Moby Monday — Crowdsourcing Emoji-Dick

Next stop: Klingon
Emoticons are fine as far as they go, but they do not express the whole range of human experience—our hopes, our dreams, our heartbreaks; our recycling, our maple leaves, our bananas. For that, you need emoji, which are Japanese emoticons for people with a lot of stuff to express (and maybe a lot of time on their hands).

In fact, emoji are now used by Japanese texters as a form of written language. This gave Fred Benenson an idea. The product manager at Creative Commons decided to have a book translated entirely into emoji, using the micro-contracting site Mechanical Turk for labor and the micro-funding site Kickstarter for scratch. But for a translation subject, he went decidedly macro: with enough backing, Benenson plans to produce a translation of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, the English language’s premier text on recycling, maple leaves, and bananas.

Benenson estimates the cost of translating Melville’s 1851 novel at $3,500 and is currently seeking pledges of $5 to $200. If enough backers sign on by October 19, their donations will be accepted and work will proceed. In the end, supporters will receive benefits based on their investments. Five-dollar backers will get a PDF file of the final product, while $200 backers will receive a color, hardcover limited edition Emoji-Dick book, numbered and signed “by the author.” Wonder how Benenson is going to swing that one?

Margaret Guroff is the editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Moby Monday — The Saga Continues

"Hast seen the white whale?"I’ve envisioned William Hurt as Ahab ever since I saw him in Kiss of the Spider Woman. And now that vision is realized: German production company TMG just announced that its upcoming Moby-Dick miniseries stars Hurt as Ahab and Ethan Hawke as Starbuck. Filming begins shortly in Nova Scotia—where one boatbuilder got the contract for six replica whaleboats—and Malta, where a tall ship has been cast to play the Pequod.

So far, that production sounds fairly faithful to the text; if you’re looking for “Moby Dick as Frankenstein” and whalers who can fly, you’ll have to wait for the planned Moby-Dick action film by Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov.

Then again, if you’re really patient and you really want a break from that tired old storyline, check out this hilarious script for the trailer for Moby-Dick: Ahab’s Revenge, by a blogger called tpalumbi. The film—which, strangely, has not yet been optioned—is envisioned to star Shia LaBeouf as Ishmael, Kate Hudson as his love interest, The Rock as Queequeg, and Jason Statham (known for starring in Guy Ritchie films) as as an Ahab with four steam-powered legs. Well, you know, if you can’t get William Hurt …

Margaret Guroff is the editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Photo via MSN Movies.

Moby Monday — (Whale) Killer iPhone App

Shake for giant kraken

Speaking of iPhone apps, what would your Moby-Dick application look like? The iTunes store offers a few downloadable versions of the text (though, sadly, no annotated version yet) as well as audiobooks, musical recordings, a schweet study guide by Shmoop, and the whole 1956 film starring Gregory Peck … but no app that really brings the book to life in a new, iPhone-specific way.

Anna Leach of the blog Shiny Shiny proposes one such app: a simple whale-locator service that would identify any nearby whales and take you to their blogs (or, we’d add, their Twitter feeds).

Some friends and I had a different idea: a Moby-Dick video game. Blogger Matthew Wasteland has previously laid out the inherent problem with such a product. If you allow for alternate endings to Ahab’s quest, have you leached out of your game all the greatness of the novel?

That’s what makes our Moby-Dick game app idea so brilliant (if we do say so ourselves). It’s mainly just a view of the sea—sometimes calm, sometimes stormy, throw in a little St. Elmo’s fire now and again—and you only ever see the white whale after you’ve been playing nonstop for … what, hours? months? It’s theoretically possible to harpoon the sucker, but by the time you get a chance to do it, you’ll be begging for Ahab’s (virtual) fate.

Anyway, that’s our concept. If you have a better one, let’s hear it in the comments.

Margaret Guroff is the editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Moby Monday — “Call Me Mr. Potato Head”

"Landlord," I whispered. "That ain't the NOUN, is it?"
It’s the best work week of the year, IMHO. I’m zazzing my bike through deserted city streets and getting seated at schmantzy restaurants without a reservation: the rest of the world is at the beach!

Here’s something to keep you occupied, whether you’re blissfully away (miss ya!) or staffing the ghost workplace at home: the world’s longest Mad-Lib, built from the first four chapters of Moby-Dick.

See you in September!

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick. (Image via.)

Moby Monday — Ishmael Tweets You Back

Your new pen-pal?
First came Moby-Dick as a Twitter feed. Then came a newspaper piece that reimagined the novel as a series of tweets from its narrator, Ishmael: “We’re all having a ‘whale of a time’ here! (That’s right, I WENT THERE. Sue me!)”

Last week, Thomas Watson of New Orleans went all 2.0 on the concept with TweetMeIshmael, a Twitter feed in Ishmael’s 19th-century voice. Not only does this Ishmael note his key observations as tweets, but he responds in character to Twitter users who @reply to him (by typing “@TweetMeIshmael” at the beginning of a post). Here’s a convo about Chapter 16:

TweetMeIshmael Yojo, Q’s little black god, has tasked me with finding a whaleship. Three suitable ships in harbor: Devil-Dam, Tit-Bit, and Pequod.

jmsullivan @TweetMeIshmael Go with Tit-Bit! Tit-Bit! Come on, how can that not be a fun ship?

TweetMeIshmael Laughing aloud! RT @jmsullivan “Go with Tit-Bit! Tit-Bit! Come on, how can that not be a fun ship?”

TweetMeIshmael Learned a/b Pequod: owners (Peleg, Bildad); captain (pegleg Ahab)

jmsullivan @TweetMeIshmael Pretty sure those are names of Assyrian demons. Would be _very_ wary of this ship. Sounds ominous. What was wrong w Tit Bit?

TweetMeIshmael @jmsullivan Then Yojo shall have some company. re Tit-Bit: Its seaworthiness concerned me. What chance has a tit-bit against a spermaceti?

Watson, who is reading the book on his Blackberry, first thought of the feed as a way to take notes on author Herman Melville’s turns of phrase. Surprisingly, this will be his first time through the book—if he makes it through. Watson read part of the long, dense narrative during one summer vacation and always intended to finish, but it wasn’t until he picked up Nathaniel Philbrick’s nonfiction masterpiece In the Heart of the Sea recently that he felt ready. Philbrick’s gloss on the lives of Nantucket whalers “filled in a lot of the gaps I’d had,” Watson writes. “If I were a teacher, I’d make In the Heart of the Sea required reading before Moby-Dick.”

At press time, 30 Twitter users were following TweetMeIshmael. Watson plans to post at least one tweet for each of the book’s 135 chapters, though he may post more as time and inspiration allow. “If this little project helps me finish Moby-Dick, I’ll consider it a success,” he writes. “If a few dozen people enjoy Ishmael’s missives in their Twitter feed, so much the better!”

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick. She tweets about artistic responses to Moby-Dick at

Moby Monday – US premiere of Conor Lovett’s One-Man Moby-Dick

Conor Lovett channels Ishmael
Irish actor Conor Lovett—known for his one-man versions of Samuel Beckett’s spare, absurdist plays—will be in California this week performing his newest piece, a solo Moby-Dick. Wife Judy Hegerty Lovett directed the two-hour play, which is showing on Tuesday and Wednesday at Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre and on Thursday at the Carlson Family Theatre at Viewpoint School in Calabasas.

A reviewer for the Irish Times was “spellbound” by Lovett’s Ishmael at the show’s April premiere. Us, we’re stunned even to contemplate boiling Herman Melville’s massive tome down to two hours. We just hope they left the naughty bits in.

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Moby Monday — Moby-Dick Illustrated, Page by Page

"But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive."
Here’s a bookmark for you:, where last week, artist and blogger Matt Kish began posting one drawing per day, with the intent of illustrating each of the 540 pages in his Signet Classic paperback copy of Moby-Dick. Kish renders page two as an alienated assortment of tubular, googly-eyed Manhattoes “seemingly bound for a dive.” Page three? A steampunky spermatozoon within a blue bubble, “the image of the ungraspable phantom of life.”

I tracked Kish down at his southwest Ohio home to ask him about himself and the project.

Are you a professional artist?
I am a librarian employed in a large urban library system. I am nowhere near being a professional artist and I am almost entirely self-taught. Drawing has always been a very private pursuit for me, and only in the last few years have I started sharing it with a wider audience.

Which artistic media do you work in?
I don’t restrict myself at all, and often use a variety of media in each piece. I tend to favor using found paper, especially paper that already has something printed on it, but I use Bristol board sometimes. Never canvas though. I think the size and the perception that canvas is for museums and “fine art” has always kept me away.

More often than not I use pens, ink washes, acrylic paint and perhaps some colored pencil, but I’ve used everything from crayons to spray paint to stickers to nail polish in some pieces. Really, to me, the more handmade, chaotic, and slightly skewed a piece looks the happier I am with it.

Have you done similar projects about other books?
This is my first, although I have always loved illustrated narratives. I was inspired by a similar series that the artist Zak Smith had done for Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and the ongoing project that Zak, Shawn Cheng, John Mejias, Sean McCarthy, Matt Wiegle, and Craig Taylor are doing for Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.

Something about the gargantuan, almost destructive nature of committing one’s vision and ability so completely to one endeavor really appeals to me. Even if I complete one piece a day, it will be almost a year and a half before I’ve completed Moby-Dick, so I won’t be taking on any other novels any time soon, but I have been thinking about doing Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness after this, and perhaps Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan after that. But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself; Moby-Dick is all I can think about right now.

How long has each page taken you to draw?
In the past, my drawings have been intensely, almost agonizingly detailed; each one took me 40 to 60 hours to complete. That, combined with a full-time job, spending time with my amazing wife, and trying to have a life meant that a finished piece could sometimes take me a month.

I grew very frustrated with that kind of slowness, and the heavy level of detail began to feel more like a prison than a joy. With the Moby-Dick project, I am making a conscious effort to let the art flow very quickly from my mind to the paper, working rapidly, intuitively and almost crudely. Each piece has taken me around an hour to complete. I’m fairly happy with this pace and with the pieces in general, but I am extremely curious about how these things will change after 10 or 50 or 200 pages.

Do you have any plans for the pages—to sell, exhibit, etc.?
I’m too far away from completing the art to have really solidified any plans, but when I’m done, the first thing I’d like to do is show the entire series in a gallery somewhere. Since I’ve got absolutely no experience with setting up something like that, I worry that might be a long shot. I’d also like to see if I could somehow get it all published, but again I worry that might be just a pipe dream. When the series is complete, I will definitely be selling many of the pieces as well. And of course I’ll be keeping the entire thing available and viewable on my blog and on my website.

What makes you like Moby-Dick so much?
Moby-Dick in one form or another has fascinated me since I was very, very young. My earliest memories are of seeing bits and pieces of the 1956 film, the one with Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab, and I remember seeing the whale’s eye on the screen, rolling and staring wildly. The colossal malice and fury that radiated from that eye terrified and enthralled me.

Shortly after that, I somehow acquired one of those thick little abridged versions on newsprint. I was only 5 or 6 but I remember devouring every page over and over. For some reason, I really remember Fedallah particularly from that book.

Finally, in junior high school, I read the actual novel for the first time. While a great deal of the deeper meaning escaped my young mind, I could sense that there was so much more to the book that was just out of my sight, like vast monstrous shapes lurking just below the water.

What I love about Moby-Dick now are the seeming contradictions inherent in the text, and the way that Melville seamlessly wove these together. Moby-Dick is bleak, nihilistic, hopeful and optimistic. It is deeply terrifying and outrageously funny. It is dangerous and essential. It is heretical and devout. To me, it really is everything a novel could possibly be.

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Moby Monday – When Stephen Colbert Says “Read Moby-Dick,” You Read Moby-Dick

Do what he says
News that the 1956 film version of Moby-Dick had been named a “great acid movie” by blogger Erich Kuersten sent me to Hulu to find you a link. Till recently, you could watch that psychedelic Gregory Peck vehicle in its entirety on the site for free. Sadly, no more.

Instead, searching for “Moby Dick” on Hulu yields a clip from a year-2000 episode of the weirdly hilarious Comedy Central series Strangers with Candy, in which Amy Sedaris plays Jerri Blank, a washout who returns to high school in her 40s. In the clip, teacher Mr. Norbet Noblet (played by Stephen Colbert) tries to make the illiterate Jerri read the first chapter of Moby-Dick. Needless to say, she misses the fart joke completely. Still, Jerri offers a bold new take on the text. If you want to see the whole episode, it’s here. There are no further Moby-Dick references, but the Miracle Worker reference is priceless.

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Moby Monday – Have a Whale of a Dickmas

About as much fun as you can have on a whaleshipBreak out the dromedary meat and flip—Dickmas-time is here again! This Saturday, August 1, would have been Herman Melville’s 190th birthday, and ’tis the season to exchange Moby-Dick-themed gifts and re-create the gam feast (basically, a floating party) described in the book’s Chapter 101. The feast features not only “beef” of questionable origin and the alcoholic brew called flip, but “indestructible” dumplings and bread containing “fresh fare”—that is to say, bugs. Yum!

But if you fancy yourself a more modern fan, or simply can’t get your hands on (or your mind around) the gam feast food, there are plenty of other ways to mark the occasion.

D. Graham Burnett, author of Trying Leviathan: The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature, delivers the Melville Society Cultural Project’s Melville Birthday Lecture at the New Bedford Whaling Museum at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 30.

At Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, a Moby-Dick reading marathon aboard the Charles W. Morgan—the world’s last surviving wooden whaleship—kicks off Sea Story Weekend at noon on Friday, July 31. A highlight comes at noon on Saturday, August 1, when singer-songwriter Patrick Shea performs tunes from his song-a-chapter project, Call Me Ishmael.

In Staten Island, the community performance group Staten Island OutLOUD will hold an outdoor reading from Moby-Dick at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 1. The event includes music from the Staten Island Philharmonic Orchestra.

And Arrowhead, the Pittsfield, Massachusetts, house where Melville wrote Moby-Dick, is hosting a Melville’s birthday ice cream social featuring live music and antique croquet from 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, August 1. (If you go to this one, ask Arrowhead why their website’s cobwebby “Other Melville Resources” page doesn’t link to Power Moby-Dick.)

If you’re hosting a Dickmas event you’d like to publicize—or you’d just like to share your own Melville’s-birthday traditions—tell us about it in the comments. Here’s to a splendiferous Dickmas!

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Moby Monday – The Musical Monomania of Patrick Shea

At work they call him "Mr. Shea"
While you were doing whatever the heck you’ve been doing the past 10 months—working? watching pug videos on YouTube? who can remember?—Brooklyn sixth-grade teacher Patrick Shea has been cranking out whaling tunes. Specifically, he has been writing one song per week, each based on a chapter of Moby-Dick.

Shea—who is also the frontman for the pop band The New Fantastics—posts these songs to his blog, Call Me Ishmael. Last week he announced that the first 19 of them were available as a digital download. For just $5, you get the close vocal harmonies of “The Specksynder”; the counterintuitively danceable “The Lee Shore”; “The Counterpane” waltz; and many more. The perfect(ly affordable) gift for the music fan on your Dickmas* list!

Shea says he came up with the idea for the blog last summer, when his two vacation goals of reading Moby-Dick and writing one song per day eventually combined. He has posted 39 songs so far, which means that he ought to be done with the book’s 135 chapters (plus epilogue) in another couple of years. About the same amount of time, total, as your average 19th-century whaling expedition.

*August 1, Herman Melville’s birthday

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.