As a long-time collector of woodcut novels, I am overjoyed to see the republishing of these gems. In this one very reasonably priced volume, you get a great introduction to this little known art form. If you have an interest in art history, early-to-mid 20th century political movements, art deco style, or if you simply enjoy good stories, you'll love this book. You really do not need an interest in modern-day graphic novels to appreciate these works (I don't). If you do have an interest in graphic novels, get this book, and learn some family history of the art.
Each of these books (four books for the price of one!) takes a slice of the artist's contemporary life and then explores the timeless conditions of humankind. Masereel was profounding affected by World War I and the European chaos between the wars, so his art addresses social conditions, including the urbanization of society, during those years. Ward and Patri were also affected by their times -- so the hardship and civil unrest brought on by the Great Depression and the trade union movement is the background for their stories here. Ward also presciently treats the rise of nazism in his other woodcut novels.
Patri's "White Collar" in particular is a real find, because this story is not readily available in any other form, as far as I know. Finally, Hyde's story was printed in 1951, and he addresses the first man-made weapon of mass destruction, the A-bomb, and its effect on the environment of the South Seas.
This book also gives a good sampling of the art of the woodcut novel, over time. The earliest is Masereel's work of 1918, and his figures have the least detail, and thus lack an ability to communicate nuance in the characters. Ward's work, is highly detailed, in a distinctive art deco style (akin to the work of Rockwell Kent) and I find more enjoyable.
To fully appreciate all these works, you need to spend some time with them on a second and third "read." It takes only a few minutes to go through each story, which is all it takes to get a general understanding of the story. However, upon rereading, and studying the figures, you will probably come to a different understanding of the story. Without words, there is a lack of precision, so your life experience and imagination will fill in the blanks.
Congratulations to the publisher (Firefly Books) for preserving this important art form, and making it accessible at a very reasonable price. Kudos!