People get obsessed with things and sometimes it causes them to create art. Matt Kish is a good example of that, he’s obsessed with Moby-Dick, and he decided to draw a picture for every page of the book. He set up a blog specifically so you can see his progress.
What’s the process for drawing these? Does a quote just pop out at you and you think “I should draw that”?
That is not far off the mark, really. I’ve read the book many times so I’m familiar with the text and the narrative. I read ahead a chapter or two every few days and then I just marinate for a while. It’s almost an unconscious process now, really. I’m not trying to create some kind of visual narrative of the book in such a way that someone who looked at all of my art would, by observation, learn the story. That would be more like a storyboard or a graphic novel or something and I’m just not interested in that. These pieces are really immediate and intensely personal reactions to the book and how it has impacted me. A much more fragmented and multifaceted approach to the text.
That’s not to say that I don’t focus on some well known and pivotal quotes, or moments. Nearly everyone knows “Call me Ishmael.” And I have looked forward to depicting many of my favorite quotes, like “Hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple-dumpling” or “That was my first kick” and even “From Hell’s heart I stab at thee!” But there are an awful lot of pages where all that happens is sailors eating soup, or something like that. So I just turn off the mind and wait for what comes, and when the idea hits I get to work.
Do you have a favorite character in the book that you like to draw the most?
So far, it has been Queequeg. Mostly because I seem to have become obsessed with that color blue. The room I do all of the art in, my “studio” I guess, is actually a closet that I painted a bright turquoise. I go in there, burn too much incense, zone out and draw every night after work. I store all the art in there too, so I think that if I ever exhibit it or sell it, all the paper will have a faint aroma of incense. I am a completely amateur artist with no education or training in art. I’m fairly awful at drawing human beings without some kind of reference or figure study, so I was dreading Queequeg and…well every other character that would come after that. But I’ve really come to like that cannibal, and I decided not to be shackled to a slavish kind of consistency which is why you’ll see Queequeg looking sort of human sometimes, like a battleship sometimes, occasionally with one wing instead of an arm sometimes, and so on. I told myself I could do whatever I wanted, and I do.
You say Moby-Dick is your favorite book of all time. How many times have you read it?
This is my seventh time. Which really seems to weird some people out. I get a lot of stares when I admit that, and I know the book is a thorny and impenetrable mess for some. For me, it’s been a constant companion since childhood really. I’ve gone years without reading it even once, but I’ve never forgotten about it. I think it’s the most important book in American literature and it is about, almost literally, everything.
Did you hear about Moby Dick in Half the Time? Would that have made your job easier?
I had no idea that existed, although it sounds rather fascinating. That and its companion ; or The Whale. I do recall something I saw when I was a teacher, something like 2 or 3 sentence summaries of famous books. I’ve always remembered the one for Moby-Dick which was “Whale chases man. Man chases whale. Whale wins.” Which seems to sum it up nicely. And could have been depicted in a drunken afternoon by me.
What’s your “white whale”?
I’m struggling to avoid adding all sorts of additional unsavory euphemisms here! My “white whale” would be time. I can’t even count how often I have gotten up in the middle of the night, stumbled to the bathroom, splashed cold water on my face, stared at my weathered reflection in the mirror and asked myself, out loud, “What the hell are you doing with your life?” Now I finally have some focus. A goal. Something I think I can really achieve. And yet time torments me. There is never enough, and time is exactly what I need more of. Always. It’s hard to look at a clock and not see it as the visible manifestation of some demonic force taunting me and baiting me. If I could murder time and transcend that prison, I would do it without hesitation.
When this is done, are you going to tackle another book?
I thought I might, at first. But if I were ever fortunate enough to be known for my art, I don’t want to be known as “That book guy.” I think instead I might just turn to photography, with real black and white film and paper and chemicals, and do images of bugs for a while. That seems kind of appealing, actually.