The amazing cartoonist and illustrator Anne Simon is making her way to the East coast to talk about the subject of her latest graphic novel collaboration with Corinne Maier – EINSTEIN!
Anne will be signing copies of Einstein and chatting about cartooning and the challenges of adapting the lives of some of the greatest minds in the history of Western Civilization to the graphic novel page. You won’t want to miss these rare US appearances by one of the foremost French cartoonists of today:
Thursday October 6th, 5pm
Updike Farmstead, Princeton, NJ
The Historical Society of Princeton presents a talk with Anne Simon.
After the presentation, make sure to stick around for the book signing!
Event is FREE
“The Ignatz Award, named for the character in the classic comic strip Krazy Kat by George Herriman, is the festival prize of the Small Press Expo, that since 1997 has recognized outstanding achievement in comics and cartooning. The Ignatz recognizes exceptional work that challenges popular notions of what comics can achieve, both as an art form and as a means of personal expression.”
Sam was nominated along with some genuine giants of comics– Melanie Gillman, John Martz, Daniel Clowes, and Kim Deitch. Congratulations to all the nominees, a big thanks to the folks at SPX and the Ignatz Awards Jury for counting Fantasy Sports among the outstanding comics of the year, and an extra special thanks to all of the attendees who threw in their vote for Fantasy Sports!
Berlin-based couple and illustration duo Daniel Dolz and Doris Freigofas – AKA Golden Cosmos – are back with a brand new Leporello in their distinctive, colourful style! Having taken us flying high through the sky with a history of aviation in High Times, they are now bringing us back down to earth with Locomotion: a beautiful and factual guide to the history of train engineering and travel.
To coincide with the release of Locomotion, they took a little time to answer some questions for us:
Which part of Locomotion was your favourite to draw?
The history of trains is really diverse and we had fun going through the years, always being excited about what was to come next. The early beginnings of trains with the first steam machines and all the adventurous experiments like the Rainhill Trials were particularly fun to draw, especially visualising the sounds, the smell, but also the grace of those monstrous, heavy locomotives.
How do you work together on a piece like this? Do you delegate different jobs to each other?
We’re both involved in the whole process, but we’ve started to allocate work. We’re not working on the same illustration at the same time.
For Locomotion, Daniel was making the major part of the illustrations while Doris was involved in the sketching process and idea generation. This was because our second child was born in the middle of it!
What was the most interesting / surprising fact that you learned about the history of trains?
We were really amazed by the fact that on the Canadian Pacific Railway there are cargo trains that are four kilometres long and need 13 engines to conquer the Rocky Mountains!
And of course we had to include some crazy inventions like the Rail Zeppelin – a train that looked like a Zeppelin on rails, driven by a propeller! This train only had one maiden voyage from Hamburg to Berlin and set a speed record at that time.
You’re based in Berlin, what are your favourite things about living and working in the city?
Actually we’ve been thinking of buying some old farmhouse and moving to the countryside. There’s this part of us that would like to be closer to nature and be far from the fast pace of the city. But we would quickly miss all the things that are so special about Berlin: the great diversity of lifestyles, the tolerance in views of live, the tasty and affordable food, the barbeques with friends on the balcony, going to see an exhibition on a Sunday afternoon and wandering over to the flea market by the canal afterwards… On the one hand, you can always discover new things in Berlin, the city is changing so fast. On the other hand, there are places that haven’t changed much since we’ve moved here 12 years ago. This continuity makes this place our home.
What is your studio like?
Our studio is located in a former Kindergarten in Lichtenberg, a part of Berlin that is becoming more and more interesting to young people and creatives as it’s become hard to find affordable space in Neukölln or Kreuzberg. The house is shared by around 25 creatives, artists, designers and photographers. There is also a huge garden where we grow vegetables in the summer.
Which illustrators / artists are you most inspired by? And which new talents are you most excited by?
The Bauhaus is an inexhaustible source of inspiration for us. The Bauhaus philosophy is interdisciplinary and so comprehensive! It’s not just the graphic work that inspires us. For example, we’ve just recently come across a collection of hand puppets that Paul Klee made out of everyday objects for his children.
We also love the work of Christoph Niemann. His illustrations are so humorous and pointed. He likes to experiment stylistically so he always surprises you. Last year we discovered the work of Cynthia Kittler and totally fell in love with her style and ideas. She is part of the PARALLEL UNIVERSE COLLECTIVE, a group of six amazing artists from New York, Berlin and Hamburg.
Thanks so much to Doris & Daniel! Locomotion is available to buy now HERE and in all great bookshops!
You better make sure your weekend is free because NOBROW is headed to SPX, and WE’RE BRINGING SOME HEAVY METAL!
SPX is always special, and this year we’re bringing along some extra-special guests. We’ll be rolling in with Sam Bosma (FantasySports series), Wren McDonald (SP4RX, CyberRealm), Luke Healy (How To Survive in the North), Jeremy Sorese (Curveball), and José Domingo (Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption), and they’ll be hanging out, signing books, and drawing up a storm!
Here’s when you can catch them signing at Table W76-78:
12 – 1 Wren McDonald
1 – 2 Luke Healy
2 – 3 Jeremy Sorese
12 – 1 Sam Bosma
1 – 2 Wren McDonald
2 – 3 Luke Healy
3 – 4 José Domingo
It’s going to be an exciting SPX for us because we’ve got not one, not two, but THREE Nobrow artists nominated for Ignatz awards! Ryan Heshka (Mean Girls Club) is nominated for Outstanding Artist, Joe Sparrow’s The Hunter is nominated for Outstanding Story, Sam Bosma’s Fantasy Sports is nominated for Outstanding Comic. We’ll have all of those titles with us so you can experience all that top-tier prestige first hand.
“But will you have anything new?” Buddy, you better hold on to your hat because we’re bringing some amazing new titles, a bunch of your old favorites, and some stuff you haven’t even seen! Get ready to be among the very first to get your hands on two SPX exclusive debut titles, Luke Healy’s How To Survive in the North, and Wren McDonald’s SP4RX (be sure to check out the killer book trailer on our Vimeo page). Both will be out later this year, but we’ll have advance copies ready for you at our table! We’re also bringing along a couple of certified mega-hits, Sam Bosma’s Fantasy Sports 2 and the latest in Luke Pearson’s Hilda series, Hilda and the Stone Forest.
There’s going to be so much good stuff, we can’t wait to see you there!
Yahhooo, Dogs in Cars is here! Count to 100 through the many breeds of dogs from French bulldogs to Great Danes, as they wreak havoc upon the streets in their recognisable locomotives! In this hilariously illustrated introduction to the world of dogs and cars, Emmanuelle Walker and Felix Massie pay homage to these glorious animals and their moving machines.
To celebrate its release, we caught up with illustrator / animation director extraordinaire, Emmanuelle Walker to talk about collaborating with Felix on this cool canine car compendium, illustration, animation and more…!
1)What came first – the words or pictures? How did you and Felix collaborate on the project?
What came first was a spreadsheet. A spreadsheet including a list of A to Z breeds, and car brands – because yes, the number of dogs corresponds to the number of each alphabet letter, which also corresponds to the name of the dog breed and the car brand! A=1 – Alpha Romeo/Afghan hound, B=2 – Bentley/Beagles, C=3 Citroen/Corgis, D=4 – Delorean/Dalmatians, etc.
I then gave that list to Felix as a base for the text, and it evolved from there. He picked the breed and the brand that he thought served the story the best. He added to the dog and car list too if he thought there was an even better option.
He did a first draft, and that’s really when I started working. Over time some of the rhymes slightly changed, but the idea stayed the same.
2) Which is your favourite spread from the book and why?
The dog I had the most fun drawing was probably the Old English sheepdogs, because I love drawing hairy things, could you count all the hair on that spread?
I like all the book spreads, but the special one is probably number 10, where I drew my dad in his blue Jeep and myself as a child with our 10 Jack Russells (even though we never had a single Jack Russell!).
3) Do you have a dog? If so what kind and what are they called? If not… what kind of dog would you most like to have?
No I don’t, unfortunately. My favorite dog in the world is probably the whippet because of all the crazy positions they can make thanks to their long limbs. If I had a garden big enough (or if I had a garden at all) I would have one.
4) Could you tell us a little bit about your illustration process?
I usually do some sketch research first. There were so many different and sometimes similar breeds, so I had to find a way to simplify them and understand the shapes.
To have a better general overview of what the book was going to look like, I did some super quick thumbnails of the spreads.
Then I prepared a template document in Photoshop because I wanted all the cars to be proportional to each other when you flip the book pages. So the small cars are tiny on the page, versus the trucks for example. Once I had the template I picked the illustration I wanted to do the most on that day. I started with the 13 Maltese.
I then roughed the car first, then the dogs and background with a thin black line. Once I was happy with the rough I made a colour-test layer to decide what the colours were going to be. Sometimes it’s a quick process, sometimes it’s harder to find something that pleases me. At this stage it’s only refining that’s left but that’s the longest and most tedious part!
Once I was happy with the colours I started selecting the different zones of the illustration with the freehand lasso tool. Basically, every colour is a different layer so I can easily change things if I need to.
And for the rest of the pages, I balanced everything depending on the number of dogs on the page. So if I had to draw a lot of dogs for one page, I would then pick one with less dogs, and so forth.
5) You work now as an animation director, what do you enjoy most and what are the challenges involved with making a children’s book outside of your day job?
I can’t really pick a favourite between directing, animating, and illustrating, I need the three to feel balanced. Animation is great, and bringing characters to life is extremely satisfying, but it can be very tiring to draw the same drawing over and over, (and then retracing/cleaning up everything afterwards). Illustration is great, you can take all the time you want to create one single image but it doesn’t move! And finally directing means that you often get to work on bigger projects, with a team to help you, but it can be stressful and the clients are not all always easy to manage. Luckily I work with great producers who take care of them most of the time.
Because I don’t have a regular schedule or regular clients, my days are always different. I have some super busy months where I stay at the studio until midnight, and other times, I can go weeks/months without working. The main challenge I’d say is not to get too stressed in the down times and try to travel a bit to work on personal projects (that will often bring you more work), find some inspiration elsewhere for other projects, and disconnect for a while.
Thank you so much Emmanuelle! Drive away with a copy of Dogs in Cars now!
To celebrate the launch of this next exciting instalment, on Thursday 8th September from 7.30 to 9pm, Hilda’s creator Luke Pearson will be joining us at Gosh! comics.
Luke will be in conversation with author, cartoonist and comic book aficianado Gary Northfield, discussing his creative process, the upcoming Hilda animation (as much as he’s allowed to) and whatever else might crop up in the evening. It’s a not to be missed chance to peek into one of UK comics’ most verdant creative minds. And a chance to get a copy of a Gosh! exclusive Hilda & the Stone Forest bookplate edition!
The Facebook event page can be found here. No need to book, no tickets required: just bring yourself down for 7.30-9pm on Thursday the 8th September, seats first come, first served for what promises to be an informative, entertaining evening.
I have worked for the Fairtrade Foundation for the last three and a half years, writing learning resources for teachers to explore with their students about where their food comes from, how closely we are connected to people all over the world by the food we eat and how choices we make as consumers affect the producers at the other end of the supply chain. Put simply, I write about some of the ways in which the world is unfair and some of the ways we can try to make it fairer.
Before that I worked at Comic Relief for four years, again on the Schools team, encouraging young people to get involved in Red Nose Day and Sport Relief, raise money and help people struggling in the UK and the world’s poorest countries.
I am a big fan of elephants, dogs, dinosaurs and beautiful books.
As I said, I worked for a maritime museum – and not just in the publishing department but in the galleries themselves for a number of years. I have stood beside a replica of the James Caird for many a day so I am well-versed in the life of Shackleton. In fact, I rather big-headedly wondered if William Grill could even have any information that I didn’t already know – and my goodness he did!! The detail in this story is incredible and the language evocative. A handy glossary differentiates your conning from your cross-bracing and however much you think you know about Shackleton’s attempt to cross Antarctica I guarantee that you will learn something new.
My second book was Professor Astro Cat’s Intergalactic Activity Book. While Shackleton’s Journey is wistfully sketched and beautifully described, Professor Astro Cat whizz-bangs from the page and gets you up and involved from the get-go. I may not have mentioned that I actually ran a detective agency in my youth – the Clueless Detective Agency – you may have heard of us? My co-founder Agent 33.3 and myself, Agent 21.5 were quite the problem-solvers of our little village in Kent (a high point being when we found a shoe without an owner – although I believe that case is still unsolved). Anyway, I digress, but it is a relevant digression because Professor Astro Cat tapped straight into my 9 year old detective brain – once again I was learning Morse code and the NATO phonetic alphabet and was given Astro Cat’s decoder to translate curious extraterrestrial text! It was amazing! There is so much to do in this book!!
I have made a star gazer, learnt some Russian, measured wavelengths using chocolate and a microwave (who knew that was possible?!) and I have designed a gym for cosmonauts to use on space stations (you’re welcome NASA). The best things I learnt were that I am essentially made of stardust which is very cool and if I move to Pluto I might just have superhuman strength. I honestly think this might have been the most fun I’ve ever had learning anything. I should add that I also nearly fell off my chair and I spilt a bowl of cereal whilst wearing three pairs of gloves – ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ I hear you cry – well, you will just have to read the book yourself to solve that case.
If you are a blogger, librarian, bookseller, illustrator… or straight-up, die-hard, all-round Nobrow/ Flying Eye Books fan and you would like to write a guest post for our blog, please get in touch at email@example.com!
In the first in Alexis Deacon’s epic supernatural historical trilogy, Geis : A Matter of Life and Death, the story begins as the chief matriarch is drawing her last breath… but who will be worthy to follow on her rule? Fifty souls are summoned in the night, and so begins the first task of their extraordinary trial… Here Alexis introduces some of the key players of this incredible adventure.
Nemas – The youngest of three brothers from an influential family, Nemas is accustomed to being last in the pecking order. When the contest begins he is surprised to find that he has talents few others possess. With the possibility of stepping out from his brothers’ shadow at last within his reach, Nemas is determined to prove himself worthy. But just how far is he prepared to go to do it?
Niope – A supreme master of a long forgotten art, Niope is a Sorceress of Death. Where she came from and who she is remains a mystery, but this much is clear: she is a formidable force. Niope has promised to run the contest to find the island’s new chief but in truth she will respect no power but her own.
Io – The daughter of the Kite Lord, a high commander in Chief Matarka’s army. Io is surprised to find that she and not her father has been summoned to the contest. Though small and inoffensive to look at, Io is far from weak. She is resourceful, well trained in her father’s craft and compassionate to a fault. Even Niope is impressed. Io may well be the strongest contestant but is she strong enough to save the others from the danger that threatens them all? Can she overcome the sorceress by herself?
Ben – An experienced member of Chief Matarka’s court, Ben is a shrewd politician and a skilled orator. Time and experience have made him cynical of government, however. Now he cares for little outside of his home, his children and his loving wife.
Nelson – A man of science and medicine, Nelson has a great reverence for all living things, knowing how slender the are threads that bind them to this world. He is strong willed, knowledgeable, kind and a good friend to all who know him well.
Eloise – What survives of the ancient craft of magic is practised by wizards like Eloise. She is not as powerful or as learned as the sorceress but she should not be underestimated. Though Eloise may appear bluff and impassive, she has a great heart and would lay down her life if those she loved were in danger.
Artur – The chief accountant of Matarka’s court, Artur has not seen much of the world outside his office in many a long year. When he was a young man he served in the army before adopting a sensible, reliable trade as his father advised. Content to dream of secret liaisons with the kitchen maids and count the pennies piling up, Artur thought the days of action had long since passed him by. But now a new danger has come, throwing everything he cares for into peril. Does even the smallest ember still remain of the distant fires of youth?
It’s party time! Wiz and Mug are back for another amazing adventure, and Secret Headquarters is ready to celebrate with none other than Sam Bosma, creator of Fantasy Sports. Don’t miss your chance to hang out at one of the best comic shops in Los Angeles with one of the most exciting cartoonists out there! Drinks, new books, and your own signed copy of Fantasy Sports 2 – What more could you need??
Gather round, everyone! Powell’s City of Books is hosting a special Kids’ Storytime with the one and only Keith Negley!
This Saturday, Keith will be reading from his latest picture book: the stirring, funny, and sweet My Dad Used to Be so Cool. Follow along with Keith as he tells you about a tattooed dad with a rock star past, and find out the heart-warming reason behind why he decided to give it all up.
Afterwards, be sure to stick around for your chance to get your book signed by Keith!
Orlando, FL –
At the end of last month the ALA Annual and the ABA Children’s Institute welcomed the award-winning artist William Grill for a week of panels, signings, and fun at their annual shows! William sent over some pics of the cool things he was up to during his visit to Orlando and we thought you might want to take a look:
Here’s a message from William:
Stepping out of the airport I was instantly greeted by the warm Orlando air, reminding me that it was Summer, something that I’d forgotten about back in London. Like the weather, the librarians, booksellers, and illustrators I came across all greeted me with the same warmth and enthusiasm.
It was a pleasure to chat to people from all over the country that had come together to get excited about new books. As an illustrator you rarely get to meet the people who actually help promote your work through shops and libraries, without them we’d be stuffed!
Having made a book that is rooted in American culture I’m glad I could make a connection with people of the same background, especially those that live near New Mexico and have heard of the story.
The most memorable part of the trip was discussing how to make books more appealing for reluctant readers with illustrators as well as librarians. This is what really drives me to keep making books and seeing what you can do with the format. It’s encouraging that the US is conscious of this, and it’s something I hope to continue being a part of.
Lastly, it might look fun to pretend you’re being scooped up by an excavator bucket but those things are ridiculously dirty, be warned.
For more on The Wolves of Currumpaw, be sure to check out our webshop!
Also, don’t forget to check out The Wall Street Journal’s review and Publishers Weekly’s interview with William!
Pencils at the ready, we’ve a very exciting competition to announce! We’ve teamed up with the coffee maestros at Timberyard to give you a chance to show your work at their inaugural Art Exhibition. This is a brilliant opportunity for your work to be a part of a exhibition in a busy Central London coffee shop… and as if that wasn’t enough, you could also win a selection of Nobrow books worth £100!
A few words from our friends at Timberyard-
“A show of vibrant contrasts and stimulating styles within three categories, each shown in adjoining rooms at TY Seven Dials in Covent Garden, Central London. The inaugural TY Art Exhibition will provide a platform to display artworks in a variety of mediums, formats and genres by amateur and emerging or established contemporary artists.
The TY Art Exhibition is a concept conceived and curated by Joe Faulkner, a barista by trade but also a talented photographer, who wants to encourage people from all backgrounds to engage and take part in art and photography at any level. TY is excited to collaborate with Hotshoe Magazine and Nobrow Press who will both be lending their professional guidance and gifting competition prizes this year.”
SUBMISSIONS ARE NOW OPEN!
For the first round of the selection process, amateur artists are asked to submit a digital image of their artwork online. For the next stage of the application process judges will shortlist entries for exhibition in The Communal Space and The Ground Floor at TY Seven Dials. The exhibit will be on public view for a period of 6 months (when not in private use). Submissions open on 1 June 2016 and the deadline for entry submissions is 31 July 2016. Finalists will be selected and the winner will be determined w/c 22 August 2016. Artists will be contacted and asked to deliver ‘exhibition ready’ artworks between 22-29 August 2016. Hanging will commence on 29 August 2016 in time for launch and Special Preview on 1 Sept 2016.
All shortlisted artwork will be hung as part of the new TY Art Exhibition (you will need to supply exhibition ready, printed and framed artwork). The exhibition will be on public display for a period of 6 months in The Communal Space and The Ground Floor at TY Seven Dials. All shortlisted artists will be invited to join us at the Special Preview on 1 Sept 2016.
We are also gifting this awesome selection of Nobrow books to the winning artist!
By now you’ve probably already been introduced to Marcel, our favourite New York pup! He loves to go for walks with his human, checking out the sights and sounds of his beloved neighbourhood. Did you know a lot of the best spots in Marcel’s city are based on real places in New York? Here are five, real-life locations that inspired scenes from Eda Akaltun‘s Marcel.
AMNH has an iconic dinosaur exhibit at its entrance hall, a dramatic representation of an imagined prehistoric encounter: a Barosaurus rearing up to protect its young from an attacking Allosaurus. The Barosaurus skeleton, which is the tallest freestanding dinosaur mount in the world, is composed of replica bones cast from actual fossils.
Entering the museum to see and maybe even taste those bones is Marcel’s biggest dream, one that he imagines will never come true as dogs are not allowed. When the new human manages to sneak him in, Marcel ends up having one of the best days in his life and the event changes the course of their relationship for the better.
2- West Village
This is Marcel’s home with his human. He feels safe and loves it here, and gives the reader all the reasons why it’s so great in their area. He particularly likes that there are no high rises around and the abundance of activities that are available.
Marcel is a very particular pup who loves the high life – he enjoys smoked salmon and listens to jazz! It’s only natural that he needs pampering spa days like the rest of us and his favourite one happens to be in downtown naturally.
4- Ruff and Sons (in real life: Sadelle’s – this is where the photo was taken. The name was inspired from a NY institution Russ & Daughters)
Only the finest nosh for this pup! He loves this spot and introduces it to the reader as the best bagels in the city. The human happens to agree as she’s leaving it with a bag full of goodies!
Ahh the Washington Square Park! This is where Marcel’s favourite jazz band ‘The Bone Daddies’ play. It’s also one of the best and most iconic parks downtown and has a great dog play area.
New York city has inspired countless artists, and we hope that Marcel inspires you to see the beauty of your own neighbourhood!
Be sure to check out the rest of Marcel’s adventures in Eda Akaltun’s Marcel, available now in our webshop!
And who knows where this adorable pup’s adventures will take him next…
Did you know that sharks can detect electrical currents from other creatures? Or that some are covered in loads of tiny little tassels? Owen Davey demystifies these boneless fish in his beautiful new book, Smart About Sharks. This week is Shark Week, so to celebrate this and the release of his book, we asked our new shark expert, Owen Davey to share the favourite facts he learned putting it together!
1. The largest shark to have ever lived (the Megalodon) is thought to have been 16-18 meters long and weighed the same as 30 Great White Sharks.
2. Sharks can detect heartbeats using their Ampullae of Lorenzini (freckle-like dots on a shark’s nose),
3. Sharks can’t chew. They have to swallow their prey whole, crush it, or bite chunks off.
4. The Epaulette shark can actually walk on land using its fins.
5. Sand tiger sharks gulp in air and store it in their stomachs so that they can float just above the ocean floor silently and sneak up on prey.
Dive right into this underwater world and grab a copy of the book here!
Last month, we released the first book by Luke Healy, How to Survive in the North. In his stunning debut graphic novel, Luke weaves together the true life historical expeditions of Ada Blackjack and Robert Bartlett, with a fictional tale of a modern mid-life crisis; creating an unforgettable journey of love and loss that shows the strength needed to survive in the harshest of conditions.
Here at Nobrow, we are so lucky to work with so many incredibly talented illustrators, but it’s not all sketchbooks, Wacoms and days glued to computer screens for these guys! Largely inspired by his own book, Luke Healy set off on a journey of survival of his very own and being the master storyteller that he is, has chronicled his adventure so far for you…
In 1914, Captain Robert Bartlett walked 700 miles across the frozen Arctic ocean. He was attempting to reach civilisation and, by extension, rescue the crew of his ship, who were otherwise helplessly stranded on the frigid, desolate Wrangle island. I wrote a book about this.
Just a few weeks ago, I crossed the 700 mile mark on my own long hike. But I wasn’t dealing with freezing temperatures, and the tirelessly shifting Arctic sea ice. I was dealing, in fact, with quite the opposite. A forest fire. And as I ran from the fire, wishing for an end to the heat, and the dryness, and the whole damn desert, little did I know that I would soon be slogging through a whole set of icy wastes. Just like the characters in my book.
This summer, I’m attempting to walk from Mexico to Canada, along a 2660 mile wilderness trail that runs through national and state parks, paralleling the West coast of the United States. It’s called the Pacific Crest Trail. You might have heard about this trail from the Reese Witherspoon film Wild, or the 2013 book it’s based on by Cheryl Strayed. That’s how I heard about it.
I’ve never been much of an outdoors person before this trip. In fact, researching Captain Bartlett’s walk for two years, while I worked on my book How to Survive in the North, is probably what made me curious about my ability to do something like this. I had just finished up writing How to Survive when I first heard about the PCT.
As I worked to finish drawing the book with Nobrow, I knew I was going to attempt the hike. I set the date, and got hiking. I was even on trail when the book was released just one month ago, somewhere near mile 450.
The PCT starts in the desert, right on the USA/Mexican border, an emotionally charged place, for many reasons. But it’s also charged with something else; heat. It couldn’t have been more different than the conditions on Bartlett’s hike. The first section of the PCT, miles 0-700, are classified in all the guidebooks as “The Desert”.
And it truly is the desert. Cacti, rattlesnakes, a troubling lack of water. Everything you picture. But it also has things you don’t picture, things you don’t expect. Sometimes the trail journeys up to higher elevations, and that means lush pine forests, and vibrant wildflowers, and occasionally even snow.
I got snowed on for the first time only two weeks into my hike, on top of Mt. San Jacinto, a peak that hits almost 10,000 feet. It’s considered a fairly small mountain in California, but it’s nearly three times taller than Ireland’s tallest peak.
I remember thinking “How did they do it? How did Bartlett walk through the snow for 700 miles?! How did Ada Blackjack survive this kind of cold in a tent for two years?”. The desert heat was one thing, but to be cold and numb for such a long time, was something I knew I wouldn’t be able to deal with.
But still, as I pressed on, I kept the 700 mile mark firmly planted in my head. That’s how far Bartlett went, that’s the end of “The Desert”.
But the desert wasn’t going out without an event. As I neared the 700 mile mark, a wildfire ignited only a mile or two from where I was standing. I hiked 28 miles in one day to escape the smoke. It was the scariest day of my life. As I limped into Kennedy Meadows, a little general store perched near the 700 mile marker, hikers applauded from the porch through the night’s blackness.
I couldn’t help but smile. I had walked 700 miles. I had matched Bartlett’s distance. Even if I had to turn around and go home tomorrow, the trip would have been a success.
Still, my ability to empathise with the characters from How to Survive was only just beginning. As the trail climbed out of the desert and into the High Sierra mountains, I began to see more and more of my dreaded frenemy. Snow. And lots of it this time. Not just the half-inch sprinkling I saw on San Jacinto, but whole fields of the stuff, feet deep, left behind by a good winter.
And boy was it tough to deal with. As the passes and peaks climbed higher, some over 14,500 feet, the snow grew trickier and trickier.
I remember making an edit late in the process of drawing How to Survive. The earlier drafts had the characters simply standing on top of these fields of snow, as though it were a field of white carpet. But close to the end of production, I thought “That’s not right, their feet should be sunk into the snow”. I was thinking back to my time living in Vermont, where walking through snow only happened after a fresh snowfall, before the plows and street sweepers had come through the town.
Well it turns out I was only half right. In the afternoons and evenings, you did indeed sink through the snow up in the High Sierra. In the mornings, however, the snow was frozen solid, into huge sheets of ice. It was hard, and slick like wet glass. Especially when the trail climbed above the tree-line, and I was left in these desolate, exposed, snowy stretches, clutching my ice axe, microspikes fixed to my shoes, praying I didn’t slip and slide off a cliff, did I think: “I get it”.
For four or five hours per day, I understood, really understood, what it must have been like to be stranded on Wrangle Island, or working my way across the sea like Bartlett and Ada Blackjack.
I ran out of food, I slipped and injured myself, I was plunged into ice-cold rivers. My tent collapsed in a snow storm as I counted the seconds between the lightning flashes and the thunder booms. Flash…1…2…Boom…Flash…1…Boom.
I could barely handle it psychologically and physically for two weeks. I can’t even begin to imagine how the real-life subjects of How to Survive lived that way for over two years.
As I write this now, I’m sitting in the town of Mammoth California, 906 miles into the trail. I’m almost done with the High Sierra. Almost done with the snow. And my appreciation for Bartlett’s journey and Ada’s fortitude has increased exponentially with every step across an expansive snowfield or icy cliff.
I can’t imagine the difficulty and danger of Bartlett’s own hike. I can’t imagine the pressure he felt, not only attempting this incredible, near-impossible journey, but having the lives of dozens of people depending on him.
I’m glad I can understand a little better what Bartlett’s journey felt like. I’m excited to continue my hike. But you can bet your bum I’m glad that nobody’s life is depending on it.
If you’re feeling inspired to buy the book, you can grab a copy here (and we ship worldwide) or from any great bookshop. If you’re feeling inspired to set off on an epic adventure of your own, good luck!