The Graphic Novel Archive: Frequently Asked Questions

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Frequently Asked Questions

Have questions about how the Graphic Novel Archive cataloges and categorizes graphic novels? Or perhaps you're wondering what the GNA considers a graphic novel to actually be. You'll find the answers here.

General Graphic Novel Questions

Content Scope Categories

Relationship Categories

Binding/Size Format Categories

Color Categories



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What is a graphic novel?

The answer to this question will vary, depending on whom you ask.

Ask an older comic book enthusiast, and you'll probably be told a graphic novel is a single, original story, aimed at a more mature audience than traditional comics, never having been printed as a comic book.

Ask a younger comic book enthusiast, and you may be shown a copy of Frank Miller's 300 hardcover, which was originally printed as individual comic book issues.

Ask a manga reader, and you'll be referred to any number of digest sized, black and white paperback books, almost always eastern in origin, with the story serialized across multiple volumes.

Ask a comic strip fan, and you'll be shown books reprinting a number of comic strips, originally syndicated in newspapers.

Ask a librarian, and you'll likely be directed to sections of the library featuring all these types of books.  Furthermore, each section may be aimed at different age groups - kids, teens, and adults.

Who's right?  In many regards, they all are.  The phrase "graphic novel" has evolved over the years, and depending on what comics you've read in your lifetime, what era of comics you grew up in, and what graphic novel marketing you've been exposed to, your interpretation of what a graphic novel actually is will likely vary from someone else's view.

Given this evolution of the term, today, "graphic novel" is not defined by the matter of comic content, or genre, or the supposed maturity level of the story or stories presented.  Nor is it a judgment of the storyline's length or complexity.

Instead, "graphic novel" is simply a description of the format in which comics material is presented.  Which is to say – it’s a book available in a paperback (softcover) or hardcover binding.

In other words, a graphic novel is a comic book that looks like, feels like, tastes like, a book.

(Of course, this reveals another point: the complexity of defining "graphic novel" does not fall within what is or is not a graphic novel, but what is or is not a comic.  And for this, I defer to the expertise of Scott McCloud.)

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What is the difference between a graphic novel "edition", a "printing", and a "state"?

Unless you're well versed in the complexities of book publishing, these terms can often be confusing, made worse by publishers and distributors often confusing the terms themselves within their graphic novel solicitations and sales literature.

Short answer. A graphic novel is a book. A book can have multiple editions, which are versions of the book with major differences between them. An edition can have multiple printings, which are print runs of an edition without major changes between them (otherwise, you'd have a new edition). A state occurs when a print run is temporarily interrupted to make a correction or revision to the edition being printed.

So a book can have multiple editions, an edition can have multiple printings, and a printing can have multiple states.

Here's the long answer, including what constitutes major and minor changes:

An edition of a graphic novel consists of all copies of the graphic novel printed at any time without any major changes to the graphic novel's content, publisher or binding/size/color format. A graphic novel's edition is sometimes denoted by the publisher in the book's indicia (fine print). An edition can have multiple print runs (aka printings). Editions are often assigned unique identifiers by publishers to easily identify them against other editions (ISBN, ISBN13, EAN, etc).

"Major changes" do not include cover and dressing changes, paper stock changes, price changes, or other minor appearance revisions.

A printing of a graphic novel consists of all copies of the graphic novel edition printed at one time. A graphic novel's printing is sometimes denoted by the publisher in the book's indicia (fine print). A printing can have multiple states.

Printing changes may include cover and dressing changes, paper stocks changes, price changes, and other minor appearance revisions.

A printing state of a graphic novel consists of all copies of a graphic novel printing with an intentional difference from other copies within the same printing. A graphic novel's state (and the existance of different states) is usually found only when comparing various books within the same printing, and are not denoted by the publisher.

State changes usually involve minor corrections to the graphic novel related to the printing process. A good example would be adjusting the trim or bleed area of a cover layout, correcting text cut-offs and similar problems.

The Graphic Novel Archive attempts to provide an individual profile for known graphic novel editions. Each profile attempts to include details regarding an edition's printings and printing states.

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Although the definition of "graphic novel" is far from complicated, there are many kinds of graphic novels in regards to their content. I've categorized this content in order to provide an extra level of usability to the GNA.  I refer to these categories as "content scope categories".

Some important notes:

The Graphic Novel Archive should be considered "USA-centric" regarding original or reprinted comic material. Material not having been printed in the USA - though having been printed elsewhere - is considered "original" in regards to content scope.

While a graphic novel containing multiple, original, self-contained stories does not necessarily meet the criteria of "novel" within "graphic novel", and would be best considered an anthology or short story collection instead, such books are designated a graphic novel. An example is Will Eisner's A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories.

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What is the definition of "serialized" in terms of graphic novels?

Many stories presented in graphic novels are serialized over multiple book volumes, with the entire series of books making for the complete storyline.

For example, Fruits Basket Volume 2 contains a part of the complete storyline presented in the twenty-three volume series, Fruits Basket.

To complicate matters, many serialized graphic novels consist of comic material having already been serialized in some other form; namely, as comic books or comic strips.

Identifying a serialized graphic novel is fairly easy - the book will typically indicate it's place within a graphic novel series with sequential numbering, maintaining a universal book title across all volumes. Naruto Volume 1, Naruto Volume 2, etc.

If compared to traditional prose, a serialized graphic novel can best be thought of as a chapter of the story, with the entire series constituting the entire novel.

The Graphic Novel Archive attempts to track serialized graphic novels and their respective series via the Title Series categorization.

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What is an "original graphic novel" (OGN) or "serialized graphic novel"?

An original graphic novel, or OGN, is a book containing comic material not having already been published in some other format.

Western, stand-alone OGNs are typically marketed as "original graphic novels", while serialized OGNs are usually marketed as "prestige format" comic books.

With the exception of most Yaoi themed graphic novels, most manga are - in essence - serialized OGNs. The material is typically original in regards to a USA release.

For the sake of brevity, serialized original graphic novels are referred to as "serialized graphic novels" by the Graphic Novel Archive.

While a graphic novel containing original comic strips could - by definition - be considered an OGN, these types of books are catagorized by the Graphic Novel Archive as "comic strip collections" instead.

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What is a "collected edition"?

A collected edition is a graphic novel which reprints, or "collects", comic material originally available in another format (typically comic book, strip or graphic novel form), originally printed as one or more individual installments (volumes, issues, etc).

The Graphic Novel Archive indexes two forms of collected editions - comic book collections (graphic novels containing comics originally printed in comic book or graphic novel form) and comic strip collections (graphic novels containing comics originally printed in comic strip form).

The phrase "trade paperback" is often used interchangeably with "collected edition" - especially in regards to comic book collections - although "trade paperback" actually describes the book's size and binding format versus its actual content.  While the majority of collected editions are produced in the trade paperback format, many are also available in hardcover and digest formats, and many OGNs and comic strip collections fall within the realm of the trade paperback format.

U.S. published manga collected editions are rare, but have recently become more commonplace with popular titles. The vast majority of western graphic novels are collected editions, as publishers will often print their material in comic book or comic strip form ahead of any graphic novel format.

The majority of collected editions are serialized, as most popular comic book and comic strip series contain enough material to fill two or more volumes. In addition, many comic books and strips are ongoing, making for graphic novel series with no defining end volume.

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What is a "comic book collection"?

A comic book collection is a collected edition which reprints comic book material.  The material collected has already been previously published in comic book magazine or graphic novel form. Often referred to as a "trade paperback", although this is better a representative of a book's format rather than content.

While a graphic novel reprinting a single comic book issue doesn't necessarily represent a "collection", these graphic novels are still categorized as comic book collections by the Graphic Novel Archive.

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What is a "comic strip collection"?

A comic strip collection is a collected edition which reprints comic strip material.  The material collected has often been previously published in another format (newspaper, magazine, etc), but can also be original (not having been previously published), or has been originally published in a non-print media (such as the Internet as a "web comic").

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How do I know if a collected edition collects an entire comic series, or only part of a comic series?

Determining whether a collected edition contains all of the material related to a particular comic series (either comic book or comic strip) can be difficult, and can often depend on the publisher, whether the collected edition is clearly serialized, and your familarity with the original comic material.

The best, and easiest indicator, is whether the collected edition is clearly serialized (labeled Volume 1, volume 2, etc.). If so, this is almost always an indicator the collected edition does not collect an entire comic series, although it isn't uncommon for some complete collected editions to be clearly labeled "Volume 1".

When publishing a collected edition containing a complete comic book or comic strip series, a publisher may indicate this fact within marketing and promotional material, as it is often used as a selling point. This may also be indicated by the book itself. Your answer may be found in the book's title, table of contents, back cover sales copy, etc.

In many cases, a basic familarity with the material can help determine if a collected edition contains a complete series. The Peanuts comic strip, for example, cannot possibly be contained within your average sized collected edition considering the large number of Peanuts comic strips published over the decades. The same applies to long running comic book series such as The Amazing Spider-Man, having been published since the 1960s.

With comic book collections in particular, you can often determine if the collected edition contains the entire comic series by reviewing it's contents. Typically, comic book collections report the comic issues reprinted in the book's indicia (fine print). For example, if a collected edition reprints issues #6-12 of The Amazing Spider-Man, it stands to reason the book is not complete, as issues #1-5 are not included. (This is somewhat of a simplification, but the general idea applies.)

If necessary, online resources such as Wikipedia.org and ComicBookDB.com may help in determining if a graphic novel contains a complete comic series.

A future Graphic Novel Archive update will allow books to be designated as "complete" or "segment" in regards to collected material.

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What if a graphic novel falls within two or more content categories?

Whatever category the majority of the graphic novel’s contents falls within, is the set content category.  Further details can be found in the graphic novel's profile description.

For example: if a graphic novel's contents are 75% reprinted material (collected edition), and 25% original material (original graphic novel), the book would be categorized as a collected edition.

If the content appears to be evenly split between two content categories, any collected edition categorization will take priority.

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What is a "cover gallery edition"?

A cover gallery edition is a book which collects and reprints comic book magazine cover artwork.  Given this, it is not a graphic novel in the true sense.

Many comic book collections reprint the original magazine artwork as bonus material, chapter breaks, etc. Cover artwork is not always included, however, and for this reason, cover gallery collections are indexed by the Graphic Novel Archive.

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Are comic reference guides indexed by the Graphic Novel Archive?

No, with the exception of reference guides - originally published in comic book form - now available as one or more comic book collections.

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Are comic artwork books indexed by the Graphic Novel Archive?

No, with the exception of comic artwork - originally published in comic book form - now available as one or more comic book collections, or cover gallery collections.

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What is "cine-manga" or "photo comic"?

These phrases are among several marketing terms referring to graphic novels which - in lieu of drawn or painted artwork - use individual film frames or cells (from television, movies, etc; live action or animated) as the book’s artwork, laid out in comic form.  Also often described as "film comics" or "ani-manga".


Relationship categorization focuses less on the actual contents of a graphic novel, and more on how graphic novels are related to one another by other factors. This includes formal relationships defined by a publisher's title series and/or book series designation, as well as informal relationships defined by continuities, storylines, characters, or other unifying criteria.

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What is a "title series"?

A title series defines a series of books, usually containing serialized content, related to one another via a common book title and numerical sequencing (Volume 1, volume 2, etc).  Examples include Naruto, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Batman: No Man’s Land.

Note the distinction between a graphic novel title series and a comic book series, in terms of collected editions. A title series reflects a title common among all graphic novels within the title series, and not a title common to the comics collected. For example, while Amazing Spider-Man Volume 10: New Avengers and Amazing Spider-Man By JMS Ultimate Collection Book 2 both collect issues of the Amazing Spider-Man comic book series, they belong to distinctly different graphic novel title series - in this case, Amazing Spider-Man and Amazing Spider-Man By JMS Ultimate Collection, respectively.

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What is a "book series"?

A book series defines a series of books related to one another via a common format, size and/or dressing design, and marketed as a distinct book series by the publisher.  Book series may contain one or more title series, and may or may not be numerically sequenced.  Examples include DC Archive Editions, Marvel Masterworks, and Showcase Presents.

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What is a "universe"?

A universe defines a relationship between graphic novels based on a particular theme, but not otherwise promoted or reflected by the publisher via an imprint label or other form of identification.

At its simplest, a universe typically involves two or more related title series.  For example, the Dragonball and Dragonball Z title series form a universe, as both series fall within the same continuity.

At an intermediate level, a character and his/her/its supporting cast (characters which often interact with the lead character) constitute a universe.  For example, graphic novels featuring Marvel’s Black Cat, Green Goblin, and Doctor Octopus would fall within the Spider-Man universe.  (Yes, this is somewhat subjective.)

At its most complex, a universe represents an involved continuity where characters from different graphic novels operate and interact with one another, in what is a clearly defined, all-encompassing, ongoing storyline.  For example, many graphic novels featuring Batman, Superman, Flash, and Wonder Woman will often fall within the DC universe.

While universes are often defined by characters and continuity, other relationships also qualify.  Manga series based on anime featured within Cartoon Network’s Toonami animation block, for instance.  In this case, Toonami would represent the universal relationship common amongst the various manga series.

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What is a "content rating"?

A content rating is a publisher’s judgment of the appropriateness of a graphic novel’s content for a given age group.

As publishers have different content ratings for their graphic novels, the GNA has developed a standardized rating system, which allows the application of a content rating relationship across all publishers.

Note:  Not all graphic novels are content rated.

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What is a "creator credit"?

A creator credit is an acknowledgement of what persons have played a role in the creation of a graphic novel’s content. It isn't uncommon for western graphic novels to have many creative teams, making for many creator credits. Most manga involves a single creator, or a credited creative studio.

The Graphic Novel Archive notes the following types of creator credits. Some are rather specific, others more generic.

The Graphic Novel Archive's goal is to eventually distill generic credits into more specific roles. For example, while a graphic novel may have an "Art" credit attributed, having this credit further defined as a "Penciler", "Colorist", "Inker", or "Letterer" is considered ideal. However, as specific credits are not always provided by book publishers, generic credits have their place.

Art - This is a generic credit encompassing many artwork roles, including pencilers, painters, colorists, inkers, letterers, etc. A creator associated with this credit may be responsible for one or more of these roles with a particular graphic novel.

Penciler - The artist responsible for drawing artwork contained in the graphic novel, typically drawn via pencil.

Colorist - The artist or studio responsible for coloring artwork contained in the graphic novel.

Illustrator - Another generic credit encompassing many artwork roles, but usually attributing the penciler or painter.

Inker - The artist responsible for inking artwork contained in the graphic novel.

Letterer - The artist responsible for lettering the graphic novel, which usually consists of dialogue placement and sound effects (via onomatopoeia).

Cover Artist - A somewhat generic credit typically indicating the penciler or painter responsible for a graphic novel's cover artwork. Keep in mind, it's fairly common for different printings of a graphic novel to have different cover artwork, so the cover artist may change during a graphic novel's print lifetime. Given this, the Graphic Novel Archive attempts to associate a cover artist credit with each book printing.

Translator - The writer responsible for translating graphic novel dialogue from another language - in the Graphic Novel Archive's case, translating the graphic novel from another language to American English.

Writer - A generic credit encompassing many writing roles, usually involving the actual dialogue scripts, but also including indirect writing involvement such as plot or storyline development. This may also include essays such as introductions, prefaces, forwords, and afterwords.

Plotter - The writer responsible for plotting or co-plotting some of the written work contained in the graphic novel, but not responsible for the dialogue script. In some instances, this may also refer to the creator of original material the graphic novel is based on.

Essay - A somewhat generic credit applied to the writer responsible for an essay contained within the graphic novel, whether it be an introduction, preface, foreword, afterword, etc.

??? - Indicates a credit where the role is unknown.

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What is an "imprint" or "studio"?

An imprint is a label applied to a graphic novel, denoting a particular theme, content rating, or other relationship, as defined by the book publisher.

A studio denotes a creative team or group within a publisher umbrella, responsible for the content contained with the graphic novel.

In most instances, an imprint or studio is represented by a universal graphic or logo, displayed across all graphic novels falling within the imprint or studio.  Examples of an imprint include Midnight Sons, Max, and Vertigo.  Examples of a studio include Wildstorm, Dabel Brothers, and Top Cow.

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As a graphic novel is comic material in book form, it's helpful to categorize graphic novels by their book format, which includes both their binding type (hardcover or softcover) and size.

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What is a "softcover" (SC)?

A softcover is a book featuring non-rigid, flexible, front and back covers.  With graphic novels, "trade paperback" and "softcover" are sometimes used interchangeably, although other book formats are also softcover in nature, including mass market paperbacks, digests and tankobon.

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What is a "hardcover" (HC)?

A hardcover is a book featuring rigid, inflexible, front and back covers.

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What is a "trade paperback" (TPB)?

A trade paperback, often referred to as a TPB, is usually defined as an book in a paperback format which does not conform to the size of a mass market paperback.

Within the scope of graphic novels, trade paperbacks are usually softcover books which conform to the approximate original size and orientation of comic material produced within the particular "trade" or industry. A trade paperback printing comic book material conforms to the approximate size/orientation of a comic book, while a trade paperback collecting comic strips conforms to the approximate size/orientation of the comic strip.

The phrase "trade paperback" is often used interchangeably with "collected edition", as many collected editions are presented in a trade paperback format. The term is also often substituted for "softcover".

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What is a "hardback"?

Synonymous with hardcover.

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What is a "softback"?

Synonymous with softcover.

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What is a "tankobon"?

A tankobon, sometimes referred to as tankoubon, is a book measuring approximately 7" x 5".  It's the common format for most manga graphic novels.  The vast majority of tankobon are softcovers.

Most tankobon, while technically a trade paperback, are categorized separately by the GNA so as to easily differentiate their traditional size from that of trade paperbacks containing western material.

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What is a "digest"?

A digest is almost always a softcover book, smaller than the typical trade paperback. While often similar in size to a tankobon, this isn’t always the case, with the size fluctuating across publishers.

Digest is listed separately from trade paperback, as the TPB format typically prints its contents at the approximate size originally intended for publication, while the former typically reproduces material at a smaller size than originally published.

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What is a "paperback"?

The GNA defines "paperback" as the traditional, mass market paperback, which is a softcover book measuring approximately 7" x 4".

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Like comics, graphic novels can be printed with varying degrees of coloration applied, if any.

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What is "full color" (FC)?

"Full color" refers to artwork featuring the use of color throughout the graphic novel.

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What is "black and white" (B&W)?

"Black and White" refers to artwork, either in black and white or grayscale, throughout the graphic novel. Note: While manga will often present a few pages of color material, this typically represents 1-2% of the entire volume - given this, these books are categorized as black and white.

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What is "black and white/w color"?

"Black and White/w Color" refers to artwork which, while primarily black and white, makes use of color within a very limited scope.  Examples include Sin City: The Babe Wore Red.

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What is "black and white/color"?

"Black and White/Color" refers to artwork which is sometimes presented in black and white, or grayscale, while at other times presented in full color. Note: While manga will often present a few pages of color material, this typically represents 1-2% of the entire volume - given this, these books are categorized as black and white.

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So that graphic novel editions can be easily and uniquely identified from one another, various book unique identifier systems are often applied to graphic novels. The following identification systems are noted by the Graphic Novel Archive: ISBN (aka ISBN-10), ISBN-13, EAN/JAN, and Diamond Distributor's Preview catalog SKU code.

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What is an "ISBN"?

International Standard Book Number. This is a unique 10 digit identifier applied to the vast majority of graphic novels prior to 2007. Also known as an ISBN-10. This identifier may prove useful when requesting a specific graphic novel through a book store or library in areas supporting the ISBN standard, including the USA.

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What is an "ISBN-13"?

International Standard Book Number. This is a unique 13 digit identifier applied to the vast majority of graphic novels published after Jan 1st, 2007. This identifier may prove useful when requesting a specific graphic novel through a book store or library in areas supporting the ISBN-13 standard, including the USA.

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What is an "EAN/JAN"?

European Article Number. A unique 13 digit identifier. Also known as a JAN (Japanese Article Number). This identifier may prove useful when requesting a specific graphic novel through a book store or library in areas supporting these standards.

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What is a "Diamond Code"?

This is a unique ID assigned by Diamond Distributors, a direct market comics wholesaler, and published in their monthly Previews catalog (and supplements). (The GNA attempts to record Diamond's backlist/Star System code, and not necessarily codes given to newly listed items.) This identifier may prove useful when requesting a specific graphic novel from a comic book speciality shop.

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