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Wordless Books: The Original Graphic Novels

(Abrams), by David A. Beron

Jul. 23, 2008
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   Graphic novels have been all the rage for the past 20 years, but Art Spiegelman’s groundbreaking Maus, depicting the Holocaust in drawings of Jewish mice and their feline Nazi predators, wasn’t the first original novel told primarily in pictures. Wordless Books examines several little-known artists from the early 20th century who composed “woodcut novels.” The author, who teaches at Vermont’s Center for Cartoon Studies, has chosen a handful of European and American artists, most of whom used the medium as a leftist critique of capitalist society. Whether or not Wordless Books portrays a representative sample, the many pages of black-and-white images are striking for their stylized artistry, which ranges from satirical cartooning to high Expressionism, as well as their political content.

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