Art Spiegelman on the Woodcuts of Lynd Ward

Ward’s wordless woodcut novels (like Prince Valiant, come to think of it) were easier for Western culture to embrace than comics in all their raffish splendor. In a pervasively influential eighteenth-century essay, Laocoon: or The limits of Poetry and Painting, by the German aesthetician, Gotthold Lessing, Western culture was admonished against confusing between the nature of poetry or prose—written forms whose province is time, and the nature of visual forms like painting and sculpture, whose province is spatial.

Nothing could violate this long-held aesthetic taboo more directly than comics, a kind of picture-writing—the very layout of a comics artist’s page insists on pulling the reader from one drawing to the next. Ward also trafficked in time, of course, but by inviting the eye to rest on each isolated composition—unsullied by written language—he was sneakier about it.