Heart of Darkness
In 2011, Matt Kish's Moby-Dick in Pictures took on the challenge of illustrating every page of the Signet Classic edition of Melville's novel, handling Captain Ahab and Queequeg rather well, visually speaking. Now Kish has turned to another classic, this one quite a bit shorter, but no less daunting: Heart of Darkness. How do you illustrate--page by page--Joseph Conrad's masterpiece, a nightmarish voyage into the mind of Kurtz, the all-powerful wizard of the Congo?
Kish describes Heart of Darkness, a tale of ivory, slavery, greed and murder, as a novel that "moves in one direction only, and that is downward." One might expect the tone of the illustrations to be dark, or at least sepia--but no: "The sun would shine there," Kish tells us, "a place filled with bright acid greens" with a "sickly diseased yellow sky." So he wants to tell the story in a new "light," a surreal, fragmentary one, where things are slightly kilter, cut off, stark and grotesque.
Kish's ink-and-watercolor illustrations beautifully reflect, like a twisted mirror, the texts on each opposing page. Conrad's white sepulcher city on the river is shown growing out of a skull (a pervasive image) merged with an African mask. The image accompanying the most famous scene ("The horror! The horror!") powerfully conflates sickly green with black, placing Kurtz's hollow skull at the bottom. Kish's haunting pictures will resonate with burgeoning artists, fans of sophisticated graphic novels and collectors of fine art books. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher