Look Ma! No Words!
I imagine novelists the world wide have anxiety dreams in which their books come out and they forgot to include the words. Well, friends, in a mere 12 days, my new book THE BOY AND THE AIRPLANE arrives on bookshelves both actual and virtual, and here’s the hitch: it has ZERO words in it! (pause for ooohs and aaahs)
I didn’t set out to write a wordless book. I have nothing against words, per se. It just kind of happened.
Perhaps I might back up.
Some years ago, I wrote and drew a daily syndicated comic strip called LUCKY COW. One thing you’ll notice about comic strips is that they often become what we in the biz call “talking head” strips. That is, due to the shrinking size of comic strips in newspapers and time pressures on cartoonists, a strip becomes little more than two heads talking to each other — no backgrounds, just heads. It’s not a given, of course, that this happens to a comic strip, but it tends to happen — even to the best of them.
In the midst of this phenomenon, a friend of mine named Mark Tatulli launched his new comic strip LIO, a wonderfully dark wordless comic strip about a boy of the same name. After reading his strip for the first time, I asked Mark how he possibly thought he could write a wordless comic strip every single day. He replied that it was easier than I might think. He then challenged me to write an entire week of comic strips without words. “It will change the way you write,” he said.
So I tried it. And lo, he was correct! Anything resembling a “talking head” strip, of course, went into the garbage can. Instead of telling the jokes, I had to show them. I became much more reliant on backgrounds, objects, actions, and expressions.
After I’d completed my Tatulli Challenge, I began every week writing my comic strips wordless. First, I told the joke with pictures. Then, I added words as needed. Indeed, it changed the way I wrote!
Fast forward to my earliest drafts of THE BOY AND THE AIRPLANE. As I had done with my comic strips so often, I began by telling the story simply with pictures. Once I had done that, I began adding words. In the case of THE BOY AND THE AIRPLANE, I found that the words only distracted from the story. In the end, I found it needed none!
One of the “risks” of writing a wordless book is that it can lend the story to wildly different interpretations. In early reviews, I have already encountered readers who interpreted the actions in ways I had never considered. Some might find this frustrating, but one thing you quickly learn as an author is that, once your story is out in the world, it is no longer yours.
On the upside, I expect being wordless will make translating THE BOY AND THE AIRPLANE into foreign languages much easier. LE GARCON ET L’AVION. There. I just translated the book into French.