Graphic Novels? You mean comics right?


After a long discussion, we at Graphicshelf thought about the three biggest challenges the humanity currently faces

  • Colonization of Mars (Go Elon Musk!)
  • Chocolate extinction in the next 40 years
  • For the third one there was a contest between- can you justify the choice of your ex? Or How to differentiate between a comic book and a graphic novel? Well, clearly the latter won


So, are comic books and graphic novels similar?

Well, for the most part, the answer is YES. A graphic novel is essentially in “form” a comic book, that is, it is definitely “sequential art” or as explained by the American cartoonist and theorist- Scott McCloud- comics and graphic novels are both “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in a deliberate sequence”. Honestly, a comic strip is more of a “medium” to express, just like music or film, and a graphic novel uses the medium of “comics” to express something.

Graphic novels do have their defining characteristics though, they are usually longer in length and deal with more serious subjects, even if they are based on a superhero.


Origin of the term

The term was coined by fan historian Richard Kyle in an essay published in the November 1964 issue of comic fanzine Capa-Alpha. The term, however, was not popularly used until the publication of Will Eisner’s A Contract with God: And Other Tenement Stories (1978). This popularity was further escalated by Marvel’s Graphic Novel Line in 1982, reaching a peak with the commercial and critical success of Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Frank Miller’s (1986) The Dark Knight Returns (1986).


Summed up in a lucid manner by Art Spiegelman, the only graphic novelist to win a Pulitzer prize (for Maus), a graphic novel is a “big comic book that needed a bookmark,”.  But more than that they are usually longer in length and deal with more “serious” content.

The defining characteristics of a graphic novel are best defined by Michael Schumacher in Will Eisner’s biography titled Will Eisner: A Dreamer’s Life in Comics –“book-length works of sequential art expanded in scope [beyond science fiction and fantasy] to include biography, memoir, history, and other types of non-fiction”

To conclude, graphic novels are still evolving and as authors and illustrators continue to experiment with style, techniques, genres, and narration, the defining characteristics may change again but perhaps what will remain is the aspect of a book-length work, which takes itself much more seriously than a usual superhero comic-strip.


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