Friday, 27 October 2017

Moby Dick Review (Christophe Chaboute, Herman Melville)

Artist Christophe Chaboute adapts into comics what is considered to be THE Great American Novel, Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick. What’d I think? Call me… ambivalent! 

Chaboute’s adaptation is faithful to the original, including all the major themes/scenes/characters and hitting the same story beats, bar the most famous opening line in all world literature - “Call me Ishmael” - which is cleverly relocated. The story, if you’re somehow unfamiliar with it: set in the 19th century at the height of the whaling industry operating out of Nantucket, New England, our humble narrator Ishmael sets sail on what turns out to be the tragic final voyage of the doomed whaling ship, the Pequod. Its captain is the mad Ahab whose obsession with hunting down the vicious white sperm whale who ate his leg, Moby Dick, threatens to kill his entire crew.

It sounds like a way cooler story than it actually is. I thought Melville’s original wasn’t bad but very overrated. The writing style is outdated, the pacing is near glacial, the symbolism is far too heavy-handed (the life raft is a literal coffin!), and it’s overstuffed with laborious passages detailing the utterly boring pedantic minutiae of whaling. By far the best aspect of reading Chaboute’s comic over Melville’s original is the absence of these dreary chapters, not least because visually showing the whaling process instead is vastly more effective at giving you an idea of what it entailed.

Some of the pages are quite haunting with its black and white aesthetic and moody silence due to Chaboute’s choice of having a largely unobtrusive narrator, but I found the art mostly unimpressive. Also, the characters designs were unmemorable with too many characters looking alike.

I’m probably overfamiliar with the story which is why I wasn’t that engaged with the narrative. It’s not a standout version of the tale but on the whole it’s a decent book. New readers looking to read Moby Dick quickly without having to trudge through Melville’s thick prose will be well-served by Christophe Chaboute’s adaptation.

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