Friday, July 30, 2010

A Whale of a Tale

(Okay, my computer now operates courtesy of Ubuntu, rather than Windows XP. In short, fellow babies... I'm back.)

By now, it should be no secret to any of the long-time readers of this blog that I am fascinated by the story of Moby Dick, the far-famed, fictitious white whale pursued by Captain Ahab. And by "story," I mean the novel itself, Herman Melville's Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (and ya gotta love that only-in-the-title hyphen), several filmed versions which I've seen (and own), and numerous comic book adaptations which I own as well. I even own a copy of a "stamp book" (don't ask) which I had as a child.

A few years back, I wrote an article for a local newspaper which told about my childhood obsession for the story of Moby Dick while also telling of my participation in the New Bedford Whaling Museum's annual "Moby Dick Marathon," where readers of all ages come from various points of the globe to read the novel aloud, a section at a time. (That particular task takes twenty-five hours, by the way.) One of my earliest posts on this blog reprinted that article, which filled half of the newspaper's page, and if you missed that post back in 2008 and want to read it now, go here.

I have a large collection of books and films about whaling, plus other whaling memorabilia as well. Some of that stuff dates back to the 1800s. I could go on and on -- and I know, usually I do just that -- but you've endured enough introductory crap for now.

Today's post is specifically going to showcase my two favorite comic book adaptations... and by "favorites," I don't mean best-written, and/or best-illustrated. I mean "favorites" in the sense that they're the coolest to me in terms of all the Moby-Dick comic adaptations cluttering the Silver Fox's "den." And they're tied for first place, as it were.

During the year of my birth, 1956, an impressive film adaptation was released, directed by John Huston and starring Gregory Peck, Richard Basehart, Orson Welles, and many others. Dell Comics came out with a comic book version of the film in their varied & celebrated Four Color series (#717). I think the cover, combining a photo of Mr. Peck as Ahab, and a background painting, is simply striking!

(But... guys? Where's the effin' whale?)

The second comic book is the 1950 Feature Presentations Magazine #6, the cover of which was illustrated by comic great Wallace Wood, early in his career. The copy I now own is in absolutely gorgeous shape, although I must admit that the scan below (as well as the scan of Dell's Four Color #717) was culled from the internet.

I received this gem as a gift from my close friend Paul Howley, owner of That's Entertainment, the Eisner Award-winning "pop culture emporium" which was my alma mater in the field of comics retailing. And hey, to end this on a light note, I'm gonna reproduce the postscript from my blog about the Moby Dick Marathon here, in case you decide not to follow the link which I provided above (This did not appear in the original newspaper article, of course!):

Okay, now, if a person who is a fan (maybe, even, to the point of obsession) of the Grateful Dead is a "Dead Head"... What would you call someone who -- like myself -- is a fan (maybe, even, to the point of obsession) of the novel Moby-Dick?

Just a rhetorical question, really. I just wanted to say it before someone else came up with it. Heh. 

That's all for now, except... I swear I didn't realize this before a minute ago, while I was perusing the site to the New Bedford Whaling Museum which I linked to above, but August first, only two days from now, is the 191st anniversary of Herman Melville's birth! Who'da thunk it?

Thanks for your time.


  1. I've tried to read it. I've REALLY TRIED. Why don't I get it?!?

  2. Sorry, Megan, I know my blog posts can be long, but... Oh, you meant Moby-Dick? Yeah, it's admittedly not for everyone, even those who appreciate authors like Dickens, Poe, Bronte, Hawthorne, Cooper, etc. I still think yer swell.

  3. Also, Megan, did you ever watch the 1956 movie? Or the late 1990s version with Patrick Stewart as Ahab? Maybe you'd like the story, if not the novel?

  4. I don't think I have ever seen the movie! I'm going to look up the one with G. Peck in it. :)

    And..I went back and read the link I get a prize for that? ha.

    Firefly recently posted about her 24 hour reading participation in Alabama celebrating the anniversary of To Kill A Mockingbird.

  5. @Betsy: Gotta check that out. Thanks.

    And as far as a prize goes... I'm sure I can think of something...

  6. It's interesting how pervasive a classic bit of literature can become in popular culture. The Odyssey has been recast both in book and film form several times - in Charles Frazier's novel Cold Mountain and in Anthony Minghella's film of the book, and in the Coen Brothers' film O Brother, Where Art Thou? The Matrix has references to Lewis Carroll's Alice books all through it, and the movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow has all kinds of elements from and references to the movie version of The Wizard of Oz in it. Moby Dick is no different. It's interesting that you bring up Patrick Stewart's involvement of the 1990s TV movie (1998), because he also starred in a Star Trek take on the book, the second TNG (The Next Generation) feature film, First Contact (1996). I often wonder if they cast Stewart as Ahab because of the great take on Ahab he did in First Contact.

    Now I'm busting my brain to see if I can come up with other takes on Moby Dick in popular culture.

  7. I loved Gregory Peck in almost everything he ever did. But in Moby Dick I was, frankly, cheering for the whale. I remain on the side of whales to this day.

    One day - if ever I live that long (and at this point it is doubtful) - I will actually attempt reading the book. I understand it is full of religious imagery - which does not appeal to me in the slightest, but which does make for a good novel under some circumstances - this being one of them so the critics say.

    BTW, Fox.... would that make you a Moby-Head? HA hahahaha. Just checking to see if you are paying attention.

  8. Wow, it's the longest book I've ever slogged through without loving it. War & Peace being the longest I loved. I had to do a college paper on comparison/contrast of American heroes/anti-heroes/protagonists. Moby Dick was one of the books and the hardest of all for me to read. I loved the other books: Native Son, Huck Finn, Gatsby, An American Tragedy.

    I liked the narrator whose name I've forgotten. All I can think of is Ishmael.

  9. This brings to mind a bit from "Married With Children," when Bud was "helping" Kelly with her overdue book report on "Moby Dick." He was telling her that Moby Dick was a talking whale, and that only Ahab could hear him. Bud even sang the theme song:
    A whale is a whale of course of course,
    and no one can talk to a whale of course,
    unless of course the name of that whale,
    is the famous Mister Dick.
    LOL! I crack myself up!

  10. @Roy: Yeah, I loved First Contact, my favorite of the Trek films (my second favorite being, unsurprisingly, the fourth one, the one about the whales & the 20th century). And I, too, have often wondered if Stewart's casting as Ahab in 1998 was inspired by his role in the 1996 Trek outing.

    @AngelMay: As I said to Megan above, it's a book that's not for everyone. In the newspaper article of mine which I linked to, I mentioned that it was referred to in two separate editons of "The Book of Lists" as both one of the ten best American novels AND one of the 15 most boring classics.

    I wouldn't sweat the religious stuff, if that's not to your liking. All the biblical names figure in with the period anyway. Plus, symbolism and allegory -- religious or otherwise -- can be double-edged swords. They can be seen where none exist, or ignored in lieu of the actual story if one wants to or if (as in the case of my young self) one is ignorant of the deeper meanings.

    I once wrote a comic book story in which the sound effect "BUDDA-DADA-DOW!" was used for a firing machine gun. The artist asked if it was a conscious reference to Buddhism, Dadaism, and Daoism. I truthfully replied, "No... I just thought it was a really cool sound effect!"

  11. @AngelMay (again): The idea of siding with the whale(s) is touched upon in that earlier post, where I talked about my young godson's reaction to the museum and the section of "Moby-Dick" which I got to read in front of the audience.

  12. @Cali Girl: Yep... The book is not for everyone.

    @Skip: Never saw that episode. Pretty funny bit.

  13. Oh my God. (or as your partner, the late Skip Simpson would say, oh my gawd) I can't believe this. You got off to a great start discussing those two 1950's graphic literature treasures, but then totally blew your chance to extol the greater glories of Star Trek by discussing Captain Picard's Ahab characterization in First Contact. And what DID you do? Butt-kiss!!! This isn't just sad. It's an outrage!

  14. @Sharpie: I think you meant "bupkis," Sharpster!

    And... Take a pill, dude.

  15. Well Happy Birthday to old Blue Eyes , as one of my professors once called him! I once had the good fortune to visit New Bedford in search of a shrine to Saint Jude on Pleasant Street, and also found the Whaling Museum nearby. (I read in Ted Kennedy's recently published autobiography that he was a long time supporter of this museum.) I really know more about Melville's BILLY BUDD and love the film starring Terrance Stamp. But either way, Melville is a master story teller.
    Did you know that Gregory Peck's last film role was as Father Mapple in a made for TV version of Moby Dick?
    The more I read about this man, the more I adore him.
    Mary Badham aka "Scout," says that he was a friend to her for the rest of his life.
    Thanks for stopping by my recent posts on MOCKINGBIRD.

  16. I left my comment on the above post before I saw this one. I adore this 1956 film adaptation and actually own a copy that I watch quite often. After the film came out, there was a ton of movie memorabilia produced. I had a little Moby Dick bathtub whale that squired water from it's all innocence, of course. Wish I still had it, I could make a bundle auctioning it off on Antiques Roadshow!

  17. @ Willow: Yeah, I saw it (but I'm not sure if I'm ready to call you, FireLight, and myself "Dick Heads")! Thanks for both.

    And... "I had a little Moby Dick bathtub whale that squirted water from it's all innocence, of course?" Well, of course. How else could you have meant it? ;-)

  18. I too, enjoyed the Gregory Peck movie but couldn't get into the book when I was in high school...I hope to give it another try someday. I'm still slogging through Gulliver's Travels...yuck!


I strongly urge you to sign up for follow-up comments, because I (usually) reply to your comment! Comments left for me more than two weeks after a post is published will not appear until I approve them, but they will be answered eventually!


Related Posts with Thumbnails