Picture books and graphic novels tend to be overlooked or considered less important than text-only stories, but illustrated texts are more than just lesser versions of other stories. Picture books and graphic novels are a completely unique artform — and they’re having a moment. Illustrations are not intended to make words easier to read or understand; instead, picture books and graphic novels use words and images together to tell deep, nuanced, and complicated stories. If you remove words from a picture book or graphic novel, the story wouldn’t make sense and vice versa. In this way, picture books and graphic novels are one of the few art forms that give equal weight to words and pictures.
Picture books and graphic novels represent a form of storytelling that should be celebrated and protected. The difference between picture books and graphic novels is primarily length, audience, and subject matter. Picture books have remained mostly geared towards children and adults reading aloud with them. They are usually much shorter than graphic novels, with most picture books containing 32 pages. Graphic novels, on the other hand, vary in length, though they are usually much longer than picture books. Graphic novels often tell more mature and varied stories, with everything from superhero stories to personal narratives and contemporary fiction to Japanese-style manga.
Graphic novels are a relatively newer artform, so there aren’t as many classics to overwhelm the market. The term “graphic novel” was first coined in 1964, though this format of storytelling didn’t really take off until the 1980s with graphic novels like Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, and Maus by Art Spiegelman, which won the Pulitzer Prize.
Today, graphic novels incorporate many different styles and subjects written for both adults and children. Readers can find everything from YA graphic novels like The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang to graphic memoirs like Fun Home by Alison Bechdel to epic fantasy comics like Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. While nostalgia doesn’t drive graphic novels sales quite as much as it does for picture books, it’s still important to support graphic novelists to help push the genre forward in innovative and diverse ways.
About the Author: Alison Doherty
Alison is a writing teacher and part time assistant professor living in Brooklyn, New York. She has an MFA from The New School in writing for children and teenagers. She loves writing about books on the Internet, listening to audiobooks on her way to work, and reading anything with a twisty plot or a happily ever after.