He’s just like Ahab — except for one key detail.
Unlike the doomed captain, Matt Kish defeated Herman Melville’s white whale — and landed a book deal in the process.
Two years ago, Kish plunged head first into illustrating every page of “Moby-Dick” — and this month, he’s celebrating the release of “Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page,” comprised of his own original illustrations inspired by — and juxtaposed against — Melville’s complex text.
“It was an astounding feeling,” Kish said, of conquering “Moby-Dick” — the novel that has stymied the smartest comp lit majors. “I was as obsessed as Ahab — I’d wake in the middle of the night thinking about it. Thank god I’m still married.”
The book runs a cool 600 pages, and contains 552 illustrations that took Kish 543 days to complete. Initially, the drawing-a-day endeavor was confined to Kish’s blog, and existed as a way for Kish to rekindle his love of drawing, with the comfort and companionship of his favorite novel.
But after Kish’s last trip to Brooklyn — where presented his drawings at Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg to excited fans and at least one book agent — the scope of the project began to evolve.
“It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t come to Brooklyn,” Kish said. “I never thought it would be a book.”
Kish’s colorful, obsessive, frenetic illustrations create a layered, dreamy and, at times extremely dark, re-imagining of “Moby-Dick,” when paired with Melville’s prose, is more of an interpretation all its own than an homage.
The voyage was no easy feat — but for Kish, one of the hardest parts was finishing it.
“I knew every second I spent working on other things was putting off that moment of inevitable freedom,” Kish said. “But it was very bittersweet; even in the darkest moments, even when I felt completely obsessed with finishing, I still had Ishmael, I still had Ahab, I still had Queequeg. Saying goodbye to them is heartbreaking.”
As Ishmael can attest, it’s tough to be the only one who survives to tell the tale — but Kish’s visual storytelling is so strikingly beautiful, so expertly drawn and full of raw emotion, you’ll be glad he did.
Matt Kish celebrates “Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page” at BookCourt [163 Court St. between Pacific and Dean streets in Cobble Hill, (718) 875.3677], Dec. 3, 7 pm. Free. For info, visit www.bookcourt.org.Reach Arts Editor Juliet Linderman at jlinderman