70. CHRISTOPHER McCANDLESS: Into the wild
Christopher McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp, 1968-1992) was a young American adventurer who was so disillusioned with the materialistic society he had grown up in that he tried to find meaning in life through adventure, solitude and surviving in the wild. He began going on extended trips after high school, surviving on little equipment or money. His dream of finding self-discovery and fulfilment culminated when he travelled to the Alaskan wilderness where he foraged for food, read, wrote in a journal and slept in an abandoned bus. After living in the bus for over three months he died of starvation. His story was documented in the book and subsequent film Into the Wild.
McCandless has become a hero to many and the abandoned bus in Alaska is now a tourist attraction and shrine to his many admirers. I definitely admire his ideals and share some of his beliefs about the emptiness of today’s materialistic culture (he says as he types this on a shiny computer and listens to an iPod). And the fact that he had the courage to actually give up on society and live a nomadic life in search for self-discovery is so inspiring and something I would never have the balls to do. But I also agree with those who criticise McCandless for the way he so carelessly threw his life away. He was unprepared, lacked any survival skills, had no knowledge of the area, ignored the advice of locals and didn’t even carry a compass. Think of all the different countries he could have travelled to, the different experiences he might have had and the endlessly changing horizons he has missed. Imagine the new and different suns he could have witnessed if he were alive today. It’s a sad story and a waste of a young man’s life.
UPDATE: (Sept 2013) Jon Krakauer (author of Into the Wild) has done some additional investigation into the cause of McCandless’s death and here are his findings.
As for the comic, I was going to do a straight adaptation and end it without that last panel that kind of changes the whole tone of the piece. But then I figured who the hell am I to preach about living an adventurous life when I’ve been holed up in my bunker drawing comics in my pyjamas for the past six months? That would have been a tad hypocritical of me. Anyway, part of this whole Zen Pencils deal was that it would enable me to travel more since I can work from anywhere and that’s still something I’m trying to make happen.
– What’s your opinion on Christopher McCandless, idealistic hero or reckless fool?
– Thanks to Cole for submitting this quote.