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Comic Book vs Graphic Novels

Updated on May 9, 2014

Defining Graphic Novels

What are graphic novels? Well, simply put, they are comic books. To some, such as marketers and comic book enthusiasts, graphic novels mean so much more.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary the term graphic novel is defined as a fictional story that is presented in comic book format and published as a book. Now, that's more of a broad definition for graphic novels so let's see if we can narrow it down a bit.

For comic book gurus or geeks, graphic novels are considered the gold standard of the comic book industry. For many comic fans, a graphic novel doesn't just tell a story. Much like a book, graphic novels have engrossing characters that flush out a much deeper story arc than the ordinary superhero comic book series.

Elizabeth Kennedy, author of the article What Exactly is a Graphic Novel, states that "It’s easy to get confused, though, because some people will still use comics for the whole genre or graphic novel for any comic-style work that’s handsomely published, even if it’s just a collection of superhero stories.”

Big time marketers and major comic book companies such as Marvel and DC comics exploit this confusion in order to boost sales and increase the popularity of a comic or comic book series.

Graphic Novels Definition by Alan Moore

"It's a marketing term that I never had any sympathy with. The term 'comic' does just as well for me. The problem is that 'graphic novel' just came to mean 'expensive comic book' and so what you'd get is people like DC Comics or Marvel Comics — because 'graphic novels' were getting some attention, they'd stick six issues of whatever worthless piece of crap they happened to be publishing lately under a glossy cover and call it The She-Hulk Graphic Novel."

~ Alan Moore

Examples of Graphic Novels

There is only one way to understand the difference between a standard comic book and a graphic must see it!

Graphic Novels:

Watchmen ~ written by Alan Moore. "Watchmen" is arguably the best graphic novel of all time. It's captivating, original, and grabs hold of the reader from the first page to the last.

Although, Watchmen was sold as a comic series, many critics and readers consider the book to be a literary masterpiece and most would agree that Watchmen sets the standard for all graphic novels.

Maus ~ created by Art Spiegelman. Maus is the first and only comic book to ever win a Pulitzer Prize.

Maus is a story about Art Spiegelman's father, Vladek Spiegelman. In the story, Art conducts a series of interviews with Vladek, chronicling details of his life. Vladek talks about his experiences as a Jewish prisoner during World War II and the horrific tragedies of the Holocaust.

In short, Maus is moving, touching, and touches the soul like no other comic book out there. Truthfully, Spiegelman could've written Maus in any format be it novel, movie script, HBO TV series, or comics. The fact that he chose to write it as a graphic novel speaks volumes because it presents a unique way to allow all audiences access to a great story.

Comic Books and Graphic Novels

Standard comic books, for lack of a better term, are comics that are usually presented in a series format. Meaning they usually last an entire season and contain many story arcs. Additionally, many of these comics are part of a bigger story arc, interconnecting one comic book to the next.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, where there's only one story, one plot and everything is centered on one character and contained within its own universe. In such cases it is hard to distinguish if it is a graphic novel or a comic book series wrapped up in one.

For example, Batman's: The Long Halloween was originally sold as individual comics in 1996-1997, meaning it was a comic book series within the DC Universe. Yet, in April of 2007, it was re-released in trade paperback format as part of the DC Comics Absolute Editions. If you read the paperback from start to finish, it reads just like a graphic novel.

Additionally, graphic novels are usually for adults. They often touch dark themes that generally would not be considered kids books. Of course, this is not always the case but a lot of the best graphic novels hit serious subjects. On the flip side, some comic books series such as Fables and even the Dark Knight are just as serious in nature as any graphic novel.

So, what is the difference between comics and graphic novels? Well, for me, if the comic book is a story within itself, and you don't need the aide of other comics to understand the comic, then it's a graphic novel. In Batman: The Long Halloween, I would have to say it was a comic book series. It's a story within the framework of the DC universe and that was its original intention. In my opinion, a graphic novel must be a standalone comic, telling a story within its own framework.

In the end, they are all freakin comics.


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    • Mike Marks profile image

      Mike Marks 

      6 years ago

      I remember being at a NYC comic convention when the availability of the first graphic novel... Will Eisner's A Contract with God... was announced. The term Graphic Novel seemed so serious, a feeling of awe seemed to permeate the room. I immediately purchased it. The artform now had something the non comic book people would have to find legitament. It was followed by other artists' sci-fi adaptions that seemed a bit backwards to Eisner's universal story-telling for broading the audience scope of the artform, and we loved the artform and wanted the audience scope broadened, we wanted to be accepted by the literary crowd. Soon literature was adapted. I was most impressed by Sienkiewicz's Moby Dick. His compositions stretched to a singularity across the facing pages. His Electra art work coupled with Miller's writing, and Miller's own Ronin, beginning the collection of individual editions packaged into a whole, brought original action/adventure and sci-fi, the staples of comic book, to a height equalling the literary adaptions and quality of Eisner. Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics defined sequential art to a respectable height while tying it to a history as far back as Egyptian hyroglyphics. Now comic books and graphic novels stand tall on the book shelf and no one is ashamed to be seen taking one home.

    • Lina20 profile image


      6 years ago

      I love to read Manga.

    • drej2522 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      I always love it when you stop by Paradise!! You're right, graphic novels provide a great blend of art and story.

    • Paradise7 profile image


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      I know graphic novels are very hot sellers, now. I can (sort of) see why. Some of the illustrations I've seen are classic. And the Maus story is one helluva good book, (you're right!) in any form.

    • drej2522 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Yep...we are a start up company out of Georgia. I write for them.

    • mortimerjackson profile image


      6 years ago from California

      I've never heard of Lunar Works before. Are you affiliated with them?


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