Photo of two big stacks of comics books with an illustrated version of Jessi's head in pink and white grinning and saying, "More Comics Please!" across three speech bubbles. There are three more mini speech bubbles around them that have pink hearts in them. The comics shown are The Nice House on the Lake, She Said Destroy, The Tiger's Tongue, The Many Deaths of Laila Starr, The Last Session: Roll for Initiative, Mamo, Queer & Magic Press: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology volumes one and two, Nubia: Real One, Artie and the Wolf Moon, The Magic Fish, Needle + Thread, Witchy Volume One, Squire, Squad, Submerged, The Wilds, The Low Low Woods, Eve, Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Volume One, Heartwood: Non-Binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy, Taproot, Princess Princess Ever After, Pilu of the Woods, Snapdragon, Roadqueen: Eternal Roadtrip to Love, and Witchy Volume One.
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Comic Book Terms and Definitions

Comic book terms and definitions are something I’ve come to understand through a lot of experience and googling: What does single issue mean? What is a trade paperback? What do OGN, HC, and TP stand for? Difference between a comic and a graphic novel? What does the Big Two mean? What the heck is a back issue?

If you’re new to the world of comics, here are some helpful terms to know when checking out your local comic book shop, local bookstore, or their websites. Some people may have slightly different opinions about the definitions of some of these (we’re a community infamous for internal debate after all!), but these are the terms as I understand them, and they should help you navigate the comics world. 

Once you feel like you’ve gotten the hang of them, check out my comic book review series More Comics Please!

How to Use this Glossary: I’ve ordered these terms in a way that will hopefully help you build upon each previous word you’ve read, but if you’re looking for a specific term, I recommend using the Find function on your device to get right to it!

General Comic Book Terms and Definitions

⟡ Panel
a box or section of the page in the comic

⟡ Gutter
the space between panels
often left as empty space, but a lot of artists get creative with it

⟡ Splash Page/Splash
a panel that takes up an entire page
often used to establish location or to increase emotional impact

this is when the art takes up two pages
it can be used to stretch multiple panels across the pages or it can be used as a large splash panel across two pages

when something happens in a comic outside of the panels shown to the audience
for example, if a character calls from another room not shown in the panel, that character is calling from off-panel

Speech bubble/Speech balloon
this is the section where a character’s speech is shown, often in the form of a balloon

Voice over/Narration/Text box
this is the section where text that isn’t speech is displayed
this is often used to reflect a character’s internal dialogue or to describe the location of a setting

sound effects on a page
BAM, POW, WHAM, THWACK are all examples of SFX in Western comics
DOKIDOKI, FUWAA, SAAA, and GOROGORO are examples of Japanese SFX in manga, often shown in katakana

Comic Book Purchasing Terms and Definitions

⟡ New Comic Book Day (NCBD)
the day of the week when new comics are released for sale, usually Wednesdays– a very fun day!

⟡ Free Comic Book Day
an annual event held on the first Saturday in May every year
designed to promote interest in comics and encourage readership
often includes a lot of one-shots of established comic book series or first issues of newer series
typically, you can go to your local comic book store in person to get these free issues provided by publishers
you can also get them for free online, but you may be required to have a minimum order to do so (something like “free with minimum $10 purchase”)
you can also get digital versions of free comic books by going directly to smaller publishers’ websites

⟡ Variant cover
an alternative cover illustration to the main one
this is often a space where guest illustrators are invited to provide a design

⟡ Incentive cover
a variant cover that a comic book seller can only order once they’ve purchased a pre-set number of the original cover versions of that same comic
for example, they must purchase, say, 100 of the original cover version before they can order the incentive cover version

⟡ Back issue
a single issue comic that is typically a month old or older and not the latest issue
for example, if Harley Quinn: The Animated Series: Legion of Bats has released Issue #5, then Issues #1-4 are back issues

Types of Comics

⟡ Single issue
an ongoing story divided into individual prints
typically numbered like Issue #1, Issue #2, and so on
these are the thin and floppy ones you often see in plastic sleeves and coming out monthly on NCBD

⟡ Trade paperback (TP)
a collection of single issues into a paperback book version
for example, you’ll see some TPs described as “collects Issues 1-6”

⟡ Hardcover (HC)
a hardcover comic book
often, this is a collection like a TP, but it can also be a graphic novel or other kind of comic offered in hardcover format

⟡ One shot
a standalone single issue as opposed to an ongoing story

⟡ Graphic novel (GN)/Original graphic novel (OGN)
this is a comic that’s designed to be released as a whole book at once instead of as single issues over time
it often comes in paperback and/or hardcover 

⟡ Manga
Japanese comics
often sold in paperback volumes

⟡ Manhwa
Korean comics
often sold in paperback volumes

⟡ Manhua
Chinese comics
often sold in paperback volumes

⟡ Mini comics
short comics that are often under 50 pages
they can come in a variety of formats: digital, print, and zines
popular among indie and self-publishing artists

⟡ Anthology
a collection of comics, often several by one artist or several by multiple artists
these are usually united by some sort of theme, but they don’t have to be
an example would be Shades of Fear or Heartwood: Non-Binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy

⟡ Zine
a self-published comic, often mini, or magazine
these are often made with a deliberate DIY mindset and aesthetic and the intent to create a booklet that can be easily reproduced and distributed by the artist and/or community
popular among self-publishing and indie artists

⟡ Digital comics
any kind of comic available digitally
this can include webcomics, mini comics made exclusively for online sale as PDFs, digital versions of print comics, and more
you can find lots of digital comics, books, and audiobooks through the Libby app, a free app that partners with your local library

⟡ Webcomics
these are comics that are made available exclusively online such as through an artist’s website or through an app such as Tapas or Webtoon
sometimes these can become print versions such as with the Heartstopper series by Alice Oseman

Comic Book Publishing Terms and Definitions

⟡ Big Two
DC and Marvel are referred to as the Big Two of comics publishers

⟡ Big Four
refers to the biggest four publishing houses of Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, and Macmillan
previously called the Big Five until Penguin Random House purchased Simon and Schuster

⟡ Imprint
an imprint is kind of like a room within a publishing house
it’s still part of the Big publishing house, but it often has its own goals and types of books it publishes
these can sometimes be smaller publishers that were absorbed by the bigger ones or created deliberately by a Big publishing house to give the impression of the publisher being a smaller one

⟡ Indie
independent publishers not usually associated with large corporations such as the Big Two or Big Four
some examples of independent comic book publishers include Power & Magic Press, Quindrie Press, Silver Sprocket, Oni Press, Mad Cave Studios, and more

⟡ Self-published
this is when a comic creator has published their comic without a traditional publishing company such as the Big Two or the Big Five
these are often sold directly by the author, but they are also often offered through websites such as Indiebound, Radiator Comics, or Bluestockings

⟡ Creator-owned
this refers to a comic artist owning the material they create such as the story, the characters, and so on
this differs from, say, Batman and Iron Man, where the characters and stories belong to DC and Marvel respectively rather than the individual creators of ongoing stories
creator-owned comics are often indies but are also frequently found in traditional publishing houses

That should be enough to get you started, but you can also check out How to Love Comics for even more comic book terms!

I know entering the world of comics can be a little confusing when you first start, so if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments, and I’d be happy to help. Know someone else who could use an intro to these terms? Share this post with them!

And if you’re into comics and would like some recommendations, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter Into the Bramble for my comic book review series More Comics Please! You can also follow me for free or as a Patron on Patreon for updates!

Thanks for reading! 💖

With love,


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Jessi Eoin (they/them) is an illustrator who loves making, reading, and talking about comics, and they have come to accept that this is probably how they would be lured by a kidnapper.