Focal vocabulary related to comics

Hatsune Miku. Example of Japanese animation.

Anime: [from the Japanese abbreviation “animation,”] Japanese animated hand-drawn or computer-made films.

Anthropomorphism: [from the Greek, “anthropos” (man/ human) + “morphe” (shape/ form)]. A literary device by which you attribute human characteristics or behavior to anything other than a human being, including animals, objects, gods…

Antihero: a main character or protagonist that lacks some o the qualities of an idealized hero, like morality or courage, and acts in an unheroic manner. An example: Wolverine.

APA: “amateur press association.” A group of people who publish collections of works and distribute them among their members. Many APA were founded in the 30s by fans of science fiction, comics, cinema, etc. APAs are being changed by internet mailing lists, etc; though many still exist.

Asynchronous: [from Greek “synkhronos” (happening at the same time); from “syn-” (together)+ “khronos” (time)]. The depiction of sound in a panel that is not happening at the same time as the events that are pictured in the panel. The sound can be music, dialogue or sounds.

Back issue: a back number of a comic.

Bande dessinée: comics from the Franco-Belgian tradition.

Broadsheet: a single page of printed material which has images and words printed on it (for example, a newspaper). The first broadsheet newspaper was published in 1618 in Europe.

Adrian Dingle’s Nelvana of the Northern Lights #2 (Hillborough Studios, October 1941)

Canadian whites: (Canada) black & white comics published during WWII in Canada that had color covers but the interior pages were in black and white.

Canon: a rule or set of rules and principles that are stablished as valid in a field; a definitive list of the most famous/important works or talented authors; the original story-line of a fiction work.

Cartoonist: visual artist who creates/draws/writes cartoons and/or comics.

chiaroscuro, light and shadows, comics, focal vocabulary, focal vocabulary in comics, depepi,
Lee Bermejo

Chiaroscuro: [from Italian, “light and dark”]. A strong contrast of light and dark.

Understanding comics, Scott McCloud
Understanding comics, Scott McCloud

Closure: the “phenomenon of observing the parts but perceiving the whole” (McCloud, pg. 63).It is to apply one own’s background, knowledge and understanding of the relationships between encapsulated images to blend sequences of panels into events; hence, it means to “mentally filling the gaps of what one observes taking into account one own’s cultural background and personal experience”. Comics requires the reader to be constantly interacting with visual aspects and filling in the gaps between them.

Colorist: the artist who adds color to the finished artwork. They can work with paints but also with computers.

Comic book: a volume, in digital or analog form, which contains comics art, where all aspects of the narrative are presented by pictorial and linguistic images encapsulated in a sequence of juxtaposed panels that represent individual scenes and pages.

Understanding comics, Scott McCloud
Understanding comics, Scott McCloud

Comics: visual medium of juxtaposed images in a deliberate sequence.

focal vocabulary, focal vocabulary in comics, comics, depepi,
The Comics Code Seal.

Comics Code Authority: (US) an industry-sponsored board the task of which is to review the contents of comic books before approving them for distribution according to a code. It lasted till the early 21st century.

Comics Guaranty, LLC (CGC): (US) limited liability corporation that offers the services of third-party evaluation of a comic books grading. It is the first independent and impartial third party grading service for comic books in the US.

Continuity: the consistent relationship among different comic book stories regarding people, plot, objects, and places seen by the reader or viewer over some period of time.

Cultural Imperialism: the creation and maintenance of unequal relationships between cultures favoring the more powerful one; the erosion of native cultures, value systems, language and traditions by influence of more dominant/powerful cultures, value systems, language and traditions through the distribution of mass media.

Diegetic images: [from the Greek “diegesis,” narrate, to narrate] in comics, it refers to pictures and words that depict characters, objects and sensory environment of the world of the story.

Direct market: retail system of comic book distribution to specialty shops in the US. There are also similar systems in other countries.

Disjoined panel: the words and images that constitute the panel are not contiguous.

Encapsulation: the selection of images that captures the flow of experience and prime moments in a story, and putting them together in a panel. Encapsulating also means that the artist will choose what will be presented in each panel.

Fanzine: a fan-produced magazine for the pleasure of sharing their interests with one another.

Flayed look: artistic style that emphasizes detailed musculature and dynamic of movement. Example: Jack Kirby’s style.

Fotonovela example.

Fotonovela: [from Spanish “foto” (picture, photo) + “novela” (novel)] a comic made with panels which consist of a mixture of still photography and text.

Gatekeeper: anyone who has the authority to control something; someone who selects or modifies messages communicated through the media

Golden Age: (US) comic book golden period of its earliest mass popularity (1938-1945)

Harold W. McCauley illustration for Imagination

Good Girl Art: style of comic art in which stereotypically attractive women (sexy female figures) who are provocatively posed for the pleasure of the male viewer.

Graphic novel: a label applied by creators and publishers to distinguish a “comic book” from other periodical comic books. It tends to be longer and perhaps self-contained. It is a broadly applied term that includes almost any type of “comic book.” Hipsters will use “graphic novel” instead of “comic book” when they talk about “comic books”.

Ground level: non-mainstream comic books that allowed creators to experiment with genres and topics related to the underground.

Understanding comics, Scott McCloud

Gutter: the space between panels.

Historietas: [from Spanish, literally “short/little stories”] comics from the Mexican tradition. In Spain “historieta” refers to “comics”.

Understanding comics, Scott McCloud

Icon signs: visual cues that represent things similar in appearance (for example, a simple drawing of a happy face that represents a real face).

Scott McCloud

Index signs: visual cues that have relationship to ideas or things not explicitly depicted (for example, expressions of sadness on a character’s face).

Inker: the artist who finishes and enhances the pencilled artwork of the penciller using ink.

Inter-animation of meaning: images, pictures or text,that appear next to one another in a panel or a page. Their mutual relationships can affect the meaning of one another, and all together create a meaning beyond what they communicate by separate.

Juxtapose: to place things one next to the other.

Layout: the visual graphic arrangement of visual elements in a page; the relationship of a single panel to the sequence of panels, to the totality of the page, and to the totality of the story. It involves graphic design, choices of size, sequence, and juxtaposition.

Letterer: the artist who fills and/or places the speech balloons and captions of the narrative on the artwork. They also provide the lettering for onomatopoeia, but this can also be done by other artists.

Literacy: the ability to understand and interpret a symbol system. It includes reading texts, visual and cultural symbols; and also writing.

Japanese Manga

Manga: [from the Japanese] comics; Japanese comics.

Mangaka: [from the Japanese] the professional writer/artist that draws manga.

Marvel method: [aka “house style”] the collaborative production which puts most control of the story-telling dynamics upon the artist rather than the writer. It started at Marvel Comics in the 60s under writer-editor Stan Lee and artists Jack Kirby and Steve Dikto.

Metonymy: [from the Greek “metonymia,” which means “change of name”; “meta” (after or beyond) and “onymia” (a suffix to name figures of speech)] it is the use of an associated detail to represent the whole of something.

Mini-comics (or mini-comix): small, homemade comic book, usually made by photocopies and staples.

Mint condition: a description of pre-owned goods the state of which lacks any detectable flaws. To have an excellent, like-new condition.

Mono-myth: [aka “the hero’s journey”] the archetypical story of the hero’s journey repeated across multiple versions of a comic.

Multimodal: a text which communicates through several different modes, more than one symbol system. For example: comics (visual and textual) and television (visual and aural).

Negotiated reading: an interpretation of a message that accepts some of the intent of the creators while rejecting other elements by the audience.

Ninth art: comics. This honorable title was assigned to comics by scholar Claude Belie, who argued that comics and television deserved standing with the seven other arts: architecture, music, painting, sculpture, poetry, dance and cinema.

Noise: any interference that distorts the message.

Onomatopoeia, Green Arrow, DC.

Onomatopoeia: [from the Greek “onoma” (name) and “poieo” (to make)] invented words that phonetically imitate, resemble or suggest real sounds.

Oppositional reading: the interpretation of a mass media text that is counter to the creators’ intent.

Origin story: [aka “secret origin”] narrative (or back-story) that explains the fantastic nature of the superhero and involves a transformation and/or that explains how the superhero gained his/her powers.

Other: social group that is defined in contrast to/or being divergent to the qualities of a preferred group in a society.

Panel: a discernible area, usually enclosed with lines, that contains a moment of the story.

Paradigmatic choice: the chosen images and all the images that could have made sense or communicated nearly the same meaning at the same point in the panel.

Paralanguage: meta-communication that exhibits qualities of our spoken communication (volume, emphasis, rate, quality, etc).

Parasocial relationship: one-sided relationship; the perception of a relationship with figures in the media that develops over time and may have an emotional intensity similar to that of actual shared relationships.

Penciller (or penciler): is the artists who lays down the basic artwork of a page, deciding the placement of panels and what goes in each of them.

Preferred reading: an interpretation of a message that matches the intent of the creators.

Understanding comics, Scott McCloud

Primary movement: the implied movement of people or objects in the frame.

Proliferating narrativity: the focus of interest resides in the narrative from the life of the hero (mythos), and not on the story itself; the main plot supports the adventures of the hero.

Prozine: a “professional fanzine”; a fanzine with higher production values and produced by a staff with more of a professional than amateur standing.

Pulps: magazine made of cheap paper that featured sensational fictional stories (detective stories, science fiction stories, adventures).

Reboot: restart; starting a series again with some revisions to the mythos established in the previous incarnation(s) of the series.

Representation: the depiction (or lack thereof) and definition of a social group in mass media messages.

Rogues gallery: a collection of a superhero’s foes.

Scene: the action in a single location and continuous time; a unit of the story that usually, but not necessarily, has unity of time and space to portray a continuous action.

Secondary movement: the implied movement of the frame itself.

Sequence: the series of related and usually consecutive scenes.

Sequential art: any artwork that uses images arranged in a sequence to tell a story.

Sign: something, such as an image, meant to represent something else.

Silver Age: (US) the comic book era coinciding with the second surge in popularity in superhero comics (1956-1969).

Slabbed: referring to the state of a comic book that has been evaluated and then sealed between two sheets of plastic by the Comics Guaranty, LLC.

Slash example. Thor and Loki.
Slash example. Thor and Loki.

Slash fiction: stories authored by fans that center their stories around same-sex fictional characters and their sexual relationships.

Speech balloon: a ballon where speech, word or dialogue is represented; the speech indicator that contains the characters’ dialogue.

Splash page: full-page panel; full page illustration, usually at or near the beginning of a comics narrative, that opens or introduces the story.

Standardization: the process of including, implementing or developing enough recognizable elements in a narrative which makes it clearly fit within a genre.

State of grace: a set of powers, appearance, supporting characters, and behaviors that are preserved in a recognizable form for the economic interests of the corporation that owns the character. (Think about Wolverine, for example.)

Stereotype: a recognizable generalization of a type of individual, or groups of individuals.

Synchronous: [from Greek “synkhronos” (happening at the same time); from “syn-” (together)+ “khronos” (time)].The depiction of a sound (dialogue, sound effects, or music) in a panel that emanates from and is occurring at the same moment as the events pictured in the panel.

Synecdoche: [from the Greek “synekdoche,” meaning “simultaneous understanding”] a part of something that stands for the whole, or vice versa.

Synergy: a financial benefit that a corporation expects to realize by acquiring or merging with another corporation; in comics, the coordinated release of products tied into a media property to maximize exposure and increase profitability.

Syntagmatic choice: the process of selecting which panels to present from the possible progression of story images that could occur.

Tier: a single row of panels.

Tijuana Bible: (US) crude pornographic comic books.

Trade paperback (TPB): [aka as “trade paper edition” or “trades”] a standard-sized or large-sized paperback book; a comic book with more pages than most monthly issues and bound by a cover that is of higher durability than a paper cover but not quite as durable as hardcover.

Underground comix: small-press or independently produced comic books, often socially rebellious.

Writer: [aka “scripter” or “plotter”] the script writer who plots out the narrative of the comic book.

Yaoi example. Fan art by XxRoseBlackxX.

Yaoi: [from Japan] Japanese slash fiction; stories authored by fans that center their stories around same-sex fictional characters and their sexual relationships.

Yellow Kid Thesis: (US) a disputed assertion that the comics medium began with the work of Richard Felton Outcault’s “Hogan’s Alley,” featuring the character of the Yellow Kid.


  • “The Power of Comics, by Randy Duncan and Matthew J.Smith”. You can purchase it here and here. I highly recommend this book. You will find more focal vocabulary related to comics in this book. I would say that this is a must-have and a must-read.
  • “Understanding comics”, by Scott McCloud. You can purchase it here and here. Another jewel to have and to use to understand comics. I do recommend this comic and its reading. Again, I consider it a must-have and a must-read.
  • Glossary of Comics Terminology, Wiki.

Copyright: Images on this post (C) Hillborough Studios (C) Lee Bermejo (C) Scott McCloud (C) Imagination (C) DC comics (C) Kate Beaton (C) XxRoseBlackxX / Other images from Wikipedia and Estudioimaginario (Fotonovela)

About pepi

A Geek Girl interested in Geek Anthropology, comic books, books, Superheroes and discovering all about pop culture.

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