I’ve been reading quite a few graphic novels of late, for lack of a better phrase, not all of which were the fiction implied by the term ‘graphic novel’. No, Hyperbole and a Half, Fun Home: a family tragicomic, and Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? are memoirs.
Apart from the episodic Hyperbole and a Half, calling them comics is wrong because they’re not under a couple of dozen pages in length and they don’t tell part of a story, but the whole story, from beginning to end. Also, the term ‘comic’ doesn’t confer the gravitas of their significance as a representation of a person’s life. Although they’ve all possessed humorous qualities, they depicted a multifaceted and conflicted perspective of the human experience: the weight of tragedy to the lofty highs of light comedy, and the inquisitive commentary nature that comes of reminiscing.
As for ‘graphic novel’, you could say these lives are being communicated in the same form as fictional narratives, though ‘novel’ still indicates you’ll be reading fictional prose. Part of the problem is that ‘graphic’ has more than one meaning. ‘Graphic memoir’ could be defined as unmoderated adult content by some, and ‘illustrated’ to others.
So, if ‘graphic novel’ and ‘comic’ are inappropriate genre descriptions, what would be a better one?
Graphic novel memoirs?