What if you could run away and live off the land as you help settle the North Pole? Sounds kinda nutty, doesn’t it? Well, it made total sense to Vilhjalmur Stefansson, a Canadian Arctic explorer and ethnologist, active at the turn of the last century. Luke Healy’s new graphic novel, “How to Survive in the North,” published by Nobrow Press, looks back on this most quixotic journey.
Healy brings in a contemporary narrative thread that is interlaced with this bizarre arctic misadventure. It provides a nice counterbalance to the often dire arctic narrative. As weird as the attempt to settle the North Pole is, it is also weird, in a good way, to embark upon a graphic novel based upon this relatively arcane history. But a gem is a gem and it takes a certain talent to see that.
There’s a wonderful depth to this book with its full-bodied scope following the rhythms of a prose novel. Healy’s drawing style is economical while not missing a beat. The pacing, the light but spot on composition, and the compelling dialogue provide a rich experience. A lot of people today are ready to dive in and create their own graphic novels. There is no trick to it and there’s a great chance of failure. But, if you’re in love with it, then there’s no other way. Healy is clearly in love.
In fact, there’s plenty of love to be found within this story. One primary plot line, set in the present, follows the ill-fated affair between Sully Barnaby, a tenured professor, and Kevin, his student. Sully has been put on a forced one-year sabbatical to temper his lack of judgement. It is during this bittersweet one-year paid vacation that the prof immerses himself in the various documents related to the two arctic expeditions of 1912 and 1926. In the process, Sully gains a renewed sense of purpose.
Was it a very good idea to try to tame the North Pole? Spoiler alert: No, it was not such a good idea. But you will definitely root for the survivors. And reading this quirky and highly entertaining graphic novel is certainly a great idea! This book was first introduced to American audiences via the Center For Cartoon Studies, which launched the careers of Chuck Forsman, Jen Vaughn, and Sophie Goldstein, amongst others.
“How to Survive in the North” is a 192-page full-color hardcover. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Nobrow Press right here.