“The Worst Journey in the World” tells the story of the Terra Nova expedition, Robert Falcon Scott’s final attempt to reach the South Pole. The memoir of expedition survivor Apsley Cherry-Garrard, it has been a source of fascination for many, including artist Sarah Airriess, who has now given us a lovingly drawn and carefully researched graphic novel adaptation. I cannot tell you how pleased I was to discover that the final third of book was panel by panel annotations of historical, research and craft notes, particularly since, as Airriess notes in her introduction, there is some abysmally shoddy research that exists regarding the expedition.
Volume 1, “Making Our Easting Down” takes us from leaving England to sighting the Antarctic continent on New Years. A journey that includes everything from the serious to the silly to the ‘that sounds made up.’ They contend with towering waves and storms that flood the ship but also spend their time getting menaced by crabs in the pursuit of science, making the most of the insanity that is the line crossing ceremony, and playing a game that involves running around and trying to tear each others clothes off.
In addition to laying the groundwork for the time spent in Antarctica proper, what volume one does a superb job of doing is introducing us to the men of the expedition. Cherry, of course, introduces us to everyone in his book, but adding a visual element changes things. There is quite the cast of characters to keep track of, but between an illustrated glossary of our leads in the front and gorgeously stylized character art, it’s refreshingly easy to orient yourself as to who’s who. I believe I only had to cross reference the list in the front once.
Airriess also makes it very easy to fall in love with everyone. Having been somewhat familiar with the expedition going in, I’d already begun to develop favorites and was shocked by how easy it was the become invested in people who I previously hadn’t really thought about one way or another. I feel like this also makes apparent just how much love and respect Airriess has for the source material and the men it concerns.
All in all, the “Worst Journey” graphic novel makes a fantastic introduction to Scott’s Terra Nova expedition, both as a story in its own right and as a jumping off point to learn more. In addition to the comprehensive annotations, the back matter also includes a “further reading” section. Lastly, it’s a fun read that can be tackled in a variety of different ways. I opted to do my first read by bouncing back and forth between the graphic novel itself and the annotations so I could get all the details as I went, but that’s hardly the only way and may not be what’s right for you.
Last I heard, the first print run of “Worst Journey” had sold out, but there should be more copies on the way. I ordered mine through the publisher, Indie Novella, but you can also order from The Children’s Bookshop and Ink@84 Books, and if you happen to be in Cambridge, the gift shop of The Polar Museum also has copies. To follow Sarah Airriess on the journey of working on Volume 2, you can join her on Patreon.