Moby Dick is one of the most well-known stories in western literature. The mere mention of a “White Whale” conjures a sense of an impossible chase, mad obsession, suicidal hatred, and mythical goals the pursuit of which will surely result in the death of oneself and their colleagues. I’ve always loved imagery that figures of Ahab and Moby Dick capture. Perhaps it is part of being a creative that lets you sympathize with what is surely a pathological problem with your mind. At times you let everything collapse around you as you madly pursue your creation. Nothing matters but this bright diamond I am making.
Has anyone else experienced this? You begin to really sink into a project and slowly your daily concerns become less and less present. You slowly see your studio turn from tidy workspace to bombed-out ruin and your house begins to look like something out of a dystopian nightmare. You finally finish your creation and upon waking the next day, stumble out bleary-eyed into your home to find the house on fire. The refrigerator is empty but for half a bottle of ketchup, dirty clothes litter the floor atop discarded pizza boxes and empty cans, pictures hang askew over the upended couches your pets are now living under. The grass outside has grown into a trackless jungle while soggy piles of mail expire on the doorstep. (Bills of increasingly alarming colors amongst them.) A family of raccoons are now living in your AC unit. Something is growing behind microwave and the bathroom is an unspeakable horror. You think you might be going blind in one eye and your health is in shambles. Your friends and family have all shown up together, concerned looks on their faces, and they are talking slowly and deliberately … as if they were about to start some kind of intervention for you.
I think that is why I find Ahab such a fascinating and sympathetic figure. He gets it. And if you’ve ever madly pursued something you’d get it too. (And if your on this blog, then I think you’ve probably been there.) Which brings me to the above collage. I am painting a love letter to the crew of the Pequod and her maniacal captain. But before I got really into it I went out in search of every cover I could find. This isn’t all of them of course, there were literally hundreds in dozens of languages, but these are some of the best. I think it can be important to look into what other people have done when you are retreading well-worn ground. It is hard to know what images lurk in your subconscious and how easy it can be to accidentally recreate one without even knowing it. The other side of the coin is of course that by doing this you may influence yourself by one of these other artist’s work. Both are dangers. I try to get around this by making my own thumbnail first, purely from imagination and without looking at anything, and only after that I go hunting for all the other images from the same subject I can find. I think it’s helpful to see how other artists tackled the visual problems you are about to face. Hopefully you can learn by their example while at the same time avoid any heavy-handed borrowing.
It is also a fascinating excursion to see how other artists avoided the problems and engaged possibilities of the story with their design. In Moby Dick there is so much interesting symbolism along with the dynamic action to work with. Which did the artist take advantage of? Did they work with symbols or did they try for something more cinematic or moody? Which approach seem more successful for grabbing readers? Is their a perfect balance that can be achieved?
I hope you enjoyed this post! If you know of another Moby Dick cover that is awesome that ought to be in this collage let me know! I’d love to keep adding to this as I find them.