A Graphic Novel By Any Other Name

My colleagues, my editor, my friends, my students and (especially) their parents have all bemoaned on one occasion or another the term “graphic novel”.’  Problem 1: They’re not always novels.’  Problem 2 (mostly from parents of students): the word “graphic” suggests adult and/or extreme content.’  Well, I’ve made my peace with the fact that the name refers to the physical form of the object (it has a similar appearance to that of a standard novel) rather than the contents, and at this point we maybe too far gone to replace it anyway.’  However, this has not come up on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee and I’m interested in a rough general consensus.’  Should there be a change?’  And to what?’  I’ve heard graphics novel, graphics, graphic book, graphic format, sequential book and GN (which sort of avoids the issue and faces it both at the same time), plus plenty of others I won’t labor through here.’  Please, tell me: where do you stand and what’s your suggestion for a name change, if you’ve got one?

About Jesse Karp

Early Childhood and Interdivisional Librarian at LREI – Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School,
Booklist Reviewer,
Guys LIt Wire Blogger,
Serving on ALA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee

Bookmark the permalink.

10 Comments

  1. a name change would do this popular format a disservice. I can’t imagine so many parents out there are so concerned to justify any change and since people more or less know what a graphic novel is by now, it seems better not to confuse the matter.

  2. How about “comic book?”
    “Graphic novel” was a term invented by Will Eisner to describe his long-form comic books in a way that “elevated” them from commercial superhero things. Now that comics have for the most part been recognized as a legitimate form of art (Jack Kirby in museum shows, “Watchmen” in best novel lists) we don’t need to make that distinction anymore. Call them what they are, comic books.

  3. I agree with Matt! I still haven’t heard a good response to the question: What’s the difference between a graphic novel and a comic book?

    Having said that, I do realize there is a difference between a superhero comic book and a Garfield comic book. But to me, they are both comic books.

  4. Interesting. It never occurred to me to go back to comics, because I thought comics suggested something serial or magazine-like, whereas what we’re dealing with now are books (or monographs, to use one of my favorite words).

    I sometimes like to let the patrons be my guide in terms of labeling kinds of books. But when kids or teens ask me for something in the graphic category, they’re usually specific (Where are the Bone books? Where are the Batman books? Do you have Dragonball Z?), so I’m not sure what words they use in their head when they’re thinking of the collection.

  5. What about illustrated novel? But really, I think the term graphic novel is fine. Most students are aware of graphics and graphic design. I don’t think they associate “graphic” with “adult and/or extreme content.” I think they understand it to mean visual images.

  6. Comics! It’s how they began and it’s really what they are… oh, someone else already said the Will Eisner bit. So, yes, that. We don’t need to legitimize the format by giving it a fancier name, really great books in any format legitimize themselves.

  7. Comics are not the same as graphic novels. Comic books are shorter and look more like magazines regardless of literary merit of the content. Graphic novels look like novels and in general have lengthier stories including two or three chapters that would each be an individual comic book.
    In Japan, serial managa is generally released in a magazine or book with other serials on a chapter by chapter basis. They are then complied (several of the original chapter releases) into a volume. This volume resembles a book or a novel.
    This means that the original releases of Superman, which were chapters or issues with flimsy binding, could be re-released with several of those issues combined into one binding and be called a graphic novel. The original releases were comic books which should be differentiated from the multi-issue graphic novels.

  8. I prefer graphic narratives – so many great books of this type are memoirs and nonfiction accounts of historical events. Narratives is broad enough to capture this. Calling them novels doesn’t serve the excellent nonfiction well.

  9. Sarah, you’re not telling us anything we don’t know. “Graphic novel” is a nebulous term used for any sort of comic book story published as a bound book–whether its an original work or a collection of comics previously serialized, but they’re still all comics.
    Were Charles Dickens’ novels not novels when they were originally published in magazines? The term novel doesn’t change just because its bound differently. Neither should comics.

  10. The only people I’ve heard “bemoaning” the term graphic novels are people who never read them. The rest of us get along OK. Sometimes I say “comics” in my school library (which doesn’t have any standard comic books) and the kids know it’s shorthand for graphic novels–“The comics are over there.” We have lots of nonfiction in the GN collection, which I’ll sometimes refer to as a graphic memoir, or “graphic novel about 9/11” or whatever it is. Those who want to read them get it; those who don’t, don’t.

Comments are closed