Graphic Novels Glossary of Terms


Panel: A distinct segment of the comic,  containing a combination of image and text in endless variety. Panels offer a different experience from simply reading text:

The spatial arrangement allows an immediate juxtaposition of the present and the past.

Unlike other visual media,  transitions are instantaneous and direct but the exact timing of the reader’s experience is determined by focus and reading speed.

Frame: The lines and borders that contain  the panels.

Gutter: The space  between framed panels.

Bleed: An image that extends to and/or beyond  the edge of the page.

Foreground: The panel closest to the viewer.

Midground:  Allows centering  of image by using natural  resting place for vision. The artist deliberately decides  to place the image where a viewer would be most likely to look first. Placing an image off-center or near the top or bottom can be used to create visual tension but using the midground permits the artist to create a more readily accepted image.

Background:  Provides additional, subtextual  information  for the reader.

Graphic weight: A term that describes  the way some images draw the eye more than others, creating  a definite focus using color and shading in various ways including:

  • The use of light and dark shades; dark-toned images or high-contrast images draw the eye more than light or low-contrast images do
  • A pattern  or repeated series of marks
  • Colors that are more brilliant or deeper  than others on the page


Faces: Faces can be portrayed  in different ways. Some depict an actual person,  like a portrait; others are iconic,  which means they are representative of an idea or a group of people.  Other points to observe about  faces include:

  • They can be dramatic  when placed  against a detailed  backdrop; a bright white face stands out
  • They can be drawn without much expression  or detail; this is called an “open blank” and it invites the audience to imagine  what the character is feeling without telling them.

Hands/Feet: The positioning  of hands and feet can be used to express what is happening in the story. For example,  hands that are raised with palms out suggest surprise. The wringing of hands suggests obsequiousness or discomfort.  Hands over the mouth depict fear, shame,  or shyness. Turned in feet may denote  embarrassment, while feet with motion strokes can create the sense of panic,  urgency,  or speed.


Captions: These are boxes containing a variety of text elements, including  scene-setting,

description, etc.

Speech  balloons: These enclose  dialogue  and come from a specific speaker’s mouth; they vary in size, shape,  and layout and can alternate  to depict a conversation. Types of speech  balloons  include those holding:

  • External dialogue,  which is speech  between characters
  • Internal dialogue,  which is a thought enclosed by a balloon  that has a series of dots or bubbles going up to it

Special-effects  lettering: This is a method  of drawing attention  to text; it often highlights onomatopoeia and reinforces the impact of words such as bang or wow.

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Copyright 2008 IRA/NCTE. All rights reserved.

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Graphic Novel Glossary of Terms

One thought on “Graphic Novels Glossary of Terms

  1. Pingback: Teach Story » Blog Archive » Read These Graphic Novels

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