More Moby-Dick Art

My collection of Matt Kish’s Moby-Dick art continues to grow. A little before Christmas, he was taking commissions for fun, and my wife — knowing that I have kind of a thing for bookmarks — asked him to make some custom bookmarks for me. They’re really beautiful, with dark backgrounds and vibrant colors and iconic references to some of the striking images from his Moby-Dick art project. On the reverse side, he drew harpoons and lifted the following pretty iconic quotes from the book:

  • Call me Ishmael.
  • I am madness maddened!
  • To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.

I love these things and debated framing them, but I think Matt would prefer that I actually use them in books, which I am of course terrified of doing. So they’ve sat on my desk since Christmas, where I’ve seen them every day while working. The next time I can get by a store that sells such things, I plan to buy some kind of cover to protect them a little bit, and then these’ll become my primary and treasured bookmarks.

I’m not above using a receipt or an airplane boarding pass as a bookmark, but I do love having handmade bookmarks relevant to my interests or, in any case, bookmarks that are striking or unique. (Another recent favorite is a cheapo souvenir I brought home from Portugal telling the story of and depicting the Cock of Barcelos. Because I am a twelve-year-old boy at heart.)

Anyway, here’s what my Moby-Dick bookmarks look like (the poor lighting and photo quality obviously don’t do the pieces justice):

Bookmark art

Bookmark text

Matt also did the poster for an independent movie that came out today entitled Ahab, and when my wife got wind that he was going to be selling the original artwork, she snapped it up for me for my birthday. Matt writes about making the poster here, and as pleased as he is about the high quality printing of the posters, I can’t help but feel pretty satisfied that I own the original from which the posters were created. Again the photo here is lousy. It really is a very bold, weird piece and a great addition to my growing art collection.


Moby-Dick art by Matt Kish


A couple of years ago, I led an online group read of one of my favorite books, Moby-Dick. As part of that read, I ran across artist Matt Kish’s project to illustrate every page of his edition of the book. Matt was kind enough to contribute a few posts to the reading blog and has been a great guy to get to know a little ever since. I’ve been building up a small collection of his art, starting with the Fin back whale, which I got not in the form of an original piece of art or even a framed print but in the form of a tattoo.  I love my tattoo, but as it had to be simplified to be translated into ink on flesh, it doesn’t begin to compare to the intricacy of design or the richness of color of the original.

The first original (scan and citation here) I picked up was the one pictured at top right above. It actually didn’t make  the final cut as an illustration for the project (and book), so I was able to get my hands on it before the drawing project had wrapped up.

Once I had gotten the tattoo, Matt kindly earmarked the Fin back for me in the event that it was ever eligible for sale, and when he was ready to let it go, I snapped it up. Although it is in a way my most treasured piece, it also has the most humble framing — a cheapo black frame that sandwiches the art between two pieces of glass. I sprang for the gallery glass to fend off glare and protect the piece from harsh light, but I really didn’t want to mess up the back of the art, for two reasons. First, although you can’t really tell from the picture, it’s drawn — as are most of the pieces in the project — on found paper, in this case an old TV repair manual with diagrams. On the back are pictured a couple of vintage television sets, and I hated to lose the back of the piece by mounting it. There’s also an inscription that I didn’t want to lose access to.

My wife got the one pictured at lower right (scan and citation) for me for Christmas this year, and I love the depth of the piece, and all that blue, and how the lines linking part numbers to their corresponding elements in an assembly or part diagram work so well with the image of a squid (all those arms) bobbing on the sea.

Next came the bottom left (scan and citation). The project had been over for a while and Matt was trying to clear the decks, so to speak, so that he could move on to the next project without any of the baggage of the Moby-Dick project weighing him down. I loved the angry red in this one, the texture of the waves, that lightning-strike/scar that imparts to Ahab an external representation of the fractured mentality that dooms him and his crew. This one also happens to be drawn on a page from Moby-Dick about Ahab, and I like the layering of that choice.

And most recently, following pretty shortly after the Ahab image, I got the bottom middle one, a picture of good old Queequeg decked out in a shirt and big socks, carrying a nasty looking hook to be used in the process of turning a dead whale into salable product. Not really evident in the photo above (but clear enough in the scan) is Queequeg’s mark, or signature, which Matt rendered as a “Q” and lemniscate (that’s the three-dollar word for “infinity sign”).

I’m not on the whole a terribly materialistic person, but this little collection — which I’ve finally just gotten hung up as a collection after getting the last two back from the frame shop today — is my prized possession, the thing I’ll go back into the fire for once my kids are safe and sound.

Moby-Dick in Pictures

Here’s a quick reblog of a post I wrote for the literature/reading blog I’ve run (or in the last year neglected) for a couple of years now.

In a nutshell, a book I’ve long been waiting for has finally come out, and it’s a wonderful book. Even if you’re not into Moby-Dick, the art in the book is so distinctive that it’s worth a look. Of course, you can get a look at electronic copies at author Matt Kish’s site, and if you’re so taken by one that you’d like to buy it, you can do that too.

Having this book land at last on my doorstep felt like Christmas. A couple of photos:

The book and its gorgeous box. It's a big book.

I bought the original of the Fin Back months ago and can now see it miniaturized in the book.

Moby-Dick on Encore

A few nights ago, I discovered that Encore’s recent two-part mini-series adaptation of Moby-Dick (IMDB page) was available on demand. Starring Ethan Hawke as Starbuck and William Hurt as Ahab with appearances by Donald Sutherland and Gillian Anderson, the show was fairly star-studded and not badly cast at all. I thought Hurt as Ahab was credible, though I think the part was misdirected. I’m not alone in thinking the show portrayed Ahab as rather more like the Buddy Jesus version of Ahab than what die-hard fans of the novel will really be on board with, but I do believe that with better direction and writing, Hurt could have pulled off a great Ahab. Southerland as Father Mapple was a bit of a joke, and the foregrounding (briefly) of Ahab’s wife rubbed me the wrong way, but it was nice to see Scully again. Hawke played Starbuck admirably, and Billy Boyd played a solid Ishmael. Second Mate Stubb I liked, but Flask was neither stout nor rowdy enough for my taste. All in all, I was pleased with the casting and acting.

The plot itself diverged rather drastically from the novel (predictably, I suppose). Steelkilt, who has an important thematic role in the novel but is by no means part of the main story, has a major role in the film. I guess that a movie adaptation of the novel does need someone to step up and speak out against Ahab more vocally than Starbuck is permitted by his station to do, and the introduction of Steelkilt for that purpose is actually fairly ingenius. The purist in me hates the move, but the pragmatist can see why the filmmakers brought Steelkilt to the screen.

The writers screwed rather a lot with the sequence of events in the original. In the film, the white whale attacks when the boats first lower for another whale, and I thought that sapped a lot of suspense from the movie. On the other hand, I suppose the writers felt as if they needed to let us know very early on that Moby-Dick was a real threat. (But doesn’t anybody who’d be inclined to watch such a movie have at least an inkling that there’s a great white whale and a catastrophe?) I don’t object at all to the idea that Moby-Dick might have been lurking about, and in fact I even sort of liked the notion that Ahab and the whale had a real sense of each other’s proximity, but I think the attack should have been put off and the suspense drawn out. Other plot divergences such as the omission of Fedallah and crew struck me as being in good service to the film without detracting from any sense of fidelity to the original.

Ishmael becomes a bit too important in this version of the tale. Ahab confides in him one time, trounces him another, and he’s generally just too present within the story. Of course the novel has a number of problems with point of view, in that it’s a first-person narrative in which many events occur that would not have been accessible by the narrator (e.g. private moments between Ahab and Starbuck). But these are problems of the novel and need not be dealt with by the movie, which naturally has its own omnipresent point of view. I suppose the writers felt a need to make more of a protagonist of Ishmael so that his escape at the end seemed somehow justified by his importance within the rest of the movie, but again the purist in me found it distracting and unnecessary.

Probably my favorite moments in the film occurred once the harpooners had sunk a dart in a whale and were being pulled along behind. Melville describes the peril of such moments in great detail in the novel, and I think this film does the moments justice. It was great fun to watch. I also enjoyed some of the visual depictions of life aboard a whaler — such as cutting up blubber, etc. — and found myself wishing there were more of these moments. I wish we had seen a better representation of the try pots, which Melville describes thoroughly and with great, appropriately hellish effect.

I did enjoy the movie, which had a budget of 25 million bucks and was on the whole a nicely put-together piece (the costumes, the staging, the special effects) as TV movies go. I think it’s a better adaptation than the one of a few years ago starring Patrick Stewart. It’s been long enough since I’ve seen the Gregory Peck version that I can’t really compare the two, but I suspect this version of the story is more vivid and engaging, the former probably truer to the original and a little less silly on the Ahab front. If you’ve got three hours handy and are of a mind to watch a version of the Moby-Dick story that differs significantly from the novel but has plenty of merits of its own, give it a watch. You can read a couple of other reviews here and here.

Fin Back

Last year, I led an online group read of Moby-Dick. While doing so, I happened across the art of Matt Kish, with whom I’ve struck up something of a friendship since. When I met him, Matt was about midway through a project to illustrate every page of Moby-Dick. He was kind enough to contribute some articles for the group read, and in February, he finished his ambitious project, which is now being collected in an art book. I was lucky enough to be the first to purchase one of the original pieces from the project (though several other illustrations that didn’t make the final cut have also been sold, and I’ve bought one of those too).

It’s a really gorgeous piece, vibrantly colored and drawn on an old TV schematic. The drawing has hundreds of tiny precision lines and dots that aren’t nearly as impressive in the crummy phone snapshot below as they are in person.

Although there are lots of fantastic pieces in the collection, this one is of particular significance to me because I decided last June to get a tattoo adaptation of it. Naturally, I got Matt’s permission first, and he was really pleased with the outcome. I am too. (As with the original art, the photo below really doesn’t do the piece justice.)

Fin Back Tattoo

When my wife and I talked about my getting a tattoo, she had envisioned something much smaller than what I wound up with. For that matter, so had I, but it was hard to translate the stencil the tattoo artist showed me into a size relative to my back, which for understandable reasons I have only a tenuous understanding of the size and geography of. She was upset when I came home with a bandage covering the better part of my not-small upper back. I think it’s grown on her since, and although I didn’t mean to get one quite so large, I love that it’s as big as it is.

The tattoo artist had to change the sizing on a lot of elements to translate the original piece into a tattoo, and I think that by and large, he did a great job. Some of the crookedness manifest in the snapshot above is the result of my back’s contours and not of an unsteady hand on the tattoo artist’s part. I wish he had colors matching the originals a little more closely, I’ll say.

Since the moment I got the thing, I’ve wanted another (maybe even another Kish piece), but I’m told I’m disallowed from doing so, at least for a few years.

I’m glad now to have the original artwork in hand as a companion to my inked knock-off.