300 word rant: graphic novel vs. comic book

This is something that has bugged me for awhile.  Not a major problem, but rather an annoying little nuisance, poking at a nerve, like some of Marvel’s renumbering.  Like Fantastic Four #600 using the numbering from FF even though FF continued as a series, and now I hear that there is a Dark Avengers #175….GAH!  But I digress.  The minor annoyance I speak of today comes from a term that people use too often to describe things that aren’t actually it.  This term is graphic novel.

It is quite a prestigious sounding term.  Just think about it.  Which sounds more classy, graphic novel or comic book?  Graphic novel has this ring to it.  A graphic novel sounds like something that could be compared to the works of Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, and other authors you’re forced to read during school.  Whereas comic book sounds like something only a kid would read.  You can see why people would overuse graphic novel.  They want their passions to be taken seriously. But this leads to rampant misuse of the phrase.

For example, Watchmen is considered by many to be the greatest graphic novel ever written.  I’m here to tell you that that is incorrect.  This isn’t because Watchmen isn’t a good story, but rather because it’s not a graphic novel.  It was written and published as a series of issues, and later collected into a single volume.  In order for it to have been a graphic novel, it would have needed to be written and published as a single volume.  The fact that it is an ongoing story is irrelevant.  Things like Superman:  Earth One and Fables:  1001 Nights of Snowfall are graphic novels.  They written and published as the longer format.

So please, in the future, remember to use the correct term.  And especially don’t use graphic novel because you’re ashamed to say you read comic books.  Have some pride.



  1. So…I agree that there’s a difference between the graphic novel and a comic book, but I propose a third alternative: the serialized graphic novel.

    I say this mainly because you chose to include Charles Dickens in your list of literary figures whose work was usually delivered serially. I’d argue that Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, and many recent story arcs are a single graphic novel told over multiple parts.


    • you could say that about almost any comic, though. Even a lot of the horrible stuff is a serial. most comics have taken to the story arc format spanning somewhere between 5-30 issues per story, have a specific title for the story, and usually are wrapped up with a finale to provide closure to that portion of the story.

      I think the larger issue in my mind is that there really is very little difference between a graphic novel and a comic book. its just a fancy title given to the often better written and illustrated comic books. To me it would be like calling 2 movies, say The Artist and Hot Tub Time Machine, a “cinematic narrative” and a “picture show”. If anything its more like how we view movies vs. Tv Series, and just because Lost is a good show and runs an ongoing story arc that is distributed serially doesn’t mean you can compare it to a movie even if it is better than plenty of movies out there.


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