Herman Melville’s symbolist tale of obsession and the pursuit of what would be some pretty sweet scrimshaw is brought to a different kind of page thanks to Christophe Chabouté, Vents d’Oueste and Dark Horse Comics.
Moby Dick HC (Dark Horse Comics)
Comic adaptations of classic literature can be a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes the visual representation of a story we’ve worked over in our mind sheds new light onto a familiar tale, and other times it’s a bit like reading “the picture Bible” – a nice idea, but not enough to catch anyone’s eye. In Christophe Chabouté’s rendition of Moby Dick we see what the graphic novel medium can add to a famous story–and, occasionally, its limitations.
Initially released in 2014 by French publisher Vents d’Ouest, Moby Dick is a faithful, if somewhat abridged adaptation of Melville’s tale. Given that the source material runs nearly 2000-pages long in some editions, however, shaving the story down to a relatively lean 250 pages is a bit of a godsend. In fact, it lends the graphic novel a pace and tone that will make it more accessible to those of us who didn’t get through the whole thing during Mr. Kirkley’s American Literature course. (Just a hypothetical there, Mr. Kirkley. I totally read all of those Edgar Rice Burroughs books too.)
That’s not to say that the relative brevity of the medium doesn’t have its downside as well. The better read among us may miss the internal monologues of the book’s narrator, Ishmael, and the antiquated speech patterns of some characters, rendered in full context for the novel, are sometimes hard to follow without the first person impression. As a result, the earlier portions of the book can sometimes feel aimless. It should be said that the titular Moby Dick is barely in the source material as well, so if this is your first interaction with Melville’s work just know that it’s less a story about whaling and more about the cost of blind obsession. So you know, no giant robot battles or supermen in this one.
Despite the book being rendered entirely in a binary black and white, it must be said that Chaboute’s art is superlative. Everything from the framing of the panels to the stellar emotional resonance of the characters’ faces is top notch and beautiful. The real star of the show,k however, is the character design of Captain Ahab. His face, demeanor and passion just all scream at you through Chaboute’s pencils. The scene where Starbuck first confronts Ahab in his cabin is particularly amazing. Seriously, I may have one of the panels from it tattooed on me because I’m the worst kind of literate hipster.
Ahab’s descent into madness is most beautifully rendered in the faces of those characters he interacts with. Whether he’s facing lectures from Starbuck, inspiring devotion from the Pequod crew, or callously refuting the distraught Captain Gardiner, each character’s emotions are raw, and real and unique to them. It’s a masterclass in facial expressions that all aspiring artists should learn from.
This book, available in hardcover from Dark Horse, is a worthy addition to any bookshelf, even one that doesn’t have bound editions of the X-Men Omnibus series on it. It won’t get you an A on that essay for Mr. Kirkley’s class, but it may change people’s opinions of the original story for the better.