IT’S Belinda Bauer and Robin Robertson I feel sorry for. When the longlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize was announced yesterday, you might have expected Bauer’s book Snap to attract more attention as a rare example of crime fiction making the list. Robertson, meanwhile, is a poet whose book The Long Take is itself a crime novel of sorts that mixes prose and verse.

But, in the end, both were overshadowed by the inclusion of another book on the list, Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina, the first graphic novel to ever be considered for the prize.

Sabrina’s nomination drew a flurry of delight and despair on social media after the announcement. The delight was the unalloyed joy of fans of the graphic novel form who saw in the longlist inclusion a validation for the form (if that is still even necessary).

The despair was more interesting. Not so much the kneejerk grumbling of those who complained it was a dumbing down of the prize and populist pandering (no doubt there is a literary critic working on this column just now; if we’re lucky they might read Sabrina for research purposes).

No, what was intriguing were those who suggested that Sabrina is exactly the kind of graphic novel that people who didn’t read graphic novels would like. A self-evidently serious narrative told in a conservative clear line style.

It’s an interesting point and it does make you wonder if someone more cartoony such as Michael DeForge would ever be up for consideration. That said, though I had minor qualms about Sabrina when I reviewed it in May, it seems to me a genuinely powerful, engaging and very timely narrative about alt-right politics, toxic social media and the stain of grief in Trump’s America.

If anything, I would say, Drnaso’s precise, uncluttered drawing style plays to the novel’s sense of dislocation and distance. There is no frenzy here. Fear and grief live side by side with the hum of the fridge. Drnaso’s coolness of approach speaks to the dreadful banality of living with loss.

Drnaso isn’t the first graphic novelist to be nominated for literary awards, of course. Bryan and Mary Talbot won the biography section of the Costa Prize in 2012 for their graphic novel Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, a double narrative about James Joyce’s daughter Lucia and Mary’s relationship with her own father. Chris Ware won the Guardian First Book Prize in 2001 for Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth and, of course, Art Spiegelman’s Maus won the Pulitzer Prize back in 1992.

But the Man Booker Prize has a more specific remit and the question that needs to be asked is should a graphic novel be judged in the same field as literary novels? And while I think Drnaso’s book is an impressive piece of work I’m not sure it should.

Some Booker critics have argued that if a graphic novel can be included in the longlist why not poetry or short stories or music, but that’s a false equivalence. Sabrina is a graphic novel and it’s the novel part that matters in this case.

I wonder, though, if in the end, the graphic part matters more here. To include Sabrina in a literary fiction list may do both a disservice. Sabrina explores themes and anxieties that many novelists would understand and appreciate but it does so in a completely different form.

The graphic novel is all about the way words and pictures speak to each other and that’s a completely different thing to what Michael Ondaatje or Sally Rooney (to take two other names at random from the longlist) are doing in their novels.

Which rather begs the question, is the comparison fair? The judges clearly believe this year it is. And as always with awards, it’s difficult to get too worked up about these things. It’s a competition that has a serious purpose – the recognition of great work – but in the end ultimately it’s a beauty show. What you want it to do is make people read more.

That said, does the inclusion of a graphic novel mean the form will be seen by a non-graphic novel reading public as an adjunct to literary fiction? If so, that seems to me to be a diminution of what makes the form unique.

Literary fiction, graphic novels, music or films: they can all address the same themes, but they all have their own language to do it with.

All prizes inevitably end up effectively comparing apples and pears and trying to judge which is the better. But in this case couldn’t it be argued that when it comes to looking at Drnaso’s work in the company of the rest of the list the judges will be comparing apples and, say, concrete?

Part of me is thrilled that Drnaso’s book is getting the attention it deserves because of this longlisting. Part of me wonders if a Man Booker Prize for Graphic Fiction might make more sense (fanciful notion, I know).

In any case, hopefully people who have never read a graphic novel will pick one up this weekend. There are worse ways to be introduced to the form than Sabrina.