Moby — Mu Pan

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Moby, 2018 by Mu Pan (b. 1976)

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Big Whale — Mu Pan

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Big Whale, 2018 by Mu Pan (b. 1976)

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Perseus, whaleman (Melville/Sienkiewicz)

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From Bill Sienkiewicz’s adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. The Classics Illustrated edition (February 1990) is one of my favorite Moby-Dicks.

…it was here that Melville saw the work of JMW Turner

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Whalers, JMW Turner

It is clear from Melville’s journal, one of only two such surviving documents, that his mind was already playing with these ideas. Late at night, he “turned flukes” down Oxford Street as if he were being followed by a great whale, and thought he saw “blubber rooms” in the butcheries of the Fleet Market. And when he saw Queen Victoria riding past in a carriage, he joked that the young man sitting beside her was the Prince of Whales. London – which itself had only lately been a whaling port – was stirring up the ghosts of his past.

Perhaps most importantly, it was here that Melville saw the work of J M W Turner, a clear visual influence on his book-to-be. Turner had painted a series of whaling scenes for Elhanan Bicknell, whose British whaling company was based in the Elephant and Castle; parts of Moby-Dick would read like commentaries to those tempestuous, brutally poetic canvases, not least the painting that greets Ishmael at the Spouter-Inn, “a boggy, soggy, squitchy picture” of “a black mass . . . floating in a nameless yeast . . . an exasperated whale”. It is all the more intriguing to note how Melville’s Anglophilia was the yeast out of which this great American novel emerged – especially given that the book failed spectacularly in his homeland and it was left to British writers to recognise first its wilful, prophetic genius.

Read the rest of Philip Hoare’s essay “White Whale in the Big Smoke: How the Geography of London Inspired Moby-Dick” at the New Statesmen.

Leviathan — Bo Bartlett

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Musashi on the Back of a Whale — Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Leviathan–Jens Harder

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.

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