Telling stories without words: 6 silent graphic novels

Wordless comics

The first silent comics I’ve read was Un océan d’amour (An Ocean of Love) borrowed from a co-worker. I’ve never been a fan of silent movies, but the idea of telling wordless stories fascinated me. So I’ve researched what else is out there and compiled a list of wordless comics I personally find interesting and want to “read”. 

Europe seems to be the first place to look for wordless stories. Laura Sneddon (comicbookGRRRL) suggests that this might be “due to the history of the wordless novel, a predecessor of sorts to the modern graphic novel, that is grounded heavily within the German Expressionist movement”. As far as I understand, the wordless novel differs from the graphic one in the following way:

  • It was created using relief printing (woodcuts, metalcuts, linocuts, etc.)
  • It often focused on socialist themes, mainly socialism vs capitalism
  • And it flourished in 1920-1930 in Germany, but today is only practiced by a few artists

Contemporary comic artists are playing with an idea of showing us the self-explanatory storyboards deprived of captions, just as wordless novel classics used to do. But silent comics are not easy to find, since shops and publishers rarely provide the respective sorting option. So here’s my to-read list of the wordless graphic novels published after 2000:

An Ocean of Love, 2012 (Italy)

Wilfird Lupano and Grégory Panaccione tell the story of an elderly couple of a fisherman and a housewife. One day the man disappears together with his boat and the woman embarks on a quest of finding her husband.

An Ocean of Love

The annotation on the cover tells it all, warning us that the story contains zero dolphins, text or onomatopoeia and is better be read before you’ve stopped associating the ocean with dreaming big. All in all, it’s a fun story drawn in the style of European animation, such as The Triplets of Belleville.

an-ocean-of-love-illustration

Leaf, 2015 (China)

In Daishu Ma’s graphic novel a man finds an unusual leaf and takes it with him to the metropolis, where he looks for answers to the mysterious nature of his find, as well as learns about the life in the city.

Leaf Cover

Illustrations are made in grey pencil with only blue and yellow as additional colors:

Leaf illustration
Image source: Amazon

The Arrival, 2006 (Australia)

This novel by Shaun Tan follows the story of an immigrant who comes to a strange land, full of unusual creatures. The character feels confused and detached as he tries to understand and learn how the life goes in this new place.

The Arrival cover

Images in this story combine reality and fantasy:

The Arrival illustration
Image source: Shaun Tan’s website

Ojingogo, 2008 (Canada)

Ojingogo was inspired by the time its author Matthew Forsythe spent in Korea. The novel follows a series of adventures of a little girl and her squid.

Ojingogo cover

Matthew has also been working as a lead designer for Adventure Times, so I hope his novel is just as fun as the cartoon.

Ojingogo illustration
Image source: Matthew Forsythe’s website

Ojingogo was followed by Jinchalo (2012), a graphic novel about the new adventures of the heroine.

Robot Dreams, 2007 (USA)

Sara Varon tells the story of friendship between a dog and a robot. After the robot becomes rusty, the dog abandons him and tries vainly to find another friend. While funny, this story also reminds the reader about the fragile nature of friendship.

Robot Dreams cover

Unlike other works on this list, illustrations in Robot Dreams look very simple, yet they still manage to tell a powerful story.

Robot Dreams illustration
Image source: Sara Varon’s website

The Only Child, 2015 (China)

Chinese one-child policy has only recently become milder, allowing families to have two children. But numerous kids who have now grown to be adults remember their early childhood as being rather lonely. In her wordless novel, Guojing depicts a life of solitude of such a child, who one day follows a stag into the woods, and finds herself in the wonderland.

The Only Child cover

Here’s an example of illustrations in this novel:

The Only Child illustration
Image source: Winkbooks

I would love to start with The Arrival and Leaf. And what about you, dear readers?

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