If you’re a fan of reading comics and want to ascend to the next step of geekdom by reading about comics, odds are, you’re going to run into some phrases you may be unfamiliar with. You may wonder, for instance, “what is an inker?” or “What’s the difference between story and script?” Oftentimes, writers expect you to simply know all of the terms related to the craft of comics, but if you don’t, this can be annoying, especially since nerds tend to gloat about their superior knowledge. I’m more of an egalitarian nerd–I want everyone to enjoy comics as much as I do. To that end, I’ve put together a short glossary of comic book terms containing quick descriptions and insightful info that will hopefully add to the experience of reading.
Writer: The writer of a comic, in most cases, comes up with the story for each issue and writes the dialogue. What they eventually produce is a script that resembles a screenplay or a play with the main exception being that instead of breaking up scenes into shots or stage blocking, the comic writer breaks up the script into panels. The writer writes a description of the background setting and writes what action the characters are to take then includes the dialogue. Depending on the relationship between the writer and the artist, the writer may include strict instructions for what appears on the page, or will allow the artist to use their imagination. Also, sometimes the writing is broken up into two roles, where one person devises the story while the other writes the dialogue. In rare cases, two people will share both responsibilities, such as Mike Mignola and Frank Arcudi with B.P.R.D. Sometimes the writing is completed several months before the comic itself comes out.
Penciler: After being given the script, the penciler draws out each page by reading the writer’s directions then putting their own personal style into it. In most cases, the penciler draws everything on an 11 in. by 17 piece of paper which is later sized down. The penciler is often expected to complete 3 pages of art a day.
Inker: Once the penciling is complete, the inker is brought in to recreate the penciler’s work in ink. Despite what some think, this isn’t a process of simply tracing an image. Pencilers are discouraged from using their eraser much since it can leave big smudges on the page, and due to this, their work has a huge amount of extraneous lines. The inker then has to choose which lines to recreate. Sometimes this is done with the use of a lightbox, and at other times, if the original had few mistakes, inking will be done directly on top of the pencils. Also, inking is occasionally done digitally. The inker isn’t given much time to complete their task. They use a variety of pens as well as brushes.
Colorist: A majority of coloring in comics is done by computer now. The colorist receives a disk containing the black and white images supplied by the penciler and inker. The colorist then colors them in using photo editing software (the current industry standard is photoshop). They then save their work to a disk.
Letterer: Sometimes this person is credited as “letterist” or simply “letters.” They are in charge of physically writing the dialogue into the word balloons. Sometimes this is done by hand, and other times by using computer programs like Comicraft.
Editor: The editor does more than correct spelling and grammatical mistakes. The editor is also in charge of avoiding continuity errors, which can be a difficult task when so many comics stretch on for hundreds of issues. The editor also will write in boxes explaining what issue you can find the event being referenced in, although this has become less popular in recent years.
Editor In Chief: This person’s job is to often oversee the quality of the entire company’s comics as well as to find new ways for them to tie together. The amount of power the editor in chief has varies. Famous editorial decisions include Joe Quesada’s successful ban on smoking in Marvel comics, and Dan Didio’s idea that Nightwing should die at the end of the Infinite Crisis event (thankfully, his idea was ignored).
You might be wondering why so many different roles are necessary. Can’t one person do everything? Sometimes one artist will fill multiple roles, for example, Will Eisner wrote and penciled The Spirit, Jeff Smith wrote, inked, penciled and lettered RASL, and David Peterson filled just about every role for his comic Mouse Guard. The main reason why this doesn’t happen more often is simply because of time restraints. Mainstream companies decide on publication dates three months in advance in order to catalog new releases, meaning delays are rarely an option. The other reason for splitting everything up into different roles is because, simply put, collaborations can produce interesting results.
—For more by me, follow me on Facebook.
I hope you found these definitions to comic book terms helpful, and let me know if there are other phrases you’re unfamiliar with.