The Great Graphic Novel Debate

What is a graphic novel?

Graphic novels [GNs] are a format of book rather than a genre. GNs tell a story through sequential art and are complete stories, as novels would be. GNs can be fiction or non-fiction, colour or black and white.

Not to be confused with comics. Comics also use sequential art but are usually monthly of weekly periodicals, some of these are complete stories [one shots] but most follow a continual story.

What is manga?

Manga translates as "whimsical drawings"or "impromptu sketches", and is a Japanese style of comic/GM aimed at children and adults. Manga is read in the traditional Japanese pattern from top to bottom, right to left. This means that you will start a manga book from the back. Manga is generally in black and white.

Not to be confused with Anime. Anime is a Japanese style of animation for film and TV.


The hesitation behind embracing GNs has lifted steadily over the past years. Many have regarded them as comics or magazines despite the ever growing amount of titles that appear in this format. While people will have valid concerns about GNs being integrated into libraries, schools and personal bookshelves I personally think that they're a great bonus. If I put it down simply... You teach a child to read with picture books, why wouldn't you do the same with an adult?... I know I have boiled it down to a very simplistic view, and GNs are not just for those who are struggling to read, but I think they are one of our greatest tools to help develop happy confident readers.

As a somewhat proficient reader I can read an average GN in 90 minutes, I'll take notes and flick back to sections. The book will stay next to my sofa for a couple of weeks as I still refer back to it for the art and to rethink some of the panels. In comparison, an average fiction book will take me approximately 8 hours to read. Once I'm done, apart from referring back to it for reviewing, I probably won't go back to it again. Straight away you have an obvious difference, and benefit. A GN is a lot less imposing to a reader and requires you to commit less time. I myself put off reading Under The Dome by Stephen King, which at around the 1000 page mark looked like a tome and would require a lot of time, even for me! [In the end I listened to the audio book version and utilised my mainly useless bus journey for 34 hours worth or listening... yes 34 hours!]

The text alone in a GN may not be a literary masterpiece, although this is definitely not the case all the time, but the combination of the words and the art gives you much more than just words would on a page. As I mentioned in my review of Alone, if you took some of the images on their own you can still glean a lot of the story without any prompts, and this skill is essential for a great GN.

To me, when I read a book I can see the events in my mind as if I were creating a movie of it all, the rooms, the characters all come to life. This helps me get through even the toughest of books. The culture of today is very visual, if we want information we go online and watch a tutorial video or look at an infographic. When we're bored we go on to Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Pinterest where we can get snippets of information on everyday life and millions of images to think about. We play video games, we watch music videos, we watch films. We are in a visual age. As a way to bridge from a digital-visual to a physical-visual GNs are perfect. They supply the visual stimulation that we need, while helping us to get the best out of the text.

To reluctant or struggling readers, and ESL students, they can be a great boost to their learning. You can present them with complex materials in an accessible way that helps with their reading skills and vocabulary. But not just that, for proficient readers it is a way to help their understanding of traditional text they study in class. Many texts like Shakespeare and the classics can be found in this format. It will also teach them about the different varieties of art, there are many styles and techniques across GNs that can be used to express something entirely different. As a writing exercise they can compare novels that have been adapted, to their GNs and learn how to summarise text without losing the true meaning of the story.

The formats popularity is clearly evident, many mainstream books are being adapted into GNs and many more new ones are being written. There is also a blurred line with the traditional novel, books like Dork Diaries, How To Train Your Dragon and Wimpy Kid include illustrations right through the book to add to the text.

Graphic novels are going through a massive change again, becoming more diverse and impacting more areas than just the publishing world. As an educational tool they're too super to miss.

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