Now that all but the most hard-headed snobs have knuckled under and at least paid lip service to the graphic novel—go ahead and call the form “sequential art” if you’re a proponent who’s still feeling a bit insecure—along comes the estimable Library of America’s first foray into the genre, a two-volume, 1,408-page set of Lynd Ward’s six landmark novels in woodcuts. The collection delivers a ringing defense of the art, as well as a history lesson, without spilling a single word.
Starting with 1929’s Gods’ Man, Ward produced this work over a period of eight years. The gorgeous new edition follows Ward’s preferred format, one woodcut per page, and the narratives unfold with remarkable clarity from one striking image to the next. The themes—economic disparity, war, oppression, and the struggle to make art in a troubled world—are as relevant today as they were when the original books were published.
This article first appeared in the March-April 2011 issue of Utne Reader.