Sunday, 4 October 2015

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey by Nick Bertozzi Review

Nick Bertozzi’s latest comic is about the real life story of British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 expedition to traverse the Antarctic continent on foot. It’s a really good book that effectively summarises what could be considered the greatest survival story of all time. 

Shackleton dreamt of being the first explorer to reach the South Pole but failed twice - the Norwegian Amundsen was first in 1910 shortly followed by Scott. But Shackleton was determined to make it to the Pole (he never would) and decided third time’s the charm: he’ll be the first person to walk across Antarctica on foot. He would fail spectacularly. 

He and his crew set sail on the Endurance (never was a ship more aptly named for what awaited Shackleton and his men!) shortly after World War 1 kicked off, on August 1, 1914. They wouldn’t return to England until May 1917 at which point the war was almost over! 

The Endurance was stuck in ice on January 24, 1915, 70 miles from land. Shackleton and his crew decided to wait out the Arctic winter and see if when the ice broke up it would free their ship. They literally lived on the frozen sea for 9 months! When the ice began to break up in October, it sunk the Endurance - and their troubles were just beginning! 

Without going into the details here, Bertozzi notes the main points of the trip Shackleton and his crew made from then on. The journey to actual land, carrying boats and supplies across the ice, living precariously on icebergs, making it to Elephant Island and then making the incredible 800 mile trip from there to South Georgia Island for relief. It is staggering what these men went through - sheer punishment, day after day, in the most brutal conditions on the planet! 

It’s an understatement to say what an incredible story it is. It’s interesting to see the day to day lives of the men and how they kept their spirits up, as well as low points like shooting their dogs for food (which is however tastefully shown). Even more amazing is that Shackleton didn’t lose any men during the entire trip, though one of his crew lost his toes to frostbite. 

The black and white art is well-suited to the arctic landscape. The art is understated, sometimes to its detriment as the various characters are quite indistinct. But Bertozzi has an excellent eye for scene placement and knows how to perfectly tell the story with the right angles and perspectives. He also clearly put a lot of effort in researching the expedition as the book is full of informative detail, amidst a gripping adventure story. 

At 125 pages it’s by no means definitive, nor is it meant to be, and it does feel quite truncated - besides Shackleton, the other men are underwritten and it would’ve been nice to see what happened once Shackleton made it back to Elephant Island. It just ends a bit too abruptly. Also, it’s unclear why, when Shackleton and his small group made it to relief in May 1916 why it took until August to send a ship to the rest of his crew on Elephant Island. 

Nevertheless, Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey is a fine summary/introduction to the legendary Endurance expedition. Great reading!

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey

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