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Moby Dick Illustrations! + a giveaway

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Moby Dick Illustrations! + a giveaway

Happy birthday to Herman Melville, best known as the author of Moby Dick, today! I have a really special post and giveaway in honor of his birthday. 

Ever been reading something, and you could picture the scene? Ever had the urge to make doodles and sketches in the margins? Well, illustrator Matt Kish went one step further. He took the entirety of Moby Dick, and created a drawing for each page (and there are 552 of them!) to create Moby Dick in Pictures, which is coming out this fall.

I love the idea, and I love the results. Here’s the page one illustration:

Call me Ishmael.Everything about this is awesome. The entire concept of taking a classic and creating an illustration for every page, the range of styles across the illustrations I’ve seen so far, the graffiti/tag style of this particular image, and the fact that the illustrator is posting random previews of the illustrations on their Twitter account before the book comes out (see it here: MobyDickInPics). No, I am not affiliated with the author or publisher in anyway – and am not getting paid to write this.

In case you haven’t noticed yet, I was really taken by this project. I asked Matt a few questions about it, and here’s what he said.

What made you decide to do this project?
In the late summer of 2009, I was feeling really creatively restless. I knew I wanted to be making something but I didn’t know what. I had no real direction. I knew about Zak Smith’s project illustrating every page of Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and something about that gargantuan ambition and brutal discipline really appealed to me. Really, almost subconsciously, the idea to do something similar for Moby-Dick leapt into my head, which makes sense since it has been one of my favorite stories since I was a child. The project dovetailed nicely with everything that was going on for me then…restlessness, the desire to challenge myself, and the sense of accomplishment I knew I would have when I finished illustrating what would essentially be my own version of the novel. I decided to do one illustration per page, per day, until I was done with the entire thing and was able to more or less keep to that.

Does Moby Dick have a special meaning for you?
Not a single, specific meaning, but many. What continues to fascinate me is the richness of the novel, and how, no matter when I read it, I seem to see and learn and enjoy new facets and new ideas. The novel is a brilliant mosaic, deeply layered and endlessly complex. I am certainly no scholar, but I truly believe it is a novel that encompasses almost everything, and it remains surprisingly modern and timeless despite the challenging language. Just about everything anyone would need to know about life is somewhere in that book. Of that, I am convinced.

How long did it take you to illustrate the whole book?
This one is easy! I started on August 9, 2009 and finished on January 29, 2011. So that was 552 illustrations plus about 20 alternates and a handful of other unrelated art projects in 543 days. Sometimes I still can’t believe I actually did it.


I really like projects that are not only wonderful in their own right, but inspire me to do something cool too. What book would you illustrate if you could? What would your first page look like? Why not do it?

And now, the best part of today’s post! Because Matt is a such a nice guy, he offered to create an original ink & acrylic illustration for me to give away on this blog. This is it, though it looks even better in person (believe me, I was tempted to keep it for myself!) Want it? Read on for how you can win it.

The White Whale, ink & acrylic on found paper (an old TV repair diagram) 7.25" by 10.75"

To enter the contest:  comment here or on our Facebook page with what book YOU would illustrate if you could and I’ll pick my favorite as the winner. Deadline is August 15th.

Moby Dick in Pictures is due in October from Tin House Books. You can preorder it now from Amazon.

About nora

I'm a writer, web designer, and all-around digital communications junkie.

17 responses »

  1. Godel, Escher, Bach – Douglas Hofstadter

  2. Titus Groan, by Mervyn Peake. His wild grotesque Dickensian characters cry out for illustration. Peake did some character studies, but it would be wonderful to have an illustrated edition like the Gaiman/Vess ‘Stardust’.
    I’ve been following Matt’s project since early on & I have the book on preorder. An original artwork would be so cool…

  3. If I choose a book to illustrate, it has to be John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Some of the imagery in this magnum opus novel rivals that of Melville. I can think of a myriad of images to portray. The spent Oklahoma soil. The dust cloud. The men that have merged with machine on the industrial farms. The thin men, women, and children wandering toward the promised land of California. The citrus orchards and the green fields. The caravans of jalopies. Violent punches. The wary glance during an encounter with a rival for a job or a claim. The broken bodies and their broken spirits. The hope that continues to shine in the midst of all the misery. The final tender scene, giving nourishment and life.

    I think it’s scope and sweep across the American landscape is as large as Melville’s similar broad brush over the seven seas. Likewise, it’s examination of things as they are—and by contrast, what they could be—is as cutting as Melville’s political, religious, and cultural critique.

  4. If I had the artistic chops I would totally do a bunch of Borges’ work. You know, get a nice “Labyrinths” style anthology together & go nuts.

  5. I like all the suggestions so far, but I’d like to see Beowulf illustrated!

  6. Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”. I would draw a picture of nothing happening. Then I would draw it again.

  7. Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights.”

  8. Melville’s ‘Billy Budd’ or Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore [or Windup Bird Chronicles]

  9. Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

  10. Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. It screams to have every page illustrated. So gothic and full of the sublime.

  11. I’d illustrate “Nightwood” by Djuna Barnes. It’s a dark, lushly poetic work that takes place in Paris; it speaks of the deeply rooted, compelling aspects of love, just the grist for art (and life).

  12. I would illustrate “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, another classic. I love the language in that book. In fact, I read it out loud the first time I read it because I loved the way the words sounded. Fitzgerald’s style of writing could make for some really lovely visualizations and although the book’s not as long as Moby Dick, it’d still be a neat feat. 😉

  13. Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest would be an amazing book to render in stark black and white images. Chief Bromden’s so-called schizophrenic view of the world would also lend to some powerful Ralph Steadman-like hallucinatory visions. All of the electroconvulsive therapy scenes, too, would be extremely disturbing to visualize (as they were in the film, of course). And last, don’t forget about the fishing trip off the Oregon Coast!

    Kesey’s book deserves the love!

  14. I would do “Ulysses” by James Joyce — why not follow up arguably the best novel of the 19th century with the colossus of the 20th century? Joyce’s poetry practically begs for the one page, one image treatment.

  15. Im a little late to the party on this one, but can’t resist chiming in on this one….I’d have to pick “Villa incognito” by Tom Robbins. in addition to being my favorite author, his work just screams for illustration, and this one is bizarre enough to be really open to some creative interpretation.

  16. Thanks for all the great ideas everyone! The contest is now closed. I’ll be announcing the winner sometime tomorrow (Wed, August 17)

  17. Pingback: Matt Kish Illustration winner « summer of sister love

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