Graphic novels: what they are and why you need them

by Richard Ruddick, Guest Panel Chair

09 October 2023

Richard Ruddick

Richard Ruddick is a year 6 teacher and reading lead at Avenue Junior School in Norwich. He is passionate about helping pupils develop a love of reading and is especially keen on using graphic novels to do this and is chairing our guest panel this year. 

In the past few years, sales of graphic novels have soared, especially those aimed at children. Yet so many people are still unsure of what they are or do not see them as a valid form of reading. The aim of this post is to shine a light on what they are and why readers are currently devouring them around the world.

What are they?

Graphic novels tell stories through sequential images combined with text. Some are complete stories; others are collections of comic strips/pages joined together. As a format, graphic novels use images to support the writing and add extra detail to the story. Historically, people have assumed that graphic novels focus on superheroes due to the history of comics. However, there are a vast range of different stories being told through the format and there has been a large increase in using graphic novels to depict emotive or challenging topics. 

Who reads graphic novels?

Often, people can dismiss graphic novels as reading for less keen readers or younger readers who aren’t ready for full novels. They are so much more than this though! Yes, less keen readers may enjoy them and for some it might be the only style of book they want to read. But last time I checked, reading 50 graphic novels in a year is much better than reading nothing. After all, reading is reading. Graphic novels offer a different way to engage with stories and for many readers it can be a less intimidating way to approach a text. Being greeted by pages of images and clues that support the story can help readers to engage more comprehensively with a narrative compared to the potentially intimidating wall of words that reside in a novel. For some having the words interspersed with the text is the only way they can feel comfortable reading a story and may be the only way they ever finish a story. 

You need graphic novels on your shelves!

The surge in sales and struggle to keep library shelves stocked shows that readers want to read graphic novels. Now that they are being accepted as something that is valid to read and people are realising they can be beneficial, it is an excellent time to capitalise and make sure you have them available on your shelves. Like all books, there will be some readers who don’t gel with the format, but there will be plenty who love reading them and will work their way through as many as they can.