Released by: Dark Horse Comics
Released on: February 8th, 2017.
Written by: Herman Melville, Christophe Chabouté
Illustrated by: Christophe Chabouté
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“Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries - stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water…”
A man walks through the snowy night into a small seaside town in hopes of finding a job on a whaling ship. He starts his quest at the Spouter Inn, the only place he can likely afford. The innkeeper tells him that the place is full, there are no beds – unless he’s willing to share one with a harpooner with a dark face. The man, who we know to be Ishmael, wants to meet this harpooner first before agreeing to share a bed, but the harpooner is out trying to ‘sell his heads’ door to door. The innkeeper shows Ishmael to the room where the young man waits for his mysterious bunkmate to show up. And then he does – in the form of Queequeg a southern pacific islander with a frightening tattooed visage. It doesn’t go well at first, but after the innkeeper talks to him, Queequeg and the men get some rest.
Ishmael and Queequeg become fast friends, learning from one another and forming a bond as they look for work after honoring tradition and visiting the local chapel where they take in a sermon about Jonah and his adventures with the whale. Together they soon find employment on a ship dubbed The Pequod after talking to Peleg about his experience (or lack thereof) and the reason he wants to go whaling. He and Bildad accept him, but they don’t want Queequeg onboard until he gives them a demonstration of his harpooning skills.
Two days later, despite warnings about The Pequod’s notorious Captain Ahab, they board. Mr. Starbuck and Mr. Stubb talks to the crew, letting it be known that this ship is no place for a man who is scared of a whale. That night, as the men sleep in their quarters, they hear the sound of a peg leg walking on the deck above them. The next morning, Queequeg, Ishmael and the rest finally meet Ahab himself, a stern looking aged man with a weathered face and piercing dark eyes. His story? Years ago Ahab had his leg taken by a Great White Whale he’s named Moby Dick, and he intends to sail the seas of the world until he can track down and kill the beast. He nails a gold doubloon to the mast and says that it will be given to any man who can find him “a white sperm whale with a wrinkled brow and a crooked jaw… a sperm whale with three holes punctured in his starboard fluke.” Ahab makes the men swear on it, that they’ll help him chase this white whale “To the ends of the Earth! Until he spouts black blood! And rolls on his side!”
As they set further out to sea, they first come across a party of whales, but Moby Dick is not among them. Regardless, they men bring in a good haul. They come across another ship – Ahab talks to the captain, a man who is missing his arm, about the whereabouts of Moby Dick, and after getting that information soon has The Pequod rerouted.
Ahab, however, becomes more demanding and more obsessed with his quest. When he starts to take more drastic action after smashing the ship’s compass just before a massive storm sets in, all onboard, including Ahab’s right hand man Starbuck (who is on this voyage for business and not for vengeance), realize that as enigmatic and inspiring as Ahab can be, his obsessions with Moby Dick borders on genuine insanity. As times goes on, Ishmael and some of the other men come into their own, but Ahab remains steadfast in both his quest and his control over the ship and its crew.
“God is against thee, old man; forbear! ‘Tis an ill voyage! Ill begun, ill continued.”
Christophe Chabouté’s take on Moby Dick sticks remarkably close to Herman Melville’s original text. As such, there are no surprises here in terms of the storytelling, but that doesn’t dismay the power that this tale still holds over its reader. A perfect tale of obsession and madness, this is gripping stuff with wonderful character development not just for the genuinely iconic Ahab, but for Ishmael and Queequeg as well. We feel for them. Even Ahab, who we know is mad, we feel for. There’s a great sequence where he talks to Starback about the wife he’s left behind, a widow though her husband is still alive. There’s a sadness here, almost genuine remorse, but his love for his wife isn’t nearly as strong as his blood lust. As such, his mad quest continues, to the betterment of no man involved in this folly.
But most reading this will, hopefully, be already quite familiar with the text on which his illustrated version is based. So how does Christophe Chabouté’s artwork shape up? Stunning! The black and white heavily inked artwork in this tome is absolutely gorgeous. The characters are all remarkably expressive, with Ahab of course really stealing the show – Chabouté’s take on Ahab is perfect. You really get into his head, understand just how far into the deep he’s gone not only by his words, but by the facial expressions he’s given here. The rest of the men in the book are also very well drawn but clearly Ahab is the focus, and rightly so. Of course, there’s also the matter of detail, and here too Chabouté scores full marks. From the sequence in the chapel, decorated by a whaling ship’s bow in place of a pulpit and littered with memorials to the men lost at sea, to The Pequod itself, you can almost feel the spray of the sea, the slivers in the wooden mast or the rippling canvas of the ship’s sails. All of this is to say nothing of the titular leviathan itself. Chabouté’s take on Moby Dick, the beast, the cause of all of this madness, is frightening. This is indeed a massive whale, far bigger than any of the others that the men have encountered, and far meaner as well. Chabouté’s artwork ensures that we understand through his line work just how monstrous this creature is, and the finale, wherein Ahab and his men attempt to fulfill his fantasy, are mesmerizing.
This two-hundred and fifty-six page hardcover also includes a one page text introduction written by John Arcudi that note how difficult a book Moby Dick is to adapt due to the cerebral nature of Melville’s original prose and how Chabouté actually manages to get it right in this version. I’m inclined to agree. This is a masterpiece of comic illustration and one of the finest sequential art versions of a work of classic literature you’re ever likely to come across.