On World Oceans Day, ‘Arctic Circle’ artist explains how her comic takes on climate change

By Michael Cavna, The Washington Post - June 9, 2017

Alex Hallatt wasn’t always so political. At least that you could readily detect in her comics, given her ability to camouflage her opinions in her art with the supreme skill of a cuttlefish or mimic octopus.

Yet time, and dire times, has brought Hallatt onto a cartoon pulpit.

Hallatt is the creator of “Arctic Circle,” the King Features-syndicated comic celebrating its 10th anniversary. The strip features three adorable penguins who are North Pole transplants, as well as a self-serious snow bunny, an easily duped lemming and a cold-hearted Arctic tern. And her critters can be rather outspoken about their imperiled habitat in the name of science.

“It is a shame that the environment has become a partisan issue,” Hallatt says, “when it is a matter of fact, not opinion.”

In the early years, the cartoonist kept things light, with the aim mostly to entertain; comforting wit was needed to charm a growing audience (she credits the guidance of her King editor, Brendan Burford). But on Thursday, as Hallatt celebrates World Oceans Day, she is one of the sharpest comic commentators on marine life and geoscience.

Then again, Hallatt – a former biochemist and pharmaceutical-industry employee – did not anticipate just how divisive some of her pet issues would become.

“One thing that surprises me is that I am still writing about the same environmental issues that I was at the beginning,” the Spain-based Hallatt tells The Washington Post. “I thought most of us would be on the same page by now, in terms of acting against climate change, for example.”

One reason she thinks we are not on the same page, she says, is because of the trumpeting of what she views as disinformation.

President Donald Trump’s political base, she says, “has been ill-informed by media outlets like Fox News, who still act as if there is debate to be had about climate change.”

“The science is settled,” she continues. “The climate is changing and increased carbon emissions are responsible for it. The evidence is in front of our very eyes.”

Hallatt continues to draw comics about the environment – and draw attentions to related causes – because she has hope. “Our oceans are threatened on many fronts, but there is a lot we can do to improve the state of them,” the cartoonist says.

“Though the news of the state of our oceans can make grim reading, cartoons about it can entertain at the same time as they raise awareness of the problems.”

To that end, she also creates the kids’ comic “Jack and Joni and the Time-Travelling Shed” for an Australian magazine. After all, she vividly remembers what it was like to be turned on to science as a kid.

“I developed a love of science at the age of 7, when a book about molecules blew my mind. It explained how everything in the universe was made of the same basic elements and it made me see the world in a totally different way. I gravitated towards biochemistry, as it is the science of life – and what could be more interesting than that?” says Hallatt, who studied science at the University of Kent at Canterbury.

And today, as her cartoon penguins Oscar, Ed and Gordo give voice to her concerns, she relishes that her flightless creatures can at least achieve rhetorical elevation.

“I would have given up creating ‘Arctic Circle’ some time ago, if I felt I didn’t have something to say,” says Hallatt, who is an avid outdoors athlete. “I get fired up about the environment and how important it is that we act to preserve this amazing world we have for ourselves and future generations to enjoy.”