Hello there, comics fans! Today we'd like to give you a quick refresher on a frequent source of confusion here at your friendly neighborhood comic shop: the difference between graphic novels and trade paperbacks!
A graphic novel is exactly what it sounds like- a novel, in graphic form. It's meant to stand on its own as a complete story, even if that story continues on in sequels. Art Spiegelman's Maus is a graphic novel; so is each volume in the popular series Scott Pilgrim. Graphic novels come in all shapes and page counts.
A trade paperback is a collection of a series of previously-published comics, often as a story arc that's part of an ongoing narrative, even if that narrative eventually ends. Your X-Men and your Batman and the like are bound as trade paperbacks (almost always after an initial hardcover edition), as are less mainstream titles like Sandman and Tank Girl. Trade paperbacks are approximately the same size as Modern Age comic books, which are about 10 by 6 3/4 inches, and usually only the length of four or five comics.
There can be a bit of a gray area between the two. Alan Moore's Watchmen is considered a graphic novel, despite the fact that it was originally published as a comic miniseries. Manga titles often share the ongoing serial quality of many comics but are considered serieses of graphic novels. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman certainly has the feel of a novel but is collected in two trade paperbacks, while Paul Pope's 100% fits easily into either category. If you're referring to something like the bound printings of Love and Rockets you'd probably want to use the word collected editions; the book form of a collection of work by many different creators, like Marvel's Strange Tales, is a bound anthology.
Now, nobody's gonna break out the wet noodle if you can't keep it all straight. Like we said, sometimes it's ambiguous! The purpose of this notice is to illuminate the diversity of our favorite medium- knowing what's what can give you a better idea of what you're looking for when exploring the wide world of comics!