Before Daniel Clowes and Adrian Tomine, before Frank Miller and Alan Moore, and even before Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, there was Lynd Ward — America’s first, real graphic novelist. The terms “visionary” or “pioneer” could be applied to Ward, but the truth is that he was making graphic novels way before it was cool, and probably before it was even thought possible to create such a thing. Between 1929 and 1937, he dared to tell dramatic adult stories with just a series of woodcut images and his own vision.
Born in 1905 in Chicago, Ward lived through some of the most tumultuous moments of the 20th Century, most of which found a way into his dynamic, wordless picture books, now widely regarded as the origins of the modern graphic novel. His stories included sociopolitical commentary on the inter-war atmosphere of dread — the sinking American economy, the meteoric rise of European fascism, and the effect of swift industrialization on the self-hood of the worker — as well as more thoughtful matters, such as the whether or not the soul could survive in the modern age, or the price of artistic ambition and greed.