So. Why am I in Antarctica?
In February of 2015, I applied for this amazing grant from the National Science Foundation called the USAP Artists & Writers Program. It supports artists and writers in their creation of work that is directly inspired and/or informed by the United States Antarctic Program. My proposal? To make a 240+ page comic book about life and science in Antarctica. (I'll talk about how I put together my proposal in a separate post).
In July of 2016, I found out that I had received the grant, and that I would be headed to Antarctica for 2.5 months starting at the beginning of November 2016.
While I'm here my job is to essentially collect data - stories, experiences, sketches, notes, photos, videos - about what it takes to support and conduct scientific research in one of the harshest places on Earth. And with all that data, I'll have what I need to create a big ol' comic book.
But why? Why do I need to physically be here?
Well, I did a ton of preliminary research: reading books, interviewing scientists, scouring the internet for everything from scientific papers to videos of penguins (I did more than that, but hopefully you get the picture). But, no matter how much you saturate your life with information about a place, nothing comes close to the actual experience of going to that place. I first had this realization with my book Coral Reefs, where I got scuba certified and traveled to the Caribbean to dive on coral reefs. And even earlier, with Human Body Theater...I didn't actually go inside a human body, but I did get my EMT-Basic certification back in 2002, and that experience directly informed the content of my comics about the human body.
It's not just about being here. It's about access. Access to all the support and science folks who are down here, to their stories, their skills, their passions. Everyone is a celebrity to me, whether they're washing dishes, working on huge vehicles, or collecting samples to study back in a lab. I feel like I have an all-access backstage pass to some of the most interesting people on the planet, and that's something that I can only get by being here.
And it's not just about being here, and having access to this incredible community of people. It's about learning. Hands-on learning. My love of science was thwarted by how it was taught the older and older I became. Hands-on activities and experiments were replaced with more and more text and testing, and I suffered. I know that reading, writing, and math are integral to doing science well, whether it's biology, chemistry, or physics, but I just could not keep up. Years later, I found myself engaging with science once again, but as an educator, helping to teach the very same type of science activities that hooked me as a youngster. And that's when it clicked: I learn better by observing and doing. It made complete sense, I've always been a visual person. But I had never looked at what factors made me successful in learning a new skill or subject. So, now I have a mission: to learn as much as I can about the world around me, and take what I learn and teach it back in a way that makes sense to me. And there are two ways that I know to do this: 1.) In person, talking directly to an audience and 2.) In comics.
So, that’s why I’m here. To get my hands dirty. To experience scientific research in the field. To watch the sun stay up in the sky continuously for 2.5 months straight. To volunteer in the galley. To learn how to ride a snowmobile up the side of a volcano. To observe microscopic organisms from the coldest ocean on the planet. To figure out how it all fits into a story. To inspire others to get out and experience the world. Oh yeah, and to poop in a bucket. I’m going to tell you ALL about that too. And so much more.
That’s why I’m in Antarctica.