Comics vs. Graphic Novels: What’s the Difference?

Graphic novels and comic books aren’t the same. Find out how to tell the difference between both formats!

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If you’re like me, you might think that comics and graphics novels are considered the same story-telling format. After using the terms interchangeably for years, I’ve only now figured out that there are some very distinctive differences between the two mediums.

You don’t want to get caught identifying a graphic novel as a comic book (or vice versa) in a book store. So, what are the differences between comics and graphic novels? Take a look at this guide to find out.

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A Brief History of Comics and Graphic Novels

As a child, you probably remember reading those short comic strips in the weekly newspaper—Calvin and Hobbes and Garfield are some of the most well-known. The comic strip has been around as early as the 17th century, first emerging as politically-driven cartoons in Europe.

However, it wasn’t until the 19th century, when Swiss schoolmaster, Rodolphe Töpffer, conceived one of the first true comic strips: “The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck.” Years later, Töpffer’s cartoons evolved into the comic strips we know today.

In the late 1890s, the New York World newspaper printed “The Yellow Kid,” a full-color strip outfitted with speech bubbles and panels. Other newspapers followed suit, leading to the development of the modern comic strip.

But, what about actual comic books? Famous Funnies became the first modern American comic book that was produced on a regular basis. Unlike strips, this series was sold separately from the newspapers. Famous Funnies ran from 1934 to 1955, and set the standard for more well-known comics to come.

From the 1930s to the 1950s, otherwise known as the Golden Age of comics, comic books began to introduce heroes like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and the Green Lantern. Remarkably, all of these characters still have significance today.

As comic book fans grew older, they sought out more realistic and gritty stories, not to mention that they now had a disposable income to spend. These factors, along with the advent of dedicated comic book stores, allowed publishers to take more risks. In the 1970s, the pricier, more mature graphic novel soon hit the shelves, with Will Eisner’s A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories leading the way.

Comic Books vs. Graphic Novels: What Sets Them Apart?

Knowing the background of comics and graphic novels helps you understand how these books became what they are today. It also makes distinguishing between the two much easier.

In terms of differences, comic books are notably shorter than graphic novels. Comic books are considered periodicals—they’re published monthly, with each edition containing snippets of an overarching story. It typically takes months to reach a conclusion of a single story arc in a comic. You’ll also notice that a comic book uses staples to hold the pages together, a binding method known as saddle stitching.

Graphic novels resemble actual books. They come with a hard or softcover, and have a glue-bound spine much like a traditional novel. That said, graphic novels are longer than comics, and are much weightier in terms of size and content. Not only can you expect a graphic novel’s storyline to end by the time you finish the book, but you’ll also see significant character development.

Comic books and graphic novels are both very alike, yet very different at the same time. Both express a story with art—while comics tend to drag the story out, graphic novels tell an engaging story in a single book.

Do You Prefer Comics or Graphic Novels?

In the end, one medium isn’t better than the other. Both styles each have their drawbacks and benefits, but it’s all a matter of personal opinion.

If you’re looking for some new comic books to get into, check out these gory horror comic books guaranteed to turn your stomach.

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