Graphic novel

"Graphic novel" (sometimes abbreviated GN) is a term for a kind of book, usually telling an extended story with sequential art (i.e. comics). It is not strictly defined, and is often used to imply subjective distinctions between a given book and other kinds of comics.



"Graphic Novel" is most broadly used to refer to any long-form comic book or manga, i.e. the comics analogue to a prose novel or novella. It can apply to works which were previously published serially in periodical comic books, or to works produced specifically for book-format publication.

Standards for what constitutes a "long-form" work vary. Publishers sometimes designate books of as few as 48 pages as "graphic novels", but whether works this short should be called "novels" is frequently disputed. Some use the term "graphic novella" for works that fit the general sense of the term (i.e. a single, well-developed story), but are less than 100 pages. The fact that books in this range can be published either "perfect-bound" (like a typical "novel") or "saddle-stitched" (like a typical "comic book") adds to the disagreement of whether the term should apply.

Some people refer to works of several hundred or even thousands of pages, published in multiple volumes of hundreds of pages each (e.g. Cerebus the Aardvark, The Sandman), as a single "graphic novel". Others refer to each volume in such an extended work as its own "graphic novel" (e.g. High Society (the second volume of Cerebus), A Season of Mists (the fourth volume of The Sandman)). A serialised work of similar length may occasionally be called a "graphic novel" regardless of whether it has been published in collected form, by analogy to the works of writers such as Charles Dickens, which were first serialized and were (arguably) "novels" regardless of their publication format.

Particularly in the book trade, the term is sometimes extended to include material that would not be considered a "novel" if produced in another medium. Collections of comic book issues that do not form a single continuous story, anthologies of short loosely-related pieces (by a single creator or even by multiple creative teams), and even non-fiction are stocked by libraries and bookstores as "graphic novels".

Other roughly synonymous terms, preferred by some to avoid the "disturbing" implications of the word "graphic", are "drawn book" and "visual novel".

The term "graphic novel" is commonly used to disassociate works from the juvenile and/or humorous connotations of the terms "comics" and "comic book". It implies that the work is more serious, mature, and/or literary than traditional superhero or funny animal comics. Following the reasoning behind this distinction, the French term "Bande Dessinée" is sometimes applied to certain English comic books and graphic novels - mostly by art historians and those creators and critics who are schooled in the fine arts - in order to further dissociate serious works of fine art from their supposedly more pedestrian counterparts. The usage is hotly contested, even though it is mostly limited to those same fine arts University departments.

Some object to its use in reference to manga, arguing that the traditional stylistic treatment of Japanese works makes them distinct from the Western works for which the term was created.

It is also used sometimes in contradistinction to "trade paperback", to emphasize that the work was created as a single, complex, but finite narrative, and not just collected arbitrarily from an ongoing melodrama.


The term "graphic novel" was popularized by Will Eisner after it appeared on the cover of the trade-paper edition of A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories (Baronet Books, published October 1978), a mature, complex work focusing on the lives of ordinary people in the real world. (The simultaneous hardcover did not use the term.) The label "graphic novel" was intended to distinguish it from traditional comic books, with which it shared a storytelling medium. Eisner cited as inspiration the 1930s books of Lynd Ward, who produced complete novels in woodcuts. The critical and commercial success of A Contract with God helped to establish the term "graphic novel" in common usage, and many sources have incorrectly credited Eisner with being the first to use it.

In fact, it was used as early as November 1964 by Richard Kyle in CAPA-ALPHA #2, a newsletter published by the Comic Amateur Press Alliance, and again in Kyle's Fantasy Illustrated #5 (Spring 1966). In 1976 the term appeared in connection with three separate works: Bloodstar by Richard Corben (adapted from a story by Robert E. Howard) used the term on its cover. George Metzger's Beyond Time and Again, serialized in underground comics from 1967-72, was subtitled "A Graphic Novel" on the inside title page when collected as a 48-page, black-and-white, hardcover book published by Kyle & Wheary. [[1] (] Chandler: Red Tide by Jim Steranko used the term "graphic novel" in its introduction and was labelled "a visual novel" on the cover, although Chandler is more commonly considered an illustrated novel than a work of comics.

Since the term came into use, it has been applied retroactively to various works which did not use the term but fit (or nearly fit) the popular modern usage. These prototypical examples include Milt Gross's He Done Her Wrong (1930), a wordless comic published in book format; Gil Kane's self-published, magazine-format comics novel, His Name is... Savage (1968, the same year Marvel Comics published two issues of the similarly magazine-format The Spectacular Spider-Man); and Kane's illustrated novel Blackmark (1971), a sword-and-sorcery paperback published by Bantam. Another often-cited example is Sabre: Slow Fade of an Endangered Species by writer Don McGregor and artist Paul Gulacy (Eclipse Books, October 1978). Calling itself a "graphic album," it marked the first time that an original heroic-adventure character in the American comic-book tradition was conceived expressly for the graphic-novel form.

Other similar works pre-dating the term are book-length hardcover Franco-Belgian comics featuring Tintin, Asterix and Spirou, which have been popular since the 1960s. One could also classify the long-form sequential woodcut albums by Belgian Frans Masereel, such as Passionate Journey, as early forms of graphic novel.

Artistic movement

Eddie Campbell has issued a manifesto (2004) to the effect that the "graphic novel" is more the product of an artist, and that it follows that the term is therefore better used as a description of an artistic movement. Members of the movement are known as "Graphic Novelists".

Campbell defines the major goal of the movement as being "to take the form of the comic book, which has become an embarrassment, and raise it to a more ambitious and meaningful level." Campbell sees the movement as drawing on many antecedents, notably woodcut novels, such as those by Lynd Ward, but does not wish the movement to be applied in relation to such antecedents. Further, Campbell rejects the notion that the term can be applied to the form of the work with any objective meaning, beyond those necessary for marketing purposes.

Notable examples

Related terms


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