think.
  • LCS – short for Local Comic Store.

There you have it! A glossary of commonly used comic terms, if you are a new reader I hope this post can serve you as a dictionary in the comics world, and if you encounter any word that you don’t understand but is not on this list, do let me know by leaving a message; if you are a long-time reader, please let me know if I missed out anything important, and correct me if I made any mistakes.

Happy reading!

Tim

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