At the end of the day, what makes a graphic novel different than anything else in the wonderful world of comics? Out of an indy-studded group of wonderfully talented creators, manga cartoonist Becky Cloonan nailed it in a simple, very elegant way that reverberated throughout the Many Faces of the Graphic Novel panel earlier today at Comic-Con: It's a spine that separates graphic novels from comics.

More than any other medium, what that spine offers, says Creature Tech, Gear muse Doug TenNapel, is "freedom for the creator." With that freedom, however, comes a heavy price for even the most talented cartoonists, who can spend as little as six months making a graphic novel, and come away making as little as $3,000 for all their sweat equity, TenNapel adds.

On the subject of freedom, the lone editor/publisher on the panel, First Second's Mark Siegel, reminded the audience that it's no secret the quality graphic novels produced by the assembled creators aren't made in a vacuum either. "My criticism of graphic novels is that some are really good things that could be great [works]. It's not about shaping the creator or the work, however. It's shining a light into all the blind spots."

You couldn't convene a panel about graphic novels without addressing their future, a healthy one, says Jim Ottaviani, thanks to the work of some of his fellow panelists. "There's been enough work out there that we've held onto some readers. [We're seeing] readers of Owly and Creature Tech are now working the market."