Everything you need to know about graphic novels

In the following article, we will talk about everything you need to know about graphic novels. We will show you, based on research by the great Thierry Groensteen, the origins of this concept, its pros, cons and the difference with the traditional comic book. We won’t keep you any longer. Continue reading!

What exactly is a graphic novel?

Watchmen, Maus, Persepolis Do you recognize them? They are some of the most famous comics within what we can call “graphic novels”. However, very few people are able to say exactly what this is. In this article we will tell you about its origins, how it came about, and how it evolved over time.

When did the Graphic Novel emerge?

The term graphic novel was used for the first time in 1964 by the critic Richard Kyle, however, who is most famous for putting these words on a comic cover is the acclaimed Will Eisner.

In 1978 the latter, published A Contract with God and Other Housing Stories, a 192-page comic book containing four stories set in the 1930s, in popular New York tenements.

By labeling it as a graphic novel, Eisner wanted his new work to be placed next to literary fiction in the most popular bookstores, since there were no spaces dedicated exclusively to comics.

todo lo que tienes que saber sobre las novelas graficas

Interesting: The differences between a traditional comic book and a graphic novel

The first difference that Groensteen points out is that Eisner’s work broke with the traditional serialization of comics in the American industry, since the story was not published in episodes, but the author developed it all at once.

A Contract with God, on the other hand, was a mixture of vivid facts, Eisner’s memories and fictional elements, which resulted in a comic book that was difficult to classify into a genre.

In contrast, almost all comics, which were made at that time, had a definite genre, science fiction, horror, romance, etc.

Last but not least, the format was different from that of a comic book, since it was in black and white (as opposed to the colors of superhero comics). The number of pages was much greater than that of the comics that were usually available, and the page layouts were more unstructured than the traditional ones.

Graphic novels, a confusing term

After the phenomenal success of A Contract with God, publishers began to embrace this novel category. Even Marvel published The Death of Captain Marvel in 1982, which was labeled “graphic novel” on its cover.

Everyone wanted to publish graphic novels, and so they did, since, in addition to the novelty they represented, they sold at a much higher price than comic magazines.

Although, as many and diverse comics were published as graphic novels, their very definition gave rise to confusion. They did not have a fixed size (their dimensions varied). Sometimes, they were published in color (without following Esiner’s idea of black and white) and sometimes, they were published in black and white.

However, at other times, the genres of the stories returned to the usual familiar ones (As in the case of Captain Marvel and the genre of superhero stories).

The only thing that was repeated in these works, which were sold as graphic novels, was the greater number of pages compared to the traditional American comics, which at most reached 24.

Even serialized stories that were published month by month could be edited into a “graphic novel” by collecting them all in a “limited series”.

novelas graficas

Benefits and drawbacks of the Graphic Novel boom


The graphic novel does not have to fit all the characteristics of traditional genres, nor does it necessarily have to be fiction.

When creating one, you can tell a chronicle, an autobiographical story or a documentary. Many graphic novels incorporated intimate narratives, even personal stories that expressed strong political or social ideas (such as Persepolis).

This is when large, non-specialized publishers began to open their catalogs to comics, which came to have an important space in general literature.

In fact, nowadays, we can find comics in libraries and even in schools, where they are read and analyzed by children and their teachers.

These novels attract an audience that does not necessarily read comics. Even the most general media have sections dedicated to the diffusion of authors, works and events in the world of comics.

The unstructured concept of the graphic novel, allowed the emergence of independent publishers, such as L’Association, who were free to publish comics in various formats.

You will find comics, of different dimensions, techniques, styles, number of pages, and unconventional genres, really, a whole new universe.

In France, it was very important to spread this type of category, already since the 1970s, there was talk of “visual novels” and “novel in prints”, artist’s books in which there were serialized images that, without having texts, told a story.

The rise of this concept has allowed these types of works, which were previously difficult to categorize because of their difference from traditional comics, to be taken into account in studies of the history of comics.

novela grafica


It is not a very well defined category, very few people can say what they mean when they talk about graphic novel, which can lead to confusion.

It can be, a discriminatory concept, it is often thought, that these novels, are of higher quality than popular comics, when in reality there are comics of equal quality in the different categories.

Many comic artists, such as Art Spiegelman, the creator of Maus, do not like the use of this term. These artists claim the use of the word comic (or in France, BD, or in Argentina historieta, or in Brazil quadrinhos, etc.) so that no production suffers this discrimination, assuming the popular origins of the medium.


As we mentioned during the article, undoubtedly, an accepted concept and not, some differ in their opinions, others do not, but it is still a super interesting genre, in which very famous comics are inspired.

The graphic novel, being such a vague term, constitutes at the same time an immense universe of works produced all over the world. With this article you are now ready to discuss with your friends about the graphic novel, and, who says, create one yourself!

We look forward to seeing you in future articles, where we will recommend the most impressive novels that have been produced over the years!

More articles

Join us

Drawing tips & Tricks

Valuable content every week.