Walking Shadows: A Novel Without Wordsby Neil Bousfield
(San Francisco: Manic D Press, 2010)
Walking Shadows is an impressive volume of work. Following in the footsteps of Frans Masereel and Lynd Ward, Bousfield has created a novel in which each of its pages are an original relief print—over 200 different page sized images. This "novel without words" is the story of a working class British family and the cycles of anger, depression, and violence produced by lifetimes of meaningless labor and lack of opportunity for self-fulfillment.
Interesting things are at play here, with Bousfield's attempt to bring the novel without words into the 21st century. There is something jarring, yet interesting, about the representation of cctv and video game consoles in wood block. Conveying contemporary issues in 100 year old aesthetics feels a bit strange, but I suppose the same could be said about most of us here at Justseeds making political graphics for today's struggles in anachronistic hand-printing techniques.
At a certain point the story of the working class bothers becomes difficult for me to parse, and I have a hard time distinguishing between the characters, illustrating the difficulties of telling a detailed narrative in pictures alone. Never mind rough block prints, which limit the amount of detail the artist can convey. I find this a bit distracting from the book, but it is minor in relationship to Bousfield's achievement.
Much of Bousfield's imagery has an awkward charm, and stylistically owes as much to more contemporary sources such as RAW and World War 3 Illustrated as it does to the original masters of the wordless novels, Masereel and Ward. Unlike a more devoted follower to this source material such as Erik Drooker, Bousfield's effort is visible in his work, and not not nearly as clean or perfected. This makes it feel more original, and interesting.