Graphic Novel: Definition, Artists & Examples

Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

Warning: this lesson may contain 'graphic' material not suitable for some viewers - unless of course they want to find out more about this artful literary form. Keep reading to discover the world of graphic novels and to meet the artists who bring them to life.

Picture Books for All Ages: Graphic Novel Defined

Contrary to popular belief, reading books with pictures in them isn't something we have to stop after age ten. In fact, many teenagers and adults have found some new reading material, and it has pictures taking up every page. The 'graphic novel' has existed as an art form arguably from the time our species learned how to paint. However, the term has only been in use since the 1960's, and though it's often a hotly debated issue, it's generally accepted that a graphic novel is a longer work or collection of works presented in 'comics' style. So, what's the difference between a graphic novel and a comic book, you may ask? Let's take a look at some of the similarities and differences.

Differences

  • Length: We're all probably familiar with the comic strips in the newspaper, or the plastic-sheathed comic books at the bookstore, which are typically around 20-24 pages. Graphic novels, on the other hand, are usually longer, though there's no set length.
  • Ads: Comic books often have several pages of ads, while graphic novels generally do not have advertising.
  • Serial vs. Anthology: Many of the comics we most readily recognize are serialized, meaning they appear in pieces over a period of time that must be read in sequence in order to get the full story. Graphic novels, on the other hand, are often written as standalone works that have no immediate connection to another graphic novel or comic. Graphic novels can also be anthologies, or collections, of these former serials, and these are sometimes called 'trade paperbacks' or simply 'trades.'

Similarities

  • Age: We often associate comics with a younger, less refined literary audience. Conversely, the image of the graphic novel reader is more mature and academically inclined. Neither of these distinctions can really be given any merit, since there are graphic novelizations of children's favorites (i.e. The Adventures of Tin Tin), as well as comics that deal with serious 'adult' subject matter (i.e. political cartoons). All told, graphic novels (and comics, for that matter) can be enjoyed by people of any age.
  • Format: Graphic novels use the same text bubble and image panel format that we find in comics. Many illustration and lettering styles are also shared.
  • Subject Matter: Like comics; graphic novels, despite their connection by name to longer works of fictional prose, can cover fictional as well as nonfictional events.

The graphic novel format has been used to reimagine all sorts of fictional and nonfictional works, from those of Edgar Allan Poe to The Bible (above).
Page from a graphic novel adaptation of the Bible

Since we've gotten a feel for what graphic novels are, let's take a look at some of the genre's most notable artists, along with some examples of their work.

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