As far back as the 1940s, trade publishers experienced success publishing graphic novel like books, collections of newspaper comics, and early book length comic stories by recognized children’s book author-illustrators Crockett Johnson and Don Freeman. Pogo collections by Walt Kelly published in the 1950s and early 1960s paved the way for the book length graphic novel, Prehysterical Pogo (in Pandemonia) released in 1967. The Tintin books started appearing in the U.S. under the Little Brown imprint as early as 1962, so it’s clear that trade publishers had no problem with book length comic stories that they found acceptable. Trade houses were not comfortable with the type of comic stories that had come under attack in the 1950s—horror and crime comics as well as superhero comics, although sales of these types of books were lucrative.
This began to change with the publication of Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes, in 1965. Feiffer’s book extolled the value of superhero comic books and examined them as symbols of childhood innocence as opposed to childhood contamination. The book included early stories of heroes that Feiffer admired and it sent out a signal: the comic book people were ready to fight back against the charges of Dr. Wertham, and by publishing with a trade house, Feiffer’s book gained respectability. In 1979, Feiffer published his own graphic novel, Tantrum, about a couple going through a mid life crisis. Tantrum was released by a trade house. In a period of 15 years, Feiffer had argued that comics were good for children and then created a graphic novel that could interest adults.
To learn more about the history of the graphic novel, try my book, Faster than a Speeding Bullet: the Rise of the Graphic Novel, being solicited now.