Beginning in the 1930s, graphic artists applied their skills and imaginations to the creation of comic books and wordless graphic narratives. Although popular art and fine art visual storytelling have waxed and waned in the marketplace, both currently enjoy a resurgence in critical acclaim.

Comic Book Cover Art

This drawing displays the strong draftsmanship and skillfully rendered light effects and textures that made Mac Raboy a sought-after cover artist during the Golden Age of comic books (1938–1949). During this era when modern comic books were first published, Superman and other popular superheroes emerged and became well defined. New York City native Raboy began working for early comic book publishers Harry “A” Chesler (1898–1981) and Fawcett Publications in the 1940s. His figure of Mr. E firing a weapon exemplifies the dynamic masculine imagery popular on comic book covers during World War II. Raboy was best known for drawing Captain Marvel, Jr., and later illustrated the Flash Gordon comic strip.

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  • Emanuel “Mac” Raboy (1914–1967). Mr. E Begins, ca. 1944. Published as cover image for Dynamic Comics, No. 9, 1944. Ink, graphite or crayon, opaque white on illustration board. Gift of Fairleigh Dickinson University, 2001. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (043.00.00) [Digital ID # LC-DIG-ppmsca-31378]

  • Emanuel “Mac” Raboy. Mr. E Begins. Cover for Dynamic Comics, No. 9, 1944. Published by Harry “A” Chesler. Gift of Fairleigh Dickinson University, 2001. Serial & Government Publications Division, Library of Congress (044.00.00) [Digital ID # tt0044]

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Spider-Man, A Silver Age Classic

Part Two of the Spider-man origin story opens dramatically as Peter Parker, fully transformed from teenage social outcast into superhero, displays his special powers before a television show audience. Combined with writer Stan Lee’s text, Ditko’s accomplished, realistic drawing and deft pacing of action scenes make the comic book story a classic of the Silver Age (1956–1969). During this period, newly emerging superheroes reinvigorated the mainstream comic book industry, following the genre’s post-World War II decline.

Steve Ditko (b. 1927). “Now anybody with the intelligence of a seven year old knows that if a man appeared on TV. . . ,” Spider-Man! Part 2, ca. 1962. Published in Amazing Fantasy, No. 15 (August 1962). Ink, opaque white, and overlay over graphite underdrawing. Gift from an anonymous donor, 2008. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (045.00.00) TM and © Marvel Entertainment, LLC [Digital ID # LC-DIG-ppmsca-18753]

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Wordless Wood Engraving Novel

Lynd Ward’s Prelude to a Million Years graphically portrays its protagonist, a young sculptor, as a figure apart from all others. In one revealing image, the artist chooses to be alone, turning away from the only other figure on an empty city street. In another scene, a soldier detains the protagonist for not removing his hat in the presence of the American flag, an instance of an authority figure stigmatizing or setting the artist apart from others. Prelude is the third of Ward’s six wordless wood engraving novels, groundbreaking works published between 1929 and 1937. Collectively, they represent a crucial strand in the evolution of the graphic novel. Ward’s Prelude also contains some of his best wood engravings, characterized by remarkably fine, delicate lines, mastery of detail, and overall evenness in execution.

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Wordless Classic of Modern Urban Life

Inspired by the graphic art of Lynd Ward and other creators of wordless novels, Eric Drooker drew his visionary work Flood: A Novel in Pictures between 1985 and 1992. Winner of a 1994 National Book Award, Flood unfolds a moving narrative of contemporary urban life in black-and-white scratchboard drawings. Drooker’s stark, yet often detailed imagery produces aesthetic effects similar to those of Ward’s wood engravings. Drooker, however, works in a more expressionistic manner to convey his Everyman character’s state of alienation and vulnerability to assault by authority figures.

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