BY BALLOON TO THE NORTH POLE
This story with the Gnuffs is my prime example of a regular adventure story with the Gnuffs. It is also a bit longer than the normal albums. I made it for the Critters magazine, but that magazine folded before the story was published there.
I was at some point intrigued by this silly thing of getting to a remote place before others. The competition urge was strong in the years around 1900. There still is an ongoing controversy who was first to get to the North Pole, and the measuring instruments were not that reliable in those days.
There was a dispute between Cook and Peary about who came first to the pole. Peary had an upper hand with the media but Cook claimed he had already been there the year before but lost his notes underway. As late as 1988 it was revealed that Peary probably was never at the North Pole but stopped and turned back before reaching the place. The accompanying Inuit witness kept silent about what he knew. The timetable from leaving and coming back also indicated he would not have had time to do the whole stretch. Whether Cook was there a year before is also uncertain, with no proofs to that merit either.
This happened in the days where races to do things first were popular. It was also present in aviation, with new destinations reached in record time, first by men and later by women. The Antarctica of course was prone to some similar competition.
My inspiration however was a Swedish explorer, André, who in 1897 tried to reach the North Pole in a balloon but failed. The tragic outcome for the members made a compelling vehicle for a Swedish motion picture, ‘Ingenjör Andrées luftfärd’ by director Jan Troel. That film and later documentaries impressed me, so I felt inspired to make my own adventure with the Gnuffs daring something similar.
The story is perhaps my best attempt to do a regular adventure story, and I am happy I made it, though not published in Critters nor in the Nordic Woody Woodpecker magazine to help the financing along. I had gotten used to that by then, and the following albums I completed even knowing beforehand, that they would not pay off financially. The revenue from the sales to the libraries did help the balance a bit. The reader may notice where I have removed the logo on the latter of the six chapters. Running six months in a magazine would also have stretched the reader’s patience a bit too much.
There is a certain appeal in making a venture into the unknown, and this story probably capture the mood of despair better than other comic stories I have made. There is not much to distract attention visually when you are in the middle of snow and ice, but the set-up is poignant. Barks said that when he sometimes wanted to relax a bit about the drawing job, he sent off the ducks to the Arctic with not that many details to draw.
My reason was less mundane. I liked to draw different settings, and I never felt the urge to reduce my effort by diminishing the number of elements at the location. The feeling about pulling this adventure off belong to my most satisfying memories doing the Gnuff series.
My coloring from here on and the rest of my career had by then shifted to Ecoline watercolors on ordinary copy machine paper fastened to a sturdy board with tape around the edges. I had a half page reduced to half size at a time but pasted two by two pages to a board. Having three boards to shift with, the watercolors could dry while applying color on a new board. There is a lot of white left in the coloring, and not only in the snow and ice chapters. I had found out that details read better on a lightly toned background and in extreme a white color. I was admiring the old American comic book coloring, which they now pay homage to in the Fantagraphics Barks reprints.
The copy paper used kept the size and did not wrinkle when it dried, since it was taped to the board. The scanning technique had by then come to include the black lines, so there was no longer any difficulty to make the line film match the separated color films, which was the case in the early days when coloring on sturdy blueprint boards with separate line film overlays presented some problems.