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.

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The old man as a ‘Bob the Angry Flower’ webcomic

The old man of Hemingway’s novella also appears in a one-page webcomic titled “Bob’s Classic Literature Sequels: The Old Man and the Sea 2.” This webcomic was illustrated by Stephen Notley (b. 1970), a contemporary Canadian cartoonist and the creator of the “Bob the Angry Flower” comic strip. (As an aside, Notley is currently based in Seattle, Washington, and he usually posts a new “Bob the Angry Flower” cartoon to his website every Friday. Check out his bio here via the Lambiek Comiclopedia.)

Notley’s “Old Man and the Sea 2” contains eight panels and features two characters: an old, dignified, and silent Santiago and Bob the Angry Flower (pictured below), who does all the talking. The webcomic begins with the two characters standing aboard the bow of an enormous ocean liner in the middle of the ocean. Bob the Angry Flower has his arm around Santiago in the first panel and begins the comic thus: “So when I heard about your story I just HAD to come!” Bob then summarizes Santiago’s ordeal and then retells the story of “The Old Man and the Sea” in the second and third panels: “… you went out on the sea, made a supreme effort of mental and physical will, and somehow caught the biggest marlin EVER! AND THEN THE SHARKS ATE IT!!!” (Notes: The reader may access this webcomic here, and all emphasis are in the original.)

After sharing his reaction to Santiago’s ordeal (“I HATE THOSE SHARKS SO MUCH!!!”), Bob refers to Santiago by name (“Well don’t worry Santiago”) and reassures him in the fourth panel that “Bob’s gonna make it all better!” How? Bob the Angry Flower tells Santiago that “this boat’s got every shark-lasering gadget ever made!” in the fourth panel and adds that “we’ve located a marlin four times bigger than the one you caught” in the fifth panel. (All emphasis above in the original.) All Santiago has to do to catch the massive marlin and fend off any possible sharks is to press a button. Bob then urges Santiago in the penultimate panel to “Go for it, man!!! Win it all back!!!” The last panel contains a close-up of Santiago against a black backdrop. Although Stephen Notley’s sequel to OMAS contains only eight panels, it nevertheless captures the quiet dignity and tenacious spirit of Hemingway’s Santiago. He utters not a single word and refuses to hit the button.

Image result for bob the angry flower
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The old man as a Guido Scala comic book

The Walt Disney Company’s parody “Scrooge McDuck and the Old Man and the Sea” is further proof there is only step from the sublime to the ridiculous. This Disney comic book (see cover art below), which initially appeared in 1987, contains 22 pages and over 100 panels of illustrations, is set in a fictional island called Tuba, and features such classic Disney characters as Donald Duck, his nephews, and their wealthy uncle Scrooge McDuck as well as a new character named Acciuga. This comic book was written and illustrated by the great Italian cartoon artist Guido Scala (b. 1936; d. 2001), one of Disney’s most famous cartoon artists. (Scala’s drew and wrote over 460 comics for Disney during a span of 35 years; here is a short bio.) Scala’s cartoon version of “Old Man and the Sea” is only loosely based on Hemingway’s Cuban fisherman story. Nevertheless, although Scala’s story bears little similarity to Hemingway’s novella, both stories share one significant feature in common: tourists.

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Tourists play a large role in Guido Scala’s comic book story, which begins with the character Acciuga (pictured below), who is having trouble selling toys to the tourists who visit the island.

Image 6. Illustration by Guido Scala (1987).

After a flash of inspiration, Acciuga comes up with a new idea: he decides to organize a fishing competition on the main pier of Tuba. The tourists flock to his fishing competition, but then flee the island in droves when a large shark crashes into the pier and scares them away. That’s when Acciuga calls Scrooge McDuck to help him capture the shark and bring back the tourists to Tuba. Here is where Scala’s story takes a Hemingwayesque turn. Scrooge McDuck walks to the edge of the pier and captures the shark with a piece of rope but then is dragged far out to sea by the shark. Donald Duck, his nephews, and Acciuga go aboard a small skiff in search of Scrooge McDuck. They find him amid the ruins of an old lighthouse and then set sail for Tuba. On the return voyage the skiff capsizes during a storm but the shark rescues them and returns them to Tuba. The shark is tamed and becomes a major tourist attraction on the Island of Tuba.

By comparison, tourists play a small but significant role at the end of Hemingway’s story. After Santiago has returned to the village with the carcass of his great marlin blue, a tourist couple, patrons at La Terraza, mistake the skeleton of Santiago’s marlin for that of a shark. They thus confuse the noble prey with a treacherous predator. The tourists in Hemingway’s novella, sipping cocktails and enjoying the sea breeze and sunshine of Cuba, thus represent corruption, ignorance, and. They are oblivious to Santiago’s hard life and his heroic three-day ordeal.

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Guy Harvey’s Old Man and the Sea

Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea” has also captured the imagination of marine-scientist-turned-wildlife-artist Guy Harvey. (Dr. Harvey received a doctoral degree in marine biology from the University of the West Indies; here is a brief bio of his life and work.) For his first art exhibition, held in Jamaica in 1985, Dr. Harvey created a series of 44 original pen and ink drawings of Hemingway’s story, including the illustration pictured below. Based on the positive reviews he received at his first art show, Dr. Harvey decided to devote himself to painting full time. Later, in 2001, he published Santiago’s Finest Hour (available here via Amazon), a compilation of 59 pen and ink drawings of the Cuban fisherman’s heroic ordeal as recounted in Hemingway’s novella. (You can see more of Dr. Harvey’s original set of “old man and the sea” paintings here.)

Image result for guy harvey old man and the sea
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The old man and the sea as political cartoon

Hemingway’s fisherman story has also been the subject of political cartoonists, including Edmund S. Valtman (b. 1914; d. 2005), a cartoonist for The Hartford Times from 1951 to 1975 who had won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. This political cartoon by Ed Valtman, for example, shows Senator George McGovern as a fisherman in a small boat with the remains of a large fish, with the words “War Issue,” lashed to its side, battling against high seas. His cartoon (pictured below) alludes to Hemingway’s story of an old Cuban fisherman who catches a giant marlin. Despite the fisherman’s efforts, most of the marlin is eaten by sharks before the fisherman is able return to port with little more than the skeleton of his prize. The cartoon is dated October 31, 1972, just a few days before the 1972 presidential elections. During the 1972 presidential campaign, Richard Nixon’s opponent, George McGovern, tried to make Nixon’s involvement in the Vietnam War a central issue. McGovern’s campaign, however, was undermined by a series of tribulations that included attacks on his inconsistent stands on many issues and the revelation that his vice presidential running mate, Thomas Eagleton, had been hospitalized on two occasions for psychiatric reasons. McGovern subsequently lost by a large margin to Nixon. More details here, via the Library of Congress.

The old man and the sea

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Leonard Baskin’s Old Man and the Sea

The art collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City includes a sketch circa 1958 by Leonard Baskin (b. 1922; d. 2000) for Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea.” Baskin’s drawing (pictured below) depicts Santiago’s noble nemesis, the giant marlin, but the size of the sketch itself is small: just 7¾ by 10¾ inches. (The Whitney obtained this sketch illustration through the Charles Simon Bequest.)

Image result for leonard baskin old man and the sea
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Raymond Sheppard and C. F. Tunnicliffe’s Old Man and the Sea

Following the initial publication of “The Old Man and the Sea” in the September 1, 1952 edition of Life magazine, an illustrated version of Hemingway’s novella appeared in 1953. This illustrated book was published by the Reprint Society (22 Golden Square, London) and contains 34 black-and-white drawings by two British artists: Raymond Sheppard and C. F. Tunnicliffe. (Sheppard drew 18 of the illustrations, while Tunnicliffe drew 16 of them.) According to a publisher’s note in the original 1953 Reprint Society edition, the publisher had hired Sheppard and Tunnicliffe as competing commissions: “Originally commissioned as alternatives, these two artists’ different interpretations of the story were considered so excellent and so interesting in their varying styles that both have been included.” The cover art pictured below was created by C. F. Tunnicliffe:

Below is one of the many illustrations for “The Old Man and the Sea” by Raymond Sheppard:

More details are available here via Norman Boyd.

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