Graphic novels are like comic books for grown ups. They are longer than comics, and they feature more in-depth story lines, often with more mature themes. To create graphic novels, you can write the stories, create the art or even do the lettering for the dialogue. You don't have to have a degree to do any of these things -- raw talent or an apprenticeship can both help you get your foot in the door. However, there are many degree programs that can offer you more formal training and networking opportunities to get your career started more quickly.
The artwork is what most people think of when they think of graphic novels, since the illustrations are the primary story medium. A degree in sequential art prepares students for careers in creating graphic novels, comic books or comic strips, children's books, story boards, and more. The program at Broadview Entertainment Arts University, provides training in freehand sketches and drawings, developing sketches into finished drawings, inking, creating complete background art and environments, and figure drawing for creating lifelike characters. The training also includes developing story boards to create story sequences. Similar programs are offered at the Savannah College of Art and Design and Phoenix College. Sequential art programs include a bachelor's degree, associate degree or certificate.
Completing a degree in illustration is another pathway to a career in graphic design. An illustration degree teaches students the fundamentals of figure drawing and modeling, perspective, composition, color and design. This is a broad-based degree that will teach students about narrative theory and structure but will also teach them about concepts of design, which can be used to develop products and to use in marketing, among other things. Programs in illustration can lead to an associate degree, bachelor's degree, or master's degree.
The artists may get all the glory, but the writer provides the heart of the story and makes it come to life for readers. There are few writing programs that are designed specifically for the creation of graphic novels. Emerson College offers a combined graphic novel writing and illustration certificate program. Other colleges offer a creative writing degree that can include training on writing graphic novels. For example, at Goddard College, students can create a thesis that includes a graphic novel. Napier University in Scotland also has a module on graphic novels in its creative writing program.
Many graphic novelists get their training through an apprenticeship program. Few formal apprenticeship programs are available. Some artists such as Chris Oatley, a character designer for Disney, offer their own apprenticeship programs. Other apprenticeships are created by students approaching artists or companies and asking for their mentorship and training. These informal relationships can help students develop the skills they need to succeed and to develop industry contacts that will help them find the work they need.