Woodcut illustration from Gods' Man1929 by Lynd Ward

Lynd Ward was an American artist, born in 1905, who is known for his series of wordless novels, which consisted entirely of woodblock engravings. He produced six during his lifetime, which heavily influenced the development of the graphic novel. This, Gods' Man, was Ward's first book and the first wordless novel to ever be published in the United States. As such, it's a pretty important work in the history of both literature and the graphic novel.

For many, last year’s mega-hit Watchmen validated the notion of the graphic novel as a formidable creative genre. But perhaps the most compelling, aesthetically and conceptually innovative work in that genre was done more than seven decades ago.

In the 1930’s, American illustrator and storyteller Lynd Ward “invented” the genre when he created a series of wordless graphic novels in woodcuts, using dramatic wood engravings to create a style that was part Art Deco, part Expressionism, part something else entirely.

At the dawn of the stock market crash in 1929, he released his first novel, God’s Man — a masterfully illustrated, articulate, and thought-provoking semi-autobiographical story about struggles of self and life.

Ambiguous and abstract, these visual narratives lend themselves to the reader’s own interpretation, which makes them all the more engaging and powerful.

The woodblock, whether cut with a knife or engraved, develops its image by bringing details out of darkness into the light. This seems to give it an advantage over ways of working that start with an empty white area. In a sense, what is happening is already there in the darkness, and cutting the block involves letting only enough light into the field of vision to reveal what is going on.
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Media: print