Wordless Stories for Adults

As a librarian, I read daily, whether it’s emails, tweets, blog posts, magazines, a variety of news sources (hard to call them papers anymore), and naturally, books. These words add up. I figured out once that I read about 200 words a minute on average, and when I count the minutes and hours I read over the course of a day, I reckon I read somewhere around 50,000 words a day. I’m sure I’m not alone, and I’m probably below average, compared to many people I know.

So it comes as a great relief to me to read books without words. The idea sounds strange, I know. How can you possibly read if there are no words? How can anyone tell a story without words? When we talk about stories, we can’t avoid using words, and we imply that stories can’t avoid using words either. It’s a strange little conundrum.

We’ve written about wordless books before, but those were children’s books that adults could read with their kids. Here are some beautifully illustrated books for adults (more or less!) that will engage you with a complete lack of words.

                                Speechless: Sans Paroles = Sin Palabras : World History without Words, by Polyp

Spanish radical humanist and cartoonist Polyp tells the history of the world without using words, although there is a running text in the back if you need to fill some gaps.

                                    Metronome, by Véronique Tanaka

The rise and fall of a love affair between a man and woman. You fill in the words where they could not.


                           Congress of the Animals, by Jim Woodring

Local artist Jim Woodring gives us his second full-length graphic novel. In this book, Frank loses his home, searches the world to find someplace new, and even leaves the Unifactor. Is this the end of Frank as we know him, though?

 The Arrival, by Shaun Tan

A man must leave his home and make his way in a new country where he does not speak the language. He tells his story to other immigrants, who share their stories, all without words.

 Ten Birds, by Cybèle Young

This one is geared for children – it’s about counting and problem solving – but beautifully shows some intelligent thinking on the part of some birds who need to cross a river.

4 thoughts on “Wordless Stories for Adults”

  1. Lovely, I’ll be checking some of these out! I just came across The Arrival down at Magic Mouse Toys and was totally spellbound. Another great one is Eric Drooker’s Blood Song— which reminds me to look up his other wordless novels!

  2. ooh – I LOVE Eric Drooker’s stuff, Ashley! – Flood!, also. And generally just all that expressionistic, woodcutty proletarian wordless book stuff – there’s that wonderful 2 volume edition of Lynd Ward that the Library of American just came out with last year – really terrific, and I bet a big influence on Drooker. We’ve got some other good collections of these as well – “Wordless Books: The Original Graphic Novels” and “Graphic Witness: Four Wordless Graphic Novels.”

  3. Speechless is anything but perspectiveless. I found it much more challenging to extract even a bare majority of the thought presented in each panel than I would ever have thought. In fact it’s reduction of human history to the most basic human traits leads to a deep, if not always cheery, mediatation on how we got into this mess, and I haven’t finished the book yet. Thanks, Wally for expanding my point of view.

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