Raise your hand if you’ve read the novel Moby Dick by Melville and got lost three pages in. Yup, that’s me too. Maybe this was because someone was reading it out loud to me, but let’s admit, Moby Dick is one intense classic. Even though the style of writing is beautiful and poetic, there’s just a lot of words, and for a reader like me who has a pretty short attention span, lots of wordy scenes that don’t necessarily make sense as soon as my eyes hit them don’t agree with my brain. I just get lost.
Maybe you’ve never read Moby Dick because you’ve been warned about just that, and yet you’re still interested in what the story may be (because it’s a pretty cool story). You may have found the solution: Moby Dick wonderfully condensed in a graphic novel, an excellent little publication that was released to the world on February 8.
“Captain Ahab strikes out on a voyage, obsessively seeking revenge on the great white whale that took his leg.” – literally the whole plot from Moby Dick
The graphic novel does what the actual book didn’t do: it kept only the necessary scenes that were needed to understand the story. Of course, you can’t throw the whole novel in a graphic novel, word for word in the dialog, shot by shot of each and every scene. There were a lot of scenes that were cut out, my two favorites among those omitted, but I think this graphic novel did a good job in selecting the few that were needed to get the whole plot, along with the conflict, climax, and resolution, across.
The quality of the story was impressive. One of the many things I loved about the graphic novel is how the language was pretty close to the 19th century English from the orignal novel. For instance, the sermon that Ishmael and Queequeg listen to before they board the Pequod wasn’t word for word from the book, but the gist was captured and the language, though not exactly the same, still had the same feel as far as the prose, flow, and vocabulary goes. My writerly, Victorian era-loving self loved it.
Instead of chapters, each scene or two were divided in certain sections, with each page beginning each section with an actual quote from the original book by Melville and a little bit of artwork to go along with it. I think this was just another amazing idea on Chabouté’s part, and I saw it as sort of as a tribute to the author of the original classic.
Isn’t it wonderful? I just love it.
As you can already see in the images, the artwork was in stunning black and white sketches. I’m not a huge fan of the standard comic superhero artwork, like Marvel or DC, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the artwork for this graphic novel was very realistic. In fact, I was able to see the imagery that Melville was describing in his book by looking at the illustrations. For example, there are many pages where Melville is describing the process that the whalers go through after they capture a whale and separate the sperm oil, or spermaceti from the blubber that they use for lamp oil back home. Since I’m more of a visual learner, I was able to understand the process better by reading the graphic novel that nicely summarizes it. Now of course, I’m not sure if the illustrations are historically accurate, but I like to think they are because they’re based off of a historically accurate novel.
Reading that classic, you get not just a dose of intense poetry, ideas, and writing style, but also quite the history lesson about Nantucket whaling in the mid 1800s. Nantucket’s culture in this era is very interesting and deserves a Google search. (May I now recommend you the fascinating book In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick, a true story about a whaling ship that was literally attacked and sunk by a whale.)
I also thought the way the illustrations and angles were organized was very artistic and helped to convey a certain mood (there I go again with “emotion in stories,” but without the film score part). For instance, in the first few pages, there’s nothing but a black and while silhouette of a man walking down a hill with sea gulls in the sky behind him. It gave me a sense of calm anticipation, if that makes any sense.
The thing I just love about comics and graphic novels is that each panel can be seen as a movie shot, and the whole story like a movie’s storyboard. You can easily piece each panel together and make a movie out of it. That’s how my mind likes to read it, like I’m watching (instead of reading words) a movie. It’s so genius!!!!
I also feel like the graphic novel portrayed the characters pretty accurately. I felt like I even understood them better. For instance, when I first read the original novel, I didn’t get the whole thing with Queequeg selling heads. This time, while reading the dialog and seeing the pictures that go along with it, I understood it completely. I swear, every two pages I went, “OOHHHHH THAT’S WHAT IT MEANS/HE SAID/HAPPENED!!!!” (It was quite a revelational read for me.)
The relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg was portrayed accurately, I think, but Chabouté did an amazing job with Captain Ahab. Even though his soliloquy to the head of the whale was taken out for the graphic novel (a thought provoking speech, summing of up his personality and motives), his character got the right amount of page time, I feel, to make clear his obsession for killing Moby Dick and his relationship with his crew.
I don’t want you to see all this praise for the graphic novel basically being the excuse I have for not reading the original novel again. If you don’t necessarily like reading, but you can do graphic novels just fine, I highly recommend this book to you, just so that you can get a feel for the story of an original classic. But never see graphic novel versions as substitutes. Even though this graphic novel for Moby Dick was excellently done and a breath of fresh air, I want to go back and read the original even more. Now that I understand the story, I’ll be able to enjoy Melville’s actual writing and prose.
What do you think? Have you read the original novel? What do you think of giving this graphic novel a try? Don’t hesitate to leave your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading!