Arctic Circle debuts today in the Chronicle(Andrew Guy, Jr./Houston Chronicle, 27 August 2007) -- The last few years have been good ones for a certain species of black-and-white cold-climate creatures.
After March of the Penguins was released in 2005, it won an Academy Award for best documentary. Happy Feet, released in 2006, snagged the Oscar for best animated film.
But Alex Hallatt wants you to know that she thought penguins were cool long before the masses declared them hot. She began drawing her comic, Arctic Circle, 15 years ago, while working as a waitress in a New Jersey bar.
"You look at a penguin, and they just look funny and kind of cute," Hallatt said in a telephone interview from her home in Lyttelton, New Zealand. "Even cartoon penguins look funny."
Arctic Circle debuts today in the Houston Chronicle comics pages. It replaces La Cucaracha.
The new strip revolves around a bunch of cute, furry friends who congregate in the cold regions of the earth. The main characters are Oscar, Gordo and Ed, three penguin buddies who consider themselves hip and cool.
"They're very modern penguins," Hallatt said. "They like the Internet, video games, Angelina Jolie."
In contrast to the three is an interesting crew of secondary characters:
- Frank: A grumpy polar bear, old-school and set in his ways.
- Hector: A ruthless tern who likes to be in control of everything and is always trying to make a quick buck.
- Lenny: A friendly, trusting — and gullible — lemming.
- Howard: An intellectual bunny rabbit.
"Arctic Circle is funny and charming, and it's current without being the least bit strident," O'Connor said. "And there's nothing wrong with penguins."
Hallatt, 37, is originally from the United Kingdom.
She has a background in biochemistry, and spent several years working in the pharmaceutical industry before she began doodling penguins on blank sheets of paper.
Soon, her comic was picked up by an Australian press syndicate. Then, King Features Syndicate discovered Arctic Circle and decided to give it a broader reach.
Why does she live in New Zealand?
She first encountered the lush country as a backpacker 10 years ago. After two months of hiking, skydiving and white-water rafting, she returned to Europe. Eventually, though, she made her way back to New Zealand permanently.
Hallatt considers herself an environmentalist, though she said she tries to not preach to the readers of her strip.
"I know the environment is trendy, but, to me, it's a serious issue," she said. "But at the same time, I don't want to preach to people. I don't think it's the role of comics pages to tell people how to live their life."