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02 December 2009


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You know I've kinda been guilty of this and you're right. I shouldn't do it. I've used it as in "written in the graphic novel format" to give readers an idea of what the book looks like. I wish we could just say "illustrated memoir" without people recoiling in horror/confusion. Maybe I need to just start taking a stand on the issue!


I don't even know what the "right" term would be -- graphic memoir, maybe? But that sounds dirty. "Illustrated memoir" isn't bad, but it makes it sound (to me) like it would just have the occasional picture. I'm not even sure. All I know is that I heard someone do it today and it made me feel seriously, literally, violent.

But maybe I was just hungry.

Matt Holm

Meh. Most of the "great" "graphic novels" are actually "graphic nonfiction."

Honestly, there's no hope for salvaging the terminology. It all went downhill when people decided to call "comic magazines" "comic books." They're NOT books. They're monthly periodicals. They're bound with staples. They have no ISBN.

I say, give in and call them graphic novels, which, as Scott McCloud has said, is interpreted as meaning, "Big Fat Comic Book with a Spine."

J. L. Bell

Within the industry, “graphic novel” has become the term for anything published with a spine, whether fiction or nonfiction, unified or collected. “Comic book” means anything in magazine form, stapled without a spine—even though they’re not books and not necessarily comic. As for the medium as a whole, practitioners seem to call it “comics,” but have to accede to industry jargon on the rest.

But is the jargon of other areas of publishing any clearer? Novels aren’t necessarily new. (Nor in France are they necessarily Roman or romances.) Young Adult books aren’t primarily for young adults, legally defined; they’re for old children. And that term doesn’t use “adult” in the same way the as Adult books of the, well, graphic kind.


Despite the perhaps negative connotations, I prefer to use the phrase "graphic memoirs". It does quite frustrate me when "graphic novel" is used as an all-encompassing term but I've also learned that there's not much I can do or say against it. I can just hope that my own phrases will catch on. Perhaps in order to avoid confusion with "graphic-meaning-violent-or-explicit", they should be called "sketch novels", "sketch memoirs", "sketch non-fiction"... Of course, then it's not always sketch style art, but...


Ok, here's the deal. Generally the only people who want to use "Graphic Novel" as a catch all were the sorts of people who wanted to read comic books but didn't think it was cool for 30 somethings to read comic books and like it. "Graphic Novels" are then much better because then Alan Moore or Art Spiegelman can be Milton but with pictures and a lot less words.

"Graphic Novels" are any comic book with a spine and pictures involving, capes, shields, aliens, schoolmates, mice, Germans who look like cats, Greek sleep Gods, children operated on by relatives, dissected lunches, disaffected little girls, fake Canadian talk show hosts OR Norwegian Cows.

UNLESS these stories were previously published as monthly stapled periodicals. In this case the thing that looks like a "Graphic Novel" is just a trade paperback version or collected edition of a plain old comic book.

This being the case, something like Stitches by David Small is a Graphic Novel but Watchmen by Alan Moore isn't. The Lagoon by Lilli Carre is but Sandman by Neil Gaiman isn't.

Now one could personally go further and call things that are memoirs, Graphic Memoirs if you want but no retailer would really bother shelving things this way. This just leads to people declaring that they only want to read "Graphic Non Fiction about things people have actually experienced", which looks really cluttered on a bookstore shelf or on my comic book retailer order forms.

Graphic Novel is a catchall because it's easy and if you don't mind lumping collected Batman comics with award winning moody stick figure drawings then we're good. If you're a stickler for accuracy, we have comic books, trade paper backs and graphic novels.


I agree with Docmidnight for the most part. I would quibble that Watchmen and many other similar collections count as graphic novels in the same way that Dickens' and Tolstoy's works count as novels: they are self-contained works with a beginning, middle and end. Anna Karenina and Great Expectations (etc.) were just serialized in a newspaper first, and Watchmen was serialized as a magazine.

The only substantial difference I see between the two forms of serialization is that Watchmen's chapter length was dictated by its magazine format. Whether or not that rules it out, I think, is a matter of opinion. In Watchmen's case, I would be inclined to say no. In Sandman's, I'd be inclined to say yes — because of how its chapters were used in relation to the larger narrative.

Personally, I'd rather we just call them all "comics."


Docmidnight, that was extremely hardcore.

I understand the reasoning and I have a basic grasp on the history of the term. But it still makes me cringe a bit. For the most part, I prefer the term 'comics' as well -- mostly, I associate the term 'graphic novel' with the type of reader mentioned at the beginning of Docmidnight's comment.


Leila, trust me. I tend to call them all comics and I want a world where every man and woman alike can sit on a train and gladly say, "Shite man, I love my comics!" and not have some academic ruin it for them the same way they ruined Jazz, by making it something that requires a certain level of snobbery in order to be enjoyed or respected, lest it devolved into that thing you were supposed to have grown out of long ago.

As a retailer, I'm a part of the industry. I think it's my job to promote comics as a whole, spine or staples. To me, a spine just makes it easier for those who don't have the scheduling ability (or space) to keep up stapled comics, to enjoy comics, and it's been working so when someone comes up to me and says, "I don't read comics but I loved Persepolis, Maus, Watchmen, Preacher, Fun Home and Blankets but those are Graphic Novels." I can start plotting ways to erode that denial down to nothing in a short amount of time.


Yeah. I also am a little spider in a little web -- I lure adult readers into the YA section with books like The Book Thief and Octavian Nothing and Bog Child, and before they know it, they're demanding e. lockhart and Ellen Wittlinger and Robin McKinley. (And on and on and on...) It's so satisfying to convert people.

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