So researching about proto-graphic novels led me to Lynd Ward, who I’d never heard of despite this collection having blurbs about him from Will Eisner & Robert Crumb & an extensive introduction from Art Spiegelman. That said, the artwork feels familiar, that I have been exposed to it somewhere along the way, maybe in a history of printmaking course.
Ward’s work is silent woodcuts. Collections of a hundred images (one per page) with no narrative text to help you know what’s going on. All of them feel claustrophobic, conspiratory, & vaguely Kafka-esque. Strangely, his first from 1929, Gods’ Man, seems his best; I think in part because the storyline (an artist selling his soul) is well known enough to follow without words. Madman’s Drum I don’t understand what’s going on really; I can tell it’s an attempt to tell a more complicated story with more characters, but so much so that it could work as images only (I certainly feel it doesn’t here). Wild Pilgrimage has a Metropolis dystopian escape vibe & it has an interesting experiment with dream sequences being printed in a different color than the reality portions, however you only know that if you read commentary as there isn’t a clue to that within the book itself. In the end I’d say all of Lynd Ward’s art is phenomenal, but Gods’ Man really is both an important step in sequential art & a well-told story worth checking out.