Comic Strips, Comic Books and Graphic Novels-- What is the difference?

I'm often asked, usually by the little man inside my own head while I'm shaving, exactly what is the difference between a Comic Strip a Comic Book and a Graphic novel?


I'm also equally surprised at the number of people who think Comic Strips and Comic Books are the same thing-- they are not.  They are not by leaps and bounds.  Comic Strips by their very design are restricted both by content and design- you can only do so much in three equal sized panels, and you are forced to tell a continuing story at a grueling pace when you can only release one installment per day especially when you need to recap what happened yesterday too.



Continued storyline comic strips are extremely rare, and many newspapers don't even run them on the Comics page-- The Phantom, which is probably the best of them all, runs in the business (?) section of many big daily papers.

I'll go on the record here to state that for the most part I hate comic strips.  Hate 'em.  Most of them are done for the lowest level of comics reader and so they are often dumbed down.  Setup to punchline.  Bloom County, Dick Tracy (1940s), The Far Side, Alley Oop, Calvin and Hobbes and early Peanuts are the rare exception to this and deserve their own place in the Comics hall of fame.  But 95% of what's out there is inane Family Circus type variety so you can have them.

Comic Strips = Stand Up Comedians.  Jeff Dunham, Jerry Seinfeld and Dane Cook all tell stories, and usually with the intention to make us laugh.

Comic Books = TV Series.  Shows like ER, The Office, Mad About You, etc tell stories with the same cast of characters which may or may not have a continuing storyline that carries through a host of episodes.  The series continues for years, usually with only minor character development because the goal is to maintain those viewers (readers in the case of comics) who first came along and enjoyed the premise.

Graphic Novels = Movies.  And by Movies (note the capital M) I'm talking about ones that attempt to elevate the art form-- not the low brow comedies of Jack Black or Seth Rogan, or the latest installment of AMERICAN PIE, I'm talking about things like THE ARTIST which actually get you to look at film in a different way.  By definition they are trying to push the envelope.

My latest project is THE FIENDS, which is an adaption of DIABOLIQUE and with this one I'm going for advanced story telling which may or may not be successful.  On first glance it may look like just another comic book page;

My latest project, THE FIENDS

But getting into it a bit deeper we'll see that there has been some thought into the page that goes beyond first draft.


Panel 1-- the illustration of the school is done without using a ruler to give it organic aged like lines.  If it had been drawn with the sharp lines of a ruler it would look too new.

Closeup of first panel
Looking closer-- by not having defining lines on the edges of the railing it also creates a sense of form and keeps the lighting harsh.


The title encompassing the entire second panel in broken font is meant to mimic the loud opening music of a foreign film-- the credits will be on the second page.


The third panel presents a bit more than it first appears to.
The narration begins top left, identifying the character we're seeing-- below the type a shot of the school she owns with a look at the deep blackness of the dirty swimming pool that will play an important role in the story.

The face of the character goes from white to dark-- to show a sinister shift in attitude.  The form behind her taking the shape of a skull which is the symbol of death-- giving the reader an insight into her murderous plan.

In the eye socket is a dark haired man with a light haired woman.  It's important that the reader get that this isn't Christine.  The next bit of narration, which mentions that she has a weak heart due to childhood illness falls across her chest-- in the text it mentions she's hired her husband Michael so we're going to assume that's him embracing the woman in the eye of the skull, which is emphasized by the next line which reads

SHE REFUSES TO SPEAK OF IT OR HIS OTHER INDISCRETIONS

And that line of narration falls into a narrative BOX, the only one on the page (the rest of the type floats) which itself falls ACROSS the skulls mouth to emphasize SILENCE.

Advanced Illustration is about thinking, re-thinking and then over-thinking until you have a composition exactly right.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is what makes a Graphic Novel different than a comic book.