graphic novel, old school


Long before graphic novels earned a dedicated section in bookstores — indeed, before the term “graphic novel” was even coined — the American wood engraver and illustrator Lynd Ward (1905-85) created six enduring examples of the form. Ward was one of only a handful of artists in the world who bucked literary convention by eliminating all words but the title from standard narrative works. His novels often contained more than 100 ­pages, with one image per right-hand page. The pictures, influenced by German Expressionism, were dark and melodramatic, as though taken directly from an early film noir storyboard. Ward’s thematically related sequences and cinematic pacing bridged the divide between mass comics and the more rarefied illustrated book. Now this groundbreaking work, originally published between 1929 and 1937, has been collected in “Six Novels in Woodcuts,” the first graphic fiction from the Library of America. In his enlightening introduction to this hefty two-volume collection, the editor, Art Spiegelman, notes it was only a few decades ago that extended comics, published in book format with actual spines instead of staples, started being referred to as graphic novels.

more from Steven Heller at the NYT here.