One of the hurdles to getting into comics is that, like any other artform, it has its own lingo that can be confusing to new readers.  But it's actually all pretty simple once it's explained.  Let's start with the big question:

Comic Book or Graphic Novel?

Nothing seems to confuse people more (or inspire more debate) than the actual definitions of these terms.  Some say that a comic book is purely the 20-30 page pamphlet, and a graphic novel is anything in the comics form in a bound book format, while others insist that graphic novel is a completely unnecessary (and even pretentious) term, and that "comic book" applies to anything in the comics form. 

I fall somewhere in the middle.  I use "comics" to refer to the form in general, simply because everyone knows what that means.  Whether it's a Peanuts strip, a Superman issue, or a hardcover Maus, "comics" applies to all of them equally.  (I use "comics" in the way the more entrenched scholars of the form use the term "sequential art" that you may come across.)

When I need to specify, I'll use the term "graphic novel" when it comes to a comics story that was published either straight to book form, or serialized in pamphlets with the intention of being one self-contained story.  But it is not a catch-all term.  One of my pet peeves is when people use the term "graphic novel" to refer to a work that is by no stretch of the imagination fictional.  Maus, for example, is Jewish cartoonist Art Spiegelman's documentation of his father's life during Nazi rule in Poland-- it's fairly insulting to refer to such a work as a "novel," which implies fiction.  In the case of such books, I will generally refer to them as "graphic memoirs" or even "comics memoirs."

So where does that leave the superheroes?  Most superhero stories these days are serialized story arcs that are meant to read as a coherent story in the eventual collected form.  But those are not "graphic novels" any more than a complete run of a TV show is a movie.  In any case where a story is serialized to be part of a larger continuing story, I'll call it a "comics series."

That should cover most of what will turn up on this blog, but I'll be sure to update it as time goes on.  Some other terms you might want to know are:

Pamphlets (or "floppies"): The traditional "comic book"; a smallish magazine bound by staples.  Usually 22 pages of story with some ads.  Some people refer to them as "floppies", while others consider it derogatory.  The latter need to move out of their mom's basement.  I probably won't cover too many of these, waiting instead for the trade paperback.

Trade Paperback (aka trade or TPB):  This is a publishing term of art that's been adopted by comics readers to refer to the collected form of a serialized story.  Typically, TPBs have the same page dimensions as the original pamphlets.  "Waiting for the trade" is when a reader manages to resist the temptation to buy the single issues and buys the collection.

Digest: A pocket-sized paperback, generally about 7-8 inches tall.  Due to the popularity of manga (most of which comes out in America digest-sized), this format is becoming more popular.

Manga:  Japanese comics.  Not my area of expertise, but there are plenty of manga blogs.  MangaBlog and The Manga Critic are good places to start.  Koreans have manwha, the Chinese have manhua, though there is no real distinction made between them once they get to the West.  While all of these words are just the words for "comics" in their language, they are so stylistically distinct from Western comics that "manga" has evolved in the English speaking world to refer to the artistic sensibilities found in them.  OEL manga is "original English language" manga, written (and sometimes drawn) by English-speakers; essentially, it's graphic novels by Westerners with Japanese styles and sensibilities.  I'm sure it's controversial in some areas of the Internet.

LCS: Local comic shop.  Specialty stores where you can get the single issues and also more small press/independent comics that the bookstores don't get.  Find one near you at

Pull (-list):  The comics you ask your LCS to hold for you when they come in, whether monthly issues or fancy hardcover editions. 

Need further clarification?  E-mail or Formspring me and I'll elaborate!
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