“Weaving together the true life historical expeditions of Ada Blackjack and Robert Bartlett with a contemporary fictional story. How to Survive in the North is a unique and visual narrative journey that shows the strength it takes to survive even the harshest conditions – whether that be struggling for survival in the Arctic in the 1900s or surviving a midlife crisis in the current day.”
The Story: Three distinct periods of time tell their own stories, all centred around the harshness of the Arctic and its exploration.
In the first story it is 1913 and Robert Bartlett is a no nonsense Captain. Along with scientists McKinlay, Mamen, Malloch, Beuchet, Mackay and the crew they set sail towards the Arctic…
In the second, set in 1921 in Nome, Alaska a mother, Ada, is looking after her sick young son. Desperate for money to afford the hospital treatment he needs, she joins up as a seamstress to the north…
Finally, in a story set in 2013, a very ill conceived affair with a one of his students results in a college professor being placed on suspension. During that time he becomes interested in the stories of exploration and discovers that not all legends are true. A crime far greater seemingly than the affair with the student…
The Preview: Ours is a cruel and unforgiving world. Each story in How to Survive the North shows how hope leaves us and a survival instinct takes over. Ever battling against emotions, sadness and anger, the need to pass through and continue living is ever present. In a present day world full of smart phones and watch on demand video this book, especially in its historical settings, brings home how terrifying being alone and in danger can really be.
Survivalist fiction seems to be everywhere you turn these days, be it books like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or comics and TV like The Walking Dead. We seem infatuated with the extremes – but for me, nothing compares to the reality of survival in the harsh conditions of the Arctic that these true life stories describe and recount.
Luke Healy draws the truth of a character out at every turn, his simplistic and bright style allows emotion to flow through the page. The loneliness of a solitary confinement that comes from a combination of human curiosity, need and the brutality of nature is all there on the page. As soon as you read the opening short three chapters that introduce the central characters, you get a dread feeling that things are unlikely to end well.
Each story in How to Survive the North is told in short and punchy instalments before switching over. They begin to swirl and collide as the book progresses, both in theme and in a historical context. The two Arctic exploration segments have special impact, as the helplessness of their respective situations becomes thuddingly apparent. Every moment scratches at your heart – and they are moments you feel, over and over again.
To this reader, Ada Blackjack was my favourite character. She fights her way through with singular bravery, even standing up to a polar bear and its cub, and shows the idiotic and ill prepared male scientists a thing or two. As she crawls into her sleeping bag, lays on her side and tries to sleep you feel frightened for her, but she keeps going, knowing her son is waiting for her at home.
Stylistic choices are front and centre in this gorgeously crafted graphic novel. Healy uses distinct colour palettes to show the movement between time periods and stories. You are never at a loss to know where and with whom you are sitting with. The art gives pace and action masterfully. Healey pauses and allows the reader to fully take in the surroundings and skyline. There is nothing superfluous in the narrative or art and everything propels you forward at a hugely satisfying speed. The cold embeds itself into your bones as you read, its bleakness has emotional content like nothing else I have read recently.
I closed the book both educated, elated at its beauty and with an incredible feeling of melancholic sadness at its situations. How to Survive the North is just breathtakingly powerful.
This is another triumph from NoBrow. Their quality has never been in doubt in my mind. As this is only a preview, I have held back from revealing some of the story details, but I can say that this needs to be purchased and read over and over. If you are only going to buy one book this month, please make it this one.
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