Graphic novels are sometimes called long comic books. They usually cover fictional material in comic book form — through the use of sequential illustrations. Unlike the traditional comic book, however, these books are longer and tend to cover a story from start to finish, instead of ending with the traditional cliffhanger endings of comic books. In some cases, though, a graphic novel is a compilation of several series of comics that begin and end a particular story arc.
Some of the first examples of graphic novels in the United States were comic book classics, published first in the 1940s. Novels like The Three Musketeers were put into the traditional framework of a comic book, whereby they were thought to be more easily digested by young readers. Though greatly abridged, this treatment of novels was popular among the young, and many look back on these books with fondness.
Today, there are graphic novels suited to all ages, and some that are particularly unsuitable for the young. Graphic can mean more than “accompanied by illustrations.” Certain titles, like those written by Frank Miller, are rife with violence and very realistic depictions of sexual behavior. They do have a market, and Miller’s Sin City was adapted into a film, which starred A-list actors and won considerable critical praise.
Works like Miller’s are often influenced by the popular Japanese comic form, manga. Manga relates to all graphic novels, comic magazines and cartoons, and is sometimes confused with the term anime, which is animated. Its current style was developed during World War II, and much of Walt Disney’s work influenced manga drawing. Manga can be written for small children, or constitute complex political and social satire, and virtually no subject is taboo.
While a graphic novel produced in the US with typically feature characters with very different faces and names, manga characters have distinctive features. Most characters have very large eyes, small noses, and lined mouths. Though some Japanese artists do not follow this character form, most Japanese illustrations that make it to the US have traditional manga faces. Manga can be intensely inappropriate for young children, and they are not rated as US graphic novels are. The anime sequence in Kill Bill: Volume 1 is a good example of the lengths to which manga may go as an art form.
Some graphic novels offer terrific ways to educate children. Since they are full of illustrations, they are often attractive to young readers and can communicate stories about morals or events in history. Some are just pure fun, and enhance children’s appreciation of and skill in reading.
Since the best selection is frequently at comic book stores, parents may want to do some reading to find appropriate material for their children. Some large booksellers place graphic novels in the children’s section to make selection easier. For adults who love the form, its popularity continues to increase, so they can be assured of an evolving collection of interesting material.