Aug 4, 2012

Vocab Round Up: Comic Book Jargon

Like I tell my art students, always be willing to try a little something new. If you're not big into comic books and you think you might want to try giving them a shot, there are some simple ways to get in and not get overwhelmed. Along with my How to  Get Started Reading Comics post, I want to put some basic vocab terms out there to help you navigate the shop shelves and know just what people are talking about. Be sure to also check out Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics for some background and tips on how to read comics and why they are so special to some people.

Vocab Roundup:

  • Comics: Comics are a very general medium of art - they may refer to comic strips in the news paper, comic books in book-form, single-panel pictures, and even cave paintings. A broad definition to include these various meanings: comics are artistic static visual images meant to represent action and narrative. Things like painting in galleries are not mutually exclusive from comics. Sometimes paintings can be comics, and sometimes comics can be paintings. What matters is how the narrative is described through the images. In comics, the sequence of action, whatever it is, never changes from one reading to the next (that doesn't mean the meaning doesn't change). It's more like a film in that way. You can watch the same film several times and the action never varies from the first to the last. Action in non-comic art can change based on different readings and viewings of the images - they are more open to literal interpretation than are comics.
  • Panel: The separate cells of visual images within a comic strip or on a page of a comic book. Usually panels are separated by some kind of border, like a white frame or some kind of stylized decoration that is not a part of the scene. Sometimes panels over lap each other and a single figure can appear multiple times in the same space, implying movement within an environment. Panels help you read the narrative in its linear structure. Usually what I do when I read comics is look over the whole picture in a single panel before reading the text or dialog so I can see what's happening first.
  • Comic Book: A singular and distinct story (with a beginning, middle, and an end) told in comics and bound in a book. Sometimes the comic book is part of a larger story and the story can carry on into other books, but in one book there is always a definite beginning and at least a somewhat definite conclusion. These are the thin paper books people usually call comic books, called single issues. These are kind of like single episodes in a TV series.
  • Graphic Novel (GN): Similar to a comic book in that it is a complete story (or sometimes a collection of shorter complete stories). However, graphic novels are usually longer. They may be a collection of several single issues put together to relate a larger story in that title, but they may also be just singular books that are not part of a series and come out all at once. This is the novel version of comic books to the short story.
  • Trade Paperback (TP): Trades and graphic novels are interchangeable terms. Trades are most commonly collections of several single issues in one title. Several trades put together can represent the entire title. Trades are more like TV seasons: collecting single episodes into a linear story and making up a part of the longer overall series.
  • Series: The whole shibang on the comic book title. Some titles, like Hellblazer, have been going on for a long time - a long series run. Some titles have ended, like Transmetropolitan; some titles are rebooted and brought back in different series (I couldn't list all the different X-Men titles there have been over the years). In TV, this would be like a whole series of a show.
  • Run: A run refers to a collection of single issues (usually) that belong together in a specific sequence. For example, issues 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of House of Mystery might all belong together in a run that is collected in a trade. A run can also be just all of the single issues in a title.
  • Story Arc: Story arcs are distinctive stories within a title. They may span several single issues, they may be something that comes up every now and then throughout the series. When single issues are collected in trades, they are usually put together according to their place in a story arc. In one TP of Fables, the characters enter a war with another community. The story of this war is a part of the overall story of Fables, but it is told over several single issues. The story arc has a distinct beginning and end, and it connects and relates to other parts of the series.
  • Spin-Off: Just like in TV and movies, comics have spin offs sometimes. Hellblazer started off as a spin off from Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, which I think is pretty cool.
  • Cross-Over: When two series get together in a single story arc or a special single issue. Marvel and DC heroes do this all the time. Batman and Superman will appear in each other's arcs, and those appearances will be in their canonical universes and part of each of their distinct stories.

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