A novel in woodcuts is not an easy task. Aside from the arduous, grueling work of creating the woodcuts themselves, there is the mission of developing a plot and the characters involved in it. This entire fiasco becomes quite more problematic when the author decides to use little to no language at all. Such is the case with Lynd Ward’s Vertigo.
According to McCloud in Understanding Comics, a sequential pictorial story, such as Vertigo, demands the use of closure to fill in the gaps between images and “construct a continuous, unified reality” (Page 67). The pursuit of closure becomes significantly more difficult when the majority of the work at hand employs what McCloud describes as “scene-to-scene transitions”, whereupon “deductive reasoning” is necessitated for the reader to understand the story (Page 71). With a minimal use of language, Lynd Ward employs symbols, concepts, and visuals which are universal in the world of his broad audience to ease this process of deductive reasoning for his readers and create an intelligible tale.
First off, Ward’s use of symbols in his images constructs a plethora of information for his audience to extract to learn more about his characters. In the story of The Girl, we see her being handed a scroll with a ribbon tied around it in front of an audience. We can infer this is a graduation as the scroll tied with a ribbon is a ubiquitous symbol for a diploma, albeit when it is handed in front of an audience. From this, we can be confident that the girl is around eighteen years old and is graduating from high school which, in addition, informs us she is intelligent and capable considering the year is 1929. The social status of The Girl can be inferred as well considering, as we discussed in class, poor families sent their kids to work during the Depression, and not to school.
When we first meet The Boy in The Girl’s story, he is talking to her in close proximity to her ear. Universally, we can deduce that he is whispering to her and due to the fact that her father is out of the main focus of the picture, we can assume The Boy does not want him to know what he is saying. Putting this all together, we can deduce that The Boy has an intimate interest in The Girl and that they probably have some backstory considering he is her classmate, as we can infer by his diploma. Everyone can understand the idea of a boy trying to keep a girl’s father unaware of his flirtatiousness. We can deduce The Boy’s intentions, his feelings about the girl, and about The Boy’s sexuality all from the illustration of this concept.
Finally, in The Elderly Gentleman’s story, there is an image of him entering the boardroom of The Eagle Corporation of America and all the people in it looking at him. The visual of him entering the boardroom tells us that The Elderly Gentleman has an important job at the corporation. Universally, we associate a boardroom with the zenith of responsibility and power at a company. If we further investigate the image, we see that all of these responsible and powerful individuals are standing and watching The Elderly Gentleman enter the room. Standing for someone upon their entry into a room is an action utilizing the concepts of etiquette and respect. From all of this, in addition to the fact that he’s older than most of the others in the room, we can deduce that The Elderly Gentleman is the most powerful man there, and therefore, the owner of the corporation.Ward, for various reasons, chose to leave language to a minimum in Vertigo. In order for his audience to maintain focus of the plot’s evolution and understand individual images better, he implements the use of “visual clichés, appealing to universality, while keeping his woodcuts from being hackneyed. He protects the novelty of his characters and story through his voice and style. To use McCloud’s language, Ward eases the difficulty of closure in a novel of woodcuts without words, but still appeals to the audience’s deductive reasoning abilities to figure the story out and, most importantly, interpret it for themselves.