Moby Dick by Herman Melville is a classic in western literature. At over 900 pages long it is also a large commitment to take on. Campfire Graphics has condensed this to a mere 88 richly illustrated pages. And done quite a decent job too.
Ishmael has left the Merchant Marines but not his love of the sea. He has traveled to New Bedford, MA when our story opens, and is seeking a room. The inn is crowded and he ends up sharing a room with Queequeg, a tattooed Pacific Islander. Despite their initial mistrust of each other, when they discover they are both looking to go whaling, they decide to travel together. They go to the island of Nantucket and there join the whaling ship Pequod on a three-year whaling voyage. They soon discover that the captain of the ship, Captain Ahab, is obsessed with hunting the white whale, Moby Dick. The two had clashed years before and Moby Dick had bitten off Ahab’s leg. He swore his revenge and has been hunting every since. Of course, they do also hunt regular whales and cut them up for their oil along the way, but all the while looking for signs of Moby Dick.
This graphic novel adaptation of Herman Melville’s classic does a wonderful job of distilling down the main narrative. Considering the length of the original and the relative thinness of this graphic novel adaptation that is quite a feat. Melville’s original work is filled with long, descriptive passages about the minutiae of running a whaling ship. These are reduced to some beautiful illustrations of hunting whales and an illustrated glossary in the back. Doing this does not detract from the book but rather helps the action packed story move along at a brisk pace. Kept is the conflict between man and nature, between western civilization and non-western peoples, and between a human being and his inner demons.
There are some moments that I wish had footnotes for explanation especially since, as a graphic novel, I am expecting a more accessible version of the novel. For example, the opening scene when Ishmael has to share a bed with a fellow traveler. This just does not happen today. People are just not asked to sleep in the same bed with strangers. But it was common enough one hundred and fifty years ago. But there is no explanation in the story of the culture of the time. Or that fact that a standard whaling voyage was three years at sea. It’s hard to imagine such an isolated job today. Its not so much that it takes away from the story, so much as it causes a little speed bump in my reading.
With lushly painted illustrations and dynamic paneling, Campfire is quickly making a name for itself as a company doing quality adaptations of classic works.
Recommended for grade seven and up (no nudity, no swearing, no blood, but people drown).
by Herman Melville; Adapted by Lance Stahberg
Art by Lalit Kumar Singh
Campfire Press, 2010
Publisher Age Rating: (Ages 12 and up)