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Wordless Books: The Original Graphic Novels

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"Wordless books” were stories from the early part of the twentieth century told in black and white woodcuts, imaginatively authored without any text. Although woodcut novels have their roots spreading back through the history of graphic arts, including block books and playing cards, it was not until the early part of the twentieth century that they were conceived and publi "Wordless books” were stories from the early part of the twentieth century told in black and white woodcuts, imaginatively authored without any text. Although woodcut novels have their roots spreading back through the history of graphic arts, including block books and playing cards, it was not until the early part of the twentieth century that they were conceived and published. Despite its short-lived popularity, the woodcut novel had an important impact on the development of comic art, particularly contemporary graphic novels with a focus on adult themes. Scholar David A. Beronä examines the history of these books and the art and influence of pioneers like Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward, Otto Nückel, William Gropper, Milt Gross, and Laurence Hyde (among others). The images are powerful and iconic, and as relevant to the world today as they were when they were first produced. Beronä places these artists in the context of their time, and in the context of ours, creating a scholarly work of important significance in the burgeoning field of comics and comics history.


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"Wordless books” were stories from the early part of the twentieth century told in black and white woodcuts, imaginatively authored without any text. Although woodcut novels have their roots spreading back through the history of graphic arts, including block books and playing cards, it was not until the early part of the twentieth century that they were conceived and publi "Wordless books” were stories from the early part of the twentieth century told in black and white woodcuts, imaginatively authored without any text. Although woodcut novels have their roots spreading back through the history of graphic arts, including block books and playing cards, it was not until the early part of the twentieth century that they were conceived and published. Despite its short-lived popularity, the woodcut novel had an important impact on the development of comic art, particularly contemporary graphic novels with a focus on adult themes. Scholar David A. Beronä examines the history of these books and the art and influence of pioneers like Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward, Otto Nückel, William Gropper, Milt Gross, and Laurence Hyde (among others). The images are powerful and iconic, and as relevant to the world today as they were when they were first produced. Beronä places these artists in the context of their time, and in the context of ours, creating a scholarly work of important significance in the burgeoning field of comics and comics history.

30 review for Wordless Books: The Original Graphic Novels

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mark Mcdermott

    With graphic novels, both original and those collected from periodical comics, now are acknowledged as art and/or literature, this book is a wonderful guide to the origins of published picture books. This provides excerpts and critiques of 11 artists who produced wordless narratives, many in small editions pulled straight from woodcuts or lead engravings, others in more traditional cartoon form. The history begins post-WWI with Frans Masereel, with several words critiquing war and the inequalitie With graphic novels, both original and those collected from periodical comics, now are acknowledged as art and/or literature, this book is a wonderful guide to the origins of published picture books. This provides excerpts and critiques of 11 artists who produced wordless narratives, many in small editions pulled straight from woodcuts or lead engravings, others in more traditional cartoon form. The history begins post-WWI with Frans Masereel, with several words critiquing war and the inequalities of society. These small format books showed the influence of German Impressionism, movies and comics of the day, though whether they influenced those media in return is uncertain. Two artists known to American cartoon fans are represented here: Milt Gross, with a melodrama parody, “He Done Her Wrong” (1930), and, as a surprise to me, Myron Walkman, an animator for the Fleischer cartoon studio, who created a “shopgirl romance” story, “Eve” (1940) in the style of the earlier Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons. This is a book full of surprises and new information for the study of comics. Beronä provides an analysis of each work presented that suggests this may have started as the catalog to an exhibit of these books. My only regret is that I would have liked to see one or two of these works represented in their entirety, but even with out that fact, this is a hefty, and a very attractive book that shines a light on the origins of the narrative art form. I put it up among my favorites as a book that tells me so much that I hadn’t known before.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lance Eaton

    Beronä explores the world of wordless books from the early and mid-20th century. These wood-cut novels (and other types of wordless visual stories) were a phenomenon within storytelling that seemed to operate in parallel to art movements and the development of comics. Beronä's effort here is to provide a preliminary history of their emergence and the most well-know creators such as Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward, Otto Nuckel, Giacomo Patri and Laurence Hyde. The book does not necessarily have a criti Beronä explores the world of wordless books from the early and mid-20th century. These wood-cut novels (and other types of wordless visual stories) were a phenomenon within storytelling that seemed to operate in parallel to art movements and the development of comics. Beronä's effort here is to provide a preliminary history of their emergence and the most well-know creators such as Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward, Otto Nuckel, Giacomo Patri and Laurence Hyde. The book does not necessarily have a critical through the line but sits more as an introductory exploration into the creators and the works. Besides the introduction and the conclusion, each chapter explores a particular creator and some of their works. The essays are brief biographies of the authors and some detail and complexity about the nature of the works being discussed. Much of the book is dedicated to excerpts (individual scenes or sequences) from the very wordless novels being discussed to give the reader a stronger what the weight and experience of these books. The book proves a solid introduction that will get readers to both explore some of the wordless novels themselves as well as branch into other forms of visual storytelling in print.

  3. 5 out of 5

    RLL22017Domonique Harris

    I chose the Wordless books because I like. E illustration of this novel. The book had a lot of graphic samples. This graphic novel is very detail and you can really tell the story behind this wordless novel. I would use this book in the classroom by showing the children the pictures. And let them come up with their own stories using their imagination.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lexi

    Fascinating!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Fredrik Strömberg

    A good starting point for anyone interested in woodcut novels, or simply interested in the history of visual storytelling. Content: Beronä gives a short historical background to the phenomenon of wordless novels, followed by nine chapters focusing mostly on one artist each, presenting basic facts about their lives and careers and presentations and short analysis of their major works. The book finishes with a very short chapter with conclusions and a bibliography of the featured artists. Critique: T A good starting point for anyone interested in woodcut novels, or simply interested in the history of visual storytelling. Content: Beronä gives a short historical background to the phenomenon of wordless novels, followed by nine chapters focusing mostly on one artist each, presenting basic facts about their lives and careers and presentations and short analysis of their major works. The book finishes with a very short chapter with conclusions and a bibliography of the featured artists. Critique: There's much to like about this book; the comprehensive list of artist working in this oft forgotten media (several of whom I had not heard of before), the many, often full-page illustrations that makes it possible to see what it's all about and the comprehensive bibliography for those (like myself) who wants to explore this fascinating subject further. Sadly there's also several things making this less of an ideal read. The texts mostly present the facts and describe the stories in these wordless tales (which in itself is an incongruity...) but leaves less room for analysis and connecting the works to their historical and cultural context, which left me a bit unsatisfied after finishing the book. Then there's the problem with the illustrations. They are plentiful, yes, but often sorted together as a separate section within each chapter, forcing the reader to flip back and forth between text and image section, which disturbs the reading. Then there's the fact that these sections present these illustrations out of sequence, often jumping back and forth in the story-lines, which makes reading these pages troublesome as they invite to a sequential reading that was not intended. Despite the above qualms, this is still a book well worth reading, though it should be accompanied by some of the more recent collections of the full, chronological publications of the works discussed, such as Graphic Witness: Four Wordless Graphic Novels, Three Graphic Novels: The Sun / The Idea / Story Without Words or Six Novels in Woodcuts. Comments: A friend of mine once told me that the way to evaluate a world atlas is always to check how it displays your own backyard, a wisdom which of course can be applied to most things in life. Concerning the subject of wordless comics, which is covered in one of Beronä's chapters, I happen to be very well aquatinted with the wordless comic Adamson (which was produced in the US as Silent Sam), simply because the original artist, Oscar Jacobsson, was Swedish. The fact that this enormously popular comic, which was produced for more than three decades and published in newspapers and countless collections all over the world, is not only not the chosen example of wordless comics, but not even mentioned in the whole book, tells me that I won't be taking the list of artists and works in this book to be comprehensive in any way.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

    An awesome and insightful overview of the small canon of wordless black-and-white novels from the early 20th century, chock full of graphic samples from many of them. This book's only shortcoming is that it doesn't depict a complete narrative of picture sequences, which is the real feat of the wordless book. It is, however, a fine launching point for discovering the work of Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward, Otto Nückel, Si Lewen, Helena Bochořáková and many others. An awesome and insightful overview of the small canon of wordless black-and-white novels from the early 20th century, chock full of graphic samples from many of them. This book's only shortcoming is that it doesn't depict a complete narrative of picture sequences, which is the real feat of the wordless book. It is, however, a fine launching point for discovering the work of Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward, Otto Nückel, Si Lewen, Helena Bochořáková and many others.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Brendan

    I made the mistake of not looking at this carefully before buying - it's not a collection of woodcut novels but a meditation upon the medium. In spite of my oversight I enjoyed this immensely, with detailed research and background on each of the featured authors, and copious amounts of examples from their work (enough to convince this guy that they were in fact, complete. Perfect for any fan of the genre who would like a little context around the medium and the time it was made. I made the mistake of not looking at this carefully before buying - it's not a collection of woodcut novels but a meditation upon the medium. In spite of my oversight I enjoyed this immensely, with detailed research and background on each of the featured authors, and copious amounts of examples from their work (enough to convince this guy that they were in fact, complete. Perfect for any fan of the genre who would like a little context around the medium and the time it was made.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    Attractive and informative. A good beginner's guide to 11 early graphic novels from 1918 to 1951. Although the contents were mostly descriptions of the illustrations, the illustrations themselves are of good quality and colour ones are included in the back. Attractive and informative. A good beginner's guide to 11 early graphic novels from 1918 to 1951. Although the contents were mostly descriptions of the illustrations, the illustrations themselves are of good quality and colour ones are included in the back.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Meatball Brown

    Awesome. Masreel and Lynd Ward are inspirational artists, and learning about other artists' work is always welcome. Awesome. Masreel and Lynd Ward are inspirational artists, and learning about other artists' work is always welcome.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mckinley

    1918-1951 books

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Only useful as the slightest of introductions to the genre, Berona's book summarizes a handful of major works and offers little to no genuine insight into what makes them great. Only useful as the slightest of introductions to the genre, Berona's book summarizes a handful of major works and offers little to no genuine insight into what makes them great.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    Wow. This is an amazing collection of the first "graphic novels." My only complaint, is that I would have liked the full text of some of the harder to get novels. Wow. This is an amazing collection of the first "graphic novels." My only complaint, is that I would have liked the full text of some of the harder to get novels.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Noe

    Not what I was looking for. However, the name/book dropping of Understanding Comics and Scott McCloud, R.C. Harvey and Will Eisner should prove helpful.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    Grand. The art within is jaw-dropping.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alice

  16. 4 out of 5

    Johannes05

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ademption

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

  19. 5 out of 5

    Charity

  20. 5 out of 5

    Amber

  21. 4 out of 5

    Michael Martin

  22. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lesley

  24. 5 out of 5

    Gen

  25. 5 out of 5

    Geert Vandermeersche

  26. 5 out of 5

    Will

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kris

  28. 5 out of 5

    Brian

  29. 5 out of 5

    Drew

  30. 5 out of 5

    Michael

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