Well, it’s sorta kinda a big comic book. Usually with a perfect binding. Book length comics and comic collections have been around for decades. Crocket Johnson’s BARNABY was a best-seller in the early 1940s. Walt Kelly went from collecting POGO strips in books such as I GO POGO in the 1950s and 60s to producing books like THE JACK ACID SOCIETY BLACK BOOK which were almost entirely original ,material. Will Eisner (of SPIRIT fame) is credited with actually inventing the form. The first graphic novel from a mainstream publisher was THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN MARVEL. Etc, Etc.
Graphic novels have exploded as an art form over the years, including books like MAUS and PERSOPOLIS which are regularly taught in college courses. And just about every comic book that still comes out in the form of monthly issues is collected, usually five or six issues at a time, in graphic novel form. If you want to see the best of what is coming out on that side of the industry, I’d recommend picking up SAGA (4 volumes so far.)
If this is still confusing to the folks reading this, have I got book for you. My pal Steve Weiner, who runs a library in his day job, has updated his graphic novel reference book. It’s called 101 OUTSTANDING GRAPHIC NOVELS, and it recommends 101 of the best books currently in print (Steve also includes a short list of currently out-of-print books that are worth looking for.) Each book contains a description of the individual book, as well as an analysis of why that book is important to the field. It’s the best introduction to anyone who wants to explore what is happening in comics today.
The book is doing well on Amazon. It recently hit #1 in one of those great Amazon sub-categories, (NON-FICTION BOOKS ABOUT COMICS, I think.)
Steve has written other books as well, including the HELLBOY COMPANION. He’s just finished another of these guide books, called THE BONE COMPANION, which talks about Jeff Smith’s best-selling children’s graphic novel series. (If you don’t know anything about BONE, you’ll find the info, of course, in Steve’s OUTSTANDING GRAPHIC NOVELS. It all fits nicely together, doesn’t it?)