What makes a good graphic novel or comic? | Fun Questions

January 25, 2014 Fun Questions 27

Join me every Saturday as I ask a Fun Question that’s been on my mind. I’ll give you my take, but I really hope you’ll jump in with your answers too, since I’m really curious to know what my fellow readers and bloggers think! So today’s question is…

What makes a good graphic novel or comic?

This post may not be exactly what you’re looking for. I’m not about to give you a guide to graphic novels and comics, because the truth of the matter is, I’ve never “gotten” them. But to be fair, I’ve never actually tried either. With so many good books out there, they’ve never appealed to me. But with Buffy the Vampire Slayer being my all-time favorite show (I even named my dog Buffy!) and the knowledge that season 8 is out there in graphic novel form the temptation has hit me to really read them. And then I”ve noticed several bloggers giving reviews for graphic novels and comics. So I got to thinking, what makes a good graphic novel or comic?

Here’s what I’ve deduced, but I’d really love input on this. Tell me if I’m way off and please tell me if there’s something else you look for that I”m just missing. I’d also love to know if there are any good “starter” graphic novels or comics I should consider. I want to read Buffy but I want to be equipped to enjoy it, too – complete with the right expectations.

The Art 

Okay, yeah, duh! I know that’s an obvious one. But from reading reviews places like Angela’s Anxious Life, I get the sense that it’s just not if the pictures are pretty that matters. Hell they don’t need to be pretty at all, do they? They need to express the characters , right? Is it that there are less words to describe characters’ emotions and reactions, so the images are doing the job?  I also wonder how important placement and size of text is – most reviews comment on it, so I think it’s pretty important. Maybe because it influences readability? That’s what I’ve gotten – but that make me raise another question.

How, exactly, do you read a graphic novel or comic? I know, sounds like a dumb question, but I usually read and put pictures in my head. On the rare occasion that a book I’m reading has images, I full on STOP to look at the picture and savor it before I continue my reading. It strikes me that this approach wouldn’t work well for books full of pictures. I’d be reading forever!

The Story/Plot

Here we’re on much  more comfortable ground for me. And yet it’s still trickier than a novel. See in a novel, I’m looking for all the story pieces to come together well. But from what I’ve read, I get the impression that it’s very important for the art and story to work together. Neither one should work on their own, they should both be essential to the plot. Otherwise, it’s just a book with pictures, right? Or art with captions? This again makes me think that I really don’t know how to go about actually reading a graphic novel or comic, so I seriously hope one of you can tell me.

The Characters

Okay, from what I’ve read it seems that characters are super important for graphic novels and comics. Maybe even more important than the story itself. And you should really get to know them primarily through the art and dialogue. This would be very different for me, since I’m so used to reading about a characters behavior and internal thoughts – so seeing them seems like it would be a whole different experience. It also seems like there would be a lot more interpretation involved. What if I suck at reading people’s facial expressions? Am I doomed to not understand the characters in graphic novels? Or is everything super exaggerated so that I could get it?

If I’m right (and I could be totally wrong) that characters drive the books, then I think I could really love them. I am a very character driven reader and care much more about character development than plot (though I like both to be great ideally).

So all you readers of comics and graphic novels, have I made some correct conclusions? What have I gotten wrong?

How do YOU read a graphic novel or comic?

And, BTW, what is the difference between a graphic novel and a comic?

Thanks for your comments!

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About Berls
Berls has been a book lover her whole life. She reads pretty much every genre and is currently working hard at making her childhood dream of becoming an author come true. She loves sharing her thoughts about books, blogging, and just random fun stuff. She's a challenge and read-a-thon junkie, so it's no wonder that she loves co-hosting the COYER reading challenge. Leave a comment, Berls is always happy to chat!

27 Responses to “What makes a good graphic novel or comic? | Fun Questions”

  1. pitch worx

    Thanks for sharing a great idea…! I like to read the stories it’s really amazing article about grpahics.
    An insightful write-up that tells you the importance of using infographics in today’s world where attention spans are on an all-time low. Thanks for the interesting article!

  2. Hema


    It is really a good post and liked your post and the post is more informative. I am a thick fan of comic and comic novels, Thanks for sharing the post.All the best and continue postings


  3. Stuart Wright

    I grew up reading comics, I`ve always seen graphic novels as being on better quality paper?! and maybe just calling them graphic novels to make them sound more adult 🙂

  4. Elise Forsyth Mort

    I live in the multicultural society of Australia. We have a large number of international students here. In my opinion comics or graphic novells would be a great way to attract international students to actually learn better English. The beauty about comics and graphic novells is, that the text supports the pictures. So even if you don’t understand the text within a frame, you may get the idea from the graphic behind the text bubbles as part of the entire story. Of course, not every comic would be

  5. judy jbrittain

    Hey, great share…

    I really loved your post as it is quite informative and I am big fan of comics and novels. I just love reading them.
    Thanks for sharing this post. Keep sharing this post.Cheers!!

  6. Ali Atif

    Its a nice to read article. I think its better to make a comic novel with fun stories. Thanks for sharing this wonderful article.

  7. Edward Cameron

    I have bit knowledge of both novel and comic. But I really love Japanese comic series manga. Manga is really became popular in whole world nowadays. Naruto manga is my favorite character in all manga’s. So according to mine, comic make good graphic then novel. Because whole comic fully depends on graphics.

  8. Corel Draw Course in delhi

    The few graphic novels I’ve read were (don’t laugh) The Babysitters Club (I was curious) and two tied to the TV show Falling Skies, so that’s similar to your situation with Buffy. (I’ve considered reading the Buffy ones too.) With both series, I was already familiar with the characters, so I spent quite a bit of time looking at the art and comparing them to the characters I remembered from the original covers (BSC) and the ones on TV.

    • Berls

      I think that’d exactly what I’m going to do with Buffy once I finally get around to reading them!

  9. Robert Traynor

    It’s a combination of great art and great storytelling.

    I can think of no better example than the Chris Claremont run on the X-Men, which started with Giant Size X-men 1 in 1975 and lasted all the way intp the mid-80s. This was the run that introduced us to the “All New” X-Men and to villians such as the Hellfire Club and Mutant X, as well as other heroes such as Alpha Flight and the Starjammers.

    The art by Dave Cockrum and then John Byrne brought the stories to life, giving them more of a cinematic feel than any comic had done up to that point.
    Robert Traynor recently posted…Pay Per Click You Make Me SickMy Profile

  10. Greg

    I mostly read collections of older stuff these days, so I’m not up on all the latest offerings, but there is so much variety in comics and GN’s you can usually find something you like. A lot of people really like Fables, although I haven’t read those myself.
    Greg recently posted…Downton Abbey Thoughts Episode 5My Profile

  11. Angie

    How exciting that you linked to me! I saw the title of this post earlier today and couldn’t wait till I had time tonight to sit down and read it. First off… when I first started reading comics/graphic novels I too thought I would be staring at the pictures. But it’s kind of neat… as you are reading your mind just takes in the pictures and you just flow along. The only time I really stop and studying a picture is if the graphic novel has like a two page spread. Then you are actually meant to stop and look at it.

    I have actually read a graphic novel with no words, only pictures. It was a pretty amazing experience. ( http://angelasanxiouslife.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-arrival-by-shaun-tan-graphic-novel.html ). This book you made the story up in your own mind. Also… if you really don’t like all the super hero type comics out there, well there are so many other types of comics. OH and usually the difference between a graphic novel and a comic is the format in which they are printed. A comic is a paper copy and usually just one issue. A graphic novel is typically a Volume of issues put together into a hardback. So normally graphic novels would be vol 1, vol 2 and comics would be issue 1 and issue 2. If you want a recommendation let me know. I would just really need to know the type of book you like. There is such a variety there really can be a book found for everyone.

    I love this post and hope that more people read it and learn from it. One good way to start graphic novels is from your library or on Netgalley. Try something out and then you won’t have spent money on it just in case you don’t like it.
    Angie recently posted…Comic Adventures Issue #3My Profile

  12. Kritika

    I’ve only read Watchmen and one of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics, so I can hardly call myself an expert, but I’ve found that graphic novels have a lot more substance than I expected. I guess I was expecting them to be watered down novels, but they’re really more intense and thought-provoking, if anything. I think you’re right – it’s hard to digest every single frame on every single page, but some of them are really worth spending a minute on because the drawings often hint at what’s to come in the story or mirror the themes.
    Kritika recently posted…Fantasy Friday 1 – Females in Fantasy – a rantMy Profile

  13. Haley

    I haven’t really read any graphic novels, but I have a very limited experience reading manga. The thing with manga is that the Japanese read the opposite way from us (right to left instead of left to right), so in order to keep all of the pictures the same, you have to read the frames from right to left. That’s incredibly confusing at first, and it only added to my difficulty of getting into the manga at first. Still, it didn’t take too long for me to adapt to that, and it became easy to do. I still have a little adjustment period whenever I pick up manga where I have to get used to it again.

    I wasn’t sure about the pictures and everything at first either. However, like the right to left thing in manga, I think it’s something you just adjust to as you’re reading. I’ve found that some panels I just quickly skim over as I read the words while with others I focus on them a bit longer. I’m sure it varies among graphic novels, but with manga, they tend to be rather short, so if you spend more time looking at the pictures, they’re still not incredibly long reads.
    Haley recently posted…Why I Got a Single Dorm This YearMy Profile

  14. Jenna

    The few graphic novels I’ve read were (don’t laugh) The Babysitters Club (I was curious) and two tied to the TV show Falling Skies, so that’s similar to your situation with Buffy. (I’ve considered reading the Buffy ones too.) With both series, I was already familiar with the characters, so I spent quite a bit of time looking at the art and comparing them to the characters I remembered from the original covers (BSC) and the ones on TV. Since I’m not used to looking at pictures while reading, I don’t know if I would be as interested in that aspect of graphic novels if they were completely new characters.
    Jenna recently posted…Feature & Follow Friday: Looking FowardMy Profile

  15. A Voracious Reader

    You know what I really love about graphic novels? They give my brain a break from regular reading. I love to read which is fairly obvious by my blog. However, no machine can run 24/7/365 without maintenance, so I like to switch to a graphic novel or play Diablo III or watch 5 episodes of CSI:NY in a row or go outside and do some work (not now though, too frikkin cold lol). Graphic novels are just so…pretty. You know? 😀

    The art has to mesh with the story. Cutesy Disney-type art will not mesh with a horror story. Or maybe it would, who knows? I doubt it. Graphic novels may be shorter in length than a novel, but by the time you take it all in, it can take as almost as long to read one as a 250 page book. And I like to savor the artwork. The artist took a lot of time to create it, so I take my time enjoying it. You might not be able to drag me to an art museum, but I’ll read a graphic novel if the story grabs my attention. The same with any other book, I won’t read just anything. 🙂

    If you love Buffy then start with the Buffy graphic novels. I started with the Harry Dresden graphic novels because I love the series. Then my daughter got me reading The Walking Dead ones (I do not watch the show), now I’m branching out into any that look interesting or catch my eye. I find I’m enjoying them very much. They make a wonderful break.
    A Voracious Reader recently posted…Saturday ShortsMy Profile

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