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Words and pictures in a sequence

Graphic novels are books written and illustrated in the style of a comic book. To be considered a graphic novel, rather than a picture book or illustrated novel, the story is told using a combination of words and pictures in a sequence across the page.

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Examples of different formats/genres: Graphic novel, picture book and illustrated novel:

A graphic novel - I Kill Giants

by Joe Kelly and Ken Niimura

A picture book - I Go Quiet 

by David Ouimet

An illustrated novel - Alice in Wonderland

By Lewis Carroll

Graphic novels as a format

Graphic novels can be any genre (fiction, non-fiction, history, fantasy, or anything in-between), and tell any kind of story, just like books of prose. The format is what makes the story a graphic novel, and usually includes text, images, word balloons, sound effects, and panels (for further details, see below).

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The difference between graphic novels and comics

Sometimes the distinction between graphic novels and comic books can be rather unclear, but a good rule of thumb is that a graphic novel is a longer, more complex piece of text that usually covers the storyline in one book, -sometimes divided into chapters like in prose books, whereas a comic book is a lot shorter and tells the story over many issues and/or volumes.


Donald Duck by Walt Disney 

-a classic example of a comic. 


Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi

-a popular graphic novel. 

Hybrid graphic novels

A lot of graphic novels tend to be more experimental than the typical comic book regarding the layout. Some graphic novels borrow elements from other formats and genres (especially picture books and books of prose), while maintaining some of the classic graphic novel/comic elements

like speech and thought bubbles. Because they are a mix between different genres and formats they are called “hybrid graphic novels”.


Hybrid graphic novels in best-selling series like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Strange Case of Origami Yoda mix text and illustrations to form a unified narrative, but without the use of a classic graphic novel layout with panels and gutters. They do, however, contain other graphic novel/comic elements such as speech bubbles and sound effects. Books of this hybrid format have become a popular choice for young readers across the globe.  



Diary of a Wimpy Kid

By Jeff Kenney  

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

By Tom Angleberger

Graphic novel terms/glossary

Bleed - images that run outside the border of the panel


Border - edge or outline of the graphic novel page 


Captions - contain information about a scene or character 


Colorist - This person gives the comic color, and add to the weight and vibrancy of the image. The colorist is often responsible for helping set tone and mood via color. 


Dialogue Word Balloons/speech bubbles - contain character dialogue; communication between/among characters 


Emanata - text or icons that represent what is going on in a character's head. This term refers to the teardrops, sweat drops, question marks, or motion lines that artists draw besides characters' faces to portray emotion.


Frame - lines or boxes around a panel(s) 


Graphic weight - a term that describes the way some images draw the eye more than others, creating a definite focus using color and shading in various ways 


Gutters - space between panels where the reader infers movement and action between panels 


Panels - squares or rectangles that contain a single scene 


Penciler - Primary artist. This person takes the script and draws the comic. They draw the comic in pencil which then gets inked and colored later on. 


Sound Effect - words that show sound is happening


Thought Balloons/bubbles - contain a character’s thoughts