Allison's Book Bag

Why Graphic Novels?

Posted on: May 11, 2013

Graphic novels proved the favorite reading fare of my struggling student readers this year. For that reason, I recently allowed my students to each pick one to read for an end-of-year project. Not only did I read all the books that they choose, but I read a few extras too. After a month of immersion, graphic novels still don’t rack at the top of my personal selections, but I have gained a better appreciation for them for reasons which I’ll soon explain.

First though, let me address the nagging question I had as I read my pile of graphic novels: What’s the difference between comics and graphic novels? After all, a comic and a graphic novel are told through the same format: a combination of text, panels, and images. According to Horn Book, the simplest difference is length. While comic books might stretch a story out to thirty pages, graphic novels can actually reach hundreds of pages. Wise Geek expands upon this to state that comic books are periodicals, typically printed on magazine-style paper and simply bound with staples. Graphic novels, on the other hand, are bound in like other more traditional books.

Wise Geek also lists and explain several other differences. For example:

  • Completeness of Story: A standard comic book usually includes the beginning, middle or end of a story, so a person typically cannot read just one to learn the whole plot or discover all the characters. By contrast, a graphic novel tends to cover one story in its entirety. If writers and artists decide to create a sequel, they design it as a new and complete story.
  • Advertisements: Publishers often include advertisements in a comic book. Many of these ads are in-house, meaning they’re designed to draw attention to other works or products from the same company. Typically, graphic novels contain little or no marketing, which also makes them more expensive.
  • Maturity Rating: Young people are often considered the target audience for comics, although many adults enjoy the themes because some concepts tend to be fairly universal such as good fighting evil, finding romance, or handling everyday life events. In contrast, adults are considered the target of graphic novels. Wise Greek admits that this distinction isn’t always a hard and fast rule because there are a number of comic book titles that are known for their adult content. Also, a comic for kids comic might be collected into a graphic novel format.
  • Acceptance: Even though comic books are enormously popular, they are often viewed as a “lower” art form in the same way that series are. Graphic novels are typically more recognized, with some even making bestseller lists and competing directly with traditional novels.

Given that I had just finished reading ten graphic novels for young people, I found some of these latter differences odd. Horn Book helped me feel less confused by this statement: “In the past, American comics were mostly aimed at children and teens, but today there are graphic novels for everyone from elementary school kids to seniors.” Horn Book also listed and explained some other misconceptions:

  • Graphic novels are full of violence and explicit sex. There are ones with R- or X-rated content, but they are not the bulk of what’s available, nor are those titles intended for younger audiences.
  • Comics and graphic novels are only superheroes. The genre diversity is increasing every day with more and more independent companies publishing a range of genres, from memoir to fantasy to historical fiction. This is partly what has allowed graphic novels to truly break into the book market.
  • Graphic novels are for reluctant readers. The combination of less text, narrative support from images, and a feeling of reading outside the expected canon often does relieve the tension of reading expectations for struggling students. That being said, graphic novels are also for general audiences.
  • Graphic novels aren’t “real” books. The key to categorizing graphic novels is to remember that they’re simply a format, in the same way that audio books and e-books are. While graphic novels work differently than traditional novels, they can be just as demanding and compelling as traditional books.

From the Horn Book and Wise Geek articles, I understand why the books I read are classified as graphic novels instead of comics. However, I’m still not sure how text-dominant books such as Big Nate and The Origami Yoda fall into the category. Anyone have an explanation?

Of the other eight graphic novels, my favorites for both story and visuals were Zita and Bird & Squirrel on the Run. My least favorite on both accounts was Shark King. If I were to pick a graphic novel based simply on its graphics, The Amulet Series is the most impressive. Unfortunately, the content is more mature and its style too much like that of a movie. The rest fall solidly in the middle for story and content, with Fangbone being the funniest and Fight for Freedom being the most educational.

Based on this sampling of eight books, some advantages for me of graphic novels are:

  • Ability to read in a day
  • Appeal to reluctant readers
  • Emphasis on humor and/or adventure

Disadvantages are:

  • Deceptively easy to read because of visuals
  • Appeal to kids, even if content is mature
  • Over reliance on visuals to detriment of story

For convenient reference, all the posts related to my graphics round-up are listed below:

What are your thoughts about the differences between comics and graphic novels? Which do you prefer?

What are your favorite and least favorite graphic novels? Why?

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2 Responses to "Why Graphic Novels?"

Love the description you gave about graphic novels =D for a long time i was unsure what was the big differences between comics and graphic novels

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