Graphic Novel Information

Last Updated: 7/6/2023 7:45 PM

Graphic Novel Terminology

- adapted from, and NCCA Junior Cycle

The Basics:

Graphic novels use text and pictures to present information.

Graphic novels use the same format as comic books, but differ from comics in that they usually contain stand-alone stories with complex plots.

Graphic novels can be fiction or nonfiction.

How to Read a Graphic Novel Page:

Graphic novels are read left to right, just like traditional texts.

How to read a graphic novel page

Sometimes it gets more complicated...

But the basic left to right rule still applies to panels:

More complicated


and dialog balloons as well:

Dialog balloons too

Graphic Novel Terminology:

Panel: Panel refers to the framed image. Panels offer a different experience than simply reading text. It offers the reader a perspective or point of view on the subjects also knows as the camera angle. Panels can serve multiple purposes.

Caption/Voice Over: These are boxes containing a variety of text elements, including scene-setting, description, etc. Narrators have the possibility to speak directly to the reader through a voice over. Usually this is done with a hard line separating the narrator's speech at the top or bottom of a panel from the image within the panel.

Gutter: The space between framed panels. Readers tend to "fill in the blanks" and imagine what happens between panels, a process known as "closure."

Balloon/Bubble: These are shapes around the characters' language. If these appear as clouds, they represent a character's throughs. If they appear in jagged lines, the character is shouting.


Panels Vocabulary:

  • Splash Panel
  • Double-Page Spread
  • Inset Panel
  • Bleed

Panels and Frames

Splash Panel: Massive panels that take up most, or all, of the page. If it takes up the whole page, it is usually called a full-page splash. The specific purpose of a splash panel is to add dramatic weight to a scene, be i a shocking reveal, a character's entrance, an establishing shot of scenery or a building, a fight scene, etc.

Splash Panel

Double-Page Spread: A giant splash panel covering two facing pages.

Double-Page Spread

Inset Panel: A panel contained within a larger panel.

Inset panel

Bleed Panel: The art extends or "bleeds" out of the live area of the page on one or more sides.

Bleed panel

Panel Transitions: There are six types of transitions that artists use in comic books, all of which have a different effect on the reader. Transitions refer to the process of closure (where the reader mentally 'fills in the gaps') in the gutter, between panels.

Panel Transitions

Captions: Oftern used for narration, transitional text ("Meanwhile..."), or off-panel dialogue. Captions usually have rectangular borders, but can also be borderless or floating letters.


Types of Gutters:

Action to Action

Scene to Scene

Speech Balloons:

Speech Balloons

Graphic Weight: A term that descibes 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-contract images draw the eye more than light or low-contract images.
  • A pattern or repeated series of marks

Colors that are more brilliant deeper or even monotone compared to others on the page.

Graphic Weight

Spatial Arrangement:

Foreground: The panel is closest to the viewer.



  • Allows centering of an 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 artis to create a more readily accepted image.


Background: Provides additional, subtextual information for the reader.



Bold Lettering: Used to emphasize words.

Bold lettering

LARGE Lettering: Represent shouting

Large Lettering

small Lettering: Indicates whispering

Display Lettering: Text that isn't part of someone's dialogue, includes sound effects and any other text that is not contained in a balloon or caption (store signage, license plates, words on a computer screen, etc.).

Display LetteringMore display lettering

Sound Effects (SFX):

SFX are usually examples of "onomatopoeia." These types of words sound like their spellings. For example:



Faces can be portrayed in different ways. Some depict an actual person, like a portait; 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.


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 wriging 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.

Emanata: Symbols or icons defining what is happening in a character's head, or defining an action.


Types of Emanata: Emanata can also come from objects:

Types of Emanata