Posts Tagged ‘Lynd Ward’

Dexterous platitudes


Monday, November 8, 2010

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I’ve been doing research recently on Lynd Ward (whose wordless woodcut novels were just published by the Library of America). I found a trove of New York Times reviews of these early books—they all appeared between 1929 and 1937—and in each, the reviewer has a hard time taking the material seriously.  Take, for instance, a 1933 Times review of Prelude to a Million Years. The review is by John Chamberlain, a syndicated columnist and book critic.

What the ‘reader’ will make of a series of woodcuts which tell this story is conjectural. For our own part, we wish Mr. Ward would employ his dexterity in catching shades of emotion in the illustration of other people’s written stories. The art of painting, or of the woodcut, by its very static nature, is not a good medium for drama, which must march. It is a platitude, of course, to say this, but the platitude has not yet convinced Mr. Ward.

Aside from the laughable “critical” faculties at work here, it’s interesting that the idea of pictures standing in for words seems such a difficult concept to grasp. Chamberlain feels that pictures in books are for illustration; they are secondary to the words and ought to play a supporting role. What might he have said of a comic book, in which words and pictures work together, often on equal footing?

The reviewer’s small-minded conception of the medium makes this quote by Ward, part of his 1953 Caldecott acceptance speech, in which he so succinctly describes what comics alone can do, all the better:

No other medium in which the artist can work has that particular element to offer, and it is that one thing that makes the book a form something different for the artist from what it is for the writer. It is true that the writer works with a succession of words, paragraphs and chapters that because of their sequence in time have a significance completely dependent upon that time sequence; but the turning of the page is not essential to that sequence, and, save at the end of the chapter, is more often than not likely to be an interruption that is tolerated rather than utilized for its own sake. For the artist, however, the turning of the page is the thing he has that no other worker in the visual artist has: the power to control a succession of images in time, so that the cumulative effect upon the viewer is the result of not only what images are thrown at him, but the order in which they come. Thus the significance of those coming late in the sequence is built up by what comes earlier.

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The Tradition of the Woodcut Novel


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

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Lynd Ward

One of the great things about the Library of America series is that it encourages renewed attention to unfashionable books. Journalism is very present-orientated; magazines and newspapers need the hook of a new book as an excuse for revisiting a classic. Thanks to the LOA, we’ve had major critical essays in places like  The New Yorker and Harper’s on John Dos Passos and Manny Farber.

Lynd Ward is the latest beneficiary. The Library of America has issued a two volume set reprinting six of his wood cut novels, expertly introduced by Art Spiegelman. This set has already elicited a thoughtful review essay by Sarah Boxer in Slate (see here). (more…)

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Westermann and friends


Monday, August 9, 2010

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Judging from Frank’s most recent posts, he’s spending this month swimming and drinking, which is the way to play it in August. Sadly, I have no pool and I get drunk really easily, so I went to art galleries instead. Lucky for me, though, I discovered a small show of lithographs, woodcuts, and linocuts by the great and massively influential H.C. Westermann at George Adams Gallery. In addition to a few superb color works, such as Red Deathship, from 1967 . . .

. . . the show includes his “Disasters in the Sky” series, small black-and-white linocuts that depict futuristic cities and horrific plane crashes.

The mask-like faces, like the one above, resemble Basil Wolverton’s grim, rubbery caricatures. Some from this series seem to suggest a narrative, and I thought of wordless novels, like Laurence Hyde’s Southern Cross and any one of Lynd Ward’s books. Westermann, Hyde, and Ward all wrote/drew tales with a political, antimilitary stance. The city’s undulating architecture and elevated, snaking roadways made me think of Jimbo‘s La Bufadora, which would be a great place to spend the summer—poolside clambakes, robot fights, special group rates. (more…)

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