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Research Guides

Graphic Novels


The purpose of this guide is to help students familiarize themselves with the medium of graphic novels and comics, either for use in an academic context or for recreational reading.

What is a Graphic Novel?

The phrase "graphic novel" is an ambiguous term and is often up to interpretation.  The Oxford English Dictionary Online defines a graphic novel as a "full-length (esp. science fiction or fantasy) story published as a book in comic-strip format." While this definition is good it does not encompass all that graphic novels are today. It is important to realize that the graphic novel is not necessarily a genre but a medium. This means that graphic novels can cover a variety of genres and topics, not just science fiction and fantasy.

For the purposes of this guide, the term "graphic novel" will include graphic fiction and non-fiction as well as comic books; single comic issues that have been collected and released in trade paperback format.

Graphic novels have become an essential component of academic library collections because they:

  • are a legitimate area of research
  • are increasingly used as resources in university courses
  • support the recreational reading mission of academic libraries

If you are interested in learning more about the graphic novel as literature, the Department of English at the University of Toronto offers a course on The Graphic Novel. Even if you are not in this course, graphic novels can be a good source of academic research.

Below is a mini two-page comic that explains what a graphic novel is, to those of you who are new to this medium!

Abel, J. (2002). Drawing Words & Writing Pictures. Retrieved from

Abel, J. (2002). Drawing Words & Writing Pictures. Retrieved from 


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Finding Graphic Novels in the Catalogue

Often, graphic novels are shelved in PN6700-6790. (a section which the Library of Congress Classification defines as Comic books, strips, etc.). So a great way to find graphic novels is just to browse the shelves in this section.

But this is not the case with all graphic novels -- quite a lot are within the N section (art). Also, sometimes you will find graphic "novels" that are actually non-fiction (such as memoirs) shelved in sections that relate to their subject matter -- e.g., a graphic novel about Louis Riel in the Canadian History section, and a graphic memoir about Alzheimer disease in the R section (Medicine).

So another way to find graphic novels is to search by Subject in the Library Catalogue. The most commonly used Library of Congress Subjects are:

  • Graphic novels
  • Comic books, strips, etc.

Below are links to two "customized" Catalogue searches that will take you to lots of graphic novels. The results of the two searches overlap somewhat but each contains unique results.