Days of the Bagnold Summer by Joff Winterhart will compete with works by Hilary Mantel, James Meek and Stephen May for the Costa novel of the year, while a biography-cum-memoir by Mary Talbot, drawn by her husband Bryan Talbot who also worked on Judge Dredd and Batman, is one of four books in the best biography shortlist.
While it might be a surprise to some, there will be many who feel there should be more mainstream recognition for graphic work. "I think it's a big thing for the comic medium generally," said Bryan Talbot. "It is another instance of the growing acceptability of comics as a valid artform."
The Talbots are shortlisted for Dotter of Her Father's Eyes which tells the story of James Joyce's tragic daughter Lucia, who spent the last 30 years of her life in a mental institution. Into that tale, Mary Talbot has woven the story of her own troubled relationship with her father, the eminent Joycean scholar James S Atherton.
It will do battle against Artemis Cooper's biography of travel writer Patrick Leigh-Fermor; Selina Guinness's memoir of moving into a family country house and farm in the Dublin mountains, The Crocodile by the Door; and Kate Hubbard's Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household.
Bryan Talbot, a comics writer and artist for more than 30 years, said many people tended to view comics as a genre rather than a medium, whereas "they can tell any sort of story". He said some tended to not think beyond Superman. "People don't seem to realise there's a whole range of quality material out there which is worth any intelligent person's time to read."
Winterhart is shortlisted for his first full-length book along with Mantel for her Man Booker winning Bring Up the Bodies; former Guardian journalist James Meek for The Heart Broke In; and Stephen May for Life! Death! Prizes!
The 38-year-old Winterhart, who drums in a band despite having only one hand, said he was extremely surprised. "It doesn't feel like a novel, it's got pictures in it! I didn't know it had enough words to constitute a novel. Some graphic novels are quite epic and very cinematic in scope and mine is incredibly not like that."
The novel tells the story of a mother-son relationship. The author Wendy Holden, one of the category's three judges, said it was funny, thought-provoking and "sniff-makingly sad". She added: "Anyone with a teenager in the family, or anticipating having one in the future, should read it. It's not only hilarious and brilliant but deals with real life, as people really live it, which alone sets it apart from many works of fiction today."
She said graphic novels were "undeservedly underrated" and Winterhart's book was a jewel in the genre.
Although a first for the Costas, it is not a first for major book prizes – Chris Ware's graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth won the Guardian First Book award in 2001.
The Costas – formerly the Whitbreads – unashamedly celebrate and reward enjoyability in five sections.
In the poetry category the shortlist this year includes Sean Borodale, for his debut collection Bee Journal; Julia Copus for The World's Two Smallest Humans; Selima Hill for People Who Like Meatballs; and Kathleen Jamie for The Overhaul.
The four works up for the children's book award are Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner; The Seeing by Diana Hendry; What's Up with Jody Barton? by Hayley Long; and A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton.
The fifth category is best first novel, for which the shortlisted books are The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder by JW Ironmonger, who also wrote The Good Zoo Guide; Snake Ropes by Jess Richards; The Innocents by Francesca Segal; and The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood.
Each category winner will be announced on 2 January and the final five will then be in competition for the overall £30,000 prize as Costa book of the year on 29 January.
Since the book of the year award was introduced in 1985, novels have been out in front in overall wins, with Andrew Miller's Pure being the 10th to triumph last year.
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