From Comedy to Drama
When I was preparing the proposal for this project, I had planned to make it a more comedic story, where the protagonist whale would be so naïve or unaware of the grievances he causes that it would be a playful portrayal of dramatic irony. However after revisiting this concept and receiving feedback from Professor Dimock regarding the difficulties of such a portrayal in a way that would logically flow as an independent plot, I decided to turn to a more dramatic plot. Thus I planned to make my story more centered around a dramatic plot, perhaps even like a revenge plot that could parallel Ahab’s.
In order to get more inspiration from the less comedic style of children’s books, I looked through books such as The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein or The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister, which focused more on sacrifice and the gift of sharing. I decided I wanted my story to capitalize on this type of coming of age rhetoric more, and worked on a new plot.
I was still interested in the way this would tie in with the story in Melville’s Moby Dick, and so I watched movies such as Happy Feet or Finding Nemo which incorporated the realism of the human world and reinterpreted it in the terms of the animal protagonists. In brainstorming my new plot I also spent a lot of time on the site “Helping Writers Become Authors”, which was basically a database of almost every single movie, book, or otherwise that involved a story, and broke it down according to its structure.
YouTube: Whale Documentaries and Read-alongs
In order to amass some references to rely on for my story, I went through several documentaries about sperm whale on YouTube. Of these documentaries I particularly learned facts from “The Secret Life of the Sperm Whale” such as the fact that the sperm whale community was primarily made up of females. While I tried to apply this to my plot, it created too much of a gendered discourse so I needed to ensure that all characters in the story were male. Aside from this I also learned about the formidable strength of the sperm whale’s tail, which was apparently nicknamed “The Hand of God”. From watching “Sperm Whales Dealing With The Unexpected”, I was able to witness quite an uncommon occurrence between the sperm whales and killer whales (orcas). While generally speaking sperm whales were described as quite peaceful, the only mention of even a rare occurrence of aggression was from the killer whales. Further research showed that such interactions were definitely very rare, but there was no other fish that (even rarely) behaved in such a manner toward the sperm whales. This inspired me to make Jez (the bully) an orca. But even aside from all of these facts, watching the documentaries and sperm whales in motion definitely also helped me with creating illustration ideas.
Apart from documentaries, I was also watching Disney’s read-along storybooks that were available on YouTube. Seeing many of these play was useful in allowing me to see how language didn’t need to necessarily flow as smoothly as it did in a chapter book. For instance, oftentimes the text would just have a quoted speech without being followed by a “He said,” which would add to the concision of the story.
An idea that I was experimenting with and ultimately decided to scrap was the idea of the water in the sea as its own living entity. I felt that it could be interesting to even try to make the water a creature that took the role as a friend yet a supernatural force that intervenes in Elijah’s life. However not long into this process I realized that for such a development the water was too overwhelming of a presence.
I also needed to rework the types of water that I wished to use, and ultimately decided to use the type that would fade out enough clearly to be registered as a background, rather than competing as a focal point with the protagonist.
Afterwards I was mainly focused on creating a new background for water on every single page.
Due to the limitations of time, I wasn’t able to experiment with different mediums as much as I’d hoped. However, I was able to try out some watercolor and ink renditions of whale concepts in a sketchbook as shown above. As I was working on specifically visualizing Elijah and Moby Dick, I began to plan out physical traits that would be easy identifiable and made each creature in the book unique.
For example, Moby Dick’s head is more protruding, whereas the shape of Elijah’s (whether big or small) reclines more. Thus there is a contrast between the more parallelogram shape and a trapezoid. I also gave Elijah a tear-shaped eyebrow, while Moby Dick has an oval one. Also, to emphasize the growth of Elijah halfway through the story, aside from just drawing a larger whale I added two teeth.
Below you can observe my process for drawing: I would start with the sketch that was based off my storyboard, paint out a background, and then fill the colors in and shade accordingly!
(Click to enlarge)