Monday, October 18, 2010

Nerding 101: The Difference Between a Comic Book and a Graphic Novel

Hello class! Tonight we will be discussing the difference between a graphic novel and a comic book. It's going to get intense, so buckle yourself in, and enjoy the ride!

I've decided to choose this topic for the first "Nerding 101", because there seems to be a bit of confusion about it. I was very proud to hear that Russell H. went toe to toe with someone over the differences. It seems that most people think that a comic book and a graphic novel are two completely different things. Comic books being more childish, and having more to do with "capes" (eg: Superman, Batman, X-Men, etc), whereas graphic novels are more "grown up, with complex story lines". I believe that these people are completely wrong.

In my opinion, the definition a comic book is cut and dry. Whether it is a stand alone issue or part of an ongoing series, you generally get these once a month, or once every other month, and it is part of a larger story. Comic books are generally under thirty pages and can be purchased for the most part either online or in a comic book store.

Comic books = small
I would define a graphic novel as one of two things. Either a collection of comic books or when a writer and an artist get together and create a story that they feel can be told in a format larger than a comic book, but has artwork, so it's not quite a novel.  "Graphic novel" is a term used to smarten up the readership so that the 35 year old person buying it doesn't feel silly asking for a "comic book". Also, you can buy graphic novels at Barnes and Noble.

Graphic novels = medium
Manga = graphic novel

To complicate things further there are trade paperbacks and omnibuses which are compendiums of an ongoing series like "Wolverine" and other Marvel and DC titles which go back years.

Omnibus = LARGE
While consulting Wikipedia for some insight into this, the lines were even blurry there. Because comic books got their start as "The Funnies" in the Sunday paper, most people don't take them as seriously as something like "The Watchmen", which most people consider "the best graphic novel ever written". "The Watchmen" is not a graphic novel. It was a 12 issue comic book series.

When it comes down to it, a graphic novel and a comic book are basically the same thing. One comic book is a part of a larger story, while one graphic novel takes 5 or 6 comic books, puts them together and calls it a graphic novel. I tend to collect comics and read graphic novels (or trade paperbacks) because I love my comics and I'm very clumsy and don't want to spill something on them. It's also nice to read a collection of comics at once, and get the whole story arch in one sitting rather than waiting a month for the next issue to come out.

In regards to the "real" definition of a graphic novel I  think that Alan Moore said it best when he said  "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...". The term "graphic novel" is meant to sound like more than it actually is. So remember all you non-nerds, when you're walking around with your nose in the air and a graphic novel in your hand, don't snicker at us for reading a comic. Because you are too.

Alan Moore: Smartest Man on the Planet

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the clarification on this, Carly! (Especially since I know I'm the anonymous person described on here who discussed this all with Russ. haha) For the record, though, I didn't associate *all* comics with superheroes, but I did associate a lot of comics with superheroes. I do think that's a misconception a lot of people unfamiliar with the genre hold. To me, it's like most people generalizing that all poetry rhymes and sounds like Shakespeare.

    My college offered a class that was called "The Graphic Novel," and in retrospect I wish I had taken it! I'm curious as to whether the professor believed comics and graphic novels were one in the same or two separate genres.

    P.S. The blog looks great! Very nice job. It's very educational for people like me who know very little about comics. Keep it up, lady! :)