By Lynd Ward
Published by Library of America
Copyright: © 2010
Lynd Ward was born in Chicago at the beginning of the 20th century, a son of a Methodist minister who became the first chairman of the ACLU, Harry Ward. Lynd inherited his father’s socialist-communist beliefs which he liberally infused into his books, usually without any pretense of subtlety.
After graduating with a fine arts degree from Columbia Teachers College he with his wife immediately left for Germany where he studied etching and wood engraving at the National Academy of Graphic Arts and Bookmaking. While in Germany he stumbled across a novel by a Flemish artist, Franz Masereel which was done entirely in woodcuts without words, showing him the path to his future.
Lynd and his wife returned to the States in 1927 and a few years later America’s and Ward’s first wordless woodcut novel appeared in 1929: ‘Gods’ Man’. ‘Gods’ Man’, a Faustian tale in 139 engraved woodblocks made Ward’s name synonymous with graphic novels and woodcuts.
Ward went on to create five more woodcut novels plus two more that he never finished. The second novel, ‘Madman’s Drum’ revolved around a slave trader and the evil he brought into his family. ‘Wild Pilgrimage’ brings a blue-collar worker face to face with the responsibilities of life. ‘Prelude to a Million Years’ is the second shortest novel at 30 engravings that Ward produced which attempted to find beauty in a world of ugly. The shortest novel, ‘Song Without Words’ consisting of twenty-one woodcuts, came next, drawing a picture of a woman’s fear of bringing a newborn into a less than perfect world. His final book was his epic ‘Vertigo’ in 230 engravings telling the story of three intertwined individuals coming to grips with the economic realities of the Great Depression.
Except for ‘Gods’ Man’ which was printed on Black Thursday, the day that brought the world the Great Depression, all the other novels were created during the 1930’s providing a backdrop for Ward’s often dark, fatalistic novels.
Lynd Ward’s novels usually take more than one ‘reading’ to formulate the story he is drawing for you. With multiple readings you may reach the meaning he intended but I had more fun creating my own story from his black and white visions.
(The woodcut in the upper right is a self-portrait of Ward as a young man. The skeleton in the top hat is from his first novel, ‘Gods’ Man’.)