8 junio, 2024

Graphic novel: characteristics, elements, examples

The graphic novel is a type of publication that merges the formats of the comic and the traditional novel, taking elements from both genres. It tells a story through cartoons that contain illustrations and texts but, unlike traditional comics, it is aimed at a more adult audience and the story has literary overtones.

In most cases it is presented in book format and is the work of a single author. The plot is usually long and covers deep themes, with a particular atmosphere and psychological development of the characters.

The Eternaut (1957), created by screenwriter Héctor Germán Oesterheld and cartoonist Francisco Solano López, is considered the first graphic novel in history. However, it was with contract with god (1978), by Will Eisner, that the term became popular and began to be used to define works of this genre.

Since then, this format continued to evolve and gained a strong commercial impulse, differentiating itself from comics aimed at a younger audience.


General characteristics

The main characteristic of this genre is that it is aimed at an adult audience, so it deals with complex issues.

Although the story is narrated through cartoons, the writing uses literary resources typical of the traditional novel, such as autobiographical subjectivism and the deep development of the characters.

In addition, the facts presented, which can be both real and fictitious, are credible.

It is considered that there are two types of graphic novels: the independent and the commercial.

standalone graphic novel

This branch usually deals with autobiographical and historical themes, both fictional and nonfictional. Its main exponent is the work Maus: A Survivor’s Tale (1980-1991), by Art Spiegelman, which became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.

commercial graphic novel

Although it is also aimed at an adult audience, its main theme is superheroes. However, unlike traditional comics, in this case the stories have a darker approach in which social criticism abounds.

Among the most emblematic exponents of this genre are Watchman (1986-1987), created by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons, and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) by Frank Miller.

graphic novel elements


They are the actors who generate the story and the actions that are told. In some cases they can also function as narrators. During the course of the graphic novel they often go through a process of development and evolution.

The vignette

It is the name given to each of the boxes made up of drawing and text that make up the novel. It is generally rectangular in shape and reads from left to right and top to bottom.

The framing

It is the real space where the action of the cartoon takes place. It can include different planes and viewing angles, as occurs in movies and television.

The snacks

They are used to place dialogues or thoughts in the characters. It is formed by the balloon where the text goes, and the tail, which indicates who is speaking.

the cartouche

It is the part of the story that the narrator tells. It usually goes inside a box at the top of the bullet.

The gestural codes

They are elements that, together with the dialogues, allow the characters’ feelings to be expressed. For example, high eyebrows and wide eyes signal surprise, and bristly hair fear or terror.

movement resources

These elements, such as lines and dust clouds, allow the characters’ actions to give a sense of movement.

The environment

It is the space where the story unfolds and can change as it unfolds.

Difference with the comic

The public

The graphic novel is aimed at an adult audience, while the comic is intended for children and adolescents.

The presentation

The graphic novel is usually in a hardcover book format, while the comic has a paper cover and magazine layout.

The history

The graphic novel tells a complete story that requires a significant number of pages. The comic, for its part, only includes a small part of it, which continues on a weekly or monthly basis, depending on the periodicity of its publication.

The plot

The graphic novel deals with complex and mature themes, while the comics are usually in the comedy or adventure genre.

Examples of graphic novels

The Eternaut (1957)

Created by screenwriter Héctor Germán Oesterheld and cartoonist Francisco Solano López, it is considered the first graphic novel in history. The plot tells of an alien invasion that occurs with a toxic snowstorm and wipes out most of the Earth’s population. In the city of Buenos Aires, the survivors unite to attempt a resistance.

contract with god (1978)

Written and drawn by Will Eisner, it is made up of 4 stand-alone stories about poor Jews living in a New York City rooming house during the Great Depression.

Maus: A Survivor’s Tale (1980-1991)

From Art Spiegelman, it tells the experience of a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust. Human races are portrayed as animals: Jews as mice, Germans as cats, and non-Jewish Poles as pigs.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986)

Written and illustrated by Frank Miller, it tells of the return of an old Batman to try to clean Gotham City of criminals.

300 (1998)

Also created by Frank Miller, it narrates the battle of Thermopylae in which 300 Spartan warriors led by King Leonidas fought against a gigantic Persian army.

v for Vendetta (1989)

Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd. After a nuclear war England is dominated by a totalitarian regime. A terrorist named “V” tries to fight against the regime.

From hell (1991-1996)

Also written by Alan Moore, it tells a version of the Jack the Ripper story and his possible motivations.


Murray, Christopher. Graphic novel. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Available at: britannica.com
Publishers of University Libraries. What is a graphic novel? University of Maryland. Available at: lib.guides.umd.edu
Garcia, Luis (2000). From the comic to the graphic novel. Supplement. Literatures Magazine.
Garcia, Santiago (2010). The graphic novel. Astiberri Editions. Bilbao. Spain.
Karasawas, Theodoros. The 20 Greatest Graphic Novels of All Time. American Express Essentials. Available at: amexessentials.com
Graphic novel, Wikipedia. Available at: Wikipedia.org

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