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Watchmen: graphic novel or comic?

"Neil Gaiman used to be a journalist, but gave it all up to write comics, which he claims are a totally valid late twentieth century art-form, and he's even won awards for them so that's all right" - From the author bios in Good Omens (Yes, I do know that Neil didn't write Watchmen)

I had an interesting time explaining the term "graphic novel" to two friends over lunch the other day. Neither had had heard the term prior to the buzz around the Watchmen movie and neither knew that there were novel length books told in comic book format.

"But Watchmen isn't really a graphic novel," I added. "It was originally published as individual issues. It's a comic book that's been collected in a volume."

"All the articles and reviews are saying it's a graphic novel," friend A pointed out.

I shrugged. "Yeah, well, everyone has delusions of grandeur. I love it, but it's a comic."

At the time, it seemed like a fair analysis. After all, there are several collected volumes of Strangers in Paradise and no one calls them graphic novels. Topping 500 pages, Craig Thompson's Blankets is undoubtedly a graphic novel but is Watchmen, a book that was released in chunks and only latter known as a single book?

Further muddying the waters are classic authors - like Dickens - who published in serial format.

What are your thoughts? Is Watchmen a graphic novel or a comic? Is (as my comic obsessed boyfriend maintains) the whole term "graphic novel" just plain silly to begin with.



( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 14th, 2009 04:22 pm (UTC)
My husband, also comic obsessed for many years, has no issue with 'Watchmen' and the like being called comics.

It does seem that the term 'graphic novels' tends to be applied to distance from the comic format in the same way that they slap 'adult' covers on books like Harry Potter because certain people have issues with being seen reading 'children's books' now re-packaged as 'young adult novels' :)

Mar. 14th, 2009 04:37 pm (UTC)
I find the whole alternate covers thing really silly.
Mar. 14th, 2009 04:26 pm (UTC)
"Gaphic Novel" is usually used to describe a comic that never came out in single issue format. Something like...let's say "Blankets" is a graphic novel. Because it came out the way we see it now.

Watchmen, is a collected trade paperback of the comics that originally came out as twelve issues in the '80's.

That's the technical side. You know this, because you said it too.

But since it's not longer available in single issue format (aside from the free reprinted first issue they put out a few months before the movie)...I guess it could be seen as a graphic novel.

I just wind up calling it a trade paperback most of the time, or "the Watchmen trade."

However, it's all semantic to me. I'm not really bothered. :)
Mar. 14th, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC)
lol I'm not really that bothered. More just bored and curious.
Mar. 14th, 2009 05:12 pm (UTC)
I think Watchmen counts as a graphic novel because, as the above commentor noted, you can't buy it any other way now.
To me that's when they cross the line from comic to graphic novel.
For example Hush parts 1 and 2, as well as No Man's Land (all of these are Batman titles) came out individually over the course of months and months of single issue comics. BUT as I can no longer buy them as such and instead they are only to be found bound in a gigantic book, I consider them to now be graphic novels.
Just my two cents ;)
Mar. 14th, 2009 05:25 pm (UTC)
What's weird is that comics in Japan (manga) are released in installments (usually in magazines), but when they're gathered into a book, they're called graphic novels, at least here in the U.S. (the Japanese term is "tankōbon").

It's for that reason that I always thought the term referred to separate issues bundled into a single volume. This is the first time I've heard otherwise, I have to admit.

(edited to fix my confused terms. it's been a while since I've been in the anime/manga fandom. XD)

Edited at 2009-03-14 05:29 pm (UTC)
Mar. 14th, 2009 05:37 pm (UTC)
I feel like the only reason the term "graphic novel" was created was to give a more literary name to a genre that was similar to comic books. And in some more conservative literary communities, comic books are not even considered a topic for discussion as far as literary quality, concepts etc. So I feel that Watchmen is a comic but it is called a graphic novel so the immediate public will take it more seriously.

I had to write a capstone paper on Watchmen and since then...I feel like I have to be an advocate for how brilliant it is...lol...sorry if this comment is ridiculous...
Mar. 14th, 2009 05:55 pm (UTC)
It's not ridiculous at all. Heck, it made Time's list of 100 books.
Mar. 14th, 2009 06:08 pm (UTC)
A lot of people refer to Watchmen as a graphic novel because it was in graphic novel format that it won the Hugo...
Mar. 14th, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC)
When you said Hugo it made me think of how Dumas first released his novels in feuilleton form. If I'm not mistaken, The Three Musketeers was first a roman-feuilleton, and then it was published as a "proper" novel. We could say that the same thing happened to Watchmen.
Mar. 14th, 2009 09:05 pm (UTC)
I think that as a term for differentiating between two similar but separate things - ie, stories published in serial form and those published all at once - graphic novel is pretty useful. But it seems to get thrown around a lot by people who don't want to admit that they read comics, as if by calling it a graphic novel they're making it somehow more legitimate and that really bothers me.

So I guess graphic novel is fine, if it's been published as a graphic novel. But I don't think it has any specific meaning when it comes to artistic integrity.
Mar. 17th, 2009 02:06 pm (UTC)
I completely agree.
Mar. 14th, 2009 10:18 pm (UTC)
A graphic novel is something which has a beginning, middle and end. Comics just keep going.

So a graphic novel is like a movie, a comic is like a soapie. In format, i'm not comparing quality.

Just my opinion :)
Mar. 14th, 2009 10:27 pm (UTC)
I always thought "graphic novel" was just a pretentious term for serialized comic books printed together.

And, in the case of Watchmen, most of the discussions I've been hearing are certainly of a pretentious nature.
Mar. 14th, 2009 10:56 pm (UTC)
"Graphic novel" is kind of a B.S. weasel term at this point; it's been used primarily as a marketing distinction or snobbery for a number of years now. Regardless, its actual meaning (as put in use by Eisner and as used in serious academic discussion) essentially relates to the status of something as a unified story.

It makes as much sense to say that Watchmen isn't a graphic novel based on its original format as it would to say that it's not describable as a mini-series because it was labeled a "Maxi-series" when originally released. By any reasonable standard, it's a graphic novel because it's a single coherent whole, not an open-ended serial. SiP skirts the edge, but is basically a serial that ended, not a collection of standalone graphic novels.

Also, Dickens muddies no waters; he clears them up, because if you look how he fits into the definition of novel, that's exactly how Watchmen fits into the definition of graphic novel.
Mar. 14th, 2009 10:57 pm (UTC)
Also: The term for the bound form of comics/graphic novel that you're talking about is "trade paperback."
Mar. 15th, 2009 04:19 am (UTC)
"Graphic novel" mostly seems like a way to make a comic without being a cartoonist. Like watching films instead of movies.
Mar. 15th, 2009 09:56 am (UTC)
I'm in your boyfriend's camp and find the term graphic novel rather silly. I see it as another attempt to create some distance from the word "comic", as many people still are scared to admit they like reading comics.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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