Ernest Shackleton was a British explorer whose Antarctic expedition in 1914-1916 is one of the most epic examples ever of doggedly determined leadership amidst harrowing conditions and disastrous setbacks.
This gripping story of survival has been fodder for gobs of books, documentaries, and IMAX shows. Nick Bertozzi’s new portrayal of Shackleton’s journey in graphic novel format offers another excellent viewpoint that is aesthetically pleasing, highly accessible, and exceptionally personal. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I won’t bother telling you the events of Shackleton’s trip. Suffice it to say that ice mountains, dashed hopes, isolation, burbling dissent, ferocious leopard seals, wicked waves, and frostbite were only a few of the issues that threatened this crew and tested Shackleton’s courage, optimism, and savvy.
What I especially like about this graphic novel presentation is the alternate perspectives Bertozzi brings out by focusing on the ground-level, human story. The names of every expedition dog are here, mind you, as well as the cat. Why? Because the men aboard loved those creatures and knew them by name. The entire book is communicated through dialogue which means that personalities, emotion, inside jokes, private conversation, exclamations, worried mutterings are the means by which we experience the story.
Bertozzi’s light hand and minimal line give an austere feel to the landscapes and an elegance to the ship’s lines. He also uses very small figures for his men which conveys the diminutive stature of humans in the vastness of the Antarctic ice. It’s not until the final moment of victory that we get a burly, strong Shackleton piercing us with his resolute gaze.
For those of you who have never read an account of this expedition, I do think you will come away with a number of questions. Bertozzi does not strive to create a seamless, fleshed-out account here. Don’t miss his short word of introduction for a humorous explanation of why he had to condense things a bit. And perhaps that’s just as well. There’s plenty of excellent material for follow up if your interest is piqued. I’ve previously reviewed one of these, Jennifer Armstrong’s book Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World. Bertozzi lists a number of other publications, websites and a museum to investigate as well.
For some reason, my library shelves this as Teen Graphic. It’s a grand story for brave kids (remember, this is real life) ages 10 and up, I’d say. If you love it, you’ll want to find Bertozzi’s other historical graphic novel, Lewis & Clark.