Comics Vs Graphic Novel – Whats What!!!

Difference between a comic and graphical novel
Difference between a comic and graphical novel

My Fellow Subjects of All Super heroes in the world, here comes the most debated topic, whats a comic and whats a graphic novel.  If you look at the internet, most of the debate will finally end by saying its a decent way of calling a childish reading.  I take a serious offence to that, and stand proud for my addiction to the comic and being a superhero follower for more than 25 years.

In general

Comics can be described as stand alone, non serialised publication where generally its one story at a time type of activity and there is not actually many characters or scenarios or scenes discussed.

e.g – All comic strip / single issue – like Archies, Tales from Crypt, Saga etc…

Graphical Novel is a collection of characters that is combined into one story with various scenes and in detail analysis of the character. Movement of the story will be seamless and it would resemble a more like reading a book than jumping into action sequence pictures like the comic strip.

e.g – Perfect example of graphic novel is Bryan Tomalleys – “Seconds” – everyone will quote this to show the difference, as this can chalk as good example of what a graphic novel can be categorised

For discussion and debate i will take the features by which we can differentiate the terms and finally list other common terms which is generally used in the graphical publication industry.

  1.  Length/ Details of/in the Story

Comics – Generally this is a small treatment and in most of the cases it can be related to a short story or a short film where the treatment will not be more than few pages or few min.  These are generally 3 or 4 stories a book and not more than that.

Graphical Novel – This is generally a detailed discussion of the characters and the dialogue flow will resemble a print text publication.  this is in detail.  in this case – “trade paper back” – can also be brought under the case of graphical novel. But not in entire case but depending on the handling of the stories.  E.g  Saga pack can be considered a graphical novel because of its flow when their single issues are combined as trade paperback

2.  Maturity Rating

Comics – in general are guided by more of a universal audience including kids, and hence the maturity rating will have its own impact.  But mostly its tuned towards inclusion of kids

Graphic Novel – This is more of a new age term coined in specifically in 1970s in America, its called “Albums” in Europe.  Europe’s specifically had this type of books even before 1970s.  In this case the content is more towards adult audience.  Most of the current horror and sex treatment based books come under this segment.  Best e.g is Frank Miller – Sin and the City

3.  Room for Imagination

Comics – Generally we can see that only the action points and pressure points are charted in the sequential order and the room for imagination is enormous – this is generally how a kid is attracted into the reading space, same with adult reader who inturn start filling the gap with their own imagination.

Graphical Novel – The room for imagination is very small, as its more of a dialogue flow in the movement, and hence its mostly based on how well the same is described through the graphical representation.  e.g – “300” is a great example where every bit is illustrated amazingly without leaving any gap for reader to imagine and create the filler. But the creativity and imagination will get the reader drawn into the story.

4.  Scribble depth / design details

Comics – its an old definition, yet holds true in many cases. in modern comics this discussion does not hold valid. but in general comics do not have scribble depth, its more of a representational graphics which portrays more of the super hero and the action point.

But now a days even comic books have such a detailed illustrations that this discussion does not hold good

Graphic novel – as you would have guessed the design details is to the nth level and some of the most brilliant works of 80s and 90s can be best described as example for this.

5.  Frequency

Comics – Its generally regular/ cyclical but there are rarely once in a while comic books

Graphic novel – generally its one time, except for the amended version of trade paperback which can be linked and considered as graphic novels

6.  Advertisement

Comic Books – Generally Advt will be present, now a days single issues has more advertisement than the content too. that also makes single issue becoming not that popular now a days

Graphic Novel – no advt at all, its a professional release with end to end content

In totality you can conclude that all comic books can become graphic novels depending on how the creator has visualised the same.

Business Wise – most of the libraries carry graphic novel version of comic books and not the individual single issues.

Japanese Manga Comics has their own version of naming their books.

Yomakiri – Single Issue

tankabon – Graphic Novel

Shoshuhen – Omnibus Volumes


In Europe they call it as

Comic Strip Novel – For all single issue

Albums – Graphic Novel

Illustrated Novel – Trade Paperback or Album depending on the treatment

Picture Novella – a new format which is gaining popularity now a days. Its a middle ground between a comic and graphical novel.  in the 90s the artists didn’t like to say their book either as comic or graphic novel. e.g of this can be the Penti Osamo’s “Homunculus” or Chester Browns – “Its a good life , if you don’t weaken”


This is just an eagle eye view of differences, but as a reader, if you start collecting and reading you can clearly differentiate the differences from story, art, and business point.  To sum up folks!! Even though its all Comics, there are differences.

Let the peace prevail…..


Sathish Sampath