R. Sikoryak

Robert Sikoryak
2006 Baron Fellow
New York, New York


Research at AAS


Excerpt from Masterpiece Comics (2009)


Excerpt from Constitution Illustrated (2020)



I received an Artist Fellowship from AAS in 2006, to research Moby Dick as well as other works by Herman Melville. I’m a cartoonist who adapts classic literature and other texts into comics and graphic novels, in the styles of famous cartoons. Many of my short stories were collected in the book Masterpiece Comics, and I’m working on a sequel that will contain more Melville adaptations, including an extended Moby Dick retelling. One of the pieces inspired by my fellowship experience was this parody comic book ad for the “Pequod Whaling Ship.” In addition to Moby Dick, it is inspired by an actual 1960’s comic book ad for a Polaris submarine model. It was first published in my book, Masterpiece Comics (2009).


Another was an adaptation of Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener drawn in the style of Scott Adams’ daily comic strip Dilbert. An excerpt is shown here. It was first published in the newspaper The Cartoon Crier (2012).


While my comics are irreverent and combine elements of high and low culture, they are also scrupulously researched and very faithful to their source materials. Much of my time during the fellowship was spent researching the diverse subjects described in Moby Dick, such as whaling, indigenous peoples, and life in New England. Illustrated books and prints that were created in the mid 19th century were the most useful for my purposes. I made many drawings based on the illustrated materials that were available, and I continued to sketch out ideas for my narrative.


The majority of my time was spent examining these non-fiction materials. But I was also very struck by the many adaptations of Moby Dick created in the last 100 years, some of which were represented in the AAS collection. One amusing example was the book Moby Dick: Photoplay Title: The Sea Beast (1925). It features photographs from the silent film The Sea Beast, a very loose retelling of Melville’s book that radically diverges from his plot. The story was transformed into a romance with a happy ending. Although I don’t take many liberties when adapting the plot of a particular novel, it’s always very instructive or entertaining to see how others do it.


In addition to the rare books and prints that were available, it was very inspiring to see other printed ephemera in the collection. In particular, I loved finding the tiny, hand colored comic strip pamphlet, The Adventures of Mr. Tom Plump (circa 1855). Beyond the charming drawing and irreverent text, it was a rather heartwarming find. Comic books have often been seen as a disposable, trivial medium, so it was reassuring to see this fragile booklet preserved with the same care as the rest of the materials at AAS.


About the Fellow

Cartoonist R. Sikoryak’s latest book is Constitution Illustrated, a graphic novel adaptation drawn in the styles of over 100 American comics from the past 120 years. His earlier works include Masterpiece Comics, Terms and Conditions, and The Unquotable Trump. His illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Nation, The Onion, and MAD. Sikoryak teaches at Parsons School of Design and The Center for Cartoon Studies. Since 1997, he's presented his live comics performance series, Carousel, around the United States and Canada. He lives in New York City with his spouse, Kriota Willberg.


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