Graphic Novels. I am getting so sick of this term. Not because it is invalid, but because it has become misused and abused. It all started with Hollywood, of course. Some suit somewhere decided that the general public looks down on comic books, but graphic novels are acceptable. So suddenly you hear every actor and director working on comic book adaptations referring to the “graphic novels”. Sounds very tony, much more high class than the oh so pulpy “comic books”. Unfortunately, it also sounds like bullshit because it doesn’t fit. Graphic Novels are actually a very specific thing within the realm of Comic Books.
In the 1970’s the medium of comic books had been around for over thirty years. The artists working within it were starting to feel constrained by it. They wanted to experiment and really do things that were different. Some of them wanted to do much more serious work. Thus, the “Graphic Novel” was born. Will Eisner’s A Contract With God is considered by many to be the first of them. It had four short stories that all took place within a 1930’s Bronx tenement and it was inspired by Eisner’s own life experiences. It was a finite work, designed to exist as one lone piece on the shelf. It was not serialized. One book, one statement. Like a novel, but…you know…graphic. Marvel started a line of graphic novels. Two of their most notable, The Death of Captain Marvel and X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, did feature characters from their serialized comic books but were finite stories published in single volumes. Dc did Which is the perfect description of a Graphic Novel: finite stories published as a single volume.
Comic books are serialized fiction. They are published (generally speaking) on a monthly basis and while issues can stand alone, they are all part of one giant ongoing story. That obviously says nothing about the quality of their content. Nor does the finiteness of Graphic Novels say anything about their quality. Somehow along the way, the term Graphic Novel became accepted as something more serious. Something of consequence. Which is all fine. Most creators who set out to do a proper Graphic Novel are usually trying to say something a little more important. Whether they are using original creations or pre-existing characters they are trying to set themselves apart from the rest of the books by creating a large story that can be read in one volume. Because of the import of some past Graphic Novels, it is a an announcement of serious intent and a proclamation of quality or importance.
Quite a while back publishers started collecting their regular comic books into paperback collections. Usually it was special, popular or “important” storylines. These are referred to as Trade Paperbacks. The practice has become so prevalent though, it is basically every book published these days. When the book is special or important they might do a Hardcover Collection. Although they are starting to do that more and more as well, and in the process are diluting the inherent importance brought by a hardcover. Unfortunately, strapping a bunch of comic books together in one volume DOES NOT make them Graphic Novels. If it was not originally published as a Graphic Novel, it is a comic book. So what’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing.
In the day and age of “Let your Geek Flag fly.” and people who are constantly proclaiming that “Geeks rule the Earth.” There is nothing wrong with saying that you love comic books. At least there shouldn’t be. So when I see comic book shop owners saying “Come in for the latest Graphic Novels!” it’s quite a bit disheartening. You sell comic books, own that. Be proud of it. Comic books are one of the great American institutions. They were invented here, they were perfected here. Unlike Rock and Roll, we still do it, and always have done it, best. So comic book fans and comic book sellers unite and embrace that thing which we love: COMIC BOOKS! Oh, and their fancy cousin, the Graphic Novel.
Sean Stoltey, writer, raconteur and retired rabble rouser, hails originally from California’s Central Coast but currently resides in Southern California’s BEAUTIFUL–San Fernando Valley. Screenwriter, Comic Book author, these are things he does because he’s too poor to be a Producer or Publisher.
Sean has been reading comics, watching movies, reading books and selling his soul (or at least his hearing) to Rock’n’Roll for as long as he can remember. He has been discussing and arguing about these things for almost as long.
So now he has come here to throw his opinions in your face as well and hope that, even if you don’t agree, hopefully you will enjoy them. For the record: Kirk was the greatest Enterprise Captain, Han was the only one that shot, Led Zeppelin was the greatest Rock band to walk the Earth and Keith Richards is the coolest undead person to walk the Earth. Coolest living people are my sons and my Mom and Dad. My Dad F—in’ rocks, and my Mom can kick your ass.