On the day 199 years after Herman Melville's birth, Aug. 1, 2018, Portland writer John Arcudi came up with the idea.
"The next year would be the bicentennial (of his birth) and that morning I was, like, 'You know what, I'm going to publish illustrations of his work,'" Arcudi said. "Having written comics for as long as I have, I had a long list of artists I reached out to, and a lot responded favorably.
"And as I started posting on social media, artists from everywhere around the world said, 'I'd like to do something.' I was stunned people reached out to me."
The result in Melville's 200th birthday year is "From Hell's Heart," borrowing from a line from Captain Ahab as he attacked the whale in Melville's signature "Moby Dick." The book features illustrations by 57 artists — about Melville, chapters and characters in books, letters and just overall "vibe" of the man. It includes works from Portland artists Brandon Graham, Farel Dalrymple and Matt Sheean. All three artists will join Arcudi at a discussion at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, at Broadway Books, 1714 N.E. Broadway.
Originally from Buffalo, New York, and having attended Columbia University, Arcudi has written many graphic novels, including the second incarnation of "The Mask" (later turned into a movie starring Jim Carrey) for Dark Horse Comics and "B.P.R.D.," the follow-up to "Hellboy," for Wizard Entertainment, as well as the series "Major Bummer" for DC Comics. His most recent work is "Rumble," illustrated by David Rubin, for Portland-based Image Comics.
He also wrote the series "Barb Wire," which later became a movie with Pamela Anderson. He worked on many books based on films, such as "RoboCop," "Terminator," "Predator," "Alien" and "The Thing."
A big fan of American authors, Arcudi first read Melville's original book "Typee" at age 13, and "his writing shaped my whole life. I've read everything of his, except for the poetry — I tried."
Although Edgar Allen Poe remains his favorite, Melville (1819-1891) ranks up there. "I don't know that Melville gets shortchanged as a writer, but (he gets) shortchanged as an American writer," he said.
Illustrations in "From Hell's Heart" represent several Melville books, including "Moby Dick," "Bartleby the Scrivener," "The Confidence Man," "Pierre," "Typee," "Billy Budd" and "White Jacket."
In addition to Portland artists, illustrators included Matt Kish, Dave Malan, Hunt Emerson, Evan Cagle, Brahm Revel, Ryan Sook and Cosimo Miorelli.
"The mandate was anything related to Melville," Arcudi said. "We ended up culling text from a variety of sources — from Melville letters and stories and novels, and one directly from a journal entry from Nathaniel Hawthorne on a trip he took with Melville.
"It's mostly Melville talking to readers in text pieces. ... I didn't want to limit (artists). It's really Melville that it's supposed to be about, not the artist and not me."
Arcudi says "wrangling" the work — the nearly 60 pieces — became the hardest part of the project.
"But, it was a blast, the most fun I've had working on a book of any kind in years," he said. "Fun, because I didn't have to write; all I had to say was 'yes.'"
Of course, many artists wanted to take on the whale from "Moby Dick," and Emerson (from the United Kingdom) illustrated it with humor and Valerio Giangiordano (from Italy) with reverence. Arcudi had to turn down some artists.
Arcudi wants to do another illustration book involving Poe, because "he revolutionized how people wrote all over the world."
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