The Written Image: Moby-Dick in Pictures

From the November/December 2011 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

Ohio artist Matt Kish first encountered Moby-Dick through images—as a child he watched the 1956 John Huston film adaptation and pored over a heavily abridged, illustrated paperback edition—so it makes sense that his self-professed obsession found its outlet in a picture series of epic proportions. A librarian and former English teacher who draws habitually despite having no formal art training, Kish set out two years ago to create an illustration a day for every page of Melville’s tome, and in October all

552 works were published as Moby-Dick in Pictures by Tin House Books. (Kish had found early inspiration in another Tin House offering, Zak Smith’s Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel “Gravity’s Rainbow, published in 2006.) The image above, made using ink, marker, and colored pencil on an index from a nautical text, is an interpretation of the line from page 109 of the Signet Classics one hundred fiftieth anniversary edition (2001): “‘I will have no man in my boat,’ said Starbuck, ‘who is not afraid of a whale.’” Other drawings incorporate maritime charts and tables, magazine cutouts, and an array of media portraying, in various styles and degrees of abstraction, the journey of the Pequod’s crew and its object of doomed pursuit. For a slideshow of Kish’s images from Chapter XXXII: Cetology, in which Melville arduously catalogues species of marine mammals, visit