Wordless Comics

In the influential graphic novel Understanding Comics, creator Scott McCloud defines comics as:

“Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in a deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.”

Notice that this definition does not include any specific mention of comics requiring words in order to be considered comics. Words, sure, fit under the generously vague “other images” category, but, at their most unadorned, comics simply need images put together in a particular order to be comics.

These “wordless comics” still require reading, just of a different sort. Images, on a spectrum of realistic to abstract, are associated with each other and meaning is made, just as with interpreting letters and words. Wordless comics use “silence” to their advantage by necessitating a closer reading of the colors, backgrounds, moods, layouts, line-work, and body language of the characters.

Nat Turner by Kyle Baker and The Arrival by Shaun Tan depict the violent and disorienting experiences of slaves and immigrants attempting to survive in worlds in which they have no control, funneling the reader into an experience of intense feelings and emotional truths.

Gon and The Age of Reptiles represent a genre of wordless animal comics that evoke a more visceral response from the reader rather than textually and factually explaining the lives of animals.

In Marvel’s Hawkeye vol. 2 Little Hits’ “Pizza Dog” issue #11, creators Matt Fraction and David Aja follow the titular character’s dog in a “day in the life of an animal in a superhero world,” while in vol. 4 Rio Bravo’s “ASL” issue #19, the reader experiences the world through American Sign Language as Clint “Hawkeye” Barton deals with sudden hearing loss. Both issues force the reader to view the Marvel superhero world of Hawkeye from an atypical and empathetic perspective.

Gaze in wonder at the awesome visuals of these wordless comics in The Seattle Public Library collection.

~ posted by Mychal L.

2 thoughts on “Wordless Comics”

  1. I know I mentioned this on Twitter, but another great wordless one is Rachel Hope Allison’s I’m Not a Plastic Bag. Wow was it haunting!

  2. Anything Shaun Tan touches is magic.

    If you have smalls (AKA children), the library also has the Owly comics, which are largely dialogue-free. They are great for learning how stories work and for talking about problem solving and emotions. Wordless comics like these are also really useful for non-native English speakers (ESL students).

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