Just after her baby Riel was born in March of 2015, comics artist, painter, and illustrator Alison McCreesh began to fantasize about carting him and her husband Pat on a sprawling journey that would take them to regions of the world that are classified under the “Circumpolar” category — Finland, Russia, Greenland (Denmark), and elsewhere.
Broadly speaking, McCreesh, already a resident of Canada’s Northwest Territories in Yellowknife, may have tired of perpetually being “south of someone,” as she writes in the introduction of Norths: Two Suitcases and a Stroller Around the Circumpolar World.
Published by Conundrum Press, Norths is the culmination of a daily travelogue postcard project that McCreesh took on to help fund her trip, which became a series of artist residencies in most of the nations that she and her family visited between 2016 and 2017. Forcing herself to draw every day yielded the postcards, which appear in 5” X 7” landscape format in Norths—exactly how they were initially drawn and painted.
“To my ever-supportive community,” explains McCreesh in Norths’ introduction, “I offered up a postcard project: For each of the 180 days we would be gone, I would draw and write a postcard — and for a meagre $20, people could pre-pick a date, give me their address and receive my original handiwork from that day.”
It was an ambitious endeavor that wasn’t entirely free of headaches, such as the lack of good scanners that the artist needed in order to digitize the images for the book. She talked about the challenges and process in depth with Alex Deuben at The Comics Journal in June.
Hundreds of the reproduced daily postcards from McCreesh’s trip are packed into Norths, which is an inch and a quarter thick. They’re laid out in two-page spreads in landscape format, so that the note side of the card is paired with the illustration that appeared on the front. McCreesh annotates floorplans of the family’s accommodations or sporadically pens explanatory narrative text that serves as a caption in the footers of the sketches. More often than not, however, these personalized notes to her crowdfunding campaign supporters are how McCreesh shares information with the reader. Sometimes she doodles on the “note” side, too.
McCreesh draws parks blanketed in snow, sparse apartment or studio interiors (and sometimes shares a her view from the studio window), and a wealth of street scenes or rural/suburban settings. Architectural details are exquisitely rendered in ink and watercolors in Norths, particularly those done during the artist’s residency in northwest Russia, where McCreesh gets the opportunity to paint dense pine forest settings, decorative city building facades, and rows of modest homes with pitched roofs in neighboring villages.
On their way to a stay in the city of Petrozavodsk, concrete arches in snowy St. Petersburg are lit by dangling street lanterns, while ornate cathedral domes are visible in the distance of a long shot street-level illustration from her cab window. Their destination yields a wealth of varying landscapes: There are more domes and monuments, clusters of boxy apartment buildings in the city’s center (sometimes flanked by wooden houses), and sweeping drawings of nearby wilderness, thanks to a tour of nearby Karelia by snowmobile.
Ahead for me in McCreesh’s book: Greenland, Iceland, and back home to Yellowknife.