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The Rise of the Graphic Novel

…and how to read them.

If you can’t tell the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel, you’re not alone. The definition is fluid and subject to debate. Writer Nat Gertler may come closest when he says a graphic novel needs to be of “substantial length” and is intended to be understood as a single work.

However you define them, graphic novels have grown tremendously in popularity over the course of this decade. According to industry observer ICv2, sales of graphic novels in the US and Canada has grown from $75 million in 2001, to $375 million in 2007.

Much of that growth is due to the increasing popularity of Japanese graphic novels (more often called manga), and also includes compilations of traditional comic books, bound together in volumes.

But there is a growing number of graphic novels written primarily for adults that deal with subject matter beyond superheros. They range from autobiographies to historical dramas, from first-hand documentary journalism to political biographies. The last few years have seen graphic novel adaptations of the 9/11 Commission Report, a history of the Constitution, and political biographies of Barack Obama and John McCain.

Oregon is home to many artists and writers, several publishers and the largest comic studio in the US. Graphic novels and graphic novelists are going to be featured as part of this year’s WordStock festival.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the graphic novel. Do you read graphic novels? Do you consider them literature? Glorified comic books? Or something else entirely?

Are you a writer or artist who works on graphic novels? What attracted you to the medium? What are its limitations?


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