Original Comic Art Terms, Jargon and Lingo Explained and Illustrated
If you're interested in collecting comic artwork, or have some original art and don't know what you've found, then you're in the right place.
Art pieces are not created equal. This article explains and illustrates each type of original artwork and some original artwork lingo used in the hobby/industry.
We don’t go into specific values on this page. This is a subject that is covered on other parts of the site. Our goal here is to give you the tools to describe a piece of original artwork like a pro.
Original comic art – A broad term used to describe a piece of art that is related to comic books.
This can include, but is not limited to, comic book art (published and unpublished), convention sketches, pinups, color guides, newspaper dailies and Sundays, card art, etc.
Posters, copies and prints are not original art.
Each piece of original art is a one of a kind.
Title Splash – One of the more confusing comic art terms. A piece of comic art used to publish the first page of a comic book. Quite often this includes the indicia (see below).
Generally, title splash pages are the second-most valuable pieces after cover art pieces.
Two Wolverine title splash pages are shown above.
Half Splash – A page where half is a single panel and the other half is divided into multiple panels.
Above is a great example of a Silver Surfer half splash page.
Panel Page – This is an interior comic book page that is divided into individual sections or panels. This is what most people think of in comic art terms when you say comic book page/art.
Shown is a panel page from Detective Comics #514 by Don Newton, featuring Batman.
Light Box – In comic art terms, a lightbox is a device that is used to transfer an image from one piece of paper to another. This can be used as a verb as well for example, "as piece of art has been light boxed."
It's really not possible to illustrate this, but a sign that a piece has been light boxed is when an inked piece is void of any pencils.
A light box looks identical to any other piece of art unless you can examine it closely.
Overlay – Another weird comic art term. A piece of clear acetate that has been taped to the top of an original piece of artwork to allow a hinging motion.
Images, whether it is stats or original art, are attached to the acetate and placed over the top of the original art. The tape hinge allows for the acetate to be lifted up, revealing the art underneath.
Sunday – Comic art term to describe art that was published in a newspaper on, you guessed it, Sunday. If you were to take three daily strips and put them together you would have a single Sunday.
Convention Sketch – A comic art term describing a small quick drawing that an artist does at a convention, usually for a fan who has paid for the privilege.
This sketch is by the super-popular convention sketcher Adam Hughes.
Breakdowns – A comic art term used to describe when a penciler supplies the inker with little detail in their drawing. It is the responsibility of the inker to fill in the detail.
It is well known in the art collecting community that the later issues in the Daredevil Frank Miller run were just Miller Breakdowns, and Janson finishes and inks.
Preliminary (Prelim for short) – A term for a roughly-drawn piece of original comic art that was done in advance of starting on a more detailed and highly finished piece.
The above is a prelim cover sketch for Werewolf by Night #20, pencilled by Gil Kane.
Strip – Short for Comic Strip. Dailies are often called strips.
Color guide – Back in the day colors were decided using a print size copy that was hand colored by the colorist. These pieces are known as color guides in comic art terms.
The key word here is "copy". The line work on color guide is not original. The only original work is the color.
Talking Head Page – Original art pages that comprise of unknown characters standing around and talking.
Above is a Don Newton talking head page from Batman #363.
Some comic art terms don't relate to the type of art, but are general ways in which art is described.
If you want to understand what people are talking about when they refer to comic book artwork, then you'll need to get a grip on these phrases too.
Production art – A copy of the finished original art use in the production of the book. This is not original comic art.
Story Page Number – A number that signifies a comic art page’s placement in a story. This number is typically located in the lower right hand corner of the page.
Not to be confused with...
Book Page Number – a number that signifies a comic art page's placement in the book. This number is typically written on the top margin of the page.
Golden age books have multiple stories in them, so each book could have multiple story page number 1s.
The proper way to describe a page of art is Title, Issue, Story Page Number. Example:
"Green Lantern #76 Page 5"
If there are no story page numbers, then use the book page number.
Medium – Refers to the material used to create an art page, such as pencil, ink, acrylic paint, oil paint, etc.
Bristol Board – A fine, smooth board used for drawing and cutting.
Twice-up – Also known as double-up. Art drawn on a board with an image size of 12 x 18 inches.
Essentially the art on these boards are twice the size of the printed material, and adhered to a 2/3 ratio of 6 Inch wide x 9 inch tall art area of the printed book.
Standard – Art drawn on a board with an image size of 10 x 15 inches.
In 1967, Murphy Anderson, the artist working on The Spectre at the time, wanted to work smaller. He chose 10 x 15 inches, because it still adhered to the 6 x 9 ratio.
Eventually DC and Marvel adopted this as the new standard.
Indicia – A block of text that is included at the bottom of page 1 of a comic book.
Relevant information included in the indicia is book title, Issue number Volume, Date Published, Publisher.
Inks – The finished art that is applied over the pencils.
Inker – The artist that applies the ink to the comic art page (also known as the secondary artist).
This does not always have to be the same person as the penciler. In some modern pieces the inks and pencils are on two separate boards.
Pencils – The first layer of art applied to the board in graphite or blue pencils.
Penciller – The artist that applies the pencils to the comic art page (also known as the primary artist). When someone says that a piece of art was done by Jack Kirby, this means that he was the penciller.
Colorist – The artist who determines the colors in a comic book through the use of color guides.
*An interesting bit of history of why the Hulk is green and not gray.
When Jack Kirby and Stan Lee brought the Hulk to life in 1962 he was originally gray.
They quickly found that it was difficult to maintain a consistent shade of gray in production. He would often come out dull and washed out, much like dishwater. Other times he would be almost black.
By the second issue it was decided that it would be easier to reproduce a constant shade of green.
Published vs Unpublished Art – A published piece of art is a work that has been printed in mass and distributed.
Unpublished comic art, for whatever reason, has not. Sometimes an unpublished piece was commissioned and then rejected, or created by an artist on-spec in the hope of getting hired.