A Brief History of Graphic Novels

Librarianship | Francisca Goldsmith| April 24, 2019

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Graphic novels offer educational value for every age and interest level. Read a guest blog post from Francisca Goldsmith and learn about the history of graphic novels and the SEE-IT Award.

EBSCO’s support of the graphic novel storytelling format lives up to its award name — Stories Engagingly Expressed – Illustratively Told (SEE-IT). With each passing year, there’s more reason to celebrate this format, as authors create more stories and genre awareness spreads among readers, librarians, teachers and parents.

Although the term “graphic novel” is about 40 years old, the art form of weaving together words and images to tell robust narratives is well into at least its third. From wordless stories that nonetheless offer narrative plot and character development, as refined by early 20th century artist Lyn Ward, to comic strips that pack a narrative into just three to five panels, to Will Eisner’s self-proclaimed “graphic novel” foundation with the 1978 publication of his Contract with God, the graphic novel continues to evolve in both sophistication and numbers available from diverse publishers. In just its third year, this year’s SEE-IT Award has brought in more than 150 eligible titles published for kids in 2018.

Reading graphic novels requires transliteracy skills as the pictures and words presented are bound together to form a higher level of conceptual communication than either text or image can deliver on its own.

Reading graphic novels requires transliteracy skills as the pictures and words presented are bound together to form a higher level of conceptual communication than either text or image can deliver on its own. Readers must be aware of cultural nuances, interpersonal relationship postures and expressions, and cause and effect in order to garner the full meaning from the imagery. Awareness doesn’t mean critical sophistication or conscious analysis; reading the images in graphic novels is similar to learning to “read” one’s environment — point of view, consequences of action, and feelings provide narrative cues. What is said also matters, both in life and in graphic novels; words carry information and are another means of understanding feelings, ideas and perspectives.

Graphic novel readers of any age, including the very youngest, are engaged in the reading process in a way that is more active than either reading print alone or watching video. Because the panels in graphic novels are essentially static yet following one upon the next in a specific order to suit the creator’s story, the reader is the one to infer the action that must have occurred between the panels.

These details wouldn’t be enough to warrant a critical award except for one important element — graphic novels offer aesthetic pleasure. To “SEE-IT” is to engage with artists’ visions of stories that are worth a reader’s time and attention.

Visit the SEE-IT website for more information about the SEE-IT Award for achievement in youth graphic novels and view this year’s finalists.

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Francisca Goldsmith
SEE-IT Award Juror

Francisca Goldsmith is a juror for the 2019 SEE-IT Award. She has a deep history in direct library services to teens as well as collection management. Francisca currently teaches professional development courses, provides social media support for international children’s publishers, and publishes books, articles, and reviews; her revised edition of ALA Edition’s Readers Advisory Guide to Graphic Novels published in February 2017. She has served on numerous award committees and juries, including the Eisner Awards, the Audies, the Michael L. Printz Award, and the Alex Awards. Francisca is also an advisor to EBSCO’s Core Collections, specializing in Children’s and Graphic Novels Core Collections.

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