What’s the Difference Between Comics and Graphic Novels?

Okay. I’ve been pretty open about the fact that I don’t read comics. And recently I started thinking of the difference between comics and graphic novels. And I can’t seem to find one.

We sell both at my store and the only difference I can see is that graphic novels often come in hardback and are priced extremely high. Which is so unnecessary when they’re less than 100 pages. I’ve looked through a handful of both comics and graphic novels and still don’t know the difference. All the characters you can think of seem to appear in both. I don’t know.

So what’s the difference between graphic novels and comics? I haven’t a clue.

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18 thoughts on “What’s the Difference Between Comics and Graphic Novels?

  1. I’m actually curious about this myself.

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  2. The nomenclature and terminology is…nuanced.

    A “comic” refers in a vague sense to the medium of storyboards as entertainment.

    A “comic strip” is a daily or weekly serialized “comic”, often anywhere from one panel to a full page’s worth of panels and appearing online or in a newspaper.

    A “comic book” is a weekly, monthly, or quarterly serialized booklet of “comics”, and the current industry standard in length for a comic book is 32 pages (in the past, it’s been a bit longer, though by how much exactly varies). Comic book issues (named so because they could be subscribed to like magazines, and were indeed once considered magazines or digests by small merchants and large retailers alike) are either “one-shots”, whereby the entirety of the story takes place in one issue, or they are part of a micro- (four to six issue story arcs) or maxi-series (six to twelve, in some cases fourteen, issues that often involve characters from outside the normal storytelling conventions of a given comic book series of issues).

    A “trade paperback” is a collection of these issue-driven stories (think specific story arcs involving Batman or Superman, whereby four issues or more are collected, completing a story).

    A “graphic novel” is often a one-shot comic story that greatly exceeds the 32-page industry standard, and is released as a single, self-contained work (Grant Morrison’s _We3_ is a reasonable example). Sometimes the novel may be split into smaller parts and released first as comic book issues (as in the case of Alan Moore’s _Watchmen_), and sometimes there might be a sequel following the isolated story, but in this case the graphic novel is nothing that’s part of anything that can be considered “on-going”.

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    • Wow. Glad no one else tried to answer. You said everything there is to say. I guess the differences are pretty evident once you know them. Maybe I’ll do some fact checking of your knowledge at work tomorrow. 😂😉

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      • I waited a few hours to see if someone would chime in and, when no one did, well…there you have it.

        To belabor a point:

        Now, keep in mind that sometimes people use the terms interchangeably…so a “trade” (for trade paperback) can potentially refer to graphic novels as well (for simplicity’s sake), but typically that’s not the case when speaking with comic nerds.

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  3. Always thought ‘graphic novel’ was so named to appeal to adults, so they didn’t feel they were reading anything juvenile enough to be called a ‘comic’, .
    Thanks for the clarification 🙂

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    • That may be the genesis behind the origin of the phrase (not 100% sure of the history behind it), but it’s come to mean something a bit different over the years. And, often, graphic novels (for whatever reason) do tend to deal with topics that are more adult in nature. *shrugs*

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      • Interesting. Yep, there certainly are some graphic novels that are pretty ‘graphic’ – bought my other half a ‘Walking Dead’ compendium a couple of years ago and my little lad was intrigued-drawn by the format I suppose. Not for young eyes, though 🙂

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  4. I’m glad someone else answered your question, because I don’t know if I could have done it justice. Honestly, I just know that, between the two, I far prefer graphic novels to comics. At this stage of life. Ten years ago, that opinion probably would have been reversed.

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