Glossary of comics terminology

Comics has developed specialized terminology. Several attempts have been made to formalise and define the terminology of comics by authors such as Will Eisner, Scott McCloud, R. C. Harvey and Dylan Horrocks. Much of the terminology in English is under dispute, so this page will list and describe the most common terms used in comics.


"Comics" is used as a non-count noun, and thus is used with the singular form of a verb,[1] in the way the words "politics" or "economics" are, to refer to the medium, so that one refers to the "comics industry" rather than the "comic industry". "Comic" as an adjective also has the meaning of "funny", or as pertaining to comedians, which can cause confusion and is usually avoided in most cases ("comic strip" being a well-entrenched exception).[2]

"Comic" as a singular noun is sometimes used to refer to individual comics periodicals, what are known in North America as "comic books".

"Underground comix" is a term first popularized by cartoonists in the underground comix movement of the 1960s and 1970s in an attempt to move the word away from its etymological origins. Art Spiegelman in particular has been a proponent of its usage, hoping to highlight the fact that the medium is capable of mature, non-comedic content, as well as to emphasize the hybrid nature of the medium ("co-mix").[3]

"Alternative comics" is a term covering a range of American comics that have appeared since the 1980s, following the comix movement of the late 1960s/early 1970s.

Other terms used as synonyms for "comics" are "sequential art", a term coined and popularized by Will Eisner,[3] and graphic novel, which is normally used to denote book-form comics—although this usage is not consistent.[4]


Comics page layout example
A typical comics page layout.
  A is a panel
  B is a borderless panel
  are the gutters
  is a tier


A panel (alternatively known as frame or box)[5] is one drawing on a page,[6] and contains a segment of action. A page may have one or many panels, and panels are frequently, but not always,[5] surrounded by a border or outline,[7] whose shape can be altered to indicate emotion, tension or flashback sequences.[8] The size, shape and style of a panel, as well as the placement of figures and speech balloons inside it, affect the timing or pacing of a story.[9] Panels are used to break up and encapsulate sequences of events in a narrative.[10] What occurs in a panel may be asynchronous, meaning that not everything that occurs in a single panel necessarily occurs at one time.[11]


The gutter is the space between panels.[12] Vertical gutters can be made thinner than horizontal gutters in order to encourage the reader to group each row of panels for easier reading.[13]


A tier is a singular row of panels.[14]


A splash or splash page is a large, often full-page illustration which opens and introduces a story.[6] It is rarely less than half a page, and occasionally covers two pages.[3] Often designed as a decorative unit, its purpose is to capture the reader's attention, and can be used to establish time, place and mood.[15]


A spread is an image that spans more than one page. The two-page spread or double-page spread[16] is the most common, but there are spreads that span more pages, often by making use of a foldout (or gatefold).


A caption (the yellow box) gives the narrator a voice. The characters dialogue is given through speech balloons. The character speaking is indicated by the tail of the balloon.

Speech bubble

A speech/word/dialogue balloon or speech/word/dialogue bubble is a speech indicator, containing the characters' dialogue. The indicator from the balloon that points at the speaker is called a pointer[6] or tail.[3][15][17]

The speech balloon bridges the gap between word and image—"the word made image", as expressed by Pierre Fresnault-Druelle.[18] In early renderings, speech balloons were no more than ribbons emanating from their speakers' mouths, but as it evolved and became more sophisticated, it became a more expressive device. Its shape came to convey meaning as well.[19] A thought balloon contains copy expressing a character's unvoiced thoughts, usually shaped like a cloud, with bubbles as a pointer.[6] Emotions can be expressed by the shape of the balloon—spiked balloons can indicate shouting, and "dripping" balloons can indicate sarcasm.[20]


In a caption, words appear in a box separated from the rest of the panel or page, usually to give voice to a narrator, but sometimes used for the characters' thoughts or dialogue.[21] In some comics, where speech balloons are not used, the caption provide the reader with text about what is happening in the images. This genre is called text comics.

Sound effects

Sound effects or onomatopoeia are words that mimic sounds.[22] They are non-vocal sound images, from the subtle to the forceful.[23]



The reader performs closure by using background knowledge and an understanding of panel relations to combine panels mentally into events.[24]


Encapsulation is the capturing of prime moments in a story. Not every moment of a story is presented in comics. For the artist, encapsulation involves choosing what will be presented in which panels, how many panels will be used to present the action, and the size and layout of the panels. The layouts of the panels can influence the way the panels interact with each other to the reader. This interaction can lend more meaning to the panels than what they have individually. Encapsulation is distinctive to comics, and an essential consideration in the creation of a work of comics.[25]

Division of labour

Sometimes all aspects of a comics production down to the editing, publishing and distribution are done by a single person; in such cases the term "comic book creator" (also "comics creator") is employed (occasionally the term "graphic novelist" is also employed,[26] but ambiguity may arise because the same term is also used to refer to the person who only writes the script[27]). The sophisticated term "graphic narrator" is also found in the academic literature on art education.[28]

At the other extreme, the labour behind the comics creation is sometimes divided up into different specialties.


A cartoonist (also comic strip creator) may refer to a person who does most or all of the art duties, and frequently, but not always, implies that the artist is also the writer.[29][30]


Also sometimes called scripter, plotter or author,[31] the writer scripts the work—scripting may include plot, dialogue and action—in a way that the artist (or artists) can interpret the story into visuals for the reader.[32] Writers can communicate their stories in varying amounts of detail to the artist(s) and in a number of ways, including verbally, by script or by thumbnail layout.[33]


The artist is the person who handles the visuals. This job may be broken down further into:


The penciller or penciler lays down the basic artwork for a page, deciding on panel placement and the placement of figures and settings in the panels,[30] the backgrounds and the characters' facial expressions and poses.[3]


An inker or finisher "finishes" and sometimes enhances, the pencilled artwork using ink (traditionally India ink) and a pen or brush to create a high-contrast image for photographing and printing.[34] The extent of the inker's job varies depending on how tight the penciller's work is, but nonetheless requires the skill of an artist,[3] and is more or less active depending on the completeness of the pencils provided.[33]


The colourist or colorist adds colours to the finished artwork, which can have an effect on mood and meaning.[29] Colourists can work with a variety of media, such as rubylith, paints, and computers. Digital colorists may employ a Flatter to assist them.


Normally separate from the writer, the letterer is the person who fills (and possibly places) speech balloons and captions with the dialogue and other words meant to be read. Letterers may also provide the lettering for sound, although this is often done by the artist even when a letterer is present.[35] In the West, comics have traditionally been hand-lettered, although computer typesetting has become increasingly common.[3][36] The manner in which the letterer letters the text influences how the message is interpreted by the reader,[33] and the letterer can suggest the paralanguage of dialogue by varying the weight, size and shape of the lettering.[37]


Comic strip

A comic strip is a short work of comics which has its origins in the world of newspapers, but may also appear in magazines or other periodicals, as well as in books and elsewhere. In comic strips, generally the only unit of encapsulation is the panel.[38]


As the name implies, a daily comic strip is a comic strip that is normally run six days a week in a newspaper, historically in black and white, although colour examples have become common. They normally run every day in a week but one (usually Sunday), in which the strip appears larger and usually in colour. The Sunday strips are often outside the ongoing story in the case of strips that have continuity.

Usually, daily strips are short and limited to one tier.

1922 0121 krazykat det 650
Full-page Krazy Kat Sunday comic strip (1922)


Sunday comics are comic strips that traditionally run in newspapers on Sundays (Saturdays in some papers), frequently in full colour. Before World War II, cartoonists normally were given an entire page to themselves, and often would devote the page to a single comic strip, although many would divide the page between a main strip and a "topper" (which would sometimes run on the bottom). Wartime paper shortages brought down the size of strips, and to this day Sunday pages normally are made up of a multitude of strips.[3]

Gag and editorial cartoons

Gag cartoons and editorial cartoons are usually single-panel comics, although sequential examples are not rare.

A gag cartoon (a.k.a. panel cartoon or gag panel) is most often a single-panel cartoon, usually including a hand-lettered or typeset caption beneath the drawing. A pantomime cartoon carries no caption. In some cases, dialogue may appear in speech balloons, following the common convention of comic strips. As the name implies—"gag" being a show business term for a comedic idea—these cartoons are most often intended to provoke laughter.

An editorial cartoon or political cartoon is most often a single-panel comic that contain some level of political or social commentary. Such cartoons are used to convey and question an aspect of daily news or current affairs in a national or international context. Political cartoons generally feature a caricaturist style of drawing, to capture the likeness of a politician or subject. Political cartoonists may also employ humor or satire to ridicule an individual or group, emphasize their point of view, or comment on a particular event. The traditional and most common outlet for political cartoons is the editorial page of a newspaper, or in a pocket cartoon, in the front news section of a newspaper. Editorial cartoons are not usually found in the dedicated comic section, although certain cartoons or comic strips have achieved crossover status.

Comic book

A comic book, also known as a comic or floppy, is a periodical, normally thin in size and stapled together.[39] Comic books have a greater variety of units of encapsulation than comic strips, including the panel, the page, the spread, and inset panels. They are also capable of more sophisticated layouts and compositions.[38] A floppy comic is also known as an American comic book.

Graphic novel

Graphic novel is a term whose definition is hard to pin down, but usually refers to self-contained, book-length form. Some would have its use restricted only to long-form narratives, while at the other extreme are people who use it as a synonym for "comics" or "comic book".[40] Others again define it as a book with a square-bound spine, even if it is a collection of short strips.[41] Still others have used the term to distance their work from the negative connotations the terms "comic" or "comic book" have for the public, or to give their work an elevated air. Other than in presentation and intent, they hardly differ from comic books.[42]

Some prefer not use the term "graphic novel" at all. Amongst the criticisms are that the use of the word "novel" excludes non-novelistic genres, such as journalism, biography or history. Others believe the term has become too general, a catch-all for all kinds of content, and thus meaningless.[43]

Towards the close of the 20th century, the three major comics-producing traditions—American, western European (especially the Franco-Belgian), and Japanese—converged in a trend towards book-length comics: the comic album in Europe, the tankōbon[a] in Japan, and the graphic novel in the English-speaking countries.


Webcomics, comics published via the Internet on the World Wide Web, have emerged since the beginning of the 21st century. As they are not limited by the size and shape of a physical page, they can make use of what Scott McCloud calls the infinite canvas, where the individual comics can make use of different sizes and dimensions. Webcomics are also capable of incorporated multimedia elements, such as sound, animation and bigger panels (scrolling panels). In South Korea, an infinite canvas format caught on called the webtoon. A slide show-like format for webcomics was described by French cartoonists Balak in 2010, which he dubbed Turbomedia.

International comics

Comics of non-English origin are often referred to by the terms used in those comics' language of origin. The most widespread example is when fans of Japanese comics use the term manga,[44] which is also applied to non-Japanese comics done in a Japanese style.[3] One also sees BD or bandes dessinées used to refer to Franco-Belgian comics,[29][36] manhwa and manhua to refer to Korean and Chinese comics respectively, and fumetti to refer to Italian comics, although this term is also used in English to refer to comics whose graphics are made using photographs rather than illustrations.

See also


  1. ^ tankōbon (単行本, translation close to "independently appearing book")


  1. ^ Chute & Devoken 2012, p. 175.
  2. ^ Lyga & Lyga 2004, p. 162.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Markstein 2010.
  4. ^ Goldsmith 2005, p. 16; Karp 2012, pp. 4–6.
  5. ^ a b Eisner 1985, p. 45.
  6. ^ a b c d Lee 1978, p. 15.
  7. ^ Eisner 1985, p. 28.
  8. ^ Eisner 1985, pp. 44, 46–47.
  9. ^ Eisner 1985, p. 30.
  10. ^ Eisner 1985, p. 38.
  11. ^ Duncan & Smith 2009, p. 315.
  12. ^ Lee 1978, p. 15; Eisner 1985, p. 157; McCloud 1993, p. 66.
  13. ^ "Panel Layout: The Golden Ratio". MakingComics. Retrieved 15 March 2016. Greater horizontal proximity encourages the reader to group each row of panels for easier reading.
  14. ^ Chapman 2012, p. 50.
  15. ^ a b Eisner 1985, p. 62.
  16. ^ "The Death Of The Double Page Spread?".
  17. ^ Dawson, page 112
  18. ^ Carrier, page 28
  19. ^ Eisner 1985, p. 27.
  20. ^ Eisner 1996, p. 174.
  21. ^ Lee 1978, p. 15; Lyga & Lyga 2004, p. 161.
  22. ^ Duncan & Smith, page 318
  23. ^ Duncan & Smith, page 156
  24. ^ Duncan & Smith, page 316
  25. ^ Duncan & Smith, page 10
  26. ^ M. Keith Booker (ed.), Encyclopedia of Comic Books and Graphic Novels, Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2010, p. 172: "William Erwin Eisner was a comic book creator, graphic novelist, teacher, entrepreneur, and advocate of comics."
  27. ^ Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 195, Gale, 2005, p. 167: "(Full name Neil Richard Gaiman) English graphic novelist".
  28. ^ Elliot W. Eisner and Michael D. Day (eds.), Handbook of Research and Policy in Art Education, Routledge, 2004, p. 305.
  29. ^ a b c Duncan & Smith, page 315
  30. ^ a b Lyga & Lyga 2004, p. 161.
  31. ^ Booker, M. Keith (ed.), Comics through Time: A History of Icons, Idols, and Ideas, Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2014, pp. 174 and 867.
  32. ^ Lyga & Lyga 2004, p. 165.
  33. ^ a b c Duncan & Smith, page 8
  34. ^ Markstein 2010; Lyga & Lyga 2004, p. 161; Lee 1978, p. 145.
  35. ^ Lyga & Lyga 2004, p. 163.
  36. ^ a b Dawson, page 110
  37. ^ Duncan & Smith, page 145
  38. ^ a b Duncan & Smith, page 6
  39. ^ Lyga & Lyga 2004, p. 164.
  40. ^ Weiner & Weiner 2010, p. 227; Markstein 2010; Semley 2011.
  41. ^ Abel, Jessica. What is a 'Graphic Novel'?". 2002. retrieved 2012-02-16
  42. ^ Duncan & Smith, page 4
  43. ^ Weiner & Weiner 2010, p. 227.
  44. ^ McCloud 2006, p. 215.

Works cited

External links

Belgian Comic Strip Center

The Belgian Comic Strip Center (French: Centre belge de la Bande dessinée; Dutch: Belgisch Stripcentrum) is a museum in Brussels, located in the Rue des Sables /Zandstraat 20, dedicated to Belgian comics.

Comics artist

A comics artist (also comic book artist, graphic novel artist, or comic book illustrator) is a person working within the comics medium on comic strips, comic books, or graphic novels. The term may refer to any number of artists who contribute to produce a work in the comics form, from those who oversee all aspects of the work to those who contribute only a part.

Comics studies

Comics studies (also comic(s) art studies, sequential art studies or graphic narrative studies) is an academic field that focuses on comics and sequential art. Although comics and graphic novels have been generally dismissed as less relevant pop culture texts, scholars in fields such as semiotics, composition studies and cultural studies are now re-considering comics and graphic novels as complex texts deserving of serious scholarly study.

Not to be confused with the technical aspects of comics creation, comics studies exists only with the creation of comics theory—which approaches comics critically as an art—and the writing of comics historiography (the study of the history of comics). Comics theory has significant overlap with the philosophy of comics, i.e., the study of the ontology, epistemology and aesthetics of comics, the relationship between comics and other art forms, and the relationship between text and image in comics.Comics studies is also interrelated with comics criticism, the analysis and evaluation of comics and the comics medium.

Fred Waring

Fredrick Malcolm Waring Sr. (June 9, 1900 – July 29, 1984) was a musician, bandleader, and radio and television personality, sometimes referred to as "America's Singing Master" and "The Man Who Taught America How to Sing". He was also a promoter, financial backer and eponym of the Waring Blendor, the first modern electric blender on the market.

History of manga

The history of manga is said to originate from scrolls dating back to the 12th century, and it is believed they represent the basis for the right-to-left reading style. The word first came into common usage in the late 18th century. Manga is a Japanese term that can be translated as "comic"; Historians and writers on manga history have described two broad and complementary processes shaping modern manga. Their views differ in the relative importance they attribute to the role of cultural and historical events following World War II versus the role of pre-war, Meiji, and pre-Meiji Japanese culture and art.

One view represented by other writers such as Frederik L. Schodt, Kinko Ito, and Adam L. Kern, stress continuity of Japanese cultural and aesthetic traditions, including pre-war, Meiji, and pre-Meiji culture and art. The other view, emphasizes events occurring during and after the Allied occupation of Japan (1945–1952), and stresses that manga was strongly shaped by United States cultural influences, including US comics brought to Japan by the GIs and by images and themes from US television, film, and cartoons (especially Disney). According to Sharon Kinsella, the booming Japanese publishing industry helped create a consumer-oriented society in which publishing giants like Kodansha could shape popular taste.

List of comics solicited but never published

Stories, issues of limited/ongoing series, or even entire series which were written or promoted, and solicited for release but for various reasons were never published. Some were eventually reprinted elsewhere or published in different forms.


Manga (漫画, Manga) are comics or graphic novels created in Japan or by creators in the Japanese language, conforming to a style developed in Japan in the late 19th century. They have a long and complex pre-history in earlier Japanese art.The term manga (kanji: 漫画; hiragana: まんが; katakana: マンガ; listen ; English: or ) in Japan is a word used to refer to both comics and cartooning. "Manga" as a term used outside Japan refers to comics originally published in Japan.In Japan, people of all ages read manga. The medium includes works in a broad range of genres: action, adventure, business and commerce, comedy, detective, drama, historical, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction and fantasy, erotica, sports and games, and suspense, among others. Many manga are translated into other languages. Since the 1950s, manga has steadily become a major part of the Japanese publishing industry. By 1995, the manga market in Japan was valued at ¥586.4 billion ($6–7 billion), with annual sales of 1.9 billion manga books and manga magazines in Japan (equivalent to 15 issues per person). Manga have also gained a significant worldwide audience. In 2008, in the U.S. and Canada, the manga market was valued at $175 million. Manga represent 38% of the French comics market, which is equivalent to approximately ten times that of the United States. In France, the manga market was valued at about €460 million ($569 million) in 2005. In Europe and the Middle East, the market was valued at $250 million in 2012.Manga stories are typically printed in black-and-white, although some full-color manga exist (e.g., Colorful). In Japan, manga are usually serialized in large manga magazines, often containing many stories, each presented in a single episode to be continued in the next issue. Collected chapters are usually republished in tankōbon volumes, frequently but not exclusively, paperback books. A manga artist (mangaka in Japanese) typically works with a few assistants in a small studio and is associated with a creative editor from a commercial publishing company. If a manga series is popular enough, it may be animated after or during its run. Sometimes manga are drawn centering on previously existing live-action or animated films.Manga-influenced comics, among original works, exist in other parts of the world, particularly in Algeria ("DZ-manga"), China, Hong Kong, Taiwan ("manhua"), and South Korea ("manhwa").

Script (comics)

A script is a document describing the narrative and dialogue of a comic book in detail. It is the comic book equivalent of a television program teleplay or a film screenplay.

In comics, a script may be preceded by a plot outline, and is almost always followed by page sketches, drawn by a comics artist and inked, succeeded by the coloring and lettering stages. There are no prescribed forms of comic scripts, but there are two dominant styles in the mainstream comics industry, the full script (commonly known as "DC style") and the plot script (or "Marvel style").

Sequential art

In comics studies, sequential art is a term proposed by comics artist Will Eisner to describe art forms that use images deployed in a specific order for the purpose of graphic storytelling (i.e., narration of graphic stories) or conveying information. The best-known example of sequential art is comics.

The Lexicon of Comicana

The Lexicon of Comicana is a 1980 book by the American cartoonist Mort Walker. It was intended as a tongue-in-cheek look at the devices used by cartoonists. In it, Walker invented an international set of symbols called symbolia after researching cartoons around the world. In 1964, Walker had written an article called "Let's Get Down to Grawlixes", a satirical piece for the National Cartoonists Society. He used terms such as grawlixes for his own amusement, but they soon began to catch on and acquired an unexpected validity. The Lexicon was written in response to this.

The names he invented for them sometimes appear in dictionaries, and serve as convenient terminology occasionally used by cartoonists and critics. A 2001 gallery showing of comic- and street-influenced art in San Francisco, for example, was called "Plewds! Squeans! and Spurls!"

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