The Secret History of Graphic Novels

What is a graphic novel?

What is a graphic novel? Much like the world we live in, there is no consensus on what is a graphic novel. The simplest and most common definition is that it is a full-length book i.e. as long as a novel, which is published in a comic strip format. However, the word novel in the title is misleading as a graphic novel can include the biography, memoir, history, and other types of non-fiction. The only condition is that the narrative is accompanied by art. 

What is the Difference Between Comics and a Graphic Novel?

What is the difference, then between comics and a graphic novel? This is a tricky question. Related to it is the question is comics literature or are graphic novels literature? Neither of the questions is easy to answer, as it depends upon which geography, culture, and context is the question asked. Japan, for example, has a long tradition of comics as literature as Manga dates back to the 12th century. Manga is comics created using the Japanese language, and people of all ages read them. How does the comic differ from a graphic novel then? 

First the obvious differences, comics are invariably associated with children, or at best light literature, one that can be read over easily without demanding much thought or attention. Comic books are made up of comic strips where a set of images are published next to each other in a panel like a form, accompanied by a dialogue in balloons. The pictures are central to the story usually of a superhero like Batman or Spiderman told in the comic, and dialogue acts as a support to the story. The term comic for such literature itself originates in the early 1900s in the US where the stories told through the comics were indeed ‘comic’ or humorous. Even as the comics now allow other stories other than humorous to be told through the genre, the name remains, even as their target audience is usually young adults, children or geeks like the Sheldon and his gang of Big Bang Theory. It appears then, that one could say there is a difference between comics and a graphic novel: while comics are meant for light reading and the target audience is children, a graphic novel is meant for adults and serious reading. 

Popular Indian Graphic Novels 

Although it has taken some time for popular Indian graphic novels to catch the attention of readers, now Indian readers are increasingly warming up to the diversity in the genre. Delhi Calm by Vishwajyoti Ghosh follows the story of three men in a dystopian Delhi where the rights of the people have been completely suspended. Everyone must follow the state to the most minute level even to the extent of when to laugh and when not to. Munnu: A boy from Kashmir by Malik Sajad talks about the troubled childhood of a boy growing up in the conflict in Kashmir. 

American Born Chinese and Other Popular Graphic Novels for Kids

Globally too, graphic novels have explored diverse trends. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang draws upon the legendary folk tale of Sun Wukong, or The Monkey King, a character who occurs in the classic Chinese novel ‘Journey to the West.’ The novel’s unique exploration of identity change, disability and stereotype has won it the praise of readers around the world. It has been hailed as one of the best graphic novels for kids, as it helps young children struggling academically especially due to disability to be motivated to learn.

Graphic novels for kids are now often recommended by educators to develop interest among children in reading. The combination of text and pictures can be used to tell compelling stories. ‘Biksu’ by Raj Kumari, has appealed to both adults and children. It is the story of Vikas, or Biksu as he is fondly called, and his life at a boarding school. At first, he is lonely, and a timid adolescent always about to cry. But, by the time the novel ends, he has grown up and discovered his inner strength as he dances around a fire awkwardly in the company of his friends on their farewell. The examples of American Born Chinese and Biksu prove that across cultures best graphic novels for kids can leave a lasting impression. It is high time Indian schools adopted them in their curriculum.

The author of this article, Richa Singh is a content writer with Investronaut.