Library of America is releasing a two volume set of Lynd Ward’s wood cuts. I’m looking forward to them as they are some fascinating early to mid 20th century art. I’ve read Vertigo which is called his best work and it has left me wanting more. The NPR review was unimpressive, but it will give you a sense of his work, both its excellence and its flaws. You can see some of the drawings here.
As Spiegelman notes in his introduction (“Reading Pictures: A Few Thousand Words on Six Books Without Any”), Ward’s work doesn’t involve the familiar visual syntax we have come to associate with comics, with their motion lines and word balloons. Neither is he interested in guiding our eye across a succession of images arranged on a page, nor of controlling, by virtue of the placement and size of those images, the pace at which we read them. Instead, Ward’s one-image-per-page narrative places strict demands on his storytelling: Each image must stand alone and declare its message simply and unmistakably even as it builds on the images that preceded it.
The LOA edition’s layout — one woodcut per right-hand page, surrounded by generous margins — may be the one that Ward preferred, and it certainly allows readers to appreciate the unfussy force of his lines, figures and composition more easily than ever. But it does drive up the page count: Book One, including the Faustian fable Gods’ Man, the multigenerational gothic yarnMadman’s Drum and the imagistic folk tale Wild Pilgrimage, weighs in at over 830 pages. The nearly 700 pages of Book Two include Prelude to a Million Years, which explores the art vs. society theme Ward so adored, Song Without Words, a grimly terrifying and hallucinatory anti-war screed, and Vertigo, an ambitious and sprawling tale of class struggle told from multiple perspectives.