by Lynd Ward
An entirely wordless novel told through woodcuts alone, the book details a young artist traveling to a new city who gives his last coin to a beggar. He’s unable to pay for his later meal and the proprietor is about to get nasty when the artist offers a drawing in lieu of payment. It is not accepted. A stranger steps in, pays the owner for the food and sits with the artist discussing his portfolio. He offers the artist a special brush, used throughout the ages by the world’s greatest artists, in exchange for something. The artist agrees, signs a contract with the stranger, and leaves with the brush to become a popular phenomenon in short order.
This is the very beginning of the story, the whole of which is told in about 140 woodcuts. One of the great pleasures of this book is puzzling out the story for yourself since it’s told with pictures only and open to interpretation. In fact, it’s difficult to explain how much you’ll enjoy getting at the story this way. You get a sense of accomplishment with each completed image locking into place in the narrative in your head. It might be easy to think of this format as challenging, but once you’re comfortable with your own pace, and comfortable with the unique idea of telling your own story as you study the images, this is quite an amazing experience.
There’s an introduction explaining a few things about his life and the technique from Mr. Ward and a preface with a bit of historical perspective by woodcut artist Barry Moser, but neither are necessary to dive right in if you’d prefer. You have all the tools you need for this novel with your mind, your eyes and your heart, not to mention your own experiences. If you’ve read graphic novels or comics you’re already partway there, but that kind of background isn’t required.
The book is quite highly recommended. If you keep this on your coffee table and allow guests to open it up, be prepared to explain a few things and leave them alone for a bit while they read. It’s compelling.