Comic Books Vs. Graphic Novels: Let's Find a Good Fit for You!

Comic Books Vs. Graphic Novels: Let's Find a Good Fit for You!







Hello Readers,

I’m Terry Gant and I’m a new member of the Chicago Now Blog team. My blog is all about the world of Comic Books, Graphic Novels and Pop Culture because I’m known to be a bit of a comics evangelist. I believe Comic Books and Graphic Novels are for everyone. When I’m out socially I meet a lot of people with a curiosity about comics but they haven’t really found their doorway in. Some of what I cover going forward might help with that. Many of you have either read or pointed in the direction of Watchmen by Alan Moore or Maus by Art Speigelman or Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Others of you have found your way to Fatale by Ed Brubaker or Darth Vader & Son by Jeffrey Brown or Essex County by Jeff Lemire.

This is great and while all of those tend to get called “Comics” or “Graphic Novels” interchangeably depending on who you ask, I’m going to provide some clarity…I hope.

Get on in here. All are welcome and that include the millions of you who don’t read fantasy novels but watch Game of Thrones, the millions of you who saw the Avengers movie but had no idea who that villain was at the end and the other batch of millions of you who blame Ryan Reynolds for killing at least 2 potential stellar geek properties in movies and TV but have never connected those two things together at all.

With my first post I thought I’d just start with the basics. Comic Books Vs. Graphic Novels: Where are you on the Spectrum?

I find myself in situations all the time with people of my generation (or older) who say the following:

“Comic Books? They still make those? I thought they were called the “Graphic Novels” now…”


“Comic Books? They still make those <crickets..crickets…crickets>?”

The first former sort of irritates me but the latter just makes me give them a funny look. Just because you stopped believing in comics doe not mean comic books stopped believing in you. There is a problem with distribution which I will cover in the future but for now, yes, they still make comic books.

Since these comments do happen, I realize that there are real people out there who don’t know the lowdown about the what’s what of Comic Book…er…Graphic Novels…or whatever.

Here’s the deal:

A COMIC BOOK is generally a monthly periodical that uses a storytelling method that relies on sequential art and a script to deliver amazing serialized adventures to you, your kids, your parents, your neighbors, art students, postal workers and my mom, even though she really isn’t into comics at all.

LSH James Sherman Cover  Thunder Agents #1  YA1 Now

Batman, Superman, Spider-Man Iron Man, The Avengers, Fables, The Walking Dead, and Wonder Woman are examples of Comic Books.

“Tune in this month to see Batman get really mad about a thing.”

“Tune in next month to see if he does something about it.”

“There are zombies prowling the American Southeast while Rick and his pals argue about who loves who and if they take a right or left turn. Tune in next month to see if they take a left or right turn…and what’s inside that prison??? “ <Dramatic Swelling Musical Moment>

You see, in this case, Watchmen, one of the best “Graphic Novels” ever written was actually a comic book. It started life as a 12 issue series in the mid 80’s, during a time when almost no comic book gained additional life in the market as a collected format comic or Trade Paperback (TPB). Yes I just used “graphic novel” to describe a comic book but that was more for what you are probably used to as opposed to accuracy.

If you love serialized storytelling (and if you have any “must watch” appointment viewing) then the comic book format is really catering to your tastes. However most folks who partake of this model tend to not mind its side effects. There will a) be stacks of comic books around your home and b) possibly someday boxes filled with comics stacked to the ceiling full of all sorts of great stories (if you’re lucky).

Watchmen TP  Fables tp1  Walking Dead tp1

A Trade Paperback is a pretty common type of comics publication these days. It might take five or six issues to complete a storyline in a comic book. When that’s done, that story gets repackaged with a snazzy new cover, subtitle and is ready for prime time on your coffee table or bookshelf.

If you just don’t have the patience (or dedication) to to show up at a comic shop every week, every other week, or once a month to check in whether your favorite character has survived…whatever, then the Trade Paperback format may be for you. Almost every comic book currently being published eventually becomes a TPB. The downside of this is that a) you have to wait until a storyline is complete, b) the publisher may have decided to initially print a higher cost format than you’re willing to pay for. Readers of Joe Hill’s Locke & Key and Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ Saga can tell you all about what the first example feels like.

It’s one thing to buy a few $14.99 TPBs every few months but it’s another thing to have to wait 8 months because you’re avoiding paying $24.99 for a hardcover version of the story you’ve been waiting for. Very few publishers release both hard and softcover versions of their titles at the same time. Fans of DC and Marvel comics have to deal with this quite a bit.

A GRAPHIC NOVEL is a publication just like the above but has generally NOT spent any time being published as a monthly periodical. Serialized adventures are not necessary.  It’s like any other stand alone novel.  Someone wrote it and drew it and it’s done. The creators don’t expect you to tune in next month for the further adventures of “The Bat Spider Woman” but if you happen to love her adventure in “Island X” and this book was profitable enough, perhaps the creators will do a separate publication such as “Bat Spider Woman vs. the Lost Roman Legion on the Moon”.

This is the area where  Art Speigelman’s Maus, Craig Thompson’s Habibi and Blankets, Nate Powell’s Swallow Me Whole lives. Sometimes 30% or more of the floor space in many comic books shops is filled with books for this part of the market.

MAUS hc  swallow hc  Are you my mother HC

Note: I think I now own the rights to both “Bat Spider Woman & Island X” as well as “Bat Spider Woman vs. the Lost Roman Legion on the Moon”.  If an artist wants to get incredibly rich they should call me so we are ready when Hollywood shows up at my door.

There are more descriptors used in comics publishing such as Manga, Limited Series, One Shot, and many others but I’ll save those for a different entry.

What is important here is that if you stopped caring about comics years ago, they never stopped caring about you. There is a format and theme for everyone out there. If you feel like comics just are not for you, then keep thinking that as you watch Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Hannibal, Breaking Bad, Justified, and/or Doctor Who. All of those are properties that have a world of thanks to give to comics either in monthly periodical or graphic novel form.

Whether you just want to dip your toes in or dive in full on, comics (or graphic novels) are here for you. Any questions?


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  • Well, you're going to end up splitting a lot of hairs in defining "Graphic Novels" as having never been published in magazine format. "Maus" was indeed mostly serialized in the pages of "Raw." No worries, though, because most of our literature in the 19th - early 20th Century was serialized before being collected into books.

  • Well it might be splitting hairs if I had to start defining "published previously" by the size of the print run. While parts of it may have appeared in Raw, very few people would have had access to it given it's format and audience.

    Maus and Watchmen both get to be odd examples because of this.

  • So the Sandman series as books is just considered a bound collection of comic books? Okay. What about books that are not so big as novels but not a part of a series, like Violent Cases? (Do you get that I read a lot of Neil Gaiman?) I'm not trying to be snarky, I'm just trying to learn.

  • In reply to Kim Z Dale:

    Correct in the case of Sandman. That series went like 80 issues or something. As far as I remember Violent Cases was only released in prestige format (nice glued spine) and is just one book so Graphic Novel fits here.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Kim Z Dale:

    Two years late

    But VC is a graphic novel

    Killing Joke is a graphic novel.

    Basically any self contained comic debuting as a bound book is a graphic novel. Anything else is a tpb.

  • Great first blog! Welcome to Chicago Now!

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