This is an important book and should be on your shelf. There is not enough information available on the woodcut novel, let alone buyable copies of the books. Masereel and Ward are represented, as well as the lesser known Patri and Hyde. There was always a political edge to the works of this idiom. It was the vehicle for raising an anguished voice for the world's ordinary people minding their own business, whether the villain of the piece is capitalism (Patri), or the police state or racism and its lynch mob (Ward), or the military machine and its atom bomb (Hyde's Southern Cross: A novel of the South Seas). Masereel's The passion of a man is an eloquent little modern Christ-analogue in only 25 cuts. In appearance it is almost fluid by comparison with the other works here (bottom right on the cover). Hyde's is the most graphically intricate, remarkably finding ways of using pattern to depict at its climax an atom bomb explosion. Patri works through the injustices of the system following the 1929 Wall Street crash. The book is beautifully put together, with big wide margins, and a number of pages at intervals printed in that bold red-orange you see on the small lettering on the cover.
One should not spend a large number of words describing these wordless masterpieces. So I find myself scrutinizing the stuff going on around the important material, watching the presenters get themselves in wormy knots of words, unable to get out. While I can see the purpose in connecting it all to the rise of the 'graphic novel', that there is an audience and theoretically if you whistle they'll all come over for a look, it does spoil things a little to see a perfectly sensible subject get tangled up in the kind of blather that blights everything that comes within spitting distance of our weary subject. For instance, editor George A. Walker writes in his foreword:
'Much later, Will Eisner's Contract With God (1978) and Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer prize-winning Maus (1986) were published to critical and popular acclaim. Although neither is a comic book- and the themes of both are closer to tragedy than to comedy- Eisner and Spiegelman are considered by some to be comic book artists.Thus does Walker line up behind the first definition (of four mutually exclusive) of 'the graphic novel' (that it is an art separate from comic books) to such a high-thinking extent that he even imagines, bless him, that the word 'comic' still means 'funny'. After that he temporarily loses the plot. He is good in his introduction proper in telling us the names of the artists, the history of the form and its techniques and tools, so I get the impression his editor told him he had to embrace the world of 'comics' in a foreword even though his stomach turned at the very thought having to investigate what that was all about. He should have stuck to his guns and left it out. These intrusions spoil an otherwise wonderful book. The other intrusion, the afterword, is by Seth:
"In my personal evolutionary chart that moves from single panel gag-cartoons to the fully realized comics novel, wordless novels sit in there as an important stepping stone... "Seth (whose work I love and would never dare to speak ill of) tells us there about his neat orderly version of history, then gets halfway toward accepting that this kind of 'history' is bogus, but finally backs away from the brink. He flobbers through a few more paragraphs, blathering down the thing he blathered up in the first place. He is too much a person of his time to raise his head above the muddle for long. He imagines he needs a historical context in which to place himself, and if we have to make one up well let's go cheerfully about it. I'm reminded of the quote I used in How to be an Artist:
"...but this isn't really true. If you look over these wordless novels carefully you'll see that they have almost nothing to do with today's graphic novels..."
"...Sadly, there is no real evolutionary comics chart. Looking back on the various narrative picture-novel attempts before 1975, you quickly realize that a sustained story in picture form is simply a natural idea..."
"...Whatever their origins and influences, they've still been adopted by modern cartoonists hungry for ancestors. And perhaps, it is the world of today which gets to create its past rather than the other way around."
The truth is that literary history is a modern invention and so is the automatic sense which a modern writer must have of his location in the flow of literary time..." (Pat Rogers, Oxford Illustrated History Of English literature, intro)
Now! The point.
DO you think that Masereel and Ward and the other great artists who summoned up the power to create all those vital suffer-no-nonsense images in stand-fast-never-back-down hard-edged black and white, and who in many cases found their books being banned and removed from libraries for their anti-establishment stances, do you think they would have any patience with all this neurotic namby pamby dithering?
NO THEY BLOODY WOULDN"T.
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