The old man as graphic novel

Thus far, we have seen a wide variety of visualizations of Hemingway’s timeless novella “The Old Man and the Sea.” The artist Corban Wilkin, however, retells the story of “The Old Man and the Sea” in graphic form. (You can check out Wilkin’s beautiful graphic novel for yourself here.) By my count, his graphic novel compresses Hemingway’s story into 80 panels and just 385 words, or in Wilkin’s own words, “I compressed 100 pages of text down into 22 pages of comics ….” By way of comparison, Hemingway’s novella contains 26,601 words. See, e.g., Epstein, 2016. Wilkin compares Hemingway’s story to a “fable” and notes that a virtue of his graphic and textual compression of the story is to “allow[] the strength of the plot to shine through in its most distilled form.” Wilkin begins his version of the story with Santiago’s dream sequence. In particular, the first page of his graphic novel (pictured below) consists of a single full-page panel that pictures a large fishing boat at sea along with the words “He no longer dreamed of storms.” Page 2 contains a close-up of the fishing boat along with the words “nor of women” on top and the words “nor of great occurrences” on the bottom. A young fisherman is standing at the bow of the ship. Page 3 (five panels) then concludes this dream sequence with the words “nor of great fish” on the top panel, “nor of great feats of strength” in the middle panel, and the words “nor of his wife” on the bottom left panel. The last two panels on the bottom right side of the page state, “He only dreamed of places now/and of the lions on the beach.”

Image 8a. Corban Wilkin graphic novel (2011)..jpg

Page 4 (five panels) of Wilkin’s graphic novel shows the old man urinating outside his shack and going over to wake Manolin, and page 5 (four panels) then pictures them drinking coffee and contains some dialogue between them. Page 6 (seven panels) shows Santiago rowing out to sea. The top panel on page 7 displays a flying fish in the foreground and Santiago and his skiff in the background, while three smaller panels on the bottom of this page contain a sequence showing a close-up of the pull on one of his fishing lines. (In Hemingway’s story, the old man runs four separate fishing lines before combining them into a single line.) Next, pages 8-9, which contain ten panels of various shapes and angles, and pages 10-11, which contain a large central circular panel along with ten additional panels along the outer circumference of the circle, depict the first stages of Santiago’s long ordeal. Page 12, a full-page panel, then pictures the giant marlin flying above water, while page 13, another full-page panel, pictures Santiago in three action poses struggling with the fishing line across his shoulders. Neither page contains a single word. Pages 14-15 (seven panels) shows the giant marlin tied up along the skiff. Here (pp. 14-15), Wilkin breaks up Santiago’s melancholic observation in the novel “I am only better than him [the giant marlin] through trickery and he meant me no harm” into two separate sentences. The bottom right panel on page 14 contains the trenchant words, “I am only better than you through trickery.” The bottom left panel on page 15, the poignant words: “He meant me no harm.”

Pages 16-17 (nine panels) of Wilkin’s graphic novel portray Santiago’s futile battle with the sharks, while pages 18-19 depict Santiago’s return voyage. Although these two pages (pp. 18-19) contain 11 separate panels, just five words appear here: “I went out too far.” Page 20 contains four panels of dialogue between Manolin and Santiago, and page 21 (one full-page panel) contains an aerial view of Santiago and Manolin from afar along with the carcass of the marlin washed up against the tide. The last page (p. 22) zooms in on the carcass along with the hopeful words: “But we will fish together now, for we still have much to learn.” In Hemingway’s story, these words are uttered by Manolin: “we will fish together now, for I still have much to learn.” In Wilkin’s version of the story, Wilkin replaces the singular “I” in the second clause of the sentence with the plural “we,” so the identity of the speaker is ambiguous.

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a law professor at the College of Business of the University of Central Florida.
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1 Response to The old man as graphic novel

  1. Pingback: The old man as book sculpture | prior probability

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