Guides & Tutorials

Do You Speak Comics? Part 1: The Basics

By Tea Fougner

Reading a comic is easy as pie…there’s the picture(s), which shares visual information, and the words, which share textual information. We all know who’s speaking, or whether a word is a sound effect, and we can all tell which picture goes after which. But do you know how to talk about comics like a cartoonist? In this post, we’ll explore some of the basic terms used to talk about comics.

The basic building block of every comic– each individual picture– is called a panel:

The black line around the panel is called…you guessed it…the border:

Now let’s add a couple more panels to make a strip. See that white space between the borders? That’s called the gutter:

Neat! Sometimes panels are stacked on top of each other. A row of panels in this formation is called a tier:

What goes in the panels? Well, text and pictures! Here are some of the types of text you’ll see in a comic. A caption is text that offers narration or other commentary on the comic. Captions are often written inside a box to distinguish them from the rest of the comic. They are also sometimes written outside the panel.

When people in a comic speak, their speech goes inside a word balloon, also sometimes called a speech bubble or word bubble. When a word balloon abuts the border, we say it is anchored to the border.

The pointy thing coming out of the word balloon that indicates who or what is speaking is called a tail. When the tail is represented by a row of disconnected dots, this is used to mean that the person is having a thought that is not heard by the other characters in the strip, and we call this a thought bubble.

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That’s all for now! From time to time, we’ll be sharing informative posts about reading and making comics. Let us know if there’s something you’d especially like to learn!