20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

My daughter Rose created a comic of Chapter 23 of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I am biased, naturally, but I find it moving.

And now, with my inept commentary.

The cover makes it plain that this is not a suspense story about whether the crewman will live or die. His death is presented from the start as a foregone conclusion. This comic will be instead be about his death and burial. The overarching story is an adventure tale, as evidenced by the title’s typography, but this chapter is a somber exploration of death and loss, as expressed by the imagery. I find the beam of light descending on the undersea grave especially poignant.
The influence of Japanese comics is evident in the character design of Captain Nemo.
The doomed crewman’s face is utterly heartbreaking. Captain Nemo is a hard man–which can be inferred from the harsh, angular rendering of his face–which makes the tears beginning to well up in his eyes in the final panel all the more moving.
Nemo leads the burial party so that no one can see his pained expression. From here on out, however, the characters’ faces remain mostly hidden behind their diving masks, giving the reader space to reckon with his own emotions as he observes the remainder of the action without having to attend to the reactions of the characters.
Despite the fantastic setting, all of the formalities of a burial ritual are observed with reverence. In the context of the larger story, this chapter carries special weight because, up until now, the members of the crew are presented in a somewhat impersonal way–almost as tools that Nemo uses to carry out his obsessive mission rather than full-fledged human beings in their own right. In death, at last, Nemo’s genuine care becomes apparent.
As on the cover, beams of light adorn the peaceful resting place. The crewman can no longer be touched by the dangers inherent in his undersea mission (“sharks”) or by the evil of mankind (“men”) so despised by Nemo. At this point, it is left to the reader to decide if Nemo feels any personal responsibility for the death of his crewman, or if he considers him yet another victim of the cruelty of mankind that drove Nemo undersea to begin with.
Finally, a nod to the novel’s French origin.