Many people who love comic books and comic strips have collected them quietly over the years without contact with organized comics fandom. They would like to join their fellow fans in correspondence or at conventions, but some are embarrassed, for fear of showing lack of knowledge of in-group terms that have become commonplace among many collectors.
Here is a list of some of the most commonly used expressions, along with definitions. Even some old hands may find it useful.
ADZINE A magazine that exists for its advertising content.
ANIME Japanese animated films, not an interchangeable term with manga (which see).
ANNUAL Occurring once a year; in the case of comic books, it is often a special yearly issue published in addition to the monthly, ongoing title.
ANTHROPOMORPHIC Attributing human characteristics to other animals. In the case of comic books, its often taken to the extreme of having animal characters dressed in clothing, living in homes, and working in businesses. See also funny animals.
ARRIVAL DATE Comic-book cover marking indicating when the issue was placed on the newsstand.
ASHCAN A rough version of a periodical prepared in advance of publication to demonstrate what it will look like. Ordinarily, these were black-and-white and thrown away (which is why they are called ashcans); sometimes today, publishers actually solicit for and release print runs of what they call ashcans.
B&W Black and white usually referring to comics that are printed in black and white, rather than in the usual four-color or offset process. Black and white comics may have color covers.
BAD GIRL ART A term used in the 1990s to refer to wave of comics featuing lasciviously drawn female characters. An ironic play on “good girl art” (which see).
BALLOON/S The round, usually white area in which a comics characters words or thoughts appear, it has a tail which points at the speaker. Thought balloons are usually placed in bumpier balloons that have a tail made of circles to differentiate them from speech balloons.
BAXTER PAPER Paper of much higher quality than the newsprint customarily used in comic books. Sometimes used by comics publishers starting in the 1980s for their more permanent publications. Fans tend to use the term generically for such paper (including such papers as Hudson), despite its being a trade name for a specific brand. Some have taken to referring to the printing method (offset, which see) rather than the paper when discussing such comics.
BIG BIG BOOKS A brand name for a line of cheap books with cardboard covers. They were published by and similar to (though larger than) Big Little Books (which see).
BIG LITTLE BOOKS A brand name for a line of small, square books with cardboard covers, also published under such names as Better Little Books. Their time of widest circulation was the 30s and 40s. A page of large-type text alternated with a full-page illustration, and many were adaptations of comic-book or comic-strip stories.
BONDAGE Portrayal of a character bound or chained or otherwise restrained; there are collectors who feel a bondage cover makes a comic book of more interest.
BOOK/S Comic book/s. Often used in casual conversation.
BOOKSHELF FORMAT See prestige format.
BREAKDOWNS Rough layouts of comic-book stories done by an artist on sheets of paper before he begins work on the final version of the story. Sometimes one artist will do the breakdowns, another the pencilled story, and still another will apply ink to the pencil drawings.
CBG Comics Buyers Guide.
CMAA Comics Magazine Association of America (which see).
CAMEO Guest appearance by famous actor/character.
CAPITAL CITY DISTRIBUTION One of the largest direct-market distributors of comic books, it was acquired by Diamond Comic Distributors in 1996.
CAPTION/S The boxes describing scenes and action in comic-book panels, e.g., Meanwhile or Night. The waterfront was dank and deserted.
CEL The original art for an animated cartoon, it is a painting done directly on celluloid (hence the name). Note that it is spelled with only one l.
CENSUS REPORT A term used by CGC (which see) for its listing of comics it has graded, showing how many of an issue number it has graded and what the grades for the issue were.
CGC The common reference to designate comic books that have been slabbed (which see), despite the fact that the name of the company that slabs comics was initially Comics Guaranty, LLC. It is now known as Certified Guaranty Company.
CHROMIUM COVER A special foil cover.
CHURCH, EDGAR COLLECTION The Mile High collection (which see).
CODE The Comics Code (which see).
COMIC Funny. Also used synonymously with comic book, but usage is more clear when the full term is used or when the term comics is used. Jerry Seinfeld is a comic; Jack Kirby drew comics.
COMIC-BOOK STORY A comic-book story may grow in one of several ways. A popular current method has been traditional with Marvel Comics for many years: A plot is suggested and agreed upon; the layout handler designs that plot for presentation in comic-book format; the layouts are approved and sent to the penciller, who indicates the appearance of the final artwork, but in pencilled form; the pencils are approved and sent to the inker, who inks the art for final reproduction; the writer scripts the story; the inked art is then lettered by the letterer. Silver proofs are then made of the art, and the colorist colors those proofs. From there, the art goes into the hands of printing-plant technicians. Another method is the Full-script method, in which the author writes a story in play form, specifying what is happening where. This is passed to the artist/s to turn into comic-book form following the authors directions.
COMICON A comics convention.
COMICS CODE The rules and regulations of the Comics Mag
azine Association of America (which see), as they apply to censorship of comic books.
COMICS MAGAZINE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA An organization established in the mid-50s to censor comics before publication. It was formed as an answer to pressure groups which demanded the comics industry clean up comics. The organization is funded by payment from comics companies, which submit material for censorship/approval. Comics passed by the Code authorities are identified by the CMAA seal of approval, which appears on the cover.
COMIX The use of the x denotes underground comix (which see).
CONVENTION When a fan uses the term, it denotes a gathering of comics (or science-fiction) fans to buy and sell, meet professionals in the field, attend panels, and generally indulge in their hobby.
CROSSOVER Appearances by one storylines characters in another story, sometimes making the transition between comic-book companies.
DC DC Comics, publisher of Superman, Batman, etc. Formerly called National Periodical Publications (NPP). There are no periods in DC, since it is not an abbreviation, though it stands for the companys first all-original comic book devoted to one theme, Detective Comics.
DAILY/DAILIES Comic strips that appear in daily (as opposed to Sunday) newspapers. The word may appear in ads for original art for such strips or for clippings of the printed strips.
DEALER Someone who buys and sells comics, magazines, books, art, and the like.
DEBUT First appearance, as of a comic-book character.
DELL An early publisher of comic books, largely for younger readers. The company was supplanted by Gold Key, which was later known as Whitman Comics, published by Western Publishing Co., Inc.
DIAMOND COMIC DISTRIBUTORS The major national distributor of comic books to direct-market comics shops, Diamond has exclusive rights to distribution of comics from Dark Horse, DC, Image, Marvel, and CrossGen.
DIRECT DISTRIBUTION A system of comic-book and book distribution in which comics, specialty, and other shops receive comics to sell. Material that does not sell is not returnable to the distributor, unlike the organization of the newsstand distribution system. It usually involves comics shops ordering magazines that they plan to sell on a nonreturnable basis, with shop owners estimating what they can sell.
DIRECT-SALES MARKET The market consisting of comics sold via direct distribution.
DONE IN ONE A term coined by Maggie Thompson to describe a comic book in which the story or stories it contains are complete in that one issue.
DOUBLE COVER A binding error that results in an issues having two identical covers, one over the other. It does not always mean the comic book is more desirable than one with a single cover, but sometimes the issue will sell for a higher price.
E.C. The letters stood for Educational Comics and Entertaining Comics, but the symbol remained the same for the line of comics published by William M. Gaines in the early 50s.
FAN/S Devotee, hobbyist, an amateur in the truest sense one whose activities grow out of a love for comics (or SF, in science-fiction fandom).
FANDOM The world of fans. The loose network of hobbyists devoted to a particular avocation, a term used primarily by science-fiction and comics fans. Its usage is similar to mankind; it is not called the fandom. A fan is a member of fandom.
FANNISH Pertaining to fans and their activities.
FANZINE An amateur magazine done by and for fans. It is a term coined by combining fan and magazine.
FILE COPY An issue from the file of the publisher of the comic book.
FIRST APPEARANCE The first time a character is seen in any comic book.
FLASHBACK A sequence in which preceding action is shown.
FOIL COVER A comic-book cover to which metal foil has been stamped.
FOUR-COLOR Refers to the four colors used in printing color comics: cyan (blue), magenta, yellow, and black (known in computer color programs as CMYK). Used in blends, they produce the rainbow necessary for reproducing the original colored material.
FOXING Spotting caused by mold on paper.
FUMETTI The method of telling a story with photographs arranged like comic panels, with speech balloons superimposed. It is an Italian term, sometimes used simply with reference to comics.
FUNNY ANIMALS Characters (usually, but not always, animals) which are humorous in their actions e.g., Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, and Pogo. Occasionally, its usage also applies to human characters e.g., Little Lulu depending on how loosely the speaker uses the term.
FURRY Reference to anthropomorphic comics (which see).
GATEFOLD COVER A cover that extends beyond the normal width of cover of a comic book and is folded under before distribution.
GIVEAWAY A comic book distributed free, usually for advertising purposes.
GOLD KEY A comic-book publisher which supplanted Dell; now known as Whitman or Western Publishing Co., Inc., but which no longer publishes comic books.
GOLDEN AGE Indicates the first era of comic-book production which occurred in the 30s and 40s.
GOOD GIRL ART A term used (most often by dealers) to indicate pinup-type pictures of leggy, busty females in cheese-cake poses. Some find the term offensive.
GRADING Determining condition of a comic book, often involved in evaluation for buying, selling, and/or insuring.
HEADLIGHTS A self-explanatory description of the depiction of busty women in comic-book drawings.
HOLOGRAM COVER A comic-b
ook cover with a hologram picture attached.
HYPERGRADE A comic book in a grade above CGC 9.4 (NM). Hypergrades include 10.0, 9.9, 9.8, and 9.6.
INDEPENDENT COMICS Comics not published, for one reason or another, by the larger publishers. They tend to be aimed at a smaller, more specialized audience but stories are often similar to those of the larger publishers (Marvel, DC). They need not place an emphasis on drugs, violence, sex, etc. as is often considered typical of underground comix. More and more, these publishers prefer not to be tied to a term like independent and prefer to be known simply as publishers.
INDICIA Small print appearing somewhere in an issue that provides such information as the comic books title, publishing company, issue number, copyright, date, and the like.
INFINITY COVER A comic-book cover displaying the cover with an inset reproduction of the cover that contains an inset reproduction of the cover and so on.
INKER An artist who inks comic-book artwork for final reproduction.
INKPOT AWARDS Trophies given out at Comic-Con International: San Diego each year to fans and professionals for services to comics fandom.
INKS Inked art e.g., Inks by Joe Sinnott.
JLA DCs Justice League of America.
JSA DCs Justice Society of America.
KEY ISSUE An issue vital to the comic-book run or character. It can be the first issue, an issue containing a major change in a titles direction, etc.
LAMONT LARSON A collection of high-grade comics identifiable by the name Lamont or Larson written on them. They frequently fetch a premium price.
LENTICULAR COVER A cover made of plastics that change the view of the illustration, depending on the angle from which it is viewed.
LIMITED SERIES A comic-book title that has a pre-set limit to its number of issues. Different companies use different terms, but generally a mini-series runs four to six issues; a maxi-series runs 12 issues; and a mega-series runs more than 12 issues but is not planned as an endless series.
MAINSTREAM COMICS Comics published by newsstand-distributed publishers.
MALLCON A comics convention that primarily consists of a number of dealers tables set up in a shopping mall. Obviously, theres no admission fee, and usually theres no program of events.
MANDO PAPER High-grade paper, not quite of the quality or whiteness of Baxter paper, but still of better grade than comic-book newsprint.
MANGA Japanese comic books, a term not interchangeable with anime (which see).
MARVEL Refers today to Marvel Characters, Inc. (one of the companies of Marvel Enterprises, Inc.), publisher of Fantastic Four, X-Men, etc.
MARVEL CHIPPING A defect in Marvel comics of the 1950s and 1960s in which the edges of the pages and cover were slightly damaged by the trimming equipment, resulting in slight flaking along the right edge.
MARVELITE/S Marvel comics fan/s.
MARVEL ZOMBIE Term coined in the mid-1980s to refer to collectors who bought every new Marvel comic book, whatever it was. Usually derogatory in its early uses. Also “DC Zombie,” “Image Zombie,” and other variations have appeared.
MAXI-SERIES See limited series.
MEGA-SERIES See limited series.
MICRO-COMICS A specific format of minicomix.
MILE HIGH COMICS Part of Edgar Churchs collection of Golden Age comic books in unusually superb condition; initially bought as a lot by the Mile High comics shop in Colorado.
MINI-COMIX Tiny comics produced by fans who want to produce amateur comics at minimum cost; the comics usually have a very low page-count and a small page size, so that they are very cheap to produce and mail.
MINI-CON A small convention, sometimes one that lasts only a day or part of a day.
MINI-SERIES See limited series.
MOPEE Mopee was (to quote Mr. Silver Age Craig Shutt) the little goofball who claimed in Flash #167 (Feb 67) that hed given Barry Allen his super-powers. We all promptly denied that storys existence.
MYLAR Trademark of DuPont Co. for its uncoated archival quality polyester film widely used for storage of paper collectibles.
NCB The National Central Bureau, an organization run by Stan Blair that worked against mail fraud in comics fandom in the 1970s. Advertisers could apply for NCB seals, and many could be found in ads in the early years of The Buyer’s Guide for Comic Fandom.
NCS The National Cartoonists Society, an organization of professional cartoonists, primarily comic-strip artists but also including comic-book artists and artist specializing in advertising art and magazine gag cartoons.
NN No number. Used to refer to a comic book without an issue number.
NPP National Periodical Publications.
NATIONAL PERIODICAL PUBLICATIONS An earlier name for DC (which see).
NEWSZINE A magazine that exists for its news content.
NON-CODE Comics that do not carry the seal of approval of the CMAA.
OFFSET COMICS A term loosely used for comics printed on high-quality paper. Actually, it simply refers to the printing method of such comics.
ONE-SHOT A magazine intended to have only a one-issue run.
ORIGIN Start, beginning used especially to refer to stories in which the creation of a hero is given in some detail; it is not always the first story in which the character appears.
ORIGINAL/S Original art, as created by the artist, for comic strips, printed illustrations, etc. as opposed to prints, newspaper pages, etc.
OVERSTREET A reference to Robert M. Overstreet and his annual The Comic Book Price Guide and the prices therein. 20% off Overstreet in an ad refers to a comic books price as being 20% less than its value as listed in the current issue of his Guide.
PAINTED COVER Comic-book cover that originated as a painting, rather than a line drawing.
PALEOVARIANT A variant edition of a comic book published before such versions were known to generate speculative interest, such as Whitman versions of DC comics and Marvel test-market price covers
PANEL (1) Segment of a page or strip of comic art, usually enclosed in a border, which most often consists of a picture and text. (2) At a convention, a group of people whose discussion before the audience forms a feature of the program.
PEDIGREE Source of a comic book, the term is applied to recognized collections of high quality. When it grades comics, CGC recognizes the following pedigrees and notes them in the header information: Allentown, Bethlehem, Denver, Gaines File Copies, Larson, Mile High, Pennsylvania San Francisco, Spokane, Don & Maggie Thompson, and White Mountain. There are other pedigrees recognized by collectors, as well.
PENCILLER An artist who pencils comic-book artwork, which will then be inked for final reproduction.
PENCILS Pencilled art e.g., Pencils by Frank Miller.
PERFECT BINDING A paperback binding method in which the cut edges forming the spine are held together with glue, rather than staples or stitching.
PHONE BOOK EFFECT The tendency for comics publishers to begin their names with a letter early in the alphabet, so as to improve their products’ placement in distributor catalogs
PHOTO COVER Comic-book cover that originated as a photo, rather than a line drawing.
PLOT The general outline of a story. See comic-book story.
PRE-CODE A comic book published before the advent of the Comics Magazine Association of Americas Comics Code that is, before October 1954.
PRESTIGE FORMAT Many today use the term generically to indicate a fancier package than the average comic book. Details of fancy formats can be widely varied, and this refers to comics published in a format with squared-back binding, more like a book than a comic book.
PROZINE A professional magazine.
PULP/S Pulp-paper-printed adventure-fiction magazines, mostly those printed during the 20s, 30s, and 40s. The paper was made of wood pulp and was the cheapest form of paper that could be used in printing; it was thick and coarse and occasionally would contain recognizable chips of wood. Intended as cheap, throwaway entertainment, the pulps today are widely collected and expensive.
RESTORATION Changes made to a copy of a comic book in an attempt to restore it to a better condition grade. It can be as minor as color touch-ups or as major as paper replacement.
RETCON Retroactive continuity, a plot device in which readers are shown changes from the long-established history of a character. For example, the characters in The Fantastic Four initially gained their powers in 1961, but current Marvel continuity places the event about seven years ago.
REUBEN The cartoonist-of-the-year award of the National Cartoonists Society, named for the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg. The NCS gives out several awards each year for best adventure strip, best humor strip, etc. but awards only one Reuben each year.
ROLLED SPINE A deformation in the stapled side of a comic book caused by readers folding back the pages during reading; the process produces an actual bump in the spine of the issue.
SF Science fiction.
SOTI Seduction of the Innocent (which see).
SADDLE STITCHING The way comics are usually bound: with staples through the fold of the pages.
SCI-FI Science fiction, as abbreviated by people who do not know the field well. Many science-fiction fans detest the term; its use marks the user as uninformed, as far as they are concerned. Science-fiction fans accept SF or sf as the correct abbreviation. The term was created by Forrest J Ackerman and adopted decades later by a cable broadcaster.
SCRIPT The text of a comic-book story, sometimes including directions to the artist.
SCRIPTER The person who provides the words for a comic-book story not necessarily the sole author of that story.
SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT A would-be exposé of comic books. Published in 1954, this book (by Fredric Wertham) helped to focus national attention on sex and violence in pre-Code comics and led to censorship of comics.
SF/SF Science fiction.
SILVER AGE Used to indicate a period of comic-book production in which the comics heroes of the Golden Age (which see) were revived and reinvented for a new generation. Usually considered to have begun with the publication of the first revival of a 40s super-hero: the appearance of The Flash in Showcase #4 (Sep-Oct 56).
SLABBED Encased in a sealed plastic holder following third-party grading. The purpose is to maintain a comic-books condition so that buyer and seller will have a common ground in the exchange.
SPLASH PANEL A large panel, sometimes filling the page, which functions as a title page on a comic-book story. It often contains credits for the story (artist, writer, etc.). Almost invariably, it used to be the first page, but today it can appear anywhere in the issue.
SPINE The edge of the comic book which shows the staple when the comic book is closed.
STATEMENT OF OWNERSHIP Information regarding the previous years circulation of periodicals distrib
uted via the Postal Services Second Class Rate of service. The information is required to be published annually in such periodicals and is a guide to the size of the audience of many comics.
SUNDAY PAGE A comic strip, usually related to a daily (which see), created in a larger format for the colored comics sections appearing (usually) in Sunday newspapers. (Some papers colored comics sections appear on other days of the week, such as Saturday). The word may appear in ads for original art for strips appearing in such Sunday papers or in ads for clippings of such pages. Sunday pages were originally full newspaper pages but are now mostly printed in half-page, third-page, quarter-page, or even sixth-page sizes.
SUPER-HERO/ES Heroic characters who are endowed with extra-normal powers of some sort. In some cases, those powers simply consist of superb training of otherwise-normal humans; in other cases, the powers come from mutation, magic, or other SF or fantasy devices. Marvel and DC trademarked the term at one point, to the considerable surprise of fans, who have been using the term generically for decades.
SWEATLES In comics art, little drawn drops of sweat to indicate a character’s agitation.
SWIPE Theft, usually used with regard to art that is copied by an artist for use as his own material.
SYNDICATES Distributors of material to newspapers for printing (e.g., King Features Syndicate); such material includes comic strips.
3-D Three-dimensional. In comics, a 3-D effect is created by printing an item in two colors, adapted by a specialist to provide varying levels of effect. By blocking one of the colors from each eye by means of glasses with color filters, the 3-D effect is produced.
TYPO A typographical error. Plural is spelled typos.
UNDERGROUND/S underground comix Comic books done outside the traditional marketing and distribution systems. Originally, they were an offshoot of the hippie and similar movements of the 60s and were replete with drug and sex references. Many are simply comics that would not justify the large print-runs and distribution of mainstream comics. Examples of innocuous undergrounds include Food Comics, which presents the author/artists views on food production. See also independent comics.
VARIANT COVER A copy that carries different cover art than other copies of the same issue, released at the same time as the other copies of that issue and in the same country.
VARIANT PRICE A copy that carries a different cover price than other copies of the same issue, released at the same time as the other copies of that issue and in the same country.
FREDRIC WERTHAM Author of Seduction of the Innocent (which see). Wertham maintained his interest in comics throughout his career and expanded that to an interest in comics and SF fandom as well, eventually writing a book on the topic, The World of Fanzines.
WESTERN Cowboy stories. Also (capitalized), one of the names connected with Dell (which see).
ZINE A synonym for the word fanzine or magazine.
ZIP-A-TONE A brand name often used generically (without approval of the trademark owner, which doesnt want it applied to other brands) for toning patterns used to add effects to line drawings for reproduction.