Why is the whale called “Moby Dick”?

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick by Chabouté. Translated by Laure Dupont. Dark Horse Books, 2017. 9781506701493.

I’ve danced around reading Moby Dick since buying a Fone Bone action figure with a little plastic copy, but I’m still too intimidated — I’ve never gotten past adaptations by Eisner and Kish and now this graphic novel.

This book is gorgeously large and  heavy, and illustrated in glorious black and white. It opens with a young, would-be whaler unexpectedly sharing a room with the intimidating Queequeg, a much tattooed harpooner recently arrived from the South Seas with a souvenir: a bunch of mummified heads. (Don’t worry, things work out. Q not only agrees to teach his new friend whaling, he also tells the man they’re married. Who knew Melville was that progressive?) After a freaky sermon they sign on with the Pequod. It’s clear from the start that Q is a badass harpooner, that Starbuck is trying to keep everyone safe, and that Ahab is mad and will do anything to kill the whale. But then, like me, you probably knew that already.

It’s the art and the pacing that kept me moving through the book. The story is told in short chapters, which is good because things are grim. From the short quotes (from the original I assume) that start each section and the heavy handed way everyone talks to each other, if this were just text or didn’t shift in time frequently I’d never have made it to the end. Ahab’s heavy, long coat is as black as the sea, and his eyes as crazy as Marty Feldman’s, though he’s clearly got focus. This gives the same sense of life on a boat as Nick Bertozzi’s Shackleton but it feels much more oppressive and frightening. The whales are huge. The boats that go after them aren’t. And even when the crew succeeds in killing one, it turns the boat into something worse than a butcher shop as they cut up and then boil down the blubber for the oil. (If they had eaten any of it this book might have turned me vegan.)


Shaken Not Stirred

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Martini Edition by Darwyn Cooke. IDW, 2011. 9781600109805. 360pp.

Contains the previously published adaptations of The Hunter and The Outfit, as well as the short “The Man with the Getaway Face,” and a new short, O. Henry-esque adaptation for this volume, “The Seventh”, and lots of extras.

I was having a crappy day yesterday, and somewhere in the back of my mind I must have remembered that this book was about a crook having a few bad days of his own.

The Hunter opens in 1962 as Parker is walking back into New York City. His wife shot him at the end of a recent heist, and then she took off with his partner on the job, Mal Resnick. They assumed Parker was dead. He tracks her down. Then he interrogates the man bringing her an envelope of cash to find out where that’s coming from. Then he tracks that guy down and keeps working his way up the chain of command. Resnick used the money from their heist to buy his way back into the mob. But the mob, instead of protecting Resnick, wants to see him deal with the problem he’s created: Parker.

I won’t tell you how it resolves, but I will say it’s the first in a long line of Parker novels, and at the end of The Hunter Parker needs a new face to hide from the mob (they prefer to be called The Outfit). That’s all covered in “The Man with the Getaway Face.” Then in The Outfit, after Parker survives getting fingered by an informant, he heads out to make peace with the mob by making things tough for them when he and his friends start hitting their operations. It’s beautiful. And all three of those books form one long story.

This is a deluxe, oversized collection of these previously published books. The duotone art looks fabulous on the thick, cream paper, and the larger pages really let the art sing. (Plus I didn’t need glasses to read the print.) There’s a conversation at the front of the book between Tom Spurgeon, crime writer Ed Brubaker, and Cooke, and a ton of extra art by Cooke that includes portraits of Parker, Westlake, and a portfolio of images inspired by the Parker films and others. There’s a drawing of Michael Caine in Get Carter (based on the excellent novel by Ted Lewis) that I just may have to cut out and frame.

These graphic novel adaptations have lead me to track down some of the original novels by Stark (a pen name of Donald Westlake). The original prose is spare, no nonsense, and tough, without the over-description and sentimentality that ruins too many modern mysteries for me. Parker isn’t ever nice or easy, and he doesn’t flinch from difficult and dangerous work, but he’s not stupid. No one could draw a 60s tough guy like Cooke, and the cinematic quality of his art makes this a better adaptation than any of the films — it enhances and clarifies the novels without changing them. (If, like me, you read this and want to see Parker on film, try Point Blank starring Lee Marvin or The Split starring Jim Brown (with Donald Sutherland, Gene Hackman, and Ernest Borgnine). Both Marvin and Brown feel like Parker. But don’t even bother with the latest film adaptation starring Jason Statham — it’s unforgivable even for a Statham fan like me.)

That Skinny Guy

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. Vintage, 1989. 9780679722632. 208pp.

Sarah: So I texted you when I was part way through this book because you recommended this as the next detective book for my mystery reading series. You said to read the book and then watch the movie, that it’s the best movie adaptation ever because it captures the feeling of the book.
Gene: Yeah. The pace and the dialogue are really similar.
S: And I picked it up and started reading and texted you that the writing was so good I wanted to punch things. Its beautiful, spare language is so evocative. You can see there’s a huge talent behind how little there is on the page.
G: It’s the couple, too. It’s Nick and Nora Charles. They have a great back-and-forth banter. Continue reading “That Skinny Guy”

Mythology and Wieners

Pantheon: The True Story of the Egyptian Deities by Hamish Steele. Nobrow, 2017. 9781910620205. 216pp.

pantheonGene: Pantheon! This sex-filled book you made me read. It’s all about the Egyptian gods, everything you wanted to know about them but were afraid to ask. It opens with the sun, Atum, in eternal darkess. Then he has a wank.
Sarah: The character drawings are the best in this book. I love them so much.
Gene: They’re all shown from the side, like they would appear on the walls of an Egyptian tomb. Crocodile people, bird-headed people. As with all nonfiction, I absorbed almost nothing, none of the names. I know Ra is in there, and Bast.
Sarah: Set is so great. His weird dog face is so expressive.
Gene: He looks weird to me because he has “rabbit” ears. This whole book is a little bit like watching an episode of Stargate. It’s cartoony. Kawaii Stargate, maybe?
Sarah: I took a class in Greek and Roman mythology in college. About half of these stories are about sex in some way, just like those. I was like Oh, yeah, they’re all about dicks.
Continue reading “Mythology and Wieners”

Superman’s Dick/Watson’s Dog (Didn’t Make It To the Remix)

A Study In Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle. 1887.

Did you know there is a verse in Sugarhill Gang’s classic song “Rapper’s Delight” about getting food poisoning?

“Ever went over a friends house to eat
And the food just ain’t no good?
I mean the macaroni’s soggy, the peas are mushed,
And the chicken tastes like wood”

After dancing along with “ho-tel, mo-tel, Holiday Inn” and all the other parts of the song that get sampled or referenced in hundreds of others, it’s almost alarming to come across big chunks of it that are totally unfamiliar. (The song is 15 minutes long. 15 minutes!)

studyinscarletThat’s what it was like for me to read “A Study In Scarlet.” I’ve watched and read countless stories that included or referenced famous bits (a corpse in an empty room, poison, and revenge), but reading it I suddenly found myself in an unexpected place, in the middle of a tragic romance in Salt Lake City among the early Mormon settlers.

Aside from that cultural whiplash, it is tremendous fun and I can see why people still read it.

Gene: I find these stories largely unreadable, though I’ve bought complete collections of Sherlock Holmes stories several times (and then eventually passed them along as gifts). But graphic novels to the rescue! I loved this adaptation.