The People Behind the Stories - A Glossary of Comparative Vocabulary

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In the continuing exploration of Film and Comics as side-by-side storytelling media, it is important to consider that the products of each are generally created with a collaborative approach. In simple terms, Movies and Comic books are most often built by teams. For a typical Hollywood Blockbuster, hundreds of people work together to bring glorious explosions of light to millions of theatre-goers (or DVD renters as the case may be). In the world of comics, a much smaller creative group uses their talents to share stories with a more specific audience.

Each media has advantages in terms of telling stories. With film, actors and sound can add to the depth of the audiences’ experience. With comics, smaller creative teams (even as small as one person) can make explosive stories with a very small budget.

The fact that these media are by-and-large group efforts is important to note. As in the childhood game of Telephone, information is changed (or adapted or augmented) simply through the act of sharing it. If it is important to examine the workings of these media, it is crucial to spend time understanding the teams that create them.

These should be considered only a general guideline. There are many other roles in the collaborative storytelling arena. Also, there are occasional shades of gray, where one person takes on more than one role (in comics, you’ll often see the writer/artist as in film you’ll see the writer/director/producer). There may be different scenarios, but again these are most basic definitions.


Editor - The Editor is the person in charge of hiring people for different jobs on a given book. They sometimes manage communications between writers and pencillers, for instance.

Writer - The Writer creates a plot, dialogue and often a script for a comic book.

Penciller - The Penciller creates the initial outlines or “pencils” for a comics page. Each Penciller might leave a distinctive stylistic stamp on their artwork, i.e. the way they draw faces.

Inker - The Inker is an additional artist who adds focus to the work of the Penciller. In the past was responsible for readying the pencils for reproduction. At this stage, the art is called “inks”.

Colorist - The Colorist is the artist who arranges colors on the page. This person embellishes the inks to draw the audience’s eye to key spots in panels.

Letterer - The Letterer creates all the word balloons, captions and sound effects (Splat! Boom! Pow!). Their job is to make the text fit in a way that the reader’s eye is drawn through a page as the story moves.


Director - The Director is the creative manager on a movie set. They are responsible for coordinating the various teams to bring a film to fruition.

Screenwriter - The Screenwriter is responsible for delivering a plot, a script, and occasional rewrites.

Director of Photography - This Director of Photography influences the visual look of a film. The D.P. works with the Director in selecting the lighting and developing camera movements.

Set/Costume Designer - The Set Designer and Costume Designer work together to create color schemes and set pieces that jibe with the vision of the Director.

Editor - The Editor takes the various pieces of Film or Video information and splices it together into a contiguous whole.

Sound/Music - The Sound Designer balances the sound levels on a film to effect changes in the emotional balance of a film.

Actors - The Actors portray the characters on screen.

A very significant parallel between comics creators and film makers are the roles of the Director and the comics Editor. It is interesting to note that their roles are so similar, since Directors often take much of the credit for their films while Editors are largely ignored. This may have some roots in history as Editors were seen, in the earliest days of comics, as mere spell-checkers. As the decades passed, Editors took on more important duties, especially since the so-called Silver Age of the 1960s.

Another interesting distinction between Comics and Film is the role of the Film Editor. While the job of editing all the various pieces of film into one whole is sometimes done with the oversight of the Director, it is essentially under the purview of the Editor to set the pace of a movie, to tell the story, as it were. To make a somewhat fanciful analogy to comics, this would be something like a person taking various panels of artwork and setting them on a page so that they tell a story. In comics, this is done by the penciller, but in film costs often dictate that scenes be shot in different locations or on different days. It is the job of the Editor (not to mention the various design crew and the Director of Photography) to create the illusion that a scene happens in only one moment.

While there are many other symmetries worth noting between comics and film, it is perhaps most obvious to make mention of the Actors. Barring celebrity, the actors have the most public access to the audience: the actors literally become the characters on screen. This is an important point, because on the printed comics page a face carries exactly one moment’s worth of emotion. In comics, to have the same emotional impact of a real human face requires some additions, either through accompanying text (dialogue or captions) or through contrasting representations of that same face. In film, as in real life, it’s more than possible to know what someone is feeling without hearing or reading an explanation. This connection to a character’s subtext exists in both media, but must be handled in extremely different ways.

Next time, an exploration of storytelling formats and how they are handled differently in each medium.

What other parallels can be drawn between these creative teamings? Let us know on the Broken Frontier Board.

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