19th November 2007
What is a graphic novel? If you have never heard of the term, it is mostly a comic book. In fact, it is a comic book. You would have a lot of difficulties seeing a regular comic book from a graphic novel at first sight. To be honest, I still don’t really know what criteria to use to distinguish them.
I believe the term “graphic novel” is intrinsically evil. Why? For a few reasons; first of all, I don’t believe you should term a medium because of its quality, because let’s face it, a “graphic novel” is a “comic book with higher standards”, supposedly. To me, this is like using a different name to call a good poem from a bad poem. Point is, in either case it’s poetry. Bad or good, it’s still poetry, and I don’t think that the mere word “poetry” should define only the good poetry, but all poetry, since that is the definition of it. “House” refers to any kind of house, well-built or not, beautiful or not.
Moreover, “graphic novel” is an insult to any comic book that doesn’t call itself a graphic novel. They are the same thing: they are sequential art, they are visual, and they use text in bubbles and squares. You may think that graphic novels have more text than a regular comic, and you’d be wrong. I know some regular comic books with tons of text, back from the 60’s and such, and none of them ever thought they were anything else but comic books.
Another point in how “graphic novel” is demeaning towards sequential art and comic books is the very nature of the term. Let’s take a closer look at it: graphic novel. What this implies is basically that what you have is a novel, with visuals. A novel! Let me remind you what a novel is: it is a piece of prose between 200 pages and 400, but it can easily go up to 900 or more; there are no images in a novel, it is only a literary work of art, constructed with words alone, generally. That’s a novel. The first time I heard the term “graphic novel”, I thought it was a regular novel, with lots of illustrations. I couldn’t think of what else a graphic novel could be, since it was a novel. Graphic novels aren’t novels! They are comic books!
Think of it this way: calling a comic book a graphic novel is about as relevant as calling a movie an “animated photograph” and Snow White & The Seven Dwarves an “animated painting”. The whole point here is that comic books are their own thing; they are their own medium, they don’t need to derive anything from another! Cinema is cinema, it may naturally have ties with photography, but it’s a different art altogether; the same goes for comic books: they may have things in common with novels, but they’re not novels, not even graphic ones.
So, in conclusion, and in short, the term “graphic novel” is evil because: 1) it implies a judgement of value within a definition that should only be descriptive and technical, i.e. “poetry” as only good poetry, good comic books instead of all comic books, etc., 2) it defines itself from another medium, the novel, without true reasons to do so, at least no more than a movie, a play, or even a song; for a movie, a play, and a song can all have characters, plots, and words: this does not make them a novel, despite the common ground, and the same goes for a “graphic novel”.