It sounds like an oxymoron, but wordless books are indeed a thing. These graphic novels have no dialogue or description at all, which gives the art a chance to stand out even more, but it also has the added pressure of completely carrying the narrative. Sometimes it works and proves “a picture is worth a thousand words” isn’t just a cheesy saying for your parents.
Leaf by Daishu Ma: This all-ages, debut graphic novel comes in a beautiful large hardcover with a cutout for the leaf on the front–a package that had me hoping I’d love the inside as much as I loved the outside. This is the story of a man who finds a leaf that gives off an unusual light, drawn with pops of yellow amid the color palette of grays and blues. Ma’s use of color beautifully plays on the mystery and allure of nature in the book’s industrial world, but the story itself and its characters sadly underwhelmed me.
Verdict: Borrow because I really want to be wrong about this one and need someone else to make me love it. Help me out here.
The Arrival by Shaun Tan: I don’t even have the patience to hold off on telling you I flipping loved this book. The Arrival is the story of a man who immigrates to a magical new country and works to set up an apartment and job there before bringing over his wife and daughter. Tan’s world immerses the reader in the disorienting experience of immigration, and he’s such a master at facial expressions that I can’t imagine scenes like the main character saying goodbye to his family or speaking with a customs officer with the addition of actual words. They would do a disservice to his stunning art, it’s that good.
Verdict: Buy, and buy copies for anyone who has any feelings on immigration, which should be all of us. The hardcover is also a beautiful oversized edition that’s a joy to read from.
The Only Child by Gouging: Based on the author’s experience growing up under China’s one-child policy, this is a whimsical children’s book about the loneliness and isolation of being an only child. It took more of a magical-realism bent than I was expecting, which felt more like it should have been an imaginative interlude than the bulk of the story. Although the pencil shading of the art was beautiful, I wish the themes and characters had been developed more.
Verdict: Borrow if you’re a fan of magical realism.
Fertility by Gosia Herba and Mikolaj Pasinski: Shortly before getting married, four women set traps in the woods to get hares for a fertility ritual. They get hares, but they also get more than they expected. It turns into a creepy story that’s like Animal Farm meets The Handmaid’s Tale, and the surreal art and dark colors add to the ominous feel. It gave me that “I don’t know WTF I just read but I love it” feeling that I’ve been missing since I read Beautiful Darkness and Safari Honeymoon.