Graphic Novel vs. Comics: What's the Difference?

When I mention that I'm publishing a graphic novel, my non-comic book reading friends raise their eyebrows.

They aren't quite sure what a graphic novel is. I understand your confusion.

I"ll try to explain:

Comic books are serialized stories told in words and pictures, and graphic novels are basically a long (novel length) comic book that tells one story from beginning to end. Though coined in the 1960s, the term "graphic novel" found increasing popularity in the 1980s. It helped differentiate monthly comics from books, such as Art Spiegelman's brilliant memoir, Maus, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992.
cover of Maus by Art Spiegelman. Shows a swastika with a cat and two scared mice
Maus cover

Not everyone likes the term because it can be confusing (Monkeysee blog). Why the confusion? Novels are typically fiction, but graphic novels can be non-fiction... or anything, really. It's a wide open genre, which is one of the reasons it is so exciting.

If a lot of graphic novels are memoirs, then why not call them graphic memoirs? Well, that sounds weird, too. What makes it "graphic?" Violence? Sex? Images? Actually, none of the above... Some people have argued that we should drop the term altogether and go back to calling them comics, but even that is problematic. "Comics" conjures images of "Arhie and Jughead" and "Superman," and the genre is so much deeper and complicated than that.

Personally, I prefer to use the term "graphic novel" not because I like it so much, but because it is used by booksellers to classify long-form comics.

If you are interested in exploring the growing world of graphic novels, there is a pretty good starter list on BuzzFeed with some classics, some hidden gems, and many disparate genres. I highly recommend Maus and Persepolis--both were ground-breaking in their time, and have stood the test of time well.

First page from And Yet We Rise
I invite you to download the first chapter of my graphic novel, And Yet We Rise, at my website.

Thank you and happy reading!

You can also find me on:
Twitter @dsborden

#comics #graphicnovel


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