Despite the supremacy of superhero comics in the marketplace, smaller independent publishers are constantly pushing the envelope to prove that this medium delivers powerful dramatic stories — even when the lead character doesn't wear a cape. These comic books are telling complex, fascinating stories in the traditional comic book format. Although superheroes are still present in some, graphic novels are just as likely to deal with mystery, erotica, humor, biography, historical fiction, and journalism.
And their popularity is escalating. Graphic novels now enjoy their own section in many bookstores — a fact that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Furthermore, mainstream book publishers are opening graphic novel divisions. Graphic novels have even been translated into popular movies such as Ghost World, American Splendor, and The Road to Perdition.
The major difference between a graphic novel and a comic book is the production schedule. A comic book, like a magazine, gets published monthly on inexpensive paper. A graphic novel is more like a book. It's a one-time purchase, has more pages, and is printed on glossy stock bound by a substantial cover. Some graphic novels are reprints of several consecutive issues of a comic book, but many are original stories being published for the first time.
Art Spiegelman is credited for creating the first graphic novel that gained mainstream acceptance. His Pulitzer Prize–winning Maus, published in 1987, was an account of the Nazi Holocaust reframed in terms of cats and mice. Its masterful comic book art and critical appeal thrust the graphic novel onto the literary scene. Since then, graphic novels have risen steadily in popularity.