Everything you Need to Know about Comic Book Vocabulary

    In the second edition of The Watchtower, I felt it would be kind to help you comic book newbies through the lingo of the comic book world. Here are just a few terms to remember in your comic-reading exploits; these aren’t too difficult and should come in handy. Enjoy.

    Comic: Generally refers to serials published monthly in “single-issue” or “single magazine” form, but, annoyingly enough, can really refer to anything published with pictures and dialogue boxes ranging from the aforementioned, to “the funnies,” to the big ole hardcovers. If you’re dying to sound intellectual, you’ll probably say “graphic novels” in reference to the medium as a whole. Personally, I vary.

    Graphic novel: Refers to (a set of comics) collected in either trade paperbacks (TPB’s) and hardcovers (HC’s), which are a bit prettier and more durable, but also more expensive. These can be either collected editions of a particular series or set of series, superhero or otherwise, or stand-alone original graphic novels (OGN). If you’re just getting into the medium, I’d stick to graphic novels, be they paperback or hardcover, because even for an ongoing series, only about 3 come out a year, and it spares you a difficult and often (initially) confusing monthly commitment, and they tend to give whole stories rather than just pieces.

    Series (ongoing): Generally published monthly, this refers to single-issue “magazine form” comics (running about 32 pages, counting ads). Just about all of them are volumized as graphic novels now, anyway, so don’t bother with these if you’re new.

    Mini-series: Like the last one, but with a pre-planned end. Usually around 3-7ish issues.

    Maxi-series: The vaguely-defined longer version of the above, but really the same thing. Generally at least 10 issues.

    Tie-ins: Preexisting series tying into other larger events. They’re similar to intertitle crossovers, which are stories that explicitly spanning multiple titles.

    One-shot: A one-issue special, often self-contained, includes specials and 80-page giants, as well as Prestige format issues, which are published on a more durable stock-material of some sort.

    Panel: A single “picture” in a comic, describes an entire shape (usually a rectangle), typically bordered by a white frame. Most pages have several.

    Co-feature: Second feature in the back of a comic, usually substantially shorter

    Writer/Penciller/Inker/Colorist/Letterist: The creative team on any comic, one person can often fill multiple, even all, of these roles. Writers write, pencillers draw, inkers shade, colorists color, and letterists add the text boxes and bubbles with various fonts.

    Continuity: Refers to things taking place within the same universe or story space as each other. If something is “in continuity,” it means that it’s canon for that character or set of characters. Stories can occur in or out of continuity, and, until recently, for DC, these were labeled as “Elseworlds” until recently, while mainstream Marvel continuity is limited to “Earth-616.” Also worth noting is that DC essentially “reset” its continuity with 1985’s maxiseries Crisis on Infinite Earths, creating “post-crisis” continuity.

    Ages: Time frames for comics history (referring to year of publication and becoming less cheesy as the years pass), starting with Golden (1938 through the late 40’s), then oft-excluded Atomic (from about 1945-1956), Silver (’56-around ’70), Bronze, (’70-about ’85), and finally the Modern Age, which goes from about ’85 to the present.

    Retcon: A nifty trick writers do to reverse former continuity, essentially altering facts or events retroactively. Done poorly, it often involves simply ignoring past events, while done well, it refers to “creatively explaining” them, (for example, with the introduction of Parallax in Green Lantern). Retcons are often performed through devices like time travel, magic, and dimensional shifts.

    Crisis: Used to describe a giant, franchise-shaking comics event, such as DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinite Crisis, or Final Crisis (but not Identity Crisis). Similarly proportioned, but smaller events (in terms of scope, not length) include Blackest Night and 52. Marvel’s Secret Invasion, House of M, Civil War, and Siege. These are generally best-avoided until you have a better feel for the characters’ universes as a whole.

    With those words in your vernacular, you should sound like less of a rookie around some comic book pros.


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