America’s First Graphic Novel

You learn something new all the time.  In this case, it’s Lynd Ward‘s God’s Man.

Slate examines the medium’s moral implications, because the Library of Congress has just collected Ward’s efforts into a singular collection:

Call me crazy. Flipping through the first wordless novel published in America, Gods’ Man by Lynd Ward, which came out the week of the Great Crash of 1929, I kept thinking about Moby-Dick, one of the wordiest novels ever, illustrated the next year by Rockwell Kent. Yes, Gods’ Man is Moby-Dick without the text, the subtleties, or the whaling, if you can picture that—a silent moral tale of a man warring with his soul.

Told in 139 wood engravings, Gods’ Man opens with a small, tempest-tossed skiff. The waves seem to talk or at least gesticulate. There’s a calm after the storm. The solo sailor salutes sun and clouds, then draws the scene. (His paper stayed dry!) The boat’s cleat behind him looks like a whale’s tail on the horizon. Soon mast and rigging form a small Brooklyn Bridge pointing to a metropolis. (Yo, Hart Crane!) The Artistic Man walks ashore, portfolio in hand. A Dark Man in a top hat gives him a quick art history tour—Egyptian tomb artists to Van Gogh—to prove to him that every great artist had a magic pen/brush/gouge like the one he’s offering. (Free, when you send us your soul.) Artistic Man trades soul for magic tool. Briefly finds fame and fortune. Learns women are whores. Retreats to the mountains and finds a Good Wife, who bears him an Artistic Child. Dark Man returns to collect. Artistic Man is torn from his Happy Home. Salutes Good Wife and Artistic Child. Sky darkens. Dark Man takes off top hat and mask. Is Death.

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