Citing Comics in Scholarly Writing

by Allen Ellis
Chair, Comics Citations Committee
Comic Art and Comics Area, Popular Culture Association
Associate Professor of Library Services
W. Frank Steely Library
Northern Kentucky University
Highland Heights, KY 41099-6101
606-572-5527 / Fax: 606-572-5390
E-mail: ellisa@nku.edu

This document is Copyright © 1998 Allen Ellis and the Comic Art & Comics Area
of the Popular Culture Association, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission.
For questions regarding the content of this document, contact Allen Ellis.
For questions regarding the HTML format of this document, contact Gene Kannenberg, Jr.
This page last updated 28 June 1998.

The Style Guide

I. Comic Books

This citation guide leans toward the style of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. Hopefully, however, the guidelines can be adapted for other style manuals. Of basic importance is that the citation of comic books for scholarly writing should incorporate four basic elements, as appropriate: writer, artist, story title, and publication information (including, as appropriate, publication title, volume, issue number, date, publisher, page, and panel).

A Note About Bracketed Information

This style guide suggests that scholars may include original material (i.e., information not taken from the publication) within square brackets ([ ]). All information originating from the scholar rather than the source should be included in square brackets. This is information provided as a courtesy from one scholar to another, and ideally should not cross the line from scholarly detail to fanboy trivia. Such information may more appropriately appear within the text or notes, but examples are offered throughout this document. Note that example 16 relies heavily on bracketed information.

  1. Writer

    The creation of a comic book is typically a collaborative effort, and comic book authorship, much like motion picture authorship, can be a complex issue. For the sake of simplicity, scholars should give first credit to a story's author as credited within the work (usually in a designated credit spot on or near the book's first page).

    The comic book story's writer's name appears first: last name, the first name and initials if applicable, followed by a lower-case "w" in parentheses. If there are second or third writers, they follow with first then last name. If there are more than three writers, et al. follows. If the author is unstated, then the word "Uncredited" in parenthesis is used instead of the name (see examples 5 and 10). If the scholar knows who the uncredited author is, then that name is provided in square brackets (see example 1). The same rule holds with pseudonyms.

    In known or supposed solo work, the writer/artist's name stands alone (see examples 7,13, 14, and 15).

  2. Artist

    The major contributors to the visual aspects of comic books are the penciller and the inker, who are usually identified as such and in that order. The same rules as stated under writer above will apply to the penciller (p) and inker (i).

    The work of editors and such craftspersons as letterers and colorists are, of course, vital to the finished product, but, recognizing that one must stop somewhere, and that our aim is location over credit, we stop with the inker.

    If citing an uncredited artist, whether penciller or inker, or if the artistic duties are not spelled out, the artist(s) may be credited with a parenthetical "a" for artist: (a) (see example 11).

  3. Story Title

    The title of the story should be taken from the inside title page, typically where the credits appear, and placed within quotation marks. The title is usually found within the first three pages. As established, untitled stories should be so designated. If no interior title is found, a cover title, if present, may be used.

    If the cited story features a character not reflected in the publication title, such as a feature in an anthology, the character's name can appear before the story title, offset by a colon (see example 5).

    It is not unusual for reprinted stories to be in some ways altered. Reprints should therefore be regarded as separate entities, and there is no need to cite the original source of the reprint within the citation (see examples 2 and 3). If the scholar chooses do indicate the original source of a reprint, it is preferable to do so within the text or notes.

  4. Publication Information

    1. Publication Title

      The title of the comic book should be taken not from the cover but from the indicia (the small print usually found at the bottom of the first page or the inside front cover). A major goal of a comic book cover is to sell the comic book, not to provide bibliographic information. The indicia are the publisher's official identifying information. the publication title should be underlined or highlighted as appropriate. If indicia are not found, the title may be taken from the cover, and so indicated in square brackets.

    2. Volume

      Rarely is a volume number included within the indicia. If it is there, use it, preceded by a lower-case "v." See examples 6, 7, and 8.

    3. Issue number

      Issue number is vitally important. To avoid confusion with other numbers and established style guides, place the number symbol (#) before the number. Use the indicia, not the cover, for number information.

    4. Date

      The date, from the indicia, should include the month, abbreviated, (or season, if a quarterly is so identified) and year, and be presented within parentheses.

    5. Publisher

      This is where the comic book citation most significantly differs from a standard periodical citation. This information must be present since comics are often categorized by publisher, and since a character may vary from publisher to publisher (e.g., Lee Falk's The Phantom, which has been published by at least six publishers). The style of a particular publisher may also have considerable bearing on how a work is presented.

      Publisher information should come from the indicia. Sometimes the "official" publisher name may differ from the publisher's popular name. Marvel, for example, has been an imprint of several publishing concerns. In such cases, the scholar may insert the popular name of the publisher within square brackets (Animated Timely Features [Marvel Comics]).

    6. Page

      Page numbers are offset by the date with a colon. Page numbers are usually provided within the publication. If not, pages may be counted off using the splash page as page one, then the number included in square brackets.

      Features within anthologies may have separate pagination. If possible both paginations should be reflected. Pagination for the publication comes first, with pagination from the feature following in parentheses (see example 5).

    7. Panel

      If the scholar specifies a panel, it is preferable to do so in the text. If adherence to a particular style manual prohibits this, include the panel number(s) with the page number, separated by a forward slash (/). For example, "4/3-5" is read as "page four, panels three through five." See also example 13.

      Panels should be identified by counting left to right, top to bottom.

II. Comic Strips: Examples 13 and 14

The procedure for identifying comic strips should, as possible, follow the format described for comic books, except that dates needn't be in parentheses. Comic strip titles should be highlighted in the fashion described for publication title, above. The syndicate should be identified in place of the publisher. Exact newspaper information is important in that it is not unheard of for local editors to alter or replace strips as they deem necessary to conform to community standards.

III. Editorial Cartoons: Example 15

Editorial cartoons should be cited with the writer/artist's name, then the running title, if there is such (e.g., Borgman's World), underlined. Following as the title is the caption, or enough word balloon information for proper identification. Newspaper title, location, date and page complete the citation. If, to better identify a cartoon, the scholar supplies a caption, it should be bracketed.

IV. Graphic Novels, etc

The credit rules preceding, combined with established book citation format, should suffice. See the "collected edition" in example 6.


Comic Art Citation Examples

Note on HTML version of this document. Standard MLA format dictates that bibliographic enties (such as those below) be formatted with hanging paragraphs (i.e., the second and subsequent lines of an entry should be indented one-half inch from the margin). To ensure that this information's content is consistent across all browsers, we have left these examples left-justified; remember to format your bibliography according to your style guide. (For questions, contact Gene Kannenberg.)
  1. Standard Citation

    [Fox, Gardner F. (w), Mike Sekowsky (p), and Bernard Sachs (i).] "The Wheel of Misfortune." Justice League of America #6 (Aug.-Sep. 1961), National Comics Publications [DC Comics].

  2. Same, in Reprint Periodical (in dual publication)

    Note: Besides providing a reprint citation, this example shows a rare occurrence of dual numbering. In the mid-60s-70s, DC Comics published periodic special giant-size issues of specific titles. These appeared within the numbering of the given series, and also as issues of the giant series, 80 Page Giant. Thus, in this example, Justice League of America. #58 is also 80 Pg. Giant. #4. The 80 Page Giant information is contained within braces ({}).

    Fox, Gardner (w), Mike Sekowsky (p), and Bernard Sachs (i). "The Wheel of Misfortune" [abridged]. Justice League of America #58 {80 Pg. Giant #4} (Nov.-Dec. 1967), National Periodical Publications [DC Comics]: 30-50.

  3. Same, in Edited Anthology

    [Fox, Gardner F. (w), Mike Sekowsky (p), and Bernard Sachs (i).] "The Wheel of Misfortune." Justice League of America Archives, vol. 1. Eds. Michael Charles Hill and Bob Kahan. NY: DC Comics, 1992: 230-256.

  4. Same, Citing Cover Only

    [Sekowsky, Mike (p), and Murphy Anderson (i).] "The Wheel of Misfortune." Justice League of America #6 (Aug.-Sep. 1961), National Comics Publications [DC Comics]: Cover.

  5. Feature in an Anthology

    Note that this is a six page story appearing on pages 31-36 of the cited issue.

    [Uncredited] (w), and Josephs, Stan (a). Mr. Terrific: "Give Em the Bird." Sensation Comics #61 (Jan. 1947), J.R. Publishing Co. [DC Comics]: [31-36], (1-6).

  6. Multi-Issue Story

    Larsen, Erik (w,p,i). "Revenge of the Sinister Six." Spider-Man v1 #18-23 (Jan.-Jun. 1992), Marvel Comics.

    A note on multi-issue stories. Stories continued throughout several publications can be maddening for the bibliographer. Consider this story citation:

    Grant, Alan, Chuck Dixon, Dennis O'Neil, et al. (w), Giarrano, Vince, Tommy Lee Edwards, Mike Wieringo, et al. (p), and McCarthy, Ray, Scott Hanna, Stan Woch, et al. (i). "Contagion." Pt. 1, Batman: Shadow of the Bat #48 (Mar. 1996), DC Comics; Pt. 2, Detective Comics #695 (Mar. 1996), DC Comics; Pt. 3, Robin #27 (Late Mar. 1996), DC Comics; Pt. 4, [mislabeled part 5 on cover]: Catwoman #31 (Late Mar. 1996), DC Comics; Pt. 5, [mislabeled part 4 on cover]: Azrael #15 (Late Mar. 1996), DC Comics; Pt. 6, Batman #529 (Apr. 1996), DC Comics; Pt. 7, Batman: Shadow of the Bat #49 (Apr. 1996), DC Comics; Pt. 8, Detective Comics #696 (Apr. 1996), DC Comics; Pt. 9, Catwoman #32 (Apr. 1996), DC Comics; Pt. 10, Azrael #16 (Apr. 1996), DC Comics; Pt. 11, Robin #28 (Apr. 1996), DC Comics.

    If possible try to use the collected edition:

    Dixon, Chuck, Alan Grant, Dennis O'Neil, et al. (w), Giarrano, Vince, Dick Giordano, Barry Kitson, et al. (p), and Woch, Stan, Scott Hanna, Ray McCarthy (i). Batman: Contagion. Ed. Bob Kahan. NY: DC Comics, 1996.

  7. Specific Chapter of Multi-Issue Story

    Larsen, Erik "Showdown." Spider-Man v1 #20 (Mar. 1992). Part 3 [of 6], "Revenge of the Sinister Six." v1 #18-#23 (Jan.-Jun. 1992), Marvel Comics.

  8. Column

    Mullaney, Jan, and Dean Mullaney. "Notes from Surf City" [column]. Crossfire v1 #3 (Jul. 1984) Eclipse Enterprises: [29].

  9. Special/Promotional Publication

    Wolfman, Marv (w), George Perez (p), and Dick Giordano (i). "Plague." The New Teen Titans n.n. 1983, DC Comics [Presented by Keebler Company in Cooperation with the President's Drug Awareness Campaign].

  10. Inadequate Indicia Information

    Note: In this example, the information from the indicia is misleading. This is not issue number 639 of Walt Disney's Davy Crockett at the Alamo, but actually issue number 639 of Four Color, as identified by the annual Overstreet's Comic Book Price Guide.

    [Uncredited]. Walt Disney's Davy Crockett at the Alamo [Four Color] #639 ([Jul.] 1955), Dell Publishing Co.

  11. Adaptation - Original Credited

    [Uncredited] (w), and [Manning, Russ (a)]. "Tarzan the Untamed." Adapted from Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Tarzan the Untamed. "Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan of the Apes #163 (Jan. 1967), K.K. Publications [Gold Key Comics].

  12. Adaptation - Original Not Credited

    Thomas, Roy (w), John Buscema [p], Rudy Mesina [i]. "Tarzan Rescues the Moon." [adapted from Edgar Rice Burroughs' Jungle Tales of Tarzan]. Tarzan v1 #7 (Dec.1977), Marvel Comics Group.

  13. Comic Strip Citation, with Panel Indicated

    Adams, Scott. Dilbert. The Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, OH). 14 Apr. 1998, United Feature Syndicate: 6D/3.

  14. Comic Strip Citation -- Comics Supplement

    Caniff, Milton. Steve Canyon. Journal Herald (Dayton, OH). 15 July 1967 [Color Comics Supplement], Publishers Newspaper Syndicate: 1.

  15. Editorial Cartoon Citation

    Ramirez, Michael. Michael Ramirez, "On the Bright Side, We Have Plenty of Condoms..." Los Angeles Times. 21 May 1998: B9.

    Peters, Mike. "Nixon's at It Again." Journal Herald (Dayton, OH). 15 July 1981:1A8.

  16. Nontraditional Format

    [Chick, Jack T. (w,a?)] Holy Joe. Chino, CA: Chick Publications. 1972 [2 3/4" X 5" pamphlet. 1-21].

    Daley, Diddle. The Katzenjammer Kids in "Shipwrecked." [A "Tijuana Bible," no publication information, 2 5/8" X 4 " pamphlet].


This document is Copyright © 1998 Allen Ellis and the Comic Art & Comics Area
of the Popular Culture Association, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission.
For questions regarding the content of this document, contact Allen Ellis.
For questions regarding the HTML format of this document, contact Gene Kannenberg, Jr.
This page last updated 28 June 1998.