Seeking The Northwest Passage, One Panel At A Time: Bertozzi's 'Lewis and Clark' : Monkey See The expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark gets a comics treatment that eschews epic sweep for a clear-eyed and occasionally humorous take on the men — and woman — who made the journey.
NPR logo Seeking The Northwest Passage, One Panel At A Time: Bertozzi's 'Lewis and Clark'

Seeking The Northwest Passage, One Panel At A Time: Bertozzi's 'Lewis and Clark'

Cover of Nick Bertozzi's Lewis & Clark First Second Books hide caption

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First Second Books

Cover of Nick Bertozzi's Lewis & Clark

First Second Books

Over the years, the tale of the 1804-06 expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark has been told and retold. And re-retold.

Cartoonist Nick Bertozzi's take is mindful of the historical weight of that perilous journey — as evidenced by the way he allows his depictions of particularly momentous events (the death of a expedition member, the building of a fort and (spoiler!) the first sighting of the Pacific Ocean) to swell beyond the borders of his usual panel grid.

But Bertozzi prefers to locate his narrative in the human relationships among his players: The sudden, black moods of Lewis, the cautiousness of Clark, the growing uneasiness of the expedition members, the wariness and frustration of the various Native Americans they encounter.

It's a canny approach, aided by Bertozzi's art. His figures and faces, though cartoony, remain realistically expressive throughout. In one chapter, when Lewis scouts ahead on his own, only to find a series of waterfalls that will greatly impede the expedition's progress, Bertozzi lets Lewis' exasperation mount until he explodes. The layout and pacing of that slow-build is classic funnybook fare straight out of Krazy Kat, but the emotion behind it is very real, and it's no joke.

Extensively researched but enlivened by Bertozzi's sense of humor - and his knack for turning historical figures into recognizable, empathetic characters - Lewis & Clark makes a great introduction to this chapter of history for younger readers.

But it also offers those familiar with these events a way of engaging them on a new and more intimate — more human — level.

Bertozzi uses humor to turn historical figures into rounded, recognizable characters. First Second hide caption

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It's going to be difficult journey, but at least he's got a pup! And a writing desk. In a field. First Second hide caption

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Well, THIS doesn't bode well. First Second hide caption

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First Second