Comics for Newbies: Terminology

Recently I’ve had people ask me to clarify or define terms that I’ve used in reference to comics. I hadn’t realized until then that there’s a lot of comics terminology that gets thrown around (on this blog and elsewhere) and if you’re new to reading comics….you may not know what the heck we’re even talking about when we talk about trades vs. single issues, one-shots, or pull lists!

Don’t fret, I’m going to help you with just that! Here are some common comics related terms and phrases you may come across:

 comics terminology

Publication Formats

Single Issue

Magazine-style serialized (numbered) issues that are typically released monthly (though release schedules vary and can be more or less frequent). Single issues are usually between 20-35 pages long, and depending on the publishing company may be interspersed with ads. There are often several different cover options available for single issues of popular comics series – the original, and variant covers.

Trade (TPB)

May also be referred to as a collected edition or volume. A trade, or trade paperback (TPB) collects on average five single issues or the number of issues in that series’ story arcs in softcover format. Depending on the publishing company trades are usually released one to six months after a story arc ends, and tend to include extras such as a cover gallery (each issues cover/variant covers), pencil/preliminary sketches of panels or characters, among other things.

Hardcover (HC)

A hardcover can be just a hardcover version of the trade paperback (much like you see with books), or it may collect more issues than a trade – sometimes up to 12 single issues per HC. A hardcover edition may sometimes be referred to as a library or deluxe edition in cases where it collects the equivalent of two or more trades.

Library/Deluxe Edition

A library or deluxe edition is a hardcover collection that typically contains the equivalent of two or three trade paperbacks (10-15 single issues) as well as extras. Deluxe editions often feature any special edition one-shot comics released in the series up until that point, cover galleries, sketches, scripts, character development notes/sketches, or short comics exclusive to that edition.

Omnibus

An omnibus is a very large/over-sized hardcover edition that often collects an entire series, event, or run of a comic. As a result, this can be a collection of 20+ single issues. If a series is particularly long-running it may be released in several omnibus editions.

Graphic Novel

Graphic novel is often used interchangeably to mean something similar to a trade paperback, or hardcover collected comic. It can also refer to an original graphic novel (OGN) which is a bound, illustrated non-serialized comic or story.

Digital First

A digital first is a comic that is released only in digital format before later being released in print.

Mini-Series

Where many comic series are written with the goal of being ongoing, and therefore fairly open-ended. A mini-series has a definitive end and set number of issues (on average less than seven single issues).

Issue #0

Often released for special events such as Free Comic Book Day. Popular among The Big Two an Issue #0 typically serves as an introduction or prologue to an upcoming event, or series.

One-shots

One-shots are individual stories or single issue comics that are not a part of an ongoing series. Most original graphic novels can be considered one-shots, but the term is most often used to describe special standalone stories for popular characters or series. These may be released as its own single issue or included as an extra in a collected/deluxe edition.

Annual

An annual is a special single issue comic in a series that is double the size of a normal single issue and may feature a collection of one-shot stories, or continue the ongoing story-line of a series with added extras.

Webcomic

Webcomics are comic strips or larger scale “pages” of an ongoing series or story that are made for online viewing; often through a dedicated website, or tumblr/blog. Webcomics usually follow a regular publishing schedule established by their creator(s) that varies from daily, to once a month.

 comics terminology

Creative/Other Comics Terminology

Creative Team

A creative team is the team responsible for the production of the comic. The creative team consists of one or more writers, artists (pencillers, inkers, colourists, letterers), editors, and/or producers. Creative teams will usually be the same, or vary slightly across a comics’ run with new creative teams taking over a title/character after a run comes to an end. Occasionally a new creative team will take over in the middle of an ongoing series.

The Big Two

The Big Two is used to refer to the two major comics publishing companies Marvel and DC.

Creator-Owned Comics

A creator-owned comic refers to comics where the publishing company only owns the rights to publishing the comic; the rights to characters, or storylines remains with the creator(s). Image is a popular publishing company for many creator-owned comics.

Indie Comics

Indie comics refers to comics published by independent or smaller scale publishing companies.

Variant Cover

Variant covers are offered in addition to the main cover of a single issue comic. Where the main cover is usually done by the series’ artist, a variant cover is done by another artist not typically associated with the series. Variant covers are often limited to a certain number of copies and some may be offered as exclusives for certain retailers, conventions, etc.

Panel

A panel refers to one of the self-contained boxes on a page.

Spread

A spread is when the art takes up two consecutive (side-by-side) pages in a comic.

Shared Universe

A shared universe is when different characters and events exist in the same reality allowing them to interact/impact each other. The most popular examples of this would be the Marvel universe and DC universe.

Crossovers/Crossover events

A crossover is when a story-line comes together across multiple titles within a shared universe. A crossover event is a crossover on a larger scale. An event can involve most or all of the current titles/characters within a shared universe. The overarching story-line in a crossover event can impact that universe for a set amount of time (such as a summer event) or for years afterwards and can serve as a refresh/reset of the universe. Crossover events can be difficult to understand here’s a good article on how to read a crossover event.

Story Arc

A story arc is an extended storyline that continues across several consecutive issues. In comics, an arc usually lasts about five issues.

Local Comic Shop (LCS)

Local Comic Shop (LCS) refers to a dedicated comics retailer located within your community or nearby.

New Comic Book Day (NCBD)

New Comic Book Day (NCBD) refers to the day of the week when new comics are released. For most retailers NCBD is every Wednesday.

Bag/Boards

When buying single issue comics, your Local Comic Shop may ask if you want bags and boards. Bags and boards refers to a method of maintaining and storing your single issue comics in clear plastic bags with a (usually white) piece of cardboard to help support the comic and keep it from getting bent while in storage.

Pull

A pull or pull list is the list of subscriptions you maintain at your local comic shop, or online (through places like comiXology). This is a list of titles that you want to follow through single issues and by setting up a pull your local comic shop (or online retailer) will automatically put aside these titles for you when they are released so that you don’t miss an issue.


I’m hoping to make this a resource that I can update as we go along. Are there any terms I missed? Let me know in the comments.

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16 thoughts on “Comics for Newbies: Terminology

  1. This is way awesome! I always have a hard time understanding most comic terms since I’m not a big comic person, but I want to get into them more so I’ll be bookmarking this for the future!

  2. *Bookmarks page for future reference*
    So helpful! If you try and look this stuff up on line you end up well and truly down a rabbit hole! Brilliant and concise. A big nooby thank you xx

  3. Man, as much as I like comics I totally didn’t know the lingo. Lol. Thanks very much for clearing that up. I feel like I’m just a little bit wiser.

  4. Thank you so much for this!!! I keep forgetting to go them trades. I just say Volume. I know sometimes it can be intimidating to walk into comic book stores. Especially if the guy behind the counter asks you a billion questions about comics. Is it just me that gets the “Geek Quiz” to see if I’m legit?

    1. No way! That happens a lot. I’m lucky enough that my LCS is owned, managed and has mainly female employees so it’s not an issue but I’ve gotten the “geek quiz” at other comic shops.

    1. Thanks Danielle – There are definitely more terms, I picked all the popular ones I could think of but this could have been MUCH longer, haha.

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