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He could leap tall buildings

book cover image: graphic novels and comic books

He could run "faster than an express train... nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin!"  (Action Comics #1 - June 1938- the first appearance of Superman).
However, the first graphic novel ever published was the 1783 adaptation of Gottried August Burger's Lenardo und Blandine.

There are some who will claim that comics and graphic novels are the same thing but they are distinctly different.  If someone is reading a graphic novel and you tell them they are reading a comic book you will at the very least get a dirty look, if not a lecture.

There are similarities between these two literary forms.  Both use a combination of illustrations and words to tell a story.  The story can be anything, whether it's fiction or non-fiction, the tale of a super-hero or of a zombie apocalypse.  The difference is not so much in the content or story but in the presentation.

Comic books are serialized stories.  Most are relatively short but the heroes or heroines story and adventures is told over a long period of time.  A successful comic book will have many, many issues.  The story can go on for years.  The plot(s) are simple so that the reader really doesn't have to remember much by the time the next issue comes out.  Very successful comics can be collected and packaged up in a graphic novel format but that does not make them graphic novels.

Graphic novels are longer works that tell a single story from beginning to the end.  Plots are more complex and detailed because the story deals with the results and the reader does not have to remember details for months or years.  Graphic novels also tend to be more gritty and explicit - for mature audiences while  comic books have long carried their own stigma of being a childish, immature, guilty pleasure at best. Pick your literary choice - comic or graphic novel and be prepared to defend it.   Kat Kan's book Graphic Novels and Comic Books tells it all, the history and criticisms.