‘The Worst Journey in the World’ Becomes Graphic Novel

Exactly 100 years after its original publication, the greatest adventure story ever told gets a 21st-century upgrade.

The tragic tale of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition to the South Pole has been immortalized in many ways, but few have remained as powerful as the 1922 memoir from Aspley Cherry-Garrard.

Cherry-Garrard did not accompany Scott to the South Pole. Rather, his mission was to capture emperor penguin eggs. It nearly killed him and his two companions. But Cherry-Garrard lived to tell the tale, and what a tale it was.

His book, “The Worst Journey in the World”, has aged into one of the classics of the adventure genre — and is now available as a beautifully illustrated graphic novel.

Sarah Airriess, a veteran animator at Disney, spent more than 10 years researching Cherry-Garrard’s expedition to illustrate a faithful version of the story.

“The personalities of the men, and the science they undertook, are equally as important to understanding the story as the famous feats of exploration,” the graphic novel’s website said.

Judging by the gorgeous sample pages available online, Airriess has devoted significant time and passion to this project.

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Another image from Sarah Airriess’ graphic novel. Image: Sarah Airriess


‘No words could express its horror’

Cherry-Garrard set off on his bizarre and terrible expedition in June 1911. He joined two other members of Scott’s larger group: Henry “Birdie” Bowers and Bill Wilson.

Their mission sounded simple: to collect emperor penguin eggs. Unfortunately for them, the birds only laid eggs in the middle of the world’s most profound winter. As a result, this side trip from Scott’s South Pole ambitions nearly killed all three of them.

The men faced a month of blizzards and temperatures that reached -60˚C — all during the pitch-black of Antarctic winter. It was so consistently frigid that they joked that they considered -50˚ a heat wave. They navigated by the stars, frequently fell into crevasses, and hauled heavy sleds through the sandpaper snow at those temperatures.

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From the prologue of Sarah Airriess’ graphic novel. Image: Sarah Airriess


Somehow, the small team managed to complete their trek from Scott’s base camp on Ross Island to the penguin colony at Cape Crozier. When they returned with three eggs to Scott’s base camp, Cherry-Garrard couldn’t continue with Scott. Wilson and Bowers did and perished, leaving Cherry-Garrard the sole survivor of the ordeal.

As for the eggs, the Natural History Museum in London soon decided the eggs didn’t provide much scientific value after all. Cherry-Garrard’s memoir expresses profound anguish over the journey and its terrible result.

“We had been out for four weeks in conditions in which no man had existed previously for more than a few days, if that,” he wrote. “During this time we had seldom slept except from sheer physical exhaustion as men sleep on the rack; and every minute of it we had been fighting for the bed-rock necessaries of bare existence and always in the dark. This journey has beggared our language: no words could express its horror.”


‘It’s just the best action movie’

Scott’s larger expedition to the South Pole proved even more tragic than Cherry-Garrard’s penguin eggs mission.

Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had already beaten the British explorer, arriving at the Pole first. Scott and his companions died of starvation during their return journey, just 11 miles away from a cache of supplies.

As for Airriess and her graphic novel, the illustrator had a simple answer for why the adventures of Scott and Cherry-Garrard have always fascinated her.

“It’s just the best action movie,” she said in the interview above while visiting Scott’s base camp in Antarctica. “There are all sorts of feats of daring-do and narrow scrapes and tobogganing down icefalls, and it’s so much fun. I think that’s something people sometimes lose when they’re reading the words on the page…They’re not really seeing the epic adventure cinema that I see in my head when I’m reading it.”

The gorgeous samples of Airriess’ work certainly reflect her passion for this story. While her website promises wider distribution in the future, you can purchase the first graphic novel in her series here or here.

Airriess has also provided a few free sample pages from her prologue.

Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is also a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Medellin, Colombia. When he’s not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he’s hanging out with his dog Campana.