Graphic Witness: Four Wordless Graphic Novels.


422 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 978-1-55407-270-5
DDC 741.5'9





Edited by Selected by George A. Walker
Reviewed by Tami Oliphant

Tami Oliphant is a Ph.D. candidate in Library and Information Studies at the University of Western Ontario.


This jaw-dropping anthology, smartly selected and introduced by wood engraver, book artist, and illustrator George A. Walker, powerfully showcases the lesser-known woodcut artists of the early 20th century. The four works included in the collection cover a time period marked by tumultuous social upheaval (1918–1951), but the themes tackled in the works—political unrest, racism, economic depression, job loss, and the fear of war and nuclear annihilation—are all undoubtedly applicable to the present.


The first story, “The Passion of a Man,” was written by Frans Masereel, the inventor of the wordless novel. His work was eventually suppressed by the Nazis because of its deeply political nature. “Wild Pilgrimage” by Lynd Ward touches on issues of racism, divisions in the labour movement, and explores a man’s inner conscience as he comes to terms with life in a soul-destroying city. Giacomo Patri’s “White Collar” explores the stark aftermath of job loss during the Great Depression, whereas Canadian Laurence Hyde’s “Southern Cross” criticizes the U.S. army’s testing of the hydrogen bomb at the Bikini Atoll in 1946.


While the stories focus on social justice, the magnificence of the collection lies in the woodcuts. The woodcuts effortlessly convey the kind of emotion writers working with mere words struggle to express. These are stories meant to be read again and again. The woodcuts are exquisite, particularly those in the graphic novel, “Southern Cross.”


The book is bound beautifully and Walker carefully illustrates and explains the various tools and techniques used by the master woodcut artists. He provides brief biographies of each of the artists represented in the anthology and describes the importance of their work both in terms of a historical context and in terms of their value for a present-day audience. Equally useful is the attached bibliography for further reading.


Graphic Witness reminds readers how disturbing suffering is and that the fight for social justice is ongoing. This book is highly recommended for all libraries and scholars interested in the field, but its appeal is universal.


“Graphic Witness: Four Wordless Graphic Novels.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 13, 2024,