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R E V I E W MATT KISH Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page Portland, OR and New York: Tin House Books, 2011. 563 pages. T hroughout Western history, great and momentous books have seemed to offer special challenges to great artists who have been inspired to create their own visual interpretations of the texts. Perhaps the tradition began with cloistered monks who were tasked with copying out dense works of theology and philosophy but could not resist adding their own pictures and illuminations, sometimes comic, in the margins of the manuscripts. In the nineteenth century, French illustrator Gustave Doré took on such weighty masterworks as Dante’s Divine Comedy (1861–68), Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1863), and Milton’s Paradise Lost (1866), before turning to the Bible (1866), which took two years and over 230 full-page plates to complete. So powerful were his highly detailed and darkly moody wood engravings that they remain in print to this day and have become a part of our common visual memory. More recently, famed underground cartoonist Robert Crumb gave over four years of his life to a 200-page graphic rendition of The Book of Genesis: Illustrated (2009), which incorporated every single line of the original text. Crumb appears to be a part of a general movement among graphic artists in this direction. Australian comic artist Nicki Greenberg spent six years completing a 300-page totally fanciful, visual recreation of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (2007), representing every word of the novel. Graphic designer Seymour Chwast has illustrated a postmodern interpretation of Dante’s Divine Comedy as a graphic novel (2010). More pertinent to the book at hand is the singular example of abstract experimental artist Zak Smith, who took the 1973 Viking Press edition of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and produced a single drawing for every one of the novel’s 760 pages, resulting in Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow (2006), a massive four-and-a-half-pound door-stopper of a book, as heavy on the eyes as on the intellect. It is generally understood that a major source of inspiration for Gravity’s Rainbow was Pynchon’s reading of Moby-Dick. In fact, Smith’s book captured the attention of artist Matt Kish one day in August 2009 and inspired him to undertake a similar project based on c  2012 The Melville Society and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S 57 R E V I E W his favorite novel, now published as Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page. Nearly every day for eighteen months, Kish, a self-taught artist who had published a few comic books and done some photography, drew an image keyed to a quotation from each page of the text. The particular edition he selected was the 552-page Signet Classics paperback with an introduction by Elizabeth Renker. Kish’s eye was attracted to the cover design, which reproduced a painting by Claus Hoie, “Pursuit of the Great White Whale,” one of fifteen watercolors completed in 1988 in tribute to Moby-Dick. According to Elizabeth Schultz, the leading authority on the artistic illustration of Melville’s work, Hoie’s paintings “reinforce a romantic reading of the novel, depicting individuals isolated against sea and sky,” but this particular painting explores the psychological depths of Ahab’s mind and “projects the captain’s monomaniacal obsession, which knows no boundaries, out over the sea” (Schultz 238). This striking interpretation by Hoie seems to have stirred Kish’s own desire to portray his vision of the book, or as he puts it in the foreword, “Really, I just wanted to make a version of Moby-Dick that looks like how I see it. That’s all” (Kish v). Kish’s route to Moby-Dick was a typical one. His first memories of images came from a television broadcast of the 1956 John Huston film, with Gregory Peck as Ahab. Then he came upon a cheap paperback abridgment for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 57-60
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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