Most people have heard the term "graphic novel," but many don't really know what it means. Is it the same as a comic book? In some ways, yes. Both comic books and graphic novels tell a story by means of "sequential art"—a combination of text and pictures within panels. However, whereas a comic book tells its tale in roughly thirty pages, a graphic novel can run as long as several hundred pages.

Another term many have heard is "manga." These are the Japanese graphic novels, which tell stories ranging from romance to historical saga to thriller. Often manga are published as serials, in weekly or monthly installments.

Over the past few years, graphic novels have become tremendously popular in the United States. Many bookstores have entire sections devoted to them. Janet Evanovich, James Patterson, Stephen King, Jane Yolen and Charlaine Harris have all come out with graphic novels.

With this increased popularity has come a wave of graphic novels for a more "upscale" reader. One example is Capote in Kansas by Ande Parks and Chris Samnee. It's the fictionalized story of Capote's research, along with assistant Harper Lee, for In Cold Blood. Especially affecting in graphic form are passages when Capote is visited by the ghost of 16-year-old murder victim Nancy Clutter, who becomes Capote's confidante.

Tamara Drewe, a graphiic novel by Guardian cartoonist Posy Simmonds, is the story of Beth, a writer's wife who runs a peaceful writers' retreat that's sent into a sexual swirl at the arrival of Tamara Drewe, newly beautiful thanks to plastic surgery. This novel is the basis of the soon-to-be-released movie of the same name, which Simmonds co-wrote.

Other Kinds of Graphic Books

Another new trend is graphic books of other kinds. In You'll Never Know: A Graphic Memoir—Book Two: Collateral Damage, Carol Tyler explores memories of her father's experiences in World War II while at the same time dealing with a husband who abandons her and their young daughter.

Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón have brought us two graphic books of historic importance by adapting existing books that are in traditional form. The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation is exactly what it sounds like: a graphic re-presentation of the report issued in 2005 by the 9/11 Commission. The graphic format brings the often dry report to vivid life.

Later, Jacobson and Colón collaborated again on Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Biography. The authors drew on archives, historical sites and all the resources of the Anne Frank House to create an exhaustive biography not only of Anne but also of her parents. We see the rise of Nazism, the harrowing months of hiding in the Annex, Anne's death at Bergen-Belsen, and Anne's father's recovery and publication of Anne's diary.

Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story, originally published in Switzerland, is Frederik Peeters's memoir of his romance with an HIV-positive woman named Cati. The author's fluid, slashing artistic style helps convey the psychological changes he goes through as the relationship progresses.

Other Graphic Memoirs You Should Know About

  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by Alison Bechdel.
  • Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person, by Miriam Engelberg.
  • Mendel's Daughter, by Martin Lemelman.
  • Cancer Vixen: A True Story by Marisa Acocella Marchetto.
  • Chicken With Plums, by Marjane Satrapi.
  • Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi.
  • Maus, by Art Spiegelman.
  • Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda, by Stassen.
  • Blankets, by Craig Thompson.

About the Authors

Evan Marshall

Evan Marshall is the president of The Evan Marshall Agency, a leading literary management firm that represents a number of New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors.

Martha Jewett

Martha Jewett is a literary agent and editorial consultant specializing in business books.

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