Writer & Aritst: Nick Bertozzi
Publisher: First Second
Release Date: June 17, 2014
The stories of Antarctic exploration have typically been unhappy ones, especially if you love dogs. The heroic sled-pulling animals you learned to admire from The Call of the Wild often end up “feeding” their masters, who frequently die anyway, making their loss all the more poignant for its wastefulness. At least in Shackleton’s story, the humans live (spoiler alert: the dogs do not). Famous not for conquering the South Pole (the Norwegian Roald Amundsen beat him by a few years) but for how he went about that goal, Shackleton wasn’t the typical “me first” Great Man of history. Instead, as writer and artist Nick Bertozzi shows, Shackleton’s greatest weakness — his commitment to his crew — was also his greatest strength.
Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey is a quick read, and Bertozzi has edited down a wealth of information, zippily working his way through months of events. The book owes the most to the old Landmark series of books aimed at young adults that ripped yarns drawn from history. There’s stoicism in Bertozzi’s presentation, both in the writing and visuals. Rather than show history in close-up, he tends to work in the long shot. He individualizes the men (and the dogs), but just because each character gets his own little headshot with his name beneath it doesn’t mean we get to know him or her as people. Too much time spent on character development would detract from what Bertozzi highlights: the cheerful can-do spirit on which the English pride themselves.
The variety of panel layouts deserves particular recognition. It’s rare to see such a range of structures, especially within such a limited number of pages, but Bertozzi’s determination to keep his story fresh lends energy to the tale. Similarly, his mix of carefully delineated flat grays and sharp blacks suggests the starkness of the Antarctic environment and the need for quick, assured decisions in the face of a place that wants to kill you. Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey leaves the reader with a great respect for its central character, even if we don’t get inside his head, as well as an appreciation for Bertozzi’s deft skills.