What’s the difference between comics and graphic novels, and can you use the words "comic" and "graphic" interchangeably? 

Patrick: You absolutely can use the words interchangeably, and there is no difference… except when there is. What I mean is, that they’re essentially the same idea in slightly different contexts, and for some people, the difference is very important. It’s similar to how “film” can indicate serious artistic value whereas “movie” can indicate light entertainment, even though both can accurately be applied to the same motion picture.  

For uses of “graphic novel”, check out my slide on the topic in the presentation! “Comic” or “comic book”, meanwhile, can be used to mean a single issue of a serial work, a way to refer to the series as a whole, a single staple-bound work that isn’t part of a series, a square-bound collection or standalone work (yes, that’s identical to one of the uses of “graphic novel”), or even a single strip in a newspaper title. Also “comics”, a plural noun used in the singular (like “politics”), is often used to refer to the medium or art form itself!  

It is a big confusing mess of ideas, and that’s why I recommend starting broad with your uses and then getting specific as the patron’s preferences reveal themselves.  

And where does manga fit in the graphic novel universe? 

Kendal: Manga is, at its simplest and broadest, just the term for Japanese comics/graphic novels. In Japan, most manga is serialized in shorter chapters in monthly or weekly magazines (which contain chapters from multiple different series), with chapters later collected into larger tankobon volumes. These larger volumes, translated into English, are the most common format for manga in the U.S.  

There are also, just as with American comics, robust Japanese audiences for both doujinshi (self-pubbed/indie comics) and webcomics (blockbuster manga One-Punch Man started as a webcomic before being picked up for traditional publication). 

The other thing I’ll note is the four major marketing categories, which are also used by American manga publishers: shojo (younger teenage girls), josei (older teen/adult women), shonen (younger teenage boys), and seinen (older teen/adult men). 

When you talk about graphic novels do you mention appropriateness for different ages? 

Patrick: Just like prose, many adult comics work well for teens, and many teen comics work well for adults. I still struggle with the difference sometimes, but as long as you follow the same considerations you would for prose — being familiar with the work at hand, checking in with a parent in the conversation if possible, etc. — it’s a solid bet. I do recommend flipping through the book before you make the recommendation to remind yourself of any visual content that would be worth noting (or would give you cause to change your mind) before you hand it over. 

Halle: We do have age-level designations for all the titles we catalog in NoveList. We base these levels on reviews and other information we have available, such as information from the publisher. Any content we create, such as Recommended Reads lists or articles, also has an audience level attached. However, what age-appropriateness can vary based on the person, so like Patrick, I recommend reading reviews or flipping through the book if you have questions about the content. 
What recommendations do you have for graphic novels for someone who does not like graphic novels? 

Patrick: The first thing I’ll say is that it’s 100% okay if people don’t like graphic novels! My opinion is that everyone should try some, but that they are under no obligation to embrace them (as long as they aren’t jerks about other people liking them). I can’t make myself care about opera, so I’ll never judge someone who doesn’t care about comics. 

For first-timers, or people whose first time wasn’t an ideal experience, I find memoir and historical fiction to be the most successful options, but I also like recommending City of Glass, an adaptation of the Paul Auster novel written by Paul Karasik (How to Read Nancy with Mark Newgarden) with art by David Mazzucchelli (Asterios Polyp, Batman: Year One with Frank Miller and Richmond Lewis). It’s masterful yet accessible in the way it moves between conventional storytelling and formal experimentation, both in its narrative and its comics-y nature. Plus it’s formative work for me  — I still have the copy I bought in middle school  — so my excitement helps sell the recommendation :) 

Kendal: Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home are the triumvirate of critically lauded graphic memoirs if they’re looking for something that’s been given a Stamp of Literary Approval, so to speak.  

Do the authors do their own artwork or are they partners? 

Patrick: It varies! If there’s only one name credited, the same person wrote and drew the story. If there is more than one, creative responsibility is shared as the credits note. Mainstream comics — that is, those published by DC and Marvel  — may have as many as a dozen people involved in the process, all of whose names you can see credited in the publication nowadays thanks to decades of pressure, advocacy, and legal action. 

Is it helpful to include manga, manhua, and manhwa with Western comics since there are cultural differences that might need more context to make recommendations (e.g. knowing Shojou from Shonen manga)?

Patrick: It depends on how intricate you want your classifications to get. Many libraries do break out manga (I haven’t specifically heard about manhua or manhwa shelving), and my impression is that it is for the convenience of readers only interested in these materials and for size concerns too: manga is typically smaller in size, so it can make shelving more efficient to keep them together. Both ideas make sense, but I prefer to keep all the works of the same medium together and interfiled, except for separating fiction and nonfiction, whether that’s comics, prose, or film. (Not that this is cleanly applied across my whole library: we still file theater and poetry in Dewey nonfiction and thus broken up by country of origin, for better or worse.) 

Do you house these collections separately and do you consider nonfiction a graphic *novel*? 

Patrick: This varies from system to system, but my impression is that most public libraries in the United States keep at least some of their comics collection in a separate shelf range, if only because the size of 741.5 will have grown unwieldy with increasing popularity.  

I kind of hate the term “graphic novel” because of how imprecisely it’s used (see my slide in the presentation for examples), but my preferred “comics” isn’t really any better. To make things more confusing, publishers often use “graphic novel” when describing their nonfiction works! My approach here is: no, nonfiction isn’t a graphic novel, but sometimes it’s expedient to frame it that way and then clarify if needed. Incorporating phrases like “graphic nonfiction” and “nonfiction comics” into the conversation helps a lot, and the more flexible and nuanced we can be about it, the better! 

Where can I find graphic novel recommendations for K-4? 

Halle: We have Grab and Go book lists in NoveList on graphic novels for grades K-2 and 3-5. We also have Recommended Reads lists for ages 0-8 and 9-12 on graphic novels. 

Is there a good place to look for books to get patrons started if they've never read a graphic novel? 

Halle: Check out our Starter Pack titles. In NoveList, we have a must-read graphic novels list for teens and ages 9-12 that might also be a good place to start. 

 Are there awards for K-8 graphic novels? 

Kendal: Just a few examples! 

  • The major comics industry awards, the Eisners, give out awards for the best comic for early readers, kids, and teens. 
  • Similarly, Pop Culture Classroom’s Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards give children’s, middle-grade, and YA awards. 
  • The EBSCO/Children’s Book Council SEE-IT Award honors K-12 works (full disclosure: I help manage this one!) 
  • I would also take a look at ALA resources: the Youth Media Awards are increasingly recognizing graphic novels across all categories, and ALSC manages recommended graphic novel reading lists for K-2, 3-5, and 6-8. 

 Has anyone dealt with any censorship or "community/parental" concern issues concerning graphic novels in public libraries? 

Patrick: I’m happy to say I have not, but I wanted to pipe up and recommend visiting the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s website for resources and case studies.

What about the Reuben awards? Is that just specific to comic strip cartoonists?

Patrick: The Reubens are one of many awards given by the National Cartoonists Society, and they do seem to be aimed more at creators of comic strips, editorial cartoons, and other short-form works. All of which are still valid for guiding collection development and recommendations!  What may be trickier is that the awards are more for “outstanding work” in the field than for a specific title, though of course, the connection between those shouldn’t be too hard to make. 

What are some good resources to help with graphic novel readers’ advisory for youth, especially children? 

Halle: The genre outlines in NoveList might be a good place to start. They include key titles and authors, trends, and information about what is appealing to readers. 

Would you include graphic novels on a regular readers’ advisory list? 

Patrick: Absolutely, and on book displays, and in-person RA conversations too! You’re meeting prose readers where they are, which is a great way to introduce them to comics. Be prepared to hear a lot of patrons say, “Oh, I had no idea they made graphic novels like this” and take that opportunity to start a conversation! 

Is there a "starter set" for those of us who work with teens and tweens? My middle schoolers love GN, but I have to be careful about content. 

Kendal: In Core Collections, you can do an advanced search for Most Highly Recommended titles for a range of grade levels or reading levels. Your result will be a list of the titles we recommend for most collections serving that age group.  

I have a bit of a big question: Is there any kind of authoritative comprehensive core list that has been developed or is it in the process of being developed for graphic novels? The field seems to be lacking with that sort of level of collection development resources for librarians which I think would be incredibly helpful to librarians who are not graphics experts or readers. I think a graphic novel-specific database would be very useful to patrons too. 

Patrick: For adult services librarians, Stephen Weiner’s 101 Outstanding Graphic Novels, Salem Press’ Critical Survey of Graphic Novels series, the H.W. Wilson Graphic Novels Core Collection (also available [with more titles and frequent updates! ] in NoveList’s Core Collection database), and, obliquely, Paul Gravett’s 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die are the publications most specifically geared to core collection development. But take care to keep the perils of canon-building in mind when using these guides, as discussed eloquently on the Drawing a Dialogue podcast, especially considering how little shelf space graphic novels get when compared to prose fiction and nonfiction. Sometimes beloved classics need to step aside for new voices to find an audience (and for audiences to find a voice)! 

How do we convince parents that graphic novels are legitimate forms of literature worth reading for their children? And how do we convince adult readers of the same thing? 

Kendal: Changing the mind of someone who’s convinced that comics and graphic novels are “lesser” literature can be an uphill climb, but just try to keep in mind a few things: 

  • Any reading is good reading, both for children who are just learning the skill and for adults who are dedicated to keeping it up. 
  • Comics run the gamut of quality and “literariness” and indie and commercial and many other things, whatever they mean and matter to different people, just as prose does. 
  • Keeping kids excited about reading is how you create lifelong readers.  

My students love manga, so how do we build the collection? Do we go back to earlier issues/titles, or focus on new titles? How much does the back history/context matter to understanding the later issues of the series? 

Halle: We are working on an article that covers this topic specifically. Look for it by the end of the summer! 

How often do the recommended read lists change? 

Halle: It depends on the list, but at least once a year, although typically much more frequently as we find books that would be a good fit. 

Many thanks to Patrick, Kendal, and Halle for taking the time to share their responses to your questions. Learn more about NoveList Plus and Core Collections and how they can help you help your graphic novel readers.  

Patrick Holt is an Adult Services Librarian for Durham County Public Library. 

Kendal Spires is a Collection Development Analyst for NoveList. 

Halle Eisenman leads the Editorial Content Team at NoveList.

Lori Reed is the Marketing Specialist for NoveList and is currently reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.