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The Origins of the Graphic Novel

November 7, 2018

Graphic novels are more than just long comic books featuring superheroes fighting evil villains—and the format can be dated back to the eighteenth century, long before any caped and masked characters with superpowers appeared on the scene. Below are some cool facts about graphic novels. Be sure to check out all of our graphic novels, including our band-new edition of The Call of Cthulhu and Dagon: A Graphic Novel.


Joseph Franz von Goez’s Leonardo and Blandine, published in 1783 in Augsburg, Bavaria (now Germany), is regarded as the first graphic novel. It consisted of 160 illustrations with captions, and adapted the story of two ill-fated lovers from a popular musical drama onto the printed page.

The term “graphic novel” was coined in 1964 by Richard Kyle, and became more widespread in the 1980s, which saw the publication of Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (a film version was released in 2009).

The Book Industry Study Group introduced the graphic novel category in 2001 to track sales of these books. Modern graphic novels encompass a wide range of genres, including superheroes, manga, films and TV shows, classical retellings, and even nonfiction.


The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck, published in New York in 1842 in a newspaper supplement and then in book form in 1849, is the earliest example of an American graphic novel. It was translated from an earlier Swiss edition written and illustrated by Rodolphe Töpffer without his permission—copyright laws were not yet firmly established at the time.

In this hauntingly illustrated adaptation of two of H. P. Lovecraft’s most famous stories from the Cthulhu Mythos, illustrator Dave Shephard captivates readers with stories of supernatural monsters so powerful that humanity is deemed irrelevant. The Call of Cthulhu and Dagon introduce the Great Old Ones, powerful deities who reside outside the normal dimensions of space-time, with physical forms that are impossible for the human mind to fathom. 

The Art of War: A Graphic Novel is an adaptation of Sun-Tzu’s famous military treatise. Hailed as the oldest philosophical discussion on military strategy, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War has been adapted as a graphic novel by award-winning illustrator Pete Katz. In this collectible thread-bound edition, the narrative focuses on a teacher instructing a pupil on the main points of Sun Tzu’s treatise, with vibrant battle scenes interspersed throughout. Issues such as planning, tactics, maneuvering, and spying are demonstrated in the full-color scenes, so that readers can envision how military goals are achieved using principles from the fifth century BC. Traditional stitched Chinese binding is used to create a collectible edition that will hold a special place on your bookshelf.

Be sure to check out our Dark Tales series, which presents some of the finest classical works of literature in graphic novel format: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Beauty and the Beast: A Modern Retelling by Jeanne-Marie Leprince, The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, and The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft.

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