Equinox pressmark (designed by John Heins)
Equinox pressmark (designed by John Heins)

In 2010 the Library of America reissued all six of Lynd Ward’s “novels in woodcuts” (also called “novels without words”) in a two volume set. If you like graphic novels but have never read Ward’s work, these are a great introduction, and you can check them out from any of the Five Colleges libraries. If you like what you see, you can also visit the special collections at Amherst or Smith to compare the experience of reading one of the original editions. The Archives and Special Collections at Amherst owns a second printing (from December 1929) of Ward’s first, and probably best known, wordless novel Gods’ Man. Even though it was first published a week before the Stock Market Crash, the book sold so well that it went through five printings by October of 1930, with a sixth printing in 1933, totaling more than 20,000 copies.

A copy of the 1929 edition (left) and the 2010 reissue (right)
A copy of the 1929 edition (left) and the 2010 reissue (right)

Note the deliberate placement of the apostrophe in the title; as Ward himself explained:

And for what it is worth, you may also be interested in knowing that the first title I suggested for the book was “All art is useless.” The name we finally worked out, “Gods’ man,” using as it does the plural possessive, stemmed from the idea that it is usually phrased somewhat along these lines: the Artist is always the darling of the Gods.

This quote is from a 1958 letter from Ward to Irving Steingart, as noted by Perry Willett in his 1997 exhibition catalog The Silent Shout: Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward, and the Novel in Woodcuts. The personal papers of Lynd Ward are held by the Georgetown University Library, who have presented several excellent exhibitions of his work.





Ward’s fourth woodcut novel was published in 1933 by the Equinox Cooperative Press. Prelude to a Million Years: A Book of Wood Engravings is described this way by Ward, in an essay reprinted in the Library of America edition (p. 643):

I have always thought of Prelude to a Million Years as a kind of footnote to Gods’ Man, a sort of codicil that would acknowledge that changes had occurred and that these changes required an amendment to the earlier testament. It was a very limited statement, running to a total of only thirty blocks. Because it was a minor work it was printed directly from the woodblocks on a beautiful rag paper in a small edition. Prelude was the third publication of Equinox Cooperative Press, a group of young people, including myself, working in printing, publishing, and the book arts who wanted to do non-commercial books, just for the love of doing it. Each copy of Prelude was bound by hand and made with loving care.

The Amherst copy is in very good condition, and although this picture doesn’t do justice to the original cord-stitched copper coated spine, it does show the patterned boards that were designed by Ward and later used as the endpaper pattern in the Library of America edition.

The Equinox Cooperative Press published 16 books between 1932 and 1937. It was founded by Ward, his wife May McNeer (a journalist and author), Henry Hart (an editor at Scribners), and six others.

In all its decisions, Equinox was guided by a belief in the democratic process. The discussions of every basic point were wide-ranging, always completely frank, and often interminable. … In seeking a corporate form that would reflect this belief in the democratic way, we decided to organize as a cooperative. But we discovered that the laws governing cooperatives were sharply defined, with consumer cooperatives on the one side and producer cooperatives on the other. Since we were producers, we were incorporated as a producer cooperative. But since most producers are, in the nature of things, farmers, we became the only publishers in the history of Western culture who had to file annual reports with the New York State Department of Agriculture. — Lynd Ward, in the foreword to Henry Hart’s A Relevant Memoir: The Story of the Equinox Cooperative Press (1977).


Leave a Reply