Graphic Novels and Comics: What are Comics?


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Welcome to the GVSU Libraries guide to Graphic Novels and Comics. Using the tabs above, you'll find resources to aid your research:

  • "What is a Graphic Novel?" defines and explores different types of comics;
  • Finding Graphic Novels and Comics in our library, in other comic collections/stores, on the web, and by publisher;
  • Comic Studies Resources for research recommendations (journals, databases, books, citation guides, web sources, programs, conferences/conventions, etc.);
  • Resources for Creators, for comic art technique, art programs, and hosting/creating online;
  • Comics in the Classroom, for kids' reading lists, teaching books, and other educational resources;
  • and Reading Lists, for must-reads and titles for particular subjects/themes

Defining Comics

So what exactly are comics? Below are some of the most common terms for different types of comics, but these are not hard-and-fast rules - as comic creators experiment with format, style, and content, these definitions will evolve.

Banner of illustrations and covers from multiple kinds of comics

  • Comic strips - short, single or double-strips, traditionally appearing in American newspapers (EX: Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes)
  • Editorial comics - also "political cartoons," usually a single-panel with satirical bent, published commonly in news or critical publications (EX: see The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists)
  • Comic books - most commonly associated with American superhero comics, but includes other genres and artistic styles; generally published in thin, color periodicals (EX: Superman, Batman, Avengers)
  • Graphic novels - typically longer, more book-like than the traditional American comic book, often with more mature themes and illustration but covering a range of audiences, genres, and artistic styles (EX: MAUS, The Sandman, Fun Home, Smile) 
  • Alternative comics - also known as "independent," "underground," or "comix," a response to mainstream superhero comics, covering a wide range of genres and artistic styles; can be independently- or self-published (EX: Jimmy Corrigan, Blankets)
  • Manga - Japanese comics intended for that cultural audience, generally published in longer, black-and-white magazines, read in the east Asian style right to left (starting from the "back" of the book), some available in English translation (EX: Naruto, Deathnote, Fruits Basket)
  • Bande dessinee - French for "drawn strips," French/Belgian comics intended for that cultural audience, generally published as hard-cover albums, some available in English translation (EX: Tin Tin, Asterix, The Smurfs)
  • Web comics - comics archived and available on the web; commonly short installments published regularly like a blog (EX: Hark! A Vagrant, Questionable Content)

Liason Librarian

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Hazel McClure
240 Mary Idema Pew Library

Guide author

This guide was developed by Amanda Palomino as part of her summer library internship in 2015. 

How to Cite Graphic Novels and Comics

The major style guides (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) don't address how to cite comics directly, so for some help, check out this guide on how to cite comics in scholarly writing.

  • Last Updated: Feb 11, 2019 1:38 PM
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