For a long time, I thought that comic books and graphic novels were synonyms. Only when I became a full-fledged graphic novel reader did I realize they were not so. Despite belonging to a similar illustrated storytelling format, comic books, and graphic novels differ substantially. Though they may appear to be the same outwardly, they are not, and it is easy enough to confuse one for the other when one does not know the differences between them.
Comic Books vs Graphic Novels!
What are these differences? One may wonder. I will explain by listing the discerning factors of graphic novels and comic books in this article to help make it easier to differentiate between them.
1. The Long and Short of it
The most common difference between comic books and graphic novels is their size. Comic books are smaller in length than their counterpart and are generally bite-sized and faster to read. Graphic novels are usually longer than comic books and have a more definitive story in comparison to it. Comic books are excerpts and serialized versions of a fictional universe.
Graphic novels are primarily standalone, have a single narrative, and are just like regular books, except in an illustrated format. Sometimes comic books may come in larger sizes, called Omnibus. This is a collection of previously printed single-issue comics published as one giant book, usually a hardback. They also become collectibles for their fanbase.
2. The Narrative Approach
Regarding comic books, the narratives are usually a tiny part of a greater fictional universe. They do not have a clear beginning or end; they are works in progress and have been around for years and years. For example, the DC, Marvel, and Archie comics were all first published in the 1930s and 1940s; they are still around to this day, telling us stories of the original characters in various iterations over the years. Compared to that, graphic novels have a more precise narrative approach. They have a different story to tell, usually conveyed within one book or as a series, but there is always a simple beginning and an end. The graphic novel universe extends less extensively than its comic book counterpart.
3. Varying Genres
Regarding genres, graphic novels have it down pat as they vary over different genres. There are memoirs, romance, dystopia, horror, crime, thriller, history, fantasy, and other genres attributed to graphic novels. Comic books may also have different genres, but they generally restrain themselves to the superhuman and hyperbole. If you are in search of variety, graphic novels are your go-to. Comic books are your thing if you are searching for nostalgia and comfort.
4. Publishing Frequency
Comic books, since they are serial issues, are published more frequently. They can be published weekly, fortnightly, monthly, and also daily as little comic strips in newspapers and magazines. Graphic novels are not published as frequently as comic books because they are not serials. Even the ones that are part of a series are not published weekly or monthly. They are published once in six months or a year, depending upon the author and illustrator’s ability to finish it. That’s why comic books are more widespread and ubiquitous than graphic novels.
5. Teamwork, Dreamwork
Since comic books are produced on a larger scale and have been around for a longer period than graphic novels, they will likely have a much larger team. Numerous people work behind the scenes to deliver comic books almost year-round. They have multiple authors and illustrators, and the stories can go on for years. Since most of the famous comic books have been around for decades, the team also keeps changing, increasing, or decreasing according to their audience. A larger group is required to keep the comic book industry running in keeping with the demand from their wide fanbase.
Accordingly, graphic novels usually have a more minor team, just the author and the illustrator working behind the scenes. In most cases, the author is the illustrator as well. Since they are only works, they do not require a team to keep them running. Small and self-sufficient is the motto behind the team who deals with graphic novels. This does not mean that the content produced by one is superior or inferior to the other. They are both equally great illustrated content despite their differences.
6. Fan Base and Fandoms
As usual, comic books also take a considerable lead in this spectrum. Any fictional universe that has been around for a long time will have a large fanbase, and comic books are no exception to the rule. They have a massive fan base depending on the type of content they publish. The superhero universe like DC, Marvel, and the slice life stories like Archie, Peanuts, Beetle Bailey, and also on a home level, Tinkle, have their individual fan bases that have been around for years, with newer fans popping up every generation.
They have become multi–million dollar franchises with movies, series, and even video games based on them. Comic Con, a comic book convention, is held every year for fans of comic books to meet their favorite comic book creators and characters. Cosplayers (people who dress up as their favorite comic book characters) are also a great attraction at these conventions. Comic book collectibles, collectible toys, funko pops, and more are a huge attraction for the fans of the comic book universe.
This is a huge money-making industry on a grander scale than any graphic novel industry can aspire to. Comparably graphic novels are a more niche part of the book industry, and their fandom is not on a level to that of comic books. But this does not mean that they are of lesser quality than comic books. They just have very different audiences that they cater to.
7. The Popularity of the Characters
Comic books have clear-cut protagonists, with most of them being famous. Graphic novels usually have single or multiple protagonists based on the genre and type of fiction. They are also primarily based on real-life stories and act as self-inserts of the author/illustrators. Graphic novel characters are more relatable when compared to comic book characters. Comic book characters are larger-than-life, caricaturish versions with special abilities more often than not.
They are also more popular than their graphic novel counterparts and have many movies based on them. Most comic books also have a lot of recurring characters, that is, characters apart from the series regulars who do not appear in every book but are a part of that particular universe. There are seldom new characters appearing in comic books, whereas the characters in graphic novels are totally new to the readers.
8. Illustrations and Art Styles
Comic books have a more generalized, uniform format of storytelling. They consist of boxes of images arranged sequentially in the form of panels. The image panels also have speech bubbles and text bars on the top and bottom of the panels, a mixture of images and texts. The images are a more exaggerated version of the characters. Comic books usually maintain a similar art style and text panel to maintain uniformity across different issues of the comic books.
They also have a set number of pages that need to be filled. Graphic novels do not have these restrictions, and they are more freeform. They have different art styles; they may have entire pages filled with just texts or images or a combination of both. They do not have a uniform manner. They are an extension of the illustrator’s creativity and their form of storytelling. The art styles across different graphic novels are diverse, and the storytelling is not similar.
9. Availability and Affordability
Comic books are more commonly available than graphic novels. They are also more affordable (if you do not consider collectible and Omnibus issues). The latest releases are available in most bookstores, online stores, specialty comic book stores, etc. Graphic novels are also available in all these stores, but since they are not published on a scale equal to that of comic books or as frequently, their availability may be lesser in comparison. Also, they are slightly more pricey than regular issues of comic books. Despite it all, they are less affordable than regular books. Having an addiction to either graphic novels or comic books has the ability to make the readers destitute.
10. Storytelling Style and Continuity
Comic books are works in progress in perpetuity. They have no clear ending and will continue to be published as long as their fandom thrives. There is no clear continuation between the different issues. They may have continuity, or they can be read as standalone comics. One cannot, in good faith, attempt to read through all the issues of comic books to get the story. If published as a series, graphic novels have excellent continuity and must be read every single book to understand the stories.
They have clear storylines and continuation between the different series and a definite end in sight. The storytelling styles between comic books and graphic novels vary according to genre and size. Where comics deal with a main singular topic (with various filler stories) per issue, the graphic novel reads more like a regular book but with more artwork than words.
Hopefully, this article has helped you differentiate between comic books and graphic novels. They may look similar outwardly, but they have a world of differences. This fact, however, does not mean that one medium is better than the other. They are just different methods of storytelling and are each enjoyable in their way to their particular readers. To help induct newbies into the comic books and graphic novels cult, we will be coming out with new recommendations for you in the illustrated storytelling world.
An architect who loves to write. Her favorite past-time fluctuates between reading books and writing about what she reads. Her favorite habitats are libraries, bookstores, and old buildings, in that order. She dreams of becoming an author one day, provided she gets over a pesky affliction called procrastination.