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Gods' Man / Mad Man's Drum / Wild Pilgrimage…
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Gods' Man / Mad Man's Drum / Wild Pilgrimage

by Lynd Ward

Other authors: Art Spiegelman (Editor, Introduction)

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This graphic novel was published in 1930; over the course of 8 years Lynd Ward produced six of these wordless novels, an amazing accomplishment.
The story begins with a slave trader murdering an African native and taking the man's drum, which is engraved with a demonic face. The trader returns home, mounts the drum and the sword with which he killed its original owner above his fireplace, and sets the stage for his family's doom to play out over the next two generations. (Does any of this sound Faulknerian to you?) Ward's style goes from gothic to grotesque, and his story a bit hard to follow. I "read" through it twice, and the themes of greed, suspicion, sexual depravity, desperation, cruelty and injustice are very clearly portrayed. It will need at least one more go-through to "get" all the plot points spelled out in descriptions I have read. There is a lot of visual symbolism, and some of it escaped me. I need more practice at this type of "reading". I have read only one other graphic novel, but it is a genre I intend to explore more fully, as I know there is great stuff out there. Since I have both Library of America volumes of his work on hand, it seemed to make sense to start more or less at the beginning, as Ward is a pretty strong contender for paternity of the GN on this continent. This is not, apparently, considered the best of Ward's novels, so I look forward to seeing what else he has in store for me. He illustrated a good many other books, including editions of Robinson Crusoe, Frankenstein, The Swiss Family Robinson and Beowulf. He also won the Caldecott Medal for a children's picture book titled The Biggest Bear. Clearly a man of broad talent.
Reviewed August 2014 ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Dec 28, 2017 |
With the exhibition of expressionist German woodcuts at LACMA last month, I figured it was finally time to read this. It's a wonderful book, and even though there's a single woodcut on every two-page spread, the wordless stories are complex enough that they don't read as quickly as you might imagine. With no language to help you along, Ward asks the readers to study the woodcuts a bit more than you would with a modern comic book. That's just as well, since these woodcuts are gorgeous.

The stories themselves increase in complexity through the volume, and through time as Ward gained experience and confidence in his medium. God's Man is a bare-bones Faustian fable; Madman's Drum is a generational meditation on sin and misfortune; and Wild Pilgrimage, the most complex work here, is an exploration of labor, idleness, worker's struggle, reverie, and madness that uses woodcuts in two colors to represent aspects of the story. I'm still not sure I've figured that last one out, and may need to read it again.

I had no idea how woodcuts were produced when I started this book. It made me want to learn more, and some essays by Ward in the back explicate the process for the curious reader. This book reorganized my brain enough that the expressionist exhibitions at LACMA were much more meaningful on my second visit. At the Alternative Press Expo last week, a signal pleasure was stumbling into Eric Drooker's presentation and recognizing that Ward was a major influence of his (followed by my immediate purchase of Flood). ( )
1 vote Brian.McGovney | Mar 30, 2013 |
Will Eisner has been called the father of the graphic novel. That title more properly belongs to Lynd Ward, although as a beginning artist he was inspired by a German graphic novel by Frans Masereel, "Die Sonne" ("The Sun"), the story of a modern Icarus. Lynd Ward, in addition to a fine traditional career as an artist and illustrator, created several graphic novels in woodcut prints, of which three ("God's Man", Madman's Drum" and "Wild Pilgrimage") are reprinted here. "God's Drum is a macabre tale of a struggling artist who meets a mysterious figure cloaked in black who gives him a sort of enchanted brush which has been used to great effect by legendary artists through the centuries. The artist signs a contract, and embarks upon a successful career which brings fame and fortune. He eventually becomes disgusted by the shallow banality of this new life and rejects it violently, and is chased from the city by an enraged mob. He comes to a mountain meadow and is rescued by a sweet and simple lady goatherder. He marries her and they have a son who follows in his father's artistic footsteps, and he is happy in this simple life - until the cloaked figure returns and reminds him of the terms of his contract. "Madman's Drum" is an even stranger and darker tale, and seems to be about the malevolent influence of a magical drum which is seized by a white slaver from the hands of an African he has just killed. "Wild Pilgrimage" is a psychological allegory with several themes such as Labor versus Capital, the Individual versus Society, Nature versus Development, and weaves a subjective series of images in red among the objective woodcuts done in black and white. The stories are a mixed bag, and sometimes too multilayered to figure out in one reading. But for me the main draw is those beautifully glorious woodprints, stark and powerful images that remind me strongly of another favorite artist of mine, Rockwell Kent. With a foreword by Art Spiegelman ("Maus") and essays by Ward on his creative process and the making of these books. ( )
  burnit99 | Mar 11, 2012 |
I'd never heard of Lynd Ward before I found this book, which is a shame. Ward was an artist/illustrator going back to the 1920's and is credited with being one of the fathers of the American graphic novel. This book collects Ward's first three novels, the first of which was published less than a week before the stock market crashed in 1929. All three are 'written' in woodblock prints without any text. The prints are absolutely beautiful and are what make these novels worth looking into because, sadly, the stories can be a bit tricky to follow. It's easy enough to get the basic plot and themes of the stories, but the details tend to be difficult to interpret as their visual cues do not necessarily have the same meaning for the reader as it did for the storyteller.

All in all it's a fine art book and it even has a few short essays by the artist reflecting on the novels and his work process. ( )
  fundevogel | Feb 25, 2011 |
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Lynd Wardprimary authorall editionscalculated
Spiegelman, ArtEditor, Introductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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From the eve of the Great Depression to the onset of World War II, Lynd Ward, America's first great graphic novelist, bore witness to the roiling, dizzying national scene as both a master printmaker and a socially committed storyteller. His medium of expression, the wordless "novel in woodcuts," was his alone in the United States, and he quickly brought it from bold iconic infancy to a still unrivaled richness of drama, characterization, imagery, and technique. In this , the first of two volumes collecting all his woodcut novels, The Library of America brings together Ward's earliest books, published when the artist was still in his twenties. Gods' Man (1929), the audaciously ambitious work that made Ward's reputation, is a modern morality play, an allegory of the deadly bargain a striving young artist often makes with life. Madman's Drum (1930), a multigenerational saga worthy of Faulkner, traces the legacy of violence haunting a family whose stock-in-trade is human souls. Wild Pilgrimage (1932), perhaps the most accomplished of these early books, is a study in the brutalization of an American factory worker whose heart can still respond to beauty but whose mind is twisted in rage against the system and its shackles. The images reproduced in this volume are taken from prints pulled from the original woodblocks or first-generation electrotypes. Ward's novels are presented, for the first time since the 1930s, in the format that the artist intended, one image per right-hand page, and are followed by four essays in which he discusses the technical challenges of his craft. Art Spiegelman contributes an introductory essay. "Reading Pictures," that defines Ward's towering achievement in that most demanding of graphic-story forms, the wordless novel in woodcuts.… (more)

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