Thursday, May 8, 2008

Why Wordless? Part 2

When I first read Storyteller Without Words: The Wood engravings of Lynd Ward, published by Abrams in 1974, I was immediately awestruck by the intense stories told in pictures without words. These were not your children’s picture books but rather books for adults that displayed themes of social injustice, family squalor during the Depression, and fantasy worlds that reflected a strong psychological focus. I looked for more information on Ward and a few other artists who published wordless books, like Frans Masereel and Otto Nückel and was surprised how little had been written about their work. I was first encouraged by Professor Estelle Jussim when I was in graduate school at Simmons College in Boston to pursue this area of research. While I pursued my professional career as an academic librarian after graduation, I continued my research on wordless books. I have, in the last twenty years, made contact with many print makers like Kurt Webb, scholars like Perry Willett, cartoonists like Eric Drooker, and the Ward family and friends. In addition I visited many Special Collections, such as those at Georgetown University and Columbia, to research the papers of Ward and others. With my research skills as a librarian, I was able to track down many original books and began to deliver papers and write articles on this topic. I paid my own travel and expenses as well as received funding from grants to support the research I conducted during my summer vacations. My big break came when noted scholar and writer John Lent heard a paper I gave about these books at the Popular Culture Association Annual Conference in 1994. He mentioned my topic to Lucy Caswell, editor of Inks: Comic and Cartoon Studies, which was one of the few peer reviewed journal on comics and where I published my first scholarly article on wordless books. With the growing interest in comics and graphic novels in the last ten years, public attention grew for my topic on wordless books. I shared a feature story I had written for AB Bookman with Will Eisner, father of the term, “graphic novel.” Will appreciated my thoughts on this topic and wrote a chapter in his book, Graphic Storytelling, on wordless books and credited me in his Foreword. I continued to write and present papers on this topic and went back for my second Master’s Degree where I wrote my thesis on Lynd Ward. A few years ago, during one of my visits to the Center for Cartoon Studies, where I lectured on wordless books, James Sturm, the director of the college, and I talked about a book on this topic. When James and I were down in New York for an opening of the exhibit, “The Jewish Graphic Novel,” I met his agent, Judy Hansen. When I mentioned my research on wordless books, she became very interested and asked for a book proposal. Since I had most of the book already written, I took a few months to polish up my manuscript, which I sent to her. She sent this later to Charles Kochman, senior editor at Abrams, who was excited enough about this material to buy the rights to my book.