On the term "Graphic Novel"

Recently I was re-watching Lost Boys: The Thirst. There’s a scene where Edgar goes into a comic shop to try and sell a comic to Zoe, the woman who works there. A character walks into the store asking in a snide way where the Graphic Novels are. Zoe says comic books and the guy scoffs saying “No, I mean Graphic Novels. I don’t read comics” The scene is tongue in cheek, but it got me thinking about the term “Graphic Novel” and the good and bad that comes with it.

There was a time I didn’t like the term. Watchmen is a good example because it kind of encapsulates why I wasn’t a fan of “Graphic Novel” being thrown around. When you went to the movie, it was “based on the Graphic Novel”, when a professor would teach it in a course it wasn’t based on the mini-series published by DC, it was based on the “Graphic Novel” and when you went into Barnes and Noble, you weren’t going to the comic section , you were going to the “Graphic Novel” section.

The reason it used to bother me was because it felt like a buzzword created by someone who was ashamed to say “comic book” It reminds me of professional wrestling where the term is now “Sports Entertainment” according to WWE because they don’t want their product to be referred to as “Wrestling”. It felt like people who wanted all the good that comes from the product but didn’t want to call the product what it was.

As I got older, I gained an appreciation for the term in that if it brings in people from the movie theatre or a college course to come into a comic shop or even stop by a Barnes and Noble and flip through a trade, exposing them to something they might enjoy, then by all means! There’s nothing wrong with new fans and if they want to call them something other than a trade, mini-series or single issue, that’s good enough for me. And one could argue that Watchmen’s issues are really just chapters of one long story. And while I was aware of Original Graphic Novels beforehand, getting into the Earth One books, I can see how the "novel’ part of it applies.

These days I’m not one or the other when it comes to the term. When I hear it, I don’t get annoyed as I used to, but I also don’t acknowledge it as the default term, either. I guess I’m writing this to see what you all think. Do you have a preference? If so, which one?


This reminds me of an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 where Joel says “comic book” while Servo and Crow berate him and say “graphic novel!”.

“Graphic novel” used to be the term for original, longer stories published in one volume long, long before trade paperbacks/collected editions were a frequent thing. The term long ago evolved into “original graphic novel(s)”.

Graphic novels is a better label for stores likes Barnes and Noble as it fits on a sign better and is a concept easier understood by non-comic fans than “Comic Books in a Collected Edition” and the like.

When I tell someone I love comic books, I tell them just that: I love comic books. There’s no shame in the term and if they have problems with comics in general (despite likely never having read even one), then tough cheese.


Comics have always been to me the serialized nature. They are your individual issues. The graphic novel term is for collections because it is a MORE complete story. Not always complete but complete enough.
Graphic Novels are also more likely to be reread as they are more enjoyable then finding issues #1-6.

I find you anecdotes really interesting as an FYI!

Google tells me that Maus was the first graphic novel in 1980, but that would have been way to sophisticated for me to read, but I do remember reading Marvel’s God loves, Man kills from 1982.

I do remember a lot of the trolling and animosity between the 2 camps for most of the 80’s and with the proliferation of trade paperbacks everything just got confusing.

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I prefer comic book as well. I try to not use the term graphic novel, as I also believe it carries with it this sense of shame for being into comics. I call my Watchmen book a trade. Maus was serialized in RAW. So I tend to leave the term graphic novel for things that were published as a whole, like Craig Thompson (new Ginseng roots is getting singles tho) or Tillie Walden stuff or when Lemire releases something like The Underwater Welder. Anything that was serialized is a comic book. I tend to have a dislike for anything that has a connotation of being “not the other lame thing”.

There’s some wonderful points, here! @Vroom, I totally remember that episode of MST3K!!! And what you said about it fitting better on a sign in Barnes and Noble makes sense to the casual reader.
@Nathan.Payson, I’ve heard that side of the argument and I can see where people are coming from that point of view. It was one of the reasons I tried to not get so antsy when someone said the GN word lol And thank you for the kind words.
@Wildstorm-Jeff, wow, it went back as far as 1982. I remember being in the middle of the arguments. I always called them trades or tpbs, but yea when they got popular it REALLY got confusing and chaotic.
@DeadmanBrand@ I’m the same way in that a part of me still thinks people are ashamed to say “Comic Book”, which is why “Graphic Novel” to them sounds more prestigious.

It’s a little weird making a post about a term because it could always be misconstrued like I’m one of the people you see these days who gets triggered by a term and all the drama that comes with that. But your responses are amazing! I’m grateful for you all taking the time to read this but also for sharing your insights.

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Funny enough, I believe I hear ‘graphic novel’ more often from people on the outside of comics, trying to be polite or use the correct term. As in: “Oh, you’re into comic books – er, I mean, graphic novels? That’s the right term, right?” And I always say, nah they’re totally comic books.

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@DeadmanBrand, I agree. It’s almost become a branding term than something to describe a certain kind of comic.

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