The first female wordless novelist

Born in Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic) in 1894, Helena Bochořáková-Dittrichová forged a career as a professional illustrator at a time when the field was dominated by men. Though some women worked as cartoonists in the early twentieth century, she appears to have been the only woman of her generation to produce wordless novels (as distinct from comic books or graphic novels, which contain text). Because wordless novels were precursors of graphic novels, some have considered her the first female graphic novelist.

In 1923, while studying art in Paris, Bochořáková-Dittrichová developed her interest in woodcut printmaking, a traditionally male profession, and discovered the works of Frans Masereel. Her first woodcut novel, Z Mého Dětství (From my Childhood), appeared in 1929 and depicts scenes, mostly happy, from her middle-class upbringing. During the Great Depression, she traveled widely in the United States, including the West, and drew inspiration for two wordless novels that are now extremely rare: Woodcuts from the USA (1933) and Between Two Oceans: Impressions from a Trip to the United States (1936).

Her travels also introduced her to Native American history, which she offered her perspective on in another hard-to-find wordless novel: Indiáni jindy a dnes (Indians then and now) (1934). Though its images are somewhat simplistic and at times reflective of contemporary stereotypes, the author viewed Native peoples with compassion and portrayed their mistreatment at the hands of white settlers. In its call for social justice, the book is very much in the spirit of other early wordless novels, and it is almost certainly the first to tell a story centered on American Indians.