Moby Dick
by Herman Melville
& Will Eisner
(NBM, 2001)

There is no simpler plot: obsession and revenge. Yet Captain Ahab's final voyage to settle a debt with God and a great white whale is one of the great American novels.

There is no simpler style of art: uncluttered and minimalist. Yet Will Eisner remains one of the most influential cartoonists of the 20th century. At its creative peak, his innovative visual storytelling was unmatched, and Eisner's technique continues to teach artists and writers as it entertains his legions of fans. His adaptation of Moby Dick even succinctly points out why comic books and strips will never equal the depth of the novel.

Huh?! You disrespecting comics, boy? Why, you....

Herman Melville's novel is not held in high esteem for its plot, but for its depth of characterization, philosophical and psychological insight into the human condition, and for its meticulous and accurate historic detail. All three are missing from Eisner's adaptation in various but obvious degrees. Why? Is it because this master cartoonist simply hasn't the understanding or ability to transfer these things to the written page? No. It is because the number of pages needed to delve into complicated ideas in a comic book is financially restrictive. Despite the central importance given to art by most comics fans, art alone cannot quickly convey an intricate idea.

Oh, yeah!! Sez who?!

Sez me. Draw this sentence, art-obsessed fan-boy: "The belief in objective, absolute truth is dead."

You had better give yourself lots of pages of art to do what those eight words conveyed. Every art form has its limits. Because he had 32 pages to tell his story, Eisner correctly focused on plot.

Moby Dick is a minor work from a major talent that is still recommended for all ages as an introduction to a magnificent novel.

- Rambles
written by Michael Vance
published 3 May 2003

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