God’s Man

God’s Man is a wordless novel that was published in 1929 by the American artist Lynd Ward. This was also the first American wordless novel. This novel is made up entirely of woodcuts, and the novel also tells a story of an artist who signs away his soul for a magic paintbrush.

This is a picture of the cover for the book I had chosen for this assignment.

When I first looked at this novel the title intrigued me because I had never heard of a wordless book to be made up of woodblock prints. I definitely knew when I first saw it that this was the Special Collections book that I would want to write about and do further research on. Being able to tell a story with such fascinating pictures is always something I wish I could be able to do because it takes a lot of creativity to be able to publish a novel like this one. It definitely looks like it would be considered a graphic novel whenever I first looked at it, and normally graphic novels are not something that interests me, but for some reason this novel got my attention right away with the illustrations.

In my opinion, the book is an average size to me, and I find this kind of odd because the pictures on the inside don’t cover the whole page. But that is just another reason why this novel is unique in its own way. Another thing that I found that was interesting with the physical nature of the book is that the pages are very rough feeling and the sides of the pages are kind of jagged. This may be because of how old the book is, but I feel that this aspect allows the book to have character. In my opinion it’s all about the features of the book that define it as a classic novel. Since the pages are so worn out on the sides and the color has this yellow tint to it, the reader can tell that this book has been through a lot over the decades. The smell of this book also gives me this great felling because it has that special book smell that most classic novels have.

This is a picture of one of the woodcut illustrations in the book. I thought the contrast in this illustration was unique and wanted to take a picture of it.

A feature that obviously stands out with this novel are the multiple illustrations that are used to tell the story. There are 139 caption less illustrations that are all woodcuts, and this is something that I found very fascinating. I don’t think I had ever seen woodcuts before so it was a great experience to be able to see something brand new to me. The illustrations are very detailed and do not look like illustrations I have seen before in other novels. Compared to the novels that were also available I feel like the woodcut process was more unique because of all of the steps it took to make all of the illustrations. The illustrations also made me wonder about how creative Lynd Ward must have been throughout his career since he was known for his series of wordless novels using wood engraving. Overall, I very much enjoyed being able to take a closer look at this novel because of all of the fascinating features it has as well as the great story that this novel tells with the illustrations.

I think the first thing that stands out to me as to why this book is important enough to collect is because it was the first American wordless novel. I believe that is something that is very special and definitely shows the advancement of American artists during that time. Being able to look and touch a book that was the first of its kind is very special. According to Eric Bulson, “Ward realized from Gods’ Man to Vertigo (1937) was the power that an extended sequence of silent pages could have on the way stories could be told and consumed.” This realization that Ward had is very important in regard to the major impact this novel had on the people who read the novel. Creating a wordless novel with woodcut illustrations is something that a lot of people at the time found uncommon because of how different it was to what people were used to. These aspects of God’s Man are what made it a novel that people valued as special and wanted to be able to collect.

God’s Man is valued for the illustrations and printing quality that Ward had used while creating this novel. Since it is a novel with just woodcut illustrations, that is what really caught the eye of the viewers, and, “He decided on “novel in woodcuts” because it emphasized both the length of the narrative and the material out of which the prints were made (wood for the paper and the blocks) (Bulson). However, some people at this time did believe that this technique was out of tune with the modern world and wondered why anyone would want to use woodcuts when there were much easier and cheaper ways to produce images (Bulson). I feel this is another reason as to why God’s Man is a part of the Special Collections books because of how different it was compared to other novels at the time. Nobody would have thought about publishing a wordless novel made up entirely of woodcut illustrations, but Ward was able to accomplish this and allowed for new opportunities to arise in the art community.

This is another picture of one of the many illustrations in the book.

God’s Man influenced a lot of other creators throughout time to produce things. I feel that it was an example for a new beginning on how to create stories. Even though this novel is not technically a graphic novel, it had a major impact on the different styles of graphic novels when they were starting to become very well-known. God’s Man led to a revival of medieval woodcut tradition and was able to start a new trend with story-telling (“Graphic Novel”). Ward was also admired by a lot of left-leaning artists and writers who were inspired by God’s Man to produce some of their work. For example, “Allen Ginsberg used imagery from Gods’ Man in his poem Howl (1956) and referred to the images of the city and jail in Ward’s book in the poem’s annotations. Abstract expressionist painter Paul Jenkins wrote Ward in 1981 of the influence the book’s “energy and unprecedented originality” had on his own art” (“God’s Man”). Ward was able to let other people be inspired by his work to create art in their own way and had a lasting impact on those artists and writers.

In conclusion, it was a great experience to be able to do research on God’s Man as well as to be able to have hands-on time with the book to look at all of the illustrations. At first I did not think I was going to be interested in doing this project but I am very thankful I did because I was able to learn so much valuable information.


Works Cited

Bulson, Eric. “A great, wordless, American storyteller.” The leading international forum for literary culture, The Times Literary Supplement Limited, 14 Dec. 2011, http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article842094.ece.

“Gods’ Man.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Apr. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gods’_Man.

“Graphic Novel.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Jan. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphic_novel.