Comic Book Jargon

In honor of the upcoming C2E2 comic convention this weekend I thought I would put up a quick post about comics. I love comics and comic culture, but it can be intimidating.  There are so many stories, and fans who have dedicated so much time to them, that it can seem like a lot of work just to check something out.  To make things worse, the world of comics is full of terms nobody else uses.  To remedy this, I’ve created a short glossary of words and phrases used in the industry.


Sequential Art – This term, which I first came across in Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, refers to any kind of work where images are collected in sequence and show the passing of time.  This could be a Spiderman comic or it could be a series of frescos telling a biblical story.

Graphic Novel – A graphic novel is a novel told in a single book through words and pictures, such as Blankets, or Watchmen

Ongoing Series – An ongoing series is a comic book series that has no predetermined end point.  It’s a serial that generally comes out every month, like Amazing Spiderman, or BPRD.  Sometimes abbreviated to “ongoing.”

Miniseries – A short series of comic book issues that tell one story.  Not part of an ongoing series.

Maxiseries – A long series of comic book issues that tell one story.  Not part of an ongoing series.

Issue – A soft-backed magazine-style episode of a comic.  Issues are often 18-22 pages long.

Continuity – The over arching story of a character or universe that ties many comics together.  If Spiderman breaks his arm in Amazing Spiderman and appears in a Captain America book with his arm in a cast, that is an example of a continuity between the two ongoing series.

Penciler – The first visual artist to draw the story.  Someone who creates the initial drawings of the comic, generally with a pencil.

Inker – The artist who goes over the art of the penciler with the darker ink line.

Colorist – The person who creates the color palette for the comic, filling in any colors for the book.

Trade Paperback – Comic book series are often collected into larger volumes.  These books often collect five issues into a single, soft-cover, trade paperback.   This term is also sometimes abbreviated to “trade.”

Trade Waiter – A person who prefers to read stories collected into trade paperbacks, rather than read individual issues as they come out.

Fanboy – A term for zealous comic fans.  Often used pejoratively to describe fans that are obsessed with continuity and averse to change.

Creator-Owned – Creator-owned comics are original content with characters that belong to the artists and writers who create the comics.  They are generally made outside the two largest comic companies, Marvel and DC.

Work For Hire – This term exists in contrast to creator-owned work and refers to a penciler, writer, or other artist who works on licensed properties for a company.  For example, any original comic work on Star Wars would be work for hire, unless the penciler was George Lucas.


If you think of any terms I have left out please let me know in the comments. I would love to make this a bigger and better resource.  If you would like more comic book content you can check out some of the reviews I have done at World’s Strongest Librarian.