Trailblazing with Nick Bertozzi
Writer and illustrator Nick Bertozzi finds a way to not only make the adventures of Lewis & Clark come alive, but also to make them heart-poundingly exciting and real in his new graphic novel Lewis & Clark. We talked to the creator about this little piece of American history.
What drew you to the story of Lewis and Clark?
Growing up, I never comprehended how dangerous and exhilarating Lewis and Clark's journey was, and many years later, when I did finally understand how exciting and scary it was, I wanted to share that with readers. And I thought that their tale would work well as a comic since the graphic novel handles episodic content very well and I would be able to create two-page spreads that would evoke whichever area they happened to be traveling through.
How long did you spend researching and working on this book?
Embarrassingly, researching, writing, and drawing the book took slightly longer than Lewis and Clark's actual journey of two years.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about this pair and what they went through?
I hadn't the slightest idea of how interconnected tribal life was in North America and how much information traveled across the continent before the arrival of Europeans. The most surprising thing I learned about Lewis and Clark specifically was that Clark didn't free York until many years after the journey.
After spending all this time immersed in the story of Lewis and Clark, what do you think is the biggest misperception that most people have about them and what they did?
I believe that most of us had the impression that Lewis and Clark were emissaries to make sure that all of the tribes knew who their new "Great Father" was, but in fact, the real purpose of their journey was to find a water route to the Pacific so they could expedite the lading of beaver pelts.
What was your favorite part of the book to work on and illustrate?
I really enjoyed coming up with personalities and conflicts for the supporting characters who otherwise are just names and dates in the history books. I was most happy with the scene in which the Chopunnish wife says goodbye to her husband as he joins Lewis& Clark's Corps of Discovery as a guide.
Conversely, was there any part of the book that stood out as being more difficult to capture?
I did not do a good job of showing just how enormous the Rockies are. I think the book would have to have been twice its published size.
Do you think the book would make a useful addition to a classroom setting?
This is the book that would have made me a Lewis and Clark freak at age 12. I made sure to show Lewis and Clark, the Corps of Discovery, and all of the Tribes as human as possible with all of the sadness, goofiness, and glory that that implies.
What are you working on next?
I'm finishing a giant comic called Jerusalem written by filmmaker Boaz Yakin, about a Jewish family set against the backdrop of the end of the Palestine Mandate and the beginning of Israel, and then I'll be finishing up my Ernest Shackleton graphic novel, written and drawn by myself. Both books will be published by First Second.