One often hears of writers that rise and swell with their subject, though it may seem but an ordinary one. How, then, with me, writing of this Leviathan? Unconsciously my chirography expands into placard capitals. Give me a condor’s quill! Give me Vesuvius’ crater for an inkstand! Friends, hold my arms! For in the mere act of penning my thoughts of this Leviathan, they weary me, and make me faint with their outreaching comprehensiveness of sweep, as if to include the whole circle of the sciences, and all the generations of whales, and men, and mastodons, past, present, and to come, with all the revolving panoramas of empire on earth, and throughout the whole universe, not excluding its suburbs. Such, and so magnifying, is the virtue of a large and liberal theme! We expand to its bulk. To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it.
From “The Fossil Whale,” Chapter 104 of Melville’s Moby-Dick.
Jens Harder’s Leviathan is a graphic novel in the truest sense. Harder uses scratchy but fluid images to tell the story of a mystical whale who battles a giant squid, saves Noah’s ark, attacks the Pequod, wreaks havoc on a cruise ship, and eventually battles an armada of anachronisms. The only text Harder employs in Leviathan are excerpts and quotes from a variety of sources including the Bible and a host of philosophers; the bulk of quotes come from Melville’s Moby-Dick. Just as that novel begins with an “Etymology” followed by a section called “Extracts,” Harder begins with a section called “Leviathanology,” a collection of quotes about leviathans from the likes of Hobbes, Milton, and the book of Job. These quotes inform the story of Leviathan, connecting the whale to a sublime and unknowable mystery that Harder will explore. Harder’s surreal images often invert notions of “proper” space and time, giving the whale an awesome significance, but also positing the beast as something that denies signification. By eschewing the traditional forms of graphic storytelling, which rely on speech bubbles and clear-cut panel transitions, Harder is able to capture something that is essentially too large to capture. This book works. Highly recommended.