It is one of the offshoots of the fresh focus on the comics medium that many of us are now all wrapped up in trying to assign an appropriate name to it. For years and years, comics were called – Comics! But now with the debt we feel we owe to the hard-working and overlooked comics makers we have started trying to compensate by giving it as heroic names as possible.
Graphic novels … Sequential art … Graphic memoirs…
These are some that I have come across. They are creative, and mostly well-intended, but they carry an obvious flaw. When you read Agatha Christie do you say you’re reading a text-mystery? Or when you read Premchand is it written-short-stories that you are reading?
Why not? Well, because the text/words/written is just the medium, like painting is a medium, singing is a medium and so on. Similarly, the graphic component in a comic book is the medium (not to mention, comics are graphic as well as written, not like paintings). So to start calling every comic book a graphic novel is incorrect. It isn’t necessarily a novel, and it isn’t always only graphic.
But, I know that I am no closer to the perfect definition. Comics are what I usually say, but some of them are so somber and brutal that they are more tragic, or black-humourous than anything else. A story like Berlin, about a loveless relationship in 1920’s Germany is not comic, not at all. So in this case maybe it is certainly more of a graphic novel.
So what’s important is to make the right choice when talking about comics. Not every book is a novel, or a poem, or funny, or sad, and the same needs to be kept in mind for comics. They are as hard to define as any other art.