January 21, 2015
by Andy Waterfield

On Wednesdays We Wear Ink is a weekly column on comics and comics culture. For past columns, click here.

As much as I’d love them to be, comics, at least in the Anglophone world, are not a mass medium. Thanks to newspaper strips and webcomics, most people are comics literate to one degree or another, but mass readership of long-form, or even just multi-page works is a long way off.

Now, there are plenty of people trying to change that, and this column is about getting non-readers excited about comics as much as it’s about anything else, but there’s a key stumbling block that most people don’t think about, and that’s language.

If we think about a few of the most popular entertainment/storytelling mediums of our time, we find that all of them have their own specialist language. Music, for example, is mostly sold/streamed on tracks, on records, albums are released/dropped, etc. The only reason this jargon doesn’t sound super weird to us, is because we already understand it.

It’s with that in mind that we’re gonna use this week’s column to go through some common comics jargon, with a view to getting rid of an awkward barrier to understanding between existing readers and prospective readers.

It’ll be fun. Promise.

Comic: Pictures, which, when read in order, convey information. Sometimes that information is what to do if the plane you’re on has to make a crash landing, and sometimes it’s storytelling, journalism, or any number of other things. That might seem pretty broad, but sod it, comics have a scope as broad as the imagination of their creators. If you’re feeling fancy, you can think of the basic DNA of comics as sequential art, but even that term is kind of limiting.

Example: “The cover of Colour Me Wednesday’s debut album is also a comic by Akbar Ali. Looky!”

This album cover is a comic by Akbar Ali.

Panel: One of the pictures that make up a comic. Sometimes called a frame.

Example: “Oh, but that last panel of Emma addressing the students? That shit was awesome!”

Emma Frost is fierce. Especially drawn by Frank Quitely.

Page: In print comics, a page is a pretty obvious one. Usually made up of several panels. In digital comics, pages aren’t always relevant, because digital comics don’t have the same limitations a sheet of paper has. Conversely, digital comics are fucking useless if a low-yield nuke creates an electromagnetic pulse and knackers all your fancy toys.

Example: “That page from All Star Superman with the girl on the ledge saved my life.”

A simple page with extraordinary power, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Issue: Sometimes called a single, or a floppy, this is what most people mean when they say ‘comic book.’ Usually contains between 20 and 30 comics pages, and sometimes contains adverts. A bit like an episode on television.

Example:Generation X issue 71 is about an awkward English kid spending all day alone, looking through crates of dusty punk records, then sabotaging his love life in the most idiotic way possible. It is the story of my adolescence.”

Seriously, this is my favourite single issue ever. I want to marry it.

Series: When multiple issues are published over time, that’s a series. In television, it’d be called a show, but in comics, a series is often also called a book.

Example:Hopeless Savages is my favourite series of all time. That book has never been anything but hugely entertaining, funny, and touching.”

Skank Zero Hopeless-Savage by Jen Van Meter and Christine Norrie

Trade Paperback: When a bunch of issues is collected in a single cover, that’s called a trade paperback, or trade for short. Trades have no ads, and because they don’t require regular trips to the shop, are a favourite for new and casual readers, or just readers who like to be able to put stuff neatly on shelves, and are too punx for adverts, like moi. Popular books will often come out in hardcover a few months before the trade. They look a bit fancier on your shelf, but they cost a bit more too.

Example: “Pardon me, comic shop employee, but do you know when the Pretty Deadly trade paperback is out? I am an avid lover of both feminist horror-western trades and fine cheeses, and I would like to alert my cheesemonger so I might enjoy the very best of both cheeses and trades, in one gloriously debauched evening.”

Blurb: Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

Graphic Novel: A long-form work of fiction in the comics medium, but often used as an umbrella term for any comics work that is published in a single cover and is of significant length, fictional or otherwise. Also sometimes used instead of trade paperback.

Example: “Andy, we’ve heard your graphic novel rant before. Yes, it is stupid to call something like Joe Sacco’s Palestine a graphic novel when it’s clearly a journalistic work in the comics form, and not novelistic in any real sense, but it’s a term that people understand so wind your pedantic little neck in!”

A Contract With God by Will Eisner

Run: Some comics have a single creative team throughout, or at least a single writer with a number of artists over their existence. This isn’t always the case though, particularly for the corporate-owned characters at DC and Marvel. When you’re publishing comics about the same characters for decades at a time, it’s not always possible, or indeed sensible, for the same people to be working on them that whole time. That and most of the people who worked on those early stories are retired or dead, alas. A particular creator’s stint on a long-running title is called a run. Simple.

Example: “Grant Morrison’s run on New X-men was a mind-bending Freudian saga of epic proportions. Also, Frank Quitely drew Cyclops and Emma Frost getting a bit saucy.”

Emma and Scott doing grown up stuff. Cover your eyes!

Pull list: A pull list is a neat way of getting your favourite comic shop to save new issues of the books you read for you so you don’t miss anything. Just approach the counter, and ask to set up a pull list. It’s also easier for the shop, as most comics are non-returnable (they can’t send unsold stock back to the distributor), so it helps them out a lot to have an accurate picture of how many copies of a given title they’re likely to sell.

Example: “When I was a little kid, my pull list was nothing but Robin. I’d hit the shop with my Mum and Grandma, then soak in a warm bath of Chuck Dixon ‘90s goodness. Mmmm-mmm. That’s a metaphor! I’ve never taken comics in the bath; I’m not a monster!”

I don’t know either.

Pre-order: You can pre-order an upcoming title months in advance. This is especially useful if it’s a smaller series, and/or not the sort of thing your shop usually carries. Just like a pull list, it helps the shop get an idea of what their customers want, and it gives smaller publishers and creators a better idea of their market, so they don’t over-publish, or worse, publish too few copies, and leave prospective readers unable to get hold of their opus.

Example: “I pre-ordered the new Jamie S. Rich book. Hopefully this will help him maintain a steady income so he can continue to live in the style to which he has become accustomed.“

Jamie S. Rich: Dapper as fuck, mate. Buy his comics.

Longbox: A longbox, usually made of hardy cardboard, built specifically to store issues of standard size comics. Often found in the back-issue sections of comic shops, and a great place to find stories you may have missed. If you see a man angrily cursing the skies because he can’t find the Impulse issue he’s looking for, it’s probably me. You should read Impulse. That book was too sick!

Example: “Dude, I got my longboxes out of the cupboard on Sunday and read the entire run of Judd Winick’s Outsiders while listening to Dio-era Sabbath. Best Sunday ever!”


Continuity: In long-running superhero comics, or indeed any comics that run over years or decades, continuity is a thing. In TV and movies, this can be as simple as making sure a character is wearing their hair the same way in one shot as the next. In comics, when the same characters have been having adventures together for the best part of a century, there can be a lot to remember. For example, a creator might need to remember that Hero A and Hero B once shared a passionate kiss on the moon or whatever in 1967, so when they end up shagging in an upcoming issue here in 2015, she needs to acknowledge the precedent set by that kiss in 1967 or risk the ire of self-righteous nerds on Twitter, or worse, a comic book forum. The vast majority of fans just roll with this stuff, thank fuck. Life’s too short.

Example: “I don’t give a flying fuck about continuity. I just want to read stories about Wonder Woman kicking patriarchy in the balls.”

Wonder Woman 170 by Joe Kelly and Phil Jimenez

So there you have it, dear readers; a cheeky rundown of some basic comics jargon. Now there’s no need to look confused the next time you’re in your favourite comic shop. That is, unless you try to make sense of a Hawkman comic, in which case, may your God be with you.

Disclaimer: Making oblique jokes about Hawkman continuity is not big or clever, even if you use one to tie off your weekly comics column. It will not get you dates with beautiful women, beautiful men, or glorious androgyne darlings plucked straight from your most intimate fantasies. Just don’t do it. Follow Andy on twitter: @andywritesstuff