What's the difference between a "Graphic Novel" and a "One-Shot"?

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TimTwoFace

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#1
Simple question. I've seen WIZARD list various comics in their pricing guides as one or the other, but I've never found a specific definition that tells me if a self-contained story is a "Graphic Novel" or a "One-Shot" comic.

Could anyone offer me a li'l help here?

-Tim
 

Simpler Simon

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#2
I'm not a huge comic book person, but here's the way I look at it:

A Graphic Novel is a general term that applies to collected editions (Batman: Knightfall), self-contained stories (Batman: The Killing Joke), even Japanese Manga. In short, if it's got comic panels, nicely bound, and over 'X' amount of pages, it becomes a graphic novel.

A One-shot, on the other hand, is printed like any regular comic book you'd find on the stands at your local comic book shop. It may have the same amount of pages as a comic book, or it may be slightly bigger, but it's nowhere near the size of a graphic novel. It may also not be tied in with any running series (Ex: It's not a Detective Comics book or a Legends of the Dark Knight book - it's just there). The Batman: Ten-Cent Adventure is a good example of this.
 

Ed Liu

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#3
Howdy,

To me, a one-shot is something sold to the direct market (your comic shop), is a single, self-contained story, and runs less than 64-pages. This covers anything from the DC "Secret Files" series and the Zatanna: Practical Magic one-shot from last year.

A graphic novel, again as I define it, is anything bigger than the above. This can mean a collected edition of monthly comics (like the JLA or Sandman TPBs) or an original, self-contained work that's bigger than 64-pages (Will Eisner's A Contract with God or A Life Force, or JLA: A League of One). There are those who don't even count collected monthlies as "graphic novels," but I think they're being a bit too particular about the definition of "novel." Dickens was serialized before he was published, too, but nobody calls Great Expectations anything other than a "novel" today.

-- Ed/Ace
 

Jor-El

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May 20, 2002
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#4
Ace got it much, much closer than Simon, and he may be even more right than me.

About the one-shot thing, I agree. However, I separate the terms "graphic novel" and "trade paperback." In my opinion, graphic novels are books like JLA: Earth 2, JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice, and any other long work that is original to that publication. Books like Batman: Knightfall or Flash: Born to Run or JLA: American Dreams all fall under the category of "trade paperbacks," by my standards in that they collect multiple, previously published issues and market them again as collected editions. Even fancy books like the Batman: Hush hardcovers and the Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale hardcovers are just trade paperbacks.

Of course, if Ace says so, it could be that he's totally right. That sounds so sarcastic of me to say, but there was no sarcasm meant. Ace is just a really well-educated guy and might be more up on the issue than I am.
 

Ed Liu

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#6
Howdy,

Heh. I'm not so much well-educated as kind of educated, curious, and highly opinionated :).

As far as I know, there is no real consensus among the comic industry or fandom distinguishing "graphic novel" from "trade paperback" that I know of. Barry Allen makes a nice distinction between collected editions ("Trade Paperbacks") and original works ("Graphic Novels") which makes sense and allows for a meaningful distinction between the two. This is also how I think the majority of fandom distinguishes them, if they make the distinction at all.

There was a recent flap over who was the first author of a "graphic novel" (overview here at Newsarama), along with the admission by at least one of the contenders that there's no good definition for the term. If I remember right, Will Eisner was the person who coined the term when he was writing A Contract with God and, as usual, he did it a good 10-15 years before anybody else :). I think the term started getting serious play in comic fandom and the mainstream press in reaction to The Dark Knight Returns because snobs in comics and pinheads in media felt they couldn't just call it a "comic book" without somehow insulting it (see what I mean about "highly opinionated"? :)).

Technically, the term "trade paperback" is from the book publishing industry (more definitions than you can shake a stick at here, and refers to size rather than content. It pretty much means a softcover book that's bigger than a "mass-market paperback," which is the size of a romance novel or John Grisham potboiler in an airport spinner rack. So, if you want to be a hardcore book geek about it, ALL softcover comics are trade paperbacks simply because they're big.

Now, of course, more comic companies are pushing the "manga-sized" format that they sometimes call "digests" or "digest-sized" books and which are targeted squarely at bookstores and airports and such. I'm acutally not sure those are "trade paperbacks" as far as the book industry is concerned, even if they fit the definition of "trade paperback" as the comics world understands it.

-- Ed/Ace
 
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#7
I always thought that a one-shot is simply titled "#1". It might specify "#1" on the cover, as is the case with shorter one-shots that look like regular comics, and it might not, as is the case with prestige format one-shots, but it will always say so in the copyright indicia. The Legacy of Superman is technically "Superman: The Legacy of Superman 1" and Batman/Planetary: Night on Earth" is technically "Batman/Planetary: Night on Earth 1". However, if you look at the copyright info for Justice Riders or Superman: Speeding Bullets all it will have is the title, and so, I like to think of those as graphic novels. So basically, if any comic says it's number 1 in the copyright info but isn't part of a series, it's a one-shot.

As for the whole TPB thing, I find it tricky calling them graphic novels, because a lot of the time they don't tell a complete story (The Greatest Batman Stories). And even when the TPB-friendly storylines allegedly tell a complete story, they often leave dangling plot threads, so I'm reluctant to call them "novels".

But hey, what do I know? That's just the way I've always looked at it.

Dadiomov
 

Jor-El

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#8
Dadiomov said:
I always thought that a one-shot is simply titled "#1". It might specify "#1" on the cover, as is the case with shorter one-shots that look like regular comics, and it might not, as is the case with prestige format one-shots, but it will always say so in the copyright indicia. The Legacy of Superman is technically "Superman: The Legacy of Superman 1" and Batman/Planetary: Night on Earth" is technically "Batman/Planetary: Night on Earth 1". However, if you look at the copyright info for Justice Riders or Superman: Speeding Bullets all it will have is the title, and so, I like to think of those as graphic novels. So basically, if any comic says it's number 1 in the copyright info but isn't part of a series, it's a one-shot.
If you want to get really specific, books like Justice Riders and Superman: Speeding Bullets are "Prestige format editions," if memory serves. Often, a book can be both a Prestige format edition and a one shot, and sometimes Prestige books are part of a mini-series (Martian Manhunter: American Secrets comes to mind.) I personally prefer the term "Prestige format" to "graphic novel" for books of Prestige length (usually these Prestige format books are 64 pages or somewhere in the neighborhood) because it allows for the term "graphic novel" to be employed where it belongs: on longer works that would closer resemble an actual novel.

But that's getting really needlessly nitty-gritty. :)
 
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#9
Yeah I see what you're saying, Barry. It can turn into a game of semantics! :)
I think that as far as DC is concerned, there are prestige format books (Justice Riders), prestige format one-shots (Batman/Planetary), and prestige format miniseries (Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey). The prestige format books and the longer works like Virtue & Vice all fall under the term "graphic novel". The prestige one-shots are simply one-shots. Also, I personally think it's appropriate to call a trade-paperback of a prestige miniseries a graphic novel.
 

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