It's hard to pin point the exact era graphic novels were created because man has been telling stories since the prehistoric eras. Though, I did find out that the first major publication of a graphic novel was in 1842 'The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck' humorist Rodolphe Toffler which appeared in a weekly humor magazine.
Recently I've been reading graphic novels (they have the best of both worlds--words & pictures!) and just finished devouring 'Fables: Vol.1' written by Bill Willingham and illustrated by Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha. Excellent volume and I'm now sucked into the story... thank goodness there's 12 volumes!
But what really sparked my interest in graphic novels was the first one I ever read: Alan Moore's 'Watchmen'. It was circulating around the studio and once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. It's such an intriguing story built up layer by layer, with supplemental pieces of literature within the novel (for example a police report, newspaper clippings, etc.), smaller plot lines woven in the main story. It simply was THRILLING!
Not only the story is captivating, but also the illustrations are what kept me turning the pages. Dave Gibbons' work was phenomenal! I felt as though the characters moved from panel to panel even though they sit within the inked boxes. I think some illustrators may struggle with this, but Mr. Gibbons has tackled it and won in 'Watchmen'.
You can safely say that once 'Fables' has come to an end, I will be searching for more of Mr. Moore's work and Mr. Gibbon's as well.
Happy page turning!