Discover what a graphic novel is and how it differs from a comic book

We could say that a graphic novel is a kind of fusion between literature and illustration, also, that it is a literary genre that for many years has been attracting the attention of the public, thanks to artists such as Alan Moore, David Lloyd, Dan Millman and Neil Gaiman, among others.

But this definition does not answer most of the questions that arise on the subject, for many it is not clear what a graphic novel is, what its characteristics are, and what differentiates a graphic novel from a comic book.

Every time we walk into a bookstore or look at an online catalog, it is inevitable that the doubt that has driven even the most erudite of readers crazy arises. is what we are reading a comic book or a graphic novel?

To answer all your doubts, in this article we want to explain in detail what a graphic novel is, and give you some examples to help you better understand the concept.

what is a graphic novel?

A graphic novel is a genre of literature in which a story is told through cartoons and illustrations. Whether it is a historical graphic novel or a science fiction graphic novel, the most important characteristic of this type of publication is the use of graphic elements to develop the story and connect with the viewers.

“In a graphic novel there are all types of editorial illustration at the same time. On some pages you are going to see complementary illustration, which sets the mood and, of course, narrative. Depending on each author, the presentation can be totally different.”

This characteristic is shared with other types of publications, such as comics; however, graphic novels have other elements that differentiate them and make them unique.

Through a graphic novel you can tell a common story, talk about a dystopian world or the planting of corn. You can also use some of the main themes of comic books and talk about superheroes, for example.

To make it clearer what a graphic novel is and what differentiates it from other similar publications, the best thing to do is to see what are some of its most important characteristics.

what are the characteristics of a graphic novel?

Like any other type of publication, the graphic novel has some elements that differentiate it and make it unique. Therefore, in this section we want to tell you what are the characteristics of the graphic novel, so that you can differentiate between a graphic novel and other formats when you go to buy books.

So what is so special about this narrative form? Let’s see what are the main characteristics of the graphic novel.


The term “graphic novel” became popular in the 1970s, thanks to the publication of the book A contract with God and other tenement stories, by Will Eisner. This author considered that comics were an art form that should transcend, to stop talking about superheroes who save the world, and become a way of using graphic narrative to talk about more significant and important issues.

This is how Will Eisner highlights the birth of the graphic novel in his book Graphic Storytelling:

“At last the comic book sought to deal with subjects that until then had been considered only the province of books, theater, or film. Autobiography, social vindications, human relationships and history were themes that comics were now interested in. Then, graphic novels aimed at ‘adults’ began to proliferate, and the average age of the authors increased”.


Another important aspect of graphic novels in relation to the story, is that in this type of publications self-conclusive stories are told, that is, they do not work under the serialization of comics, but a story that has a beginning, a development, and a denouement of its own is narrated.

Even when there is a continuation, a graphic novel works independently. Any extension of the story in this type of publication can be part of a sales strategy.


A graphic novel is also differentiated by its length, as these are not short stories, but publications that can range from 48 to 500 pages. There is no standard measurement, but any publication that uses graphic elements to tell a story that is self-contained, and falls within the number we mentioned, is considered a graphic novel.

Although a graphic novel may seem very long, we must remember that reading a story through vignettes and illustrations is easier, so its length is not a problem for readers.

Now you know what a graphic novel is and what the characteristics of a graphic novel are, so let’s take a look at some of the artists who have stood out for their ability to tell good stories with this type of publication.

Main authors of graphic novels

Many authors have managed to stand out thanks to the graphic novel, knowing them can be very helpful if you want to learn how to make a graphic novel, especially because their work is a reference of storytelling and good illustration practices.

Taking into account the illustration trends and the work of these artists, it is very likely that you will be able to create a graphic novel that will capture the attention of the public.

Alan Moore

Alan Moore is one of the most well-known names in the graphic novel industry. His legacy in the world of comics goes beyond any description you can give him.

With works such as V for Vendetta, From Hell and the wildly successful Watchmen series, he is widely regarded by critics and the public as one of the world’s best comic book and graphic novel writers.

Art Spiegelman

Spiegelman can be considered the forerunner of the modern graphic novel, and his work has inspired many people around the world.

His graphic novel Maus: a survivor’s tale is a clear reference of what an artist must do to create a good story. This graphic novel is considered one of the best works ever written in the history of literature.

Frank Miller

If we talk about superhero comics, it is impossible not to mention Frank Miller. Works such as Sin City, 300 and the spectacular The Dark Knight Returns made him one of the key names in the history of graphic novels.

He is considered one of the most transcendental writers of superhero stories, since with his works, he gave a new impulse to this genre.

Emil Ferris

From the same generation of graphic novelists as Spiegelman, this American author rose to stardom (in the world of graphic novels) with her story Lo que más me gusta son los monstruos, considered by the public as a “masterpiece“.

The 400-page work, which tells the story of Karen Reyes, a 10-year-old girl who investigates the death of a neighbor, was acclaimed by other authors such as Spiegelman himself, Chris Ware and Alison Bechdel.

Mariko Tamaki

This Canadian with Japanese roots has made a name for herself in the graphic novel industry, and has gone on to write for Marvel and DC Comics.

Her work includes graphic novels such as Skim and This one summer, which have attracted the attention of the public and specialized critics.

These are just some of the names of graphic novel artists who have gained worldwide recognition for their work, but the list is undoubtedly much longer.

Examples of graphic novels

want to know which are the best graphic novels? Here we offer you an excellent starting point, with the work of some of the authors we mentioned in the previous point.

This storytelling medium has become very popular in recent years, thanks to the appearance of some iconic works that are worth reading. Take note of these examples so that you have a reference and can create your own graphic novel.

MAUS: story of a survivor

Wherever you look for graphic novel recommendations, Maus will always, but always, appear. It is such an impressive graphic novel that in 1992 it became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Maus portrays the life of Vladek Spiegelman, as told by his son Art, who lived through the Jewish Holocaust in Nazi Germany.

This graphic novel has achieved public recognition as a masterpiece, in part, by the rawness that is narrated. It does not make up any kind of paternal relationship or sentimentality, nor does it try to vindicate or be a source of reassurance for the author. It only presents the sincere testimony about the survival instinct and the complexity of human relationships.


Saga is a science fiction graphic novel created by Brian Vaughan, its story and the illustrations developed by Fiona Staples are so incredible that we cannot fail to include it in this list of graphic novel examples.

The story portrays a space civil war between two sides and the forbidden romance of Alana and Marko who have just had Hazel: their daughter. Although it sounds like an intergalactic Romeo and Juliet, this graphic novel is a good example of how to build narrative arcs with cruel and endearing characters that represent the fragility of the human condition: no one is completely good or bad.


Although it’s over 500 pages long, Blankets is one of the fastest graphic novels to read. You’ll know it when you start the first page.

This autobiographical work by Craig Thompson depicts a boy’s journey to adolescence and early adulthood under a Christian shadow; his relationship with his brother; first love; and personal recognition. It is the narrative of a young man and his problems, but with a very intense level of depth.

Alan’s War

Alan’s War, a graphic novel written by Emmanuel Guibert, portrays the life of his great friend, Alan Cope. It is an honest story, full of anecdotes and peculiar situations wrapped in the atrocities of the time in which it is narrated.

This graphic novel is a good way to learn about the devastating effects of World War II on the people who had to live it from the trenches.


This is a historical graphic novel that highlights the conditions the Palestinians are subjected to since the occupation, and the conflict they have with Israel as a result.

Throughout the novel Joe Sacco, its writer, narrates what he witnessed on his trip to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, giving an account of the collective and individual life experience of the people living in those territories.

After reading this book you will better understand what a graphic novel is and what techniques its authors use to tell a story, especially when it deals with real life events.

Difference between comic books and graphic novels

Although it may seem the same thing, and some authors even consider that the definition of graphic novel and comic book are equivalent, the truth is that there are certain differences between the two concepts.

When talking about the characteristics of a graphic novel, we mentioned which are the elements that make a graphic novel different from other types of publications.

The graphic novel is the evolution of comics, and it allowed artists to go from creating a cheap form of entertainment for children, to creating an art form in which very complex and deep stories can be narrated, such as the ones we mentioned a moment ago.

Of course, graphic novels are also about superheroes, but there is a substantial difference in terms of the type of story told, the structure used to tell it, and the length they have.

In a way, the graphic novel was a product of Will Eisner’s interest in offering entertainment to those people who grew up reading comics, and who did not feel identified with a reading format that was especially aimed at children.

Let’s see then what is the difference between graphic novels and comic books:

The way a story is told

While in the graphic novel the story develops with a format of beginning, middle and end, comics do not propose an end for each story, but they are produced in a serial way.

Their length

We already commented on the subject of the extension in the graphic novels. On the other hand, comics are usually short and do not exceed 30 pages. The idea of the comics is that the reader is hooked with the reading and buys the numbers that follow to know more about the history.

The topics covered are

are graphic novels for adults and comics for children? It is not necessarily the case that one type of publication is for children and the other for adults, but it should be noted that the themes of graphic novels tend to be more complex, and their authors seek to delve deeper into the conflicts of their characters.

The publication format

In addition to the points we have already mentioned, it should be noted that graphic novels also differ from comics in their publication format. While the graphic novel is intended to be published in book format, comics have a magazine format.

Even the materials used to publish a graphic novel and a comic book are different. The latter also leads us to talk about price, because unless they are collector’s editions, a comic book is much cheaper than a graphic novel.

As you can see, there are elements that are common to both graphic novels and comics, but that doesn’t make them the same.

Now you know what a graphic novel is, you know its main characteristics and you know how it differs from a comic book

let’s keep learning together!

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