Why is the whale called “Moby Dick”?

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick by Chabouté. Translated by Laure Dupont. Dark Horse Books, 2017. 9781506701493.

I’ve danced around reading Moby Dick since buying a Fone Bone action figure with a little plastic copy, but I’m still too intimidated — I’ve never gotten past adaptations by Eisner and Kish and now this graphic novel.

This book is gorgeously large and  heavy, and illustrated in glorious black and white. It opens with a young, would-be whaler unexpectedly sharing a room with the intimidating Queequeg, a much tattooed harpooner recently arrived from the South Seas with a souvenir: a bunch of mummified heads. (Don’t worry, things work out. Q not only agrees to teach his new friend whaling, he also tells the man they’re married. Who knew Melville was that progressive?) After a freaky sermon they sign on with the Pequod. It’s clear from the start that Q is a badass harpooner, that Starbuck is trying to keep everyone safe, and that Ahab is mad and will do anything to kill the whale. But then, like me, you probably knew that already.

It’s the art and the pacing that kept me moving through the book. The story is told in short chapters, which is good because things are grim. From the short quotes (from the original I assume) that start each section and the heavy handed way everyone talks to each other, if this were just text or didn’t shift in time frequently I’d never have made it to the end. Ahab’s heavy, long coat is as black as the sea, and his eyes as crazy as Marty Feldman’s, though he’s clearly got focus. This gives the same sense of life on a boat as Nick Bertozzi’s Shackleton but it feels much more oppressive and frightening. The whales are huge. The boats that go after them aren’t. And even when the crew succeeds in killing one, it turns the boat into something worse than a butcher shop as they cut up and then boil down the blubber for the oil. (If they had eaten any of it this book might have turned me vegan.)

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