If you have been reading comics for a little while, you’ve probably heard the terms “graphic novel” and “trade paperback” bandied about? On first inspection, they both appear to be the same thing. As a result, it can be confusing if you don’t know the difference.
Read on the find out the subtle differences between them and how you can tell them apart.
A trade paperback is a collection of comic book material which has been published in other formats previously and bound into one book. The comics that are collected were first released as a floppy comic issue or digitally and will usually include on average four to six issues of a series. This could be enough pages to tell a complete story or multiple shorter ones. Some fans will refer to them as “trades” and I mostly refer to them as “collected editions” on this site.
A graphic novel is a long-form comic that contains original material, which hasn’t appeared anywhere else. These kinds of comics have been crafted with the format in mind and will range from 80 to 200-plus pages. They can also be referred to as original graphic novels (OGN) to further define that the contents of the book haven’t appeared anywhere else.
The “graphic novel” has become interchangeable and has often been used to also describe trade paperback collections. While some people are pedantic about making sure it’s used correctly, it reality it doesn’t really matter. Most people will know what you are talking about.
How can you tell if it is a trade paperback or graphic novel? The easiest way to find out is by looking at the book’s description. This can be done in two ways:
The first way is by taking a look at the back. If it’s a trade paperback, then it will often include a short description that lists the issues that are collected inside. An example of this is on the back of Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, which states:
Collection Ms. Marvel (2014) #1-5 and material from All-New Marvel Now! Point #1, written by G. Willow Wilson and illustrated by Adrian Alphona.
Sometimes this description is inside the book on the credits page.
The other way is looking at the solicitations online. If it’s a trade paperback collection then the solicitation text will include the contents of the book. Here’s an example of solicitation text for The Walking Dead Volume 1: Days Gone Bye:
Rick Grimes is not prepared for this. A couple months ago he was a small town cop who had never fired a shot and only ever saw one dead body. Separated from his family he must now sort through the death and confusion to try and find his wife and son. Collects THE WALKING DEAD #1-6.
In summary, the difference comes down to where the contents originated from. If it has been published in another format beforehand, then it’s a trade paperback. If it’s original material, then it’s a graphic novel.
Check out the Glossary of Comic Book Terms to discover the meaning of other comic book terminology.