“Ask an Editor” is a forum wherein SCBWI members submit questions that are answered as part of our quarterly Kite Tales blog.
Dear Christine – I’ve always loved reading comic books and have an idea I’ve been thinking about but it’s pretty long. So would that be considered a graphic then? Thanks.
—Ryan, Rancho Cucamonga
Dear Ryan – It sounds like your book would be categorized as a graphic novel. Here’s a recap.
COMIC BOOKS: The term “comic book” may remind older readers of the spinning racks where you picked up the latest issue of a favorite story. Comic books originated about 90 years ago in the United States. Today, the choices are vast—there truly is something for everyone.
American comic books are often 7 by 10 inches, though some are published in a smaller “digest” size. With only 20-70 pages, their slim profile makes them seem more like magazines. On average, there are five to seven panels per page, usually in color. Comic stories can be standalones or part of a series. Multiple issues may be collected into a volume and sold as either a hardcover or paperback.
GRAPHIC NOVELS: Originating in the 1970s, graphic novels became mainstream in the 1980s for longer self-contained stories of 150-200 pages. More substantial than comics, graphic novels look like paperback or hardback novels. While the stories are standalones, they may also be part of a series (such as The Last Kids on Earth) where the same or related characters have ongoing adventures.
Graphics have varying amounts of illustration, panels, and layouts. Even books with more of a journal format are referred to as graphic novels. Many classics now have graphic-novel editions: The Odyssey, The Hobbit, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc.
Recently, graphics for kids have dominated the sales market. This is primarily due to best-selling series like Dog Man, Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants, and Raina Telgemeier’s memoir-esque books. Adult graphics, however, have received more prestigious awards: Watchmen won the Hugo (1988), as have other graphics since then, and Maus is the only Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic (1992).
SUMMARY: Amazon categorizes comics and graphics together, as do many people when referring to them. To play it safe, if it’s thinner, call it a comic; refer to longer stories bound as books as graphics.
My two favorite reference books are The Art of Comic Book Writing by Mark Kneece (Watson-Guptill, 2015) and Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels by Brian Michael Bendis (Watson-Guptill, 2014).
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Answers by Christine Van Zandt, professional freelance editor and writer, and owner of Write for Success Editing Services.