Glossary of comics terminology
Comics as a medium 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 comics terminology in English is under dispute. This page will list and describe the most common terms used in comics.
- 1 Comics
- 2 Layout
- 3 Elements
- 4 Concepts
- 5 Division of labour
- 6 Formats
- 7 International comics
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
The term "comics" is used in the singular to refer to the medium, in the way that the words "politics" or "economics" are, so that it 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).
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").
Other terms used as synonyms for "comics" are "sequential art", a term coined and popularized by Will Eisner, and graphic novel, although this usage is not consistent and is normally used to denote book-form comics.
A panel, frame or box is one drawing on a page, and contains a segment of action. A page may have one or many panels, and panels are frequently, but not always, surrounded by a border or outline, whose shape can be altered to indicate emotion, tension or flashback sequences. 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. Panels are used to break up and encapsulate sequences of events in a narrative. What occurs in a panel may be asynchronous, meaning that not everything that occurs in a single panel necessarily occurs at one time.
The gutter is the space between panels.
A tier is a single row of panels.
A splash or splash page is a large, often full-page illustration which opens and introduces a story." It is rarely less than half a page, and occasionally covers two pages. 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.
A spread is an image that spans more than one page. The two-page spread is the most common, but there are spreads that span more pages, often by making use of a foldout (or gatefold).
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 or tail.
The speech balloon bridges the gap between word and image—"the word made image", as expressed by Pierre Fresnault-Druelle. 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. A thought balloon contains copy expressing a character's unvoiced thoughts, usually shaped like a cloud, with bubbles as a pointer. Emotions can be expressed by the shape of the balloon—spiked balloons can indicate shouting, and balloons "dripping" balloons can indicate sarcasm.
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.
The reader performs closure by using background knowledge and an understanding of panel relations to combine panels mentally into events.
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.
Division of labour
Sometimes all aspects of a comics production down to the editing, publishing and distribution are done by a single person. At the other extreme, the labour behind the comics creation is sometimes divided up into different specialties.
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, the backgrounds, and the characters' facial expressions and poses.
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. 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, and is more or less active depending on the completeness of the pencils provided.
The colourist or colorist adds colours to the finished artwork, which can have an effect on mood and meaning. Colourists have work with a variety of media, such as rubylith in the past, paints, and computers.
Sometimes also called scripter or plotter, the writer or writers script or otherwise plot out the work, which may plot, dialogue and action, in a way that the artist or artists can interpret the story into visuals for the reader. Writers can communicate their stories in varying amounts of detail to the artist(s) in a number of ways, including verbally, by script, or by thumbnail layout.
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 provided the lettering for sound, although this is often done by the artist even when a letterer is present. In the West, comics have traditionally been hand-lettered, although computer typesetting has become increasingly common. The manner in which the letterer letters the text has an impact on how the message is interpreted by the reader, and the letterer can suggest the paralanguage of dialogue by varying the weight, size and shape of the lettering.
A comic strip is a short work of comics which has its origins in the world of newspapers, but also may 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.
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 but one in a week (usually Sunday), in which the strip appears larger, 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.
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.
Gag and editorial cartoons
|This section requires expansion. (February 2012)|
Also known as a comic or floppy, a comic book is a periodical, normally thin and stapled together. 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.
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". Others again define it as a book with a square-bound spine, even if it is a collection of short strips. 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.
Some would rather 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.
Webcomics have emerged since the beginning of the 21st century as comics published via the Internet on the World Wide Web. 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. These comics are also capable of incorporated multimedia elements, such as sound and animation.
Comics of non-English origin are often referred to by the terms used in those comics' language of origin. Most widespead, fans of Japanese comics use the term manga, which is also applied to non-Japanese comics done in a Japanese style. One also sees BD or bandes dessinées to refer to Franco-Belgian comics, manhwa and manhua to refer to Korean and Chinese comics respectively, and fumetti to refer to Italian comics, although this last term is also used in English to talk about comics whose graphics are made using photographs rather than cartooning techniques.
- Comics and Sequential Art
- Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative
- Manga iconography
- Reinventing Comics
- The Lexicon of Comicana
- Understanding Comics
- Lyga & Lyga 2004, p. 162.
- Markstein 2010.
- Weiner & Weiner 2010, p. 227.
- Eisner 1985, p. 45.
- Lee 1978, p. 15.
- Eisner 1985, p. 28.
- Eisner 1985, pp. 44, 46–47.
- Eisner 1985, p. 30.
- Eisner 1985, p. 38.
- Duncan & Smith 2009, p. 315.
- Lee 1978, p. 15; Eisner 1985, p. 157; McCloud 1993, p. 66.
- Eisner 1985, p. 62.
- Dawson, page 112
- Carrier, page 28
- Eisner 1985, p. 27.
- Eisner 1996, p. 174.
- Lee 1978, p. 15; Lyga & Lyga 2004, p. 161.
- Duncan & Smith, page 318
- Duncan & Smith, page 156
- Duncan & Smith, page 316
- Duncan & Smith, page 10
- Duncan & Smith, page 315
- Lyga & Lyga 2004, p. 161.
- Markstein 2010; Lyga & Lyga 2004, p. 161; Lee 1978, p. 145.
- Duncan & Smith, page 8
- Lyga & Lyga 2004, p. 165.
- Lyga & Lyga 2004, p. 163.
- Dawson, page 110
- Duncan & Smith, page 145
- Duncan & Smith, page 6
- Lyga & Lyga 2004, p. 164.
- Weiner & Weiner 2010, p. 227; Markstein 2010; Semley 2011.
- Abel, Jessica. What is a 'Graphic Novel'?". 2002. retrieved 2012-02-16
- Duncan & Smith, page 4
- McCloud 2006, p. 215.
- Dawson, Willow (2010). Lila & Ecco's Do-It-Yourself Comics Club. Kids Can Press Ltd. ISBN 978-1-55453-438-8.
- Duncan, Randy; Smith, Matthew J. (2009). The Power of Comics. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-8264-2936-0.
- Eisner, Will (1996). Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative. Poorhouse Press. ISBN 978-0-9614728-2-5.
- Lyga, Allyson A. W.; Lyga, Barry (2004). Graphic Novels in your Media Center: A Definitive Guide (1st ed.). Libraries Unlimited. ISBN 1-59158-142-7.
- Markstein, Don (2010). "Glossary Of Specialized Cartoon-related Words and Phrases Used in Don Markstein’s Toonopedia™". Archived from the original on 2012-02-04. Retrieved February 8, 2013.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Comics.|
- Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, Jessica Abel and Matt Madden on reading, teaching, and making comics
- Glossary at Don Markstein's Toonopedia
- Comic Book Glossary at About.com