graphic novel publishing

Comic Book vs. Graphic Novel Publishing

Ann O'Brien

Ann O'Brien

November 3, 2022

To the casual reader, any book with illustrations as the primary focus may seem like a comic book. But the truth is that books with illustrations and storylines can be anything from comic books, graphic novels, manga, or even anime.

Once a mainstay throughout childhood, comic books have retained their appeal over the years and have even developed new audiences while graphic novel publishing has become popular in recent years. But what makes comic books different from graphic novels? Let’s compare these two types of books and look at what makes each unique.

What Is a Comic Book?

A comic book is an illustrated story that tells part of a serialized, larger story in the same way that a chapter might tell one section of a novel. Part of the appeal of comics, as they first appeared in the mid-twentieth century until today, is that new comics were released monthly or even weekly, which built anticipation among readers excited to see the latest exploits of their favorite characters.

Today, a comic book may not be published as regularly as in the past, but the storylines can span months, years, or even decades, bringing along enthusiastic readers from childhood well into adulthood.

Characteristics of Comic Books

Stories that are told through the lens of a comic have a few defining characteristics that land the publications clearly in the realm of comic books. Comics are characterized by their theme, publication, story arcs, recurring characters, and the worlds created for the characters.

  • Theme: While some comics can be serious and explore deep or dark themes, most comics have a very adventurous feel following the exploits of the heroes and heroines of the story.
  • Serialized: Books created in the style of comics only tell a small portion of a larger story. These publications are serialized in an effort to engage readers to keep coming back for more, but each comic usually can stand alone as a story.
  • Story Arc Length: Since comics are serialized, a story arc may take a long time to be completed. Some story arcs have gone on for years or decades while some characters have smaller stories that are wrapped up in weeks or months.
  • Recurring Characters: Comics may bring back characters in current stories that had already existed in previous stories. This looping of characters engages past comic enthusiasts to jump back into the storylines.
  • Fantastical Worlds: Most comics utilize hyperreal, fantastical worlds and characters with superhuman abilities.

Popular Comics

Some of the most well-known comics include the Marvel publications which tell the stories of Spiderman, X-Men, The Avengers, and the Hulk. The other most well-known comic series belongs to D.C. Comics, famous for their heroic characters like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.

What Is a Graphic Novel?

Novels that are expressed through illustrations are called graphic novels. This genre of book is similar to any other novel in that the story begins and ends in one publication. While some may be serialized, each story can stand alone as a complete novel. Popular with young readers, graphic novels have become more common with adult readers in recent years who love the visual appeal of novels that are illustrated.

Graphic Novel Publishing Features

Since a graphic novel is ultimately a novel, the defining characteristics of this genre mirror typical novels in many ways.

  • Structure: These stories will have a defined beginning, middle, and end to the plot enabling them to stand alone as a complete story.
  • Storylines: Usually a primary or “A” storyline as well as a lesser or “B” storyline runs through the book.
  • Character Development: Traditional, well-developed characterization occurs in this genre, similar to a traditional novel.
  • Theme: Adult and mature themes may be present in this genre and the books may appeal to older rather than younger readers.
  • Dialogue and Narration: Since graphic novels are similar in length to traditional novels, precise dialog and narration are used to tell the story and build characterization details.

Popular Graphic Novel Publishing

Some of the most well-known comics include the Marvel publications that tell the Spiderman, X-Men, The Avengers, and the Hulk stories. Arguably the most well-known novel in this genre is Maus written by Art Spiegelman, a modern perspective on the Jewish Holocaust that earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons penned their dark take on superheroes that is now routinely studied as a prime example of reimagining familiar characters. Two classic books in this genre, Black Hole by Charles Burns and Ghost World by Daniel Clowes, both address themes that appeal to young readers on the brink of adulthood.

Comic Book vs. Graphic Novel Publishing

While each genre has its unique style and of course, readers that love the genre, it’s easy to see how similar they can be. Take a look at how these books can be alike.

Similarities: Visually and stylistically, both types of books share many qualities and fairly earn the reputation of being alike in many ways.

1 Both tell fictional stories using illustrated actions along with dialog or narration.

2 They both use panel-style illustrations.

3 Both genres contain stories about superheroes and villains and may contain heavy themes and complex characters.

Differences: The differences between these two genres are easy to see, however, especially when comparing how each style of book approaches storytelling.

1 Comics are written as slices of a larger tale and may not express a whole event or wrap up an introduced conflict with any character. Novels told visually contain a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end.

2 Comics are mainly expressed visually with limited explanation, dialog, and narration. In contrast, graphic novel publishing contains a large amount of text closer to a traditional novel’s length.

3 Characterization in comics is learned over the course of many installations or episodes, but novels penned with illustrations flesh out characters, motivations, and conflicts as well as wrap-up changes in characters all by the end of the book.

4 Comics can be relatively short while novels in this genre are closer to a traditional novel length.

Manga and Anime

This tradition of illustrated graphic-style books that address mature, deep, or fantastical themes is also popular in cultures around the world. Probably the most popular versions outside of the US come from Japan and they are called manga and anime.

While not strictly perfect correlations, manga is most similar to a graphically written novel and anime is more closely aligned with comic-style writing. Both manga and anime have become very popular in the US as well as around the world. Both genres’ illustrative styles are very distinctive and unique, further boosting the appeal of both genres by readers of all ages, in the US and in European and Asian countries.

Self-Publishing Your Book

One of the best ways to bring your story to life is through self-publishing your own comic or graphic novel. Artistry and writing come together to tell a story and authors who choose to self-publish their books have the ability to determine how often to publish a new comic episode or whether or not their novel will be part of a series or truly a stand-alone book.

Working with a trusted printing company like Publishing Xpress will make the process of choosing the right binding and paper and ink type easier. And Publishing Xpress has its own design experts to assist authors in their cover design to make sure their book’s cover will attract the right readers as well as project a familiar look that is cohesive with other graphic comics or novels. Partnering with a printer that can help you from start to finish is the first step for a writer who is ready to add published author to their list of accomplishments.

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