The combination of narrative and dialogue with sequenced illustrations is generally what sets a graphic novel apart from other literary forms. Speech bubbles between characters move the plot along, and expository notes from the author help us follow the illustrated action. Some artists, however, focus exclusively on the ‘graphic’ part of graphic novels, and create works with no words at all. In the following books, there are no sentences or paragraphs, but that doesn’t mean nothing is said.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

First things first, if you haven’t already read “The Arrival” by Shaun Tan, pick it up right now. For those of you who have come a long way to attend UIUC, or who are still getting used to your new college environment, this book is a gentle, comforting tale of finding your bearings in a strange land. The illustrations are high detailed, but soft and warm. It’s the best picture book for adults, period – though children can enjoy it, too, of course.

Six Novels in Woodcuts by Lynd Ward

Before graphic novels, there were wordless novels: long series of woodcuts which, when viewed in sequence, told a story. Lynd Ward was the first prominent American artist to work in this proto-graphic-novel form, and we have all 6 of his stark works for you to enjoy. You can also read more about wordless novels in general in “Wordless Books” by David A. Beronä (lots of words in that one, though).

Mister O. by Lewis Trondheim

Mister O is a small person. Mister O is shaped like an O. Mister O would like to cross that chasm so that he can continue his walk, but everything in the world seems to conspire to prevent him from doing so – cranky birds, aliens, poorly aimed cannons… It’s very simple, but sometimes the simplest pictures are best. There’s a punchline on every page – almost instant gratification!

Congress of the Animals by Jim Woodring

While “The Arrival” (above) focuses on making a new home in a new place, “Congress of the Animals” is more about what happens when you leave home and have no idea where you are. Frank, a small buck-toothed critter, escapes his safe, but stifling environment and journeys through bizarre, woodcut-esque landscapes. Stuff gets real weird, but if you’re into it, you can check out the similarly wordless “Weathercraft” by the same author, which the publisher describes as containing “32 pages of almost incomprehensible suffering.”

Greetings from Hellville by Thomas Ott

As the title implies, the short stories in this collection are hellish and disturbing; finely-textured nightmares in which nothing goes right. The artists Thomas Ott draws inspiration from early silent horror movies, so give ’em a look if you want to be seriously creeped out (and possibly scared speechless, much like the characters). You can also check out more of Ott’s work in “R.I.P: Best of 1985-2004;” just leave your nightlight on.

Sshhhh! by Jason

What an appropriate title for a book with no words. This is a collection of 10 short vignettes that follow a bird-headed man in a hat through journeys simultaneously mundane and surreal. Bird-head man explores love, jealousy, parenthood, aging, death, and isolation, in absolute contemplative silence. If you dig Jason’s style but want a little more conversation with your illustration, try another of his works, “Tell Me Something,” which (aptly enough) has some dialogue.

We think we’ve said enough about stories that thrive on a lack of words. Do you have a favorite graphic novel without words? Tell us about in the comments…or draw us a picture, if you’re really in the spirit!

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Study Break? Grab a comic!

We know you’re hard at work this time of year—as if you weren’t busy enough already, midterms are coming, and papers and projects are mounting up left and right. We see you studying hard in the UGL, and we’re here to support you in all your research needs. In the midst of all that academic frenzy, though, it’s important to do some fun things for yourself, and we can help you with that, too! You might already know about the movies and video games we have available for you to use—but did you know that we also have a huge collection of comics and graphic novels for you to check out? Well, it’s true!

Our librarians love you so much that we work tirelessly to bring you books that we think you’ll enjoy. Last year, this meant bringing in almost 200 new graphic novels to our collection. Not just your average, run-of-the-mill comics, either—we have works from many different countries, in many different languages, as part of our goal of diversity. Many of them are available in English as well as in their original language, be it French, Spanish, Norwegian, Japanese, Chinese, or another. Some of them are pretty rare or obscure and hard to find—but we rounded them up, just for you! Here are a few volumes we think you should have a look at:


book cover: black and white illustration of pointy-faced figurebook cover: comic illustration of figure looking isolated at a social gatheringbook cover: high-contrast illustration of figure in sailing costumebook cover: illustration of young person juxtaposed with skeletonbook cover: small illustration of seated figure in ancient warrior costumeLoco by Pedro Espinosa
This “silent” work (meaning it has no words or dialog) from Spanish artist Pedro Espinosa was originally published serially in the 1980s; now it’s all collected together in one volume. The main character, Loco, silently expresses his concerns about societal, political, and familial issues.




Conventum by Pascal Girard
The horror, the agony, the trials and tribulations of attending a class reunion, and the self-reflection it can cause—in French with simple, charming illustrations by Québécois artist Pascal Girard.




Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea by Hugo Pratt
Originally published in 1967-1969, this was the first story featuring the rogue sailor-adventurer character of Corto Maltese. Though the stories are fictional, the historic periods and places featured were exhaustively researched by creator Hugo Pratt, and Maltese meets fascinating characters from all over the world, real and imagined. Available in English as well as the original Italian.




7 Billion Needles by Nobuaki Tadano
This reimagining of the 1950s science fiction novel Needle tells of a teenage girl in Japan who suddenly finds her body possessed by a extra-terrestrial being, and embroiled in a manhunt for yet another extra-terrestrial being intent on destroying the human race. Exciting stuff!






Goliath by Tom Gauld
The Biblical story of David and Goliath gets retold, this time from the point of view of the giant Goliath. He may actually be more a lover than a fighter, but bureaucracy and politics conspire to push him into his fabled role of antagonist.





If you read all these and you’re still not sated—or if there’s a graphic novel or comic series you’d really love to see on our shelves—you can always suggest a purchase. We’re working on getting more new additions soon, this time focusing on the Middle East, South Asia, and Eastern Europe. If you have any suggestions for graphic novels in that realm, or even outside of it, drop a line to Chris Diaz (cdiaz25@illinois.edu). We look forward to hearing from you and giving you lots of good stuff to read!

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