When reading a comic book for the first time, you might wonder about the bits and pieces that compose it. This guide will explain what you need to know about any issue.
What is an issue, anyway? The term “issue” refers to a single comic book.
Let’s consider the example of Victorian Undead II: Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula #1 (of 5) from Wildstorm, another imprint of DC Comics (see my Sweet Tooth Vol. 2: In Captivity review to learn about Vertigo). Readers can tell a lot by an issue’s title. “Victorian Undead II” refers to the series as a whole, and a little research shows that there are other Victorian Undead comics out there. This is the second volume, or collection of issues that tell one story. “Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula” is the name of this particular story arc, and the number and parenthetical at the end signify that this issue is part of a limited run.
Limited runs, or mini-series, are comic books that are not designed for continuous print. In other words, once the story’s over, it’s over. Of course, if a mini-series does well, publishers are more likely to offer creators another chance to share their work with audiences. Victorian Undead is one such lucky comic.
Speaking of creators, the names of an issue’s main writer and artist are shown on the front cover. (Note: Comics often have alternate cover designs called variants.) More detailed information is available in the interiors, or the actual pages of the comic. One page of the interiors contains the chapter or issue name (here we have “The Dead Travel Fast”) and information about the writer, interior artist and cover artist, colorist, inker and letterer, among others. If only one artist is named, then that person contributed the additional tasks of coloring, inking, and so on.
What about the actual process of reading a comic book? Each page consists of panels, illustrated boxes with text. American comics are read from left to right, top to bottom. Japanese comics, or manga, are read from right to left.
Word bubbles are usually circular in shape and narrow into a point. These are words that the characters actually speak out loud.
Thought balloons tell us what the characters are thinking. A thought balloon is indicated by several little circles that lead into one bigger circle.
Captions are rectangular boxes that serve important functions; think of them as narrative tools that describe the setting (eg., “Whitby, North Yorkshire, August 1900”). Sometimes captions act as the modern thought balloon. For example, a caption might contain a recognizable symbol or be colored a certain shade, letting people know which character the caption belongs to. It may even be a simple a seeing both the character and caption side-by-side together. In addition, captions with quoted words inside them carry over speech from the following panel.
There you have it! Reading a comic is easy once you get the hang out it. If you have any other questions about comic book anatomy, please feel free to ask them below.
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