Mighty Moby was created in a unique manner, art first. Artist Ed Young developed the story line—which originally was about a monster. The story changed into being about a whale coming up the Hudson River, and then changed even more, into a version of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Ed sketched several small versions and dummy books so he could experiment with color, layout, and pacing. With these versions in hand, he then discussed his vision with the editor, the art director, and the writer. You can hear him talk about his general work process at All the Wonders, and about creating Mighty Moby (about halfway through the podcast).
With the story line settled, Ed began to create the art. For Mighty Moby’s final art, Ed used mixed-media collage techniques including cut paper, marbled paper, string, photographs, and light. It was at this point that Ed invited writer Barbara DaCosta to create the words for Mighty Moby. The two had already created Nighttime Ninja together.
Before beginning to work on Mighty Moby, Barbara read through Melville’s Moby Dick and spent time looking at Ed’s sketches. She decided she wanted to try to capture some of Melville’s flavor and writing style. In the process, she also read about whales and whaling, and listened to seafaring music. Barbara, similarly to Ed’s art, made a collage of prose, poetry, and seafaring songs for the text. She even threw in a puzzle: all of the individual words except one are drawn from Melville’s Moby Dick—you’ll have to figure out which one! (To clarify, all of the individual words Barbara used appear in Moby Dick; she wrote her version with those.)
Ed likes to experiment with the media for a book, until he finds just the right materials. He also likes using found material, as he did in his book Wabi Sabi. Here’s a version of Moby, made from tree bark! It is on exhibit at R.Michelson Galleries in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Barbara DaCosta based Mighty Moby’s songs on actual folksongs (click on the titles to hear samples). The sea shanty at the beginning of the book can be sung to “Haul on the Bowline.” Sea shanties were work songs. The bedtime ballad at the end of Mighty Moby can be sung to the tune of “Lord Franklin” (also known as “Lady Franklin’s Lament”). (Links are to the “Classic Maritime Music” CD from Smithsonian Folkways.) “Haul on the Bowline” can also be heard in a version sung by Stan Hugill. You can hear a version of “Lord Franklin” by the Irish singer Michael O’Domhnaill. “Lord Franklin” also inspired Bob Dylan’s famous song “Bob Dylan’s Dream.”