Fish Tales | Newberry

Fish Tales

One of the most tragically forgotten Irishmen of history is a whaler named Michael. He wrote up little accounts of his adventures for his blog: falling into a whale while cutting it up, engaging in playful food fights in native villages in the South Seas (thus starting the phrase, “Those who live in grass houses shouldn’t throw scones”). Unfortunately, computers in those days were powered by whale oil burners, and almost no one looked at his blog but other whalers, who mainly dismissed them. The only person who ever commented on them was another veteran sailor, one Herman Melville, and Michael would respond to these with a shortened version of his name, developed from years of writer’s cramp answering his fin mail, “M. O’Bedick” and he never knew Herman was writing a novel using all his….

No, huh? Dang these people who insist on populating the Interwebs with stuff that isn’t fake. Makes it tough on the rest of us.

See, what I was trying to do was entice you to come round to the Rosenberg Bookshop at the Newberry and look at all the Moby Dick merchandise. There’s everything from wooden toys in the shape of whales to beautifully annotated copies of the novel to a reprint of the original Classics Illustrated….hmmm?

Yes, I have mentioned Classics Illustrated before, and was reminded that some blog readers are simply not old enough to recall the original comic books. Oh, yes, there have been revivals since, but not many recall that on the eve of World War II, a company started producing 64-page comic books (the term graphic novels hadn’t been invented yet) based on classics of western literature. These classics had to be chosen for action—comic book versions of, say, Plato’s Republic would have to wait—and so the first five issued were The Three Musketeers, the Count of Monte Cristo, Ivanhoe, the Last of the Mohicans and, yup, Moby Dick. The line survived rising prices (which cut them back to 48 pages), occasional ventures into nonfiction of varying success, a few odd choices (G.A. Henty is a classic of his kind, but did he deserve to sit up there with Shakespeare, Melville, Poe, and Frank Buck?), and the changing regulations of the post office. It sort of gave up the ghost after its version of Faust in 1962, though other publishers tried to keep the books in print. The line is revived from time to time, and Moby Dick usually gets its place in the line-up.

What’s selling in the bookshop is a reproduction of the original 64-page classic Classics Illustrated (It was called Classic Comics in those days: a full history of the company and the books wouldn’t leave space on this website for anything else.) There are those who complained bitterly about turning classic literature into comic books, saying you were bound to lose much of the subtlety and style. How much of the worldview of Captain Ahab can be condensed into word balloons in small panels? Well, it was worse when it was cut to 58 pages; you have to allow for a little give and take. There are, of course, other graphic interpretations of the novel in question (including other comic book companies which tried their versions on the public) and some of those are available in the bookshop as well, if you already have the comic book version. (If you have the 1942 original and haven’t read it for a while, you could give it to the Book Fair. We’d take really good care of it.)

And St. Patrick’s Day weekend would be the perfect time for buying or donating a copy, since it was a favorite holiday with old Michael O’Bedick. He spent time telling me tales of that holiday in the old heroic days of whale oil blogging just this week. “I was goin’ ta harpoon a whale for me lunch,” he said, “But I couldn’ use me favorite harpoon because it was lent. So I took meself down to Starbuck’s….”

Oh, all right. You can read about it in the comic book version of this blog. It’ll be classic.

Add new comment