It occurred to me one day that, just like in any industry, inside the comic shop we speak our very own language.  A language that is as deliberate and intricate as it is
insular and bizarre. So I thought I’d create something of a gateway into this potentially intimidating and impenetrable code.

This will be an ongoing work in progress that is regularly updated and amended. If you would like to request a definition, please let us know and we’ll get right on it. Or if you see fit to define a term yourself, please submit it to us for review!

BACK ISSUE: The term back issue encompasses any comic that is no longer available on the general current sales shelves.  A back issue could be a comic book from the 1980s or a book from four weeks ago.  Such books can be found bagged to protect them from damage and priced in the back issue bins or backstock, in alpha-numeric order.

BACKWALL: The “backwall” in a comic book store is the area of the store where higher priced books are kept.  Key issues, vintage comic books, rarities. The backwall does not literally have to be a display  on a wall behind a counter, or on a wall at all but often is. This term is also applicable to booths at comic book conventions

BACK ORDER: Back order is a distribution technical term regarding the status of an
order.  A back order means that the item is currently out of stock at the distributor, but if more are found there, the back order will fill. While not ideal, back order is not as bad as when a reordered item is “sold out” at the distributor. Example: If it’s an ambulance (back order), you’ve got a chance. If it’s a hearse (sold out) then it’s gotta be worse.

COMIC SHOP LOCATOR: Comic Shop Locator is a service by which a fan can find
a comic book store in the area they are located in by providing the zip code. This service is invaluable while traveling. The phone number is 1-888-COMIC-BOOK or the website is There is also a phone app. Be aware that at times Comic Shop Locator may not be updated to reflect store closings or relocations.

CROSSOVER: A crossover simply refers to content or characters from one series crossing over into another series. Example: The Outsiders and Checkmate series are crossing over together for a storyline that goes through both series.

DIAMOND DISTRIBUTION: Diamond is the Baltimore based distribution company that handles the majority of comic book and related merchandise in the U.S. and beyond. Each month Diamond Distributions releases a preview catalog called Previews that contains solicitations for comic books from major and independent publishers, and merchandise, that is set for release starting as early as two months later. Retailers use this system to make theur purchase orders, but this same catalog is available to the public in magazine format and online. This is a valuable tool to assist with making preorders.

FILL-IN ART: A “fill-in” is the term for the circumstance where a writer or artist (or both) other than the regular creative team steps in to do an issue or a storyline. Sometimes the fill-in will occur in order to give the assigned creative team time to catch up to deadlines or to keep the series releasing on its regular schedule.

GRAPHIC NOVEL: A graphic novel is a single work, published for the first time in a bound paperback or hardcover form that was not previously released as individual issues. Examples: JLA: Earth 2, Blankets, The Goon: Chinatown, and Star Wars: Force
Unleashed are graphic novels. Watchmen is not a graphic novel, but rather a trade paperback compilation of twelve individual issues. In recent times though, the term graphic novel has become a catch all encompassing trade paperbacks. The term original graphic novel can replace the meaning of the general graphic novel term.

GUTTER: When looking at a comic book page with panels, the gutter refers to the blank space between the panels. Often times in this space, time may pass or unseen actions may occur that the brain will fill in on its own without being expressly shown. For more on the gutter effect see: Understanding Comics graphic novel.

HARDCOVER: A hardcover is a bound collection of material which has a hard cover as opposed to a softcover like a trade paperback. Hardcovers can be a collection of material originally released in another format such as issues or it can contain unique material that has not existed in any previous format (see: Graphic Novel). Examples: DC Absolute Editions (high quality over sized format hardcover with accompanying slipcase) and Marvel Omnibus (over sized hardcover reprinting many sequential issues of early material or a run by a particular writer or artist).

INDEPENDENT COMICS: Independent comics encompass comic publishers outside of the mainstream. Mainstream publishers include major publishers such as Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image Comics as well as smaller companies like IDW, Dynamite, and Devil’s Due. Independent comics often come from very small publishers or may even be self-published by the actual creator. The term “indie” is the common abbreviation for “Independent Comics.”

ONE-SHOT: A one shot is a special stand alone issue. Usually a one shot will say “one shot” on the cover, may feature no issue number or, may display only a #1 on the cover even though there will be no second issue.

PRESTIGE FORMAT: A prestige format comic is generally a square bound individual issue, printed on deluxe quality paper, usually 48-64 pages in length. Example: Batman The Killing Joke originally released as new material prestige format one shot.

RATING – ALL AGES: Comics that are specifically made for kids or contain content that kids and adults can both read are commonly rated as being “all ages.” Marvel Comics has a line of all-ages comics as part of the Marvel Adventures line (Marvel Adventures Spider-man, Marvel Adventures Avengers) which feature the recognizable Marvel heroes in adventures that will be appropriate for young readers and can be enjoyed by older readers as well. A wide variety of all ages comic books and graphic novels can be found in Acme’s All Ages section.

RATING – MATURE READERS: Mature readers is the rating given to comics
containing material that is not intended for young readers. The content may include adult language, graphic violence as opposed to action, or situations young readers would be uninterested in. Marvel Max comics and DC Vertigo lines are intended for mature
readers and many independent comics are intended for mature readers as
well. Mature readers is abbreviated as (MR).

RETCON: A “retcon” or retroactive continuity is the term used when the content of an existing story is changed after it has already been published. Example #1: After Crisis on Infinite Earths, a DC storyline from the 1980s, Superman had a new origin in which he did not gain his signature super powers until he was eighteen years old. Meaning he had no adventures as Superboy. Example #2: As a result of Spider-man One More Day, a recent and controversial storyline, Peter Parker and Mary Jane were never married. The stories all still happened, but they were simply not married during those stories.

SOLICITATION: A solicitation is the description of an item as it appears in the Previews ordering catalog. It usually includes the title, creative team, page count, price, projected
release date, and a brief description of the content. If something is “advance solicited” then it is available to order, but won’t be released for up to a year rather than the usual two month lead time.

SUBSCRIPTION/ PREORDER: The term subscription refers to the in-store subscription service through which customers make arrangements to have new releases held/ ordered for them so they do not have to risk an issue selling out because they are not able to make it to the shop specifically on new release day. Another term for subscription is preorder.

SUPPLIES – BAGS: Bags, as a noun, are the plastic (usually polypropylene, but they can be polyethelyne) bags specifically designed to protect and preserve comic books. Sizes range from current, silver age, golden age, and magazine. Bag, as a verb, refers to the act of putting comic books into bags and then sealing them shut with tape. Example: “How many comics did you bag last weekend?”

SUPPLIES – BOARD: Board refers to any size of the optional cardboard backing
that can be placed within the comic book bag to provide support to the comic
itself. Comic book bags and boards must be of the same type to be used effectively. Example: Current bags + Current Boards = Correct, Current bags + Silver age boards = Incorrect.

SUPPLIES – LONG BOX: The long comic box is the largest standard storage box
offered. It comes as one flat piece of cardboard that forms the box and one separate piece of cardboard that forms the lid. Relatively easy to assemble, the long comic book box holds approximately 300 unbagged and unboarded regular sized comic books.

SUPPLIES – SHORT BOX: The short comic box is the smallest standard comic
storage box. It is less than half the size of a long comic box, holding approximately less than half of what a long comic box can hold and it is constructed in the same fashion with two pieces of cardboard.

TRADE PAPERBACK: A trade paperback is simply a softcover collection of material that was originally released in individual issue form. Example: Watchmen is a trade paperback containing the story originally presented as twelve individual issues. In recent years the definitions of graphic novel, trade paperback, collected edition, and volume have become interchangeable as far as the general public is concerned. Purists will still differentiate these terms. The term paperback is also applicable when describing a trade paperback.

VARIANT COVER/ INCENTIVE VARIANT: A variant cover is simply a cover different from the standard release cover.  Sometimes this variant cover is available in a 50/50 ratio meaning that out of 100 copies, 50 will be one cover and 50 will be another cover. Other times variant covers will be more limited in frequency.  Example: This cover is available the ratio of 1 per every 25 copies that the store buys. Or if the store buys 100 copies then it can have access to 1 copy of a variant cover. That is a 1:100 copies variant cover.

VIRGIN VARIANT COVER: A virgin cover is the name given to a variant cover that features only the pure artwork uninterrupted by title logos, publisher banners, or creator credits.