Your New-to-Comics Glossary


Dear relatively normal friend,

Thank you again for your well-meaning, three-quarters-hearted attempt to take an interest in what I do out here on the internet. For months now, every time we run into each other, you say, “I miss your blog updates. You should totally write more. Why don’t you write more?” and then I reply, “I write all the time. I write every week. Remember? iFanboy.com? I’ve mentioned it to you twelve times? Even forwarded you a couple of the articles? Printed some out, left them on your windshield? The domain name over your house in skywriting that time, remember?” and then you reply, “Oh! Oh, sure. Eye fan boy, with the comic strips. I totally need to check that out,” and then you quickly turn your head in a vain attempt to keep me from noticing as you roll and roll and roll your eyes until you start to look a little like Cookie Monster.

I dig where you are coming from, old friend. You have tried to venture onto the comics internet a couple of times, only to scuttle back to Yahoo filled with confusion and agita. You’re even someone who’s a little interested in comics– you always have so many detailed, almost-not-even-patronizing questions for me every time an X-Men movie comes out– yet the things you find when you try to search for more information online always leave you puzzled and frustrated. After spending a little time on Newsarama, you start to feel like a child lost in the streets of a foreign country; what are all these people saying, and why do they sound so mad? Never mind actual comics: even conversations about reading comics have their own continuity, jargon, and inscrutable inside jokes that are a barrier to entry strong enough to keep out the Huns.

That is why I thought I would prepare something to greet you the next time you dip a toe into these roiling, piranha-filled waters. Since I know those of us who spend $40 a week on comics use a language that only we understand without even realizing that we’re doing it, I have prepared for you this small but helpful glossary of terms. Enjoy!:

Trade: short for “trade paperback,” which is in turn long for “TPB.”

A trade is the collected edition of the individual chapters of a comic, which were originally published as periodicals one month at a time. (These individual chapters are also occasionally called “floppies” by no one I have ever met in my life, probably because “comic book” is already the perfectly good name of those things.) If you have ever purchased a comic only to find yourself frustrated that it seemed to end abruptly and that reading it took less time than paying for it in the store did, then “waiting for the trade” is for you. Publishers use the term often, despite the fact that 80% of the population has no idea what it means; often the abbreviation “TPB” will be included in the book’s listed title, such as “Spider-Man: New Ways to Die TPB,” which in context might as well stand for “Try to Prevent Buying.” “TPB” tells the 1,200 guys left on earth who always buy this stuff that the book isn’t a hardcover, but to the other 250 million prospective buyers it might as well be a hieroglyph of an angry bird. Outside of comic collector circles, trades are better known by their more common name, “books.”

Jumping-on Point: the point at which I finally jump on someone for asking this question about readability for the millionth time.

Longtime comic enthusiasts have become increasingly obsessed with the fear that they might buy the wrong issue of a given comic only to discover that they have no way to figure out what is going on, as if the first issue of a story arc contains a decoder ring without which all the subsequent chapters are in Flemish. Every one of these same people began reading comics by buying issue #271 of something at random with no “recap page” in the front twenty years before the existence of Wikipedia, and based on what they read went on to spend $71,000 on comics. This would suggest that the mythical, Nessie-like Jumping-on Point can actually be virtually anywhere if the writing is compelling enough. The legend of the Jumping-on Point also fails to acknowledge that the Jumping-Offramp can be stuck smackdab in the middle of any page of any arc. You can start at issue #1 and understand everything for half a year when the author decides, “Now we’re going to go ahead and explain what the real deal with Xorn was, followed by a three-part lecture series on the nature of the Speed Force which we will hold in a big, featureless red cloud.” Wanting to start at the beginning is noble, but these aren’t DVDs. Season one was in 1962. Life is short; buy an issue and go with it.

Fan: someone who hates something so much it’s all he can talk about.

If you’re a new reader who’s interested enough in something to seek out its every error, problem, and flaw, fan sites and their message boards are an excellent place to look. How does the most recent issue fail to live up to expectations set in 1978? A fan knows. How much should Wolverine be shorter? A fan will tell you. In 2009, truly hardcore fans are enough to make you cut your DSL line and switch to building ships in bottles.

Event: as the name suggests, Events are comics in which something happens. Fans love Events. Typically, Events happen roughly once a year and are approximately two years long. The period when an Event is ongoing is known in the fan community as a “fatigue”; the month between Events is known as a “slump.”


Name: a writer or artist who can do terrifying things to your favorite character without anyone trying to stop him.

For example, Mark Millar is a Name Writer. Over the years, I have liked any number of Mark Millar books set in worlds other than the Marvel Comics universe. He is an extremely talented writer, currently working (?) on the last chapter of one of my favorite Wolverine comics possibly ever. The other day, I read that Mark Millar was pondering revamping the X-Men in the coming years and I began trembling uncontrollably. “Oh, no! What is he going to do to my paper friends??” Mark Millar will blow up the entire nation of Latveria like it’s a G.I. Joe tied to a bottle rocket, then he will just hand it off for the next guy to deal with. Every time I hear about him mulling over a new Marvel Universe project, I feel like the waiter watching Galactus look over the menu. (Galactus will be explained in a later appendix to the glossary.)

Big Two: The towering titans of the comic book industry, these are the two companies that dominate 90% of the market share for comic books. Their best-selling titles in a given month draw 1/40th of the audience of a summer Friday episode of Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? Neither sells their comics digitally in 2009 A.D. but both are actively developing comics for 8-track tape. The sky’s the limit!

These are just a few of the terms you need to know to navigate the choppy seas of comic fandom. I am sure others will think of many more to add below. If you still have any questions about comics not related to Dr. Manhattan’s manbits, we can talk about them at our next awkward grocery store encounter. Until then!

Comments

  1. Before I started regularly reading comics, I asked a friend of mine, "Hey, are you picking up your floppies today?" He was nice enough to not laugh in my face.

  2. I’ll be sure to print this off and pass it along to my wife, just so she knows what the hell I’m excitedly talking about at times.  It took her a bit of time to wrap her mind around the idea of "trades" while she was reading my ten volumes of Y: THE LAST MAN.

    "You mean it took a month for each book to come out?"

    "No.  I mean it took a month for every chapter of each book to come out.  What took you two months to read took years to produce."

    I don’t think she really believed me.

    @WonderAli: You have very kind friends. 

  3. "when an event is ongoing, it’s referred to as fatigue, the month between events is called a slump"

    HA!

  4. Very funny. I loved Fan and Name.

     Honestly, I think everyone has a little Fan in them. I know I certainly do.

    The biggest Name currently in the business is Loeb, IMO. He, somehow, has a massive cache of credibility that, to my mind, is entirely undeserved. In the past Byrne was a Name, people still occasionally can be heard to say that a book got Byrned in referencing a Name run amok.

  5. Somebody seems snarky this morning. Or maybe the word I’m looking for is… accurate? Either way, great article. I’m a little afraid it might just scare others away from comics, but maybe that’s all for the best. We are a crazy lot.

  6. @JeffR I’ve said dumber things.

  7. So the actual name of this website is: "I hate ______ so much it’s all I can talk about, boy."   I need that on a t-shirt.

    @Jimski – What a day to post a funny/useful/interesting piece. I’m sorry in advance for this not getting the attention it deserves.  Maybe you should have mentioned Mickey Mouse’s manbits instead of Dr. Manhattan’s.

  8. It’s time to drop "trade" from "paperback."  That’s a stupid term.

  9. Jimski = Awesome

  10. "Fan: omeone who hates something so much it’s all he can talk about."

     

    I like your style, Jim.

  11. I think Jim’s definition of "fan" should earn him an Eisner.

    Seriously.

  12. I’ve never heard "Name" before. Did Jimski just make that up?

  13. @josh – Says the guy who (co)started a website name iFANboy.

  14. Love these.  "Fan" is great, and I totally feel your pain about Millar.  Like, there’s that Wolverine story where he’s gone nuts and is killing all these people and this includes beating the shit out of Rachel Grey even though she’s an incredibly powerful telekinetic and there is *no reason* she should sit there and take a beating except that somebody apparently wants to depict a pretty girl getting beaten up? *ahem*  Wow, that was very "fan"-like of me.

  15. We might not have invented retroactive continuity, but I’m sure that we’re responsible for it’s shortening to "ret-con".

  16. A trade paperback is, in fact, a term that existed prior to comic book collections and is still used to day for a variety of prose books.  Paperback books come in two basic categories.  Mass market, which are the smaller, cheaper versions and trade paperbacks, which is pretty much everything else.  While it has a specific meaning when people talk about comics, it shouldn’t be foreign to book lovers, in general.

  17. I’m not typically a "laugh while reading" guy, but the thing about events happening once a year and lasting two did it for me.

    Bravo. 

  18. My mom is always confused on what I buy.

    "So….your buying books?"

    "No I’m buying issues….it’s like buying a magazine."

    "Oh so your only doing this once a month?"

    Great article Jimski. Anything that has Cookie Monster in it is a great article.

  19. Jimski: By your definition you are a fan of Flash: Rebirth #4.

    Looking forward to your appendix…

    …after I’ve removed it with my bare hands!!! Bwahaha!

  20. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    This is like Sniglets. Great work, man!

  21. Here’s one I came up with

    Inker:  Somebody who spends an incredible amount of time contributing to art and then recieves little to no credit by the "fan", who often regards their abilities as tracing.

  22. @ohcaroline – Would it be safe to say that you might be just a little biased in favor of the Grey family?

    @zombox – Loeb is definitely not the biggest "name". Jim hit the nail on the head with Millar, but I don’t think that Joeb has enough pull right now to be considered a name. Sure, at one time he did, but I would say not since Hush. What he did to the Ultimate U. seems pretty isolated at this point, and I think it was more Bendis and Millar’s direction that was taken with the characters, Loeb just wrote it badly. And what did Byrne screw with?

  23. @ActualButt-While I certainly agree that Loeb is not the biggest ‘name’ in comics presently, he still has the juice requirement.  For example; Hulk.  He took off from Pak’s work and went a completely different direction that does not seem to make sense with anything from before.  A-Bomb, Hulk gun, Mjolnir, etc.  Further evidence is in any interview with Quesada after one of the summits.  He always drops Loeb’s name in the interviews.  It seems as if Loeb is invited to all of the summits except for the Spidey ones.  And while I agree that there was an editorial decision to start over the Ult U, it seems as if (at least to me) that there was an agreed upon ‘life list’ and how Loeb and Finch arrived at the destination would be acceptable as long as there was great tragedy on the way. 

  24. Name should also contain – has an ego so inflated that during moments (or high points) of a career time seems to not exist at all – thus how can a book "come out on time" when time has no meaning, as time itself is meaningless.

    Or we could just dub this "Pulling a Miller"……but wait, with War Heroes #3 (out?!? when?) the dubbing could easily be a matter of trading vowels.

  25. Great work Jimbo. ^^

  26. Me fail English? That’s unpossible.

  27. Great article Jimski!

  28. Other potentially confusing comic book terms:

    ‘Comic’ – something unlikely to be funny.

    ‘Prose’ – we were told at school that it means the opposite of ‘verse’ or means an everyday style. But in the world of comics were talking books with lots of words in.

    ‘Photorealistic’ – in art school I was told it was a 1970s style of painting, from the US, which aimed at mimicking a photograph. But here we’re talking about a realistic style of depiction, probably derived from a photograph.

     ‘OGN’ – Not sure why we need to say ‘Original’? I guess there are some fairly unoriginal graphic novels out there.  

    ‘Cartoony’ – Nothing to do with Leonardo Da Vinci’s Cartoon at the Louvre.

     

     

  29. @ActualButt  Such a bias has been suggested, yes ;).  But I’d think it was a stupid/offensive scene anyway.

  30. @ohcaroline–But Wolverine can beat ANYBODY. He doesn’t even need planning time to do it, unlike that 2nd stringer from the Distunguished Competition.

     

    @MisterJ–Quesada drops Loeb’s name all the time because he thinks the readers are as enamoured with the Hollywood Crowd as he is, and Loeb is like the senior member of that group. Unless you count the recently returned to comics Gerry Conway–but he works for the other guys.

     

     

  31. I agree with the fact that Loeb isn’t quite hitting anything out of the park, currently…….but let’s give credit where credit is due.

    Almost all his DC stuff is fantastic, especially anything Batman. And let’s not forget his colored series with Marvel. Blue, Yellow, and Grey where all great. White is a little delayed (or being held back purposely by Marvel) but I can’t wait ’til it comes out. Sale is great too, and those two can never do enough stuff together.

  32. I’m not so sure this is as much a helpful piece for new readers as it is a warning for how we fans and the industry as a whole might be seen by new readers.

  33. Bravo good sir. I’m a big "fan" of Jimski’s.  This article was all wrong. First… j/k.