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Differentiating Comic Books and Graphic Novels


Disconcerting readers may often mix up graphic novels and comic books and insist that they are similar in content and origin anyway. Others may assume that “graphic novel” is just a euphemism for comic book (a way to admit you’re into superheroes in spandex without the judging glares), but in fact, they have some telltale differences. Here’s a short guide.

Separating Fact and Fantasy

The common myth is that binding differs the two. Graphic novels are comics bound, either in hardback or paperback, while comic books are held together by staples at the spine. However, this explanation is insufficient since comic books are also published in hardback or paperback collections.

A better differentiation would be how they are published. Comic books are periodicals produced monthly (or otherwise, depending on the publisher), and each issue has a central plot and action, progressing the series’ storyline. Graphic novels have shorter arcs, with narratives being completed only after one to two issues, and then a new arc is opened.


Comic books have very intricate storylines, and characters can be introduced inconsequentially. Backstories and histories of certain events/characters may take months to be explained since comic books focus on one central storyline.

Graphic novels read more like books, delving deeper into characters and backstories. They focus on character development and consistent details. By the end of a novel, the full narrative will be completed.

History and Popularity

Before comic books, there were ten-cent books called “pulps,” telling the story of heroes like Doc Samson and The Shadow going to exotic places and having adventures. Action heroes then didn’t have any “superhuman” capabilities.

The first issue of Action Comics featured Superman, the very first comic character to have superhuman powers. In 1939, Batman was introduced in Detective Comics #27. He was the dark and gritty, the opposite of Superman’s clean and pure image. Batman thrived in the midst of Superman’s superhero popularity because while he was purely human, he was intelligent and wealthy and had gadgets that helped him fight crime.

Marvel Comics #1 also came out in 1939. The first Marvel heroes to be featured were the Human Torch (who was later integrated into the Fantastic Four), Ka-Zar, the Angel (later redone as an X-Men member), and the Masked Raider.

From these beginnings, Marvel and DC skyrocketed the comic book industry. Superman, Batman, and the rest of the Justice League are still popular worldwide, as well as Marvel’s leading comic book heroes, the X-Men and the Avengers.

Graphic novels started out as magazines devoted to comic books and superhero stories. These magazines gave way to the first book-length publication of comic. Will Eisner’s A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories published in 1978 is credited by comics historians as the first real graphic novel.

Comix artists such as Harvey Pekar and R. Crumb differentiated themselves from code-abiding mainstream comic book artists and inspired the first graphic novelists. Most of them got their start drawing and writing superheroes and superhero stories for Marvel and DC Comics.

In 1990, Neil Gaiman changed the face of graphic novels with the publication of Sandman under Vertigo, a subsidiary of DC Comics. The 75-issue series follows Morpheus, known in the comics as Dream. He is imprisoned for seven decades by occultists. He returns to his kingdom of Dreaming and begins to repair what is left of it after years of chaos and neglect. Along with this, he has to deal with this powerful siblings, the Endless, which includes Destiny, Destruction, Desire, Delirium, Despair, and Death. Sandman received several awards, including the 1991 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story, making it the only comic to receive a literary award.

At present, classics, Shakespearean works, and young adult novels are also being turned into graphic novels with the hope to reach more readers.




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