Comic books are a visual medium. It’s a delicate balance between art and prose that makes a comic what it is. There is an old saying that with pictures and words, you can tell any story. I believe that to be true. Comic books prove this, where the budget for a scene with a conversation at a diner or full scale alien invasion is the same, and both can be achieved equally well.
The art in the any comic book needs to be dynamic and tell a story. There is a large difference between drawing a picture and creating sequential art. A good litmus test for any comic book is to just follow the images without reading the words. If the panels don’t tell a story, or if you can’t surmise what the story is, then the art doesn’t work. The art needs to tell a story. To this end, there have been a few comics were there were no words. Silent issues.
Not a single word bubble is present in a silent issue. The burden for the story completely falls on the artist. This should be the case though, with the writer complimenting the art, not using exposition to explain it. A poor story teller uses too many words, not knowing how to depend on the art. A telltale sign of a new comic book writer is to see just how wordy they are. No one likes to see a wall of text over the panels.
Silent issues though are few and far between, but generally considered masterpieces when successful. The most famous (and from what I can tell) first book to do so was G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero issues #21, written and drawn by Larry Hama in 1984. Entitled “A Silent Interlude”, the issue follows Snake Eyes infiltrating Destro’s castle. As Snake Eyes has taken a vow of silence, it was fitting to feature him this issue. This was also the first appearance of Snake Eye’s nemesis, Storm Shadow. Witnessing Snake Eye’s one man stealth assault was amazing, along with the first of many confrontations against Storm Shadow. G.I. Joe #21 has become legendary. Every comic book fan should read this pinnacle of story telling. This is exactly how comic art should work.
There have been a few other series to feature a silent issue. Ultimate Spider-Man #133 was silent. A tsunami hit New York and Spider-Man doing everything he could to rescue survivors. The issues ended by suggesting Spider-Man drowned (spoilers, he didn’t). Perhaps the best homage to Hama’s book was The Sixth Gun #21, which featured Becky Montcrief assaulting a stronghold were Drake Sinclair was held captive. Brian Hurtt did an amazing job, echoing Hama’s work on Joe. Most recently Batman & Robin #18 by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason (A) was also silent, having Bruce deal with the death of Robin, his son Damian Wayne.
While I can’t speak on it authoritatively, The Arrival by Shaun Tan is considered one of the best silent comic pieces of work, ever. The Arrival chronicles a families journey to America, starting with Ellis Island. The book is designed like a photo album, with many of the panels looking like old photos, organized sequentially. From what I’ve heard, it is wonderfully constructed and at the top of many people’s lists.
I enjoy comics not only for the bombastic superhero tales (I do enjoy those), but for the medium itself. I love to see writers and artists take chances, experimenting with the medium, honing their craft, and coming up with something truly inventive.
Have you read a silent comic before? What is your favorite one? Comment below!