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Michael DeForge on tour for ANT COLONY

Updated January 10, 2014


Michael DeForge is visiting cities in Canada and the US in early 2014 for ANT COLONY! Catch him at your local bookstore:

TORONTO | Monday, January 27th, 7 pm
The Beguiling, 601 Markham Street

MONTREAL | Thursday, January 30th, 7 pm
Librairie Drawn and Quarterly, 211 Bernard Ouest

HALIFAX | Friday, January 31st, 7 pm
Strange Adventures, 5110 Prince Street

BERKELEY | Thursday, February 6th, 7:30 pm
Pegasus Books Downtown, 2349 Shattuck Avenue

LOS ANGELES | Friday, February 7th, 7:30 pm
Skylight Books, 1818 n Vermont Avenue

CHICAGO | Saturday, February 8th, 7 pm
Quimby's, 1854 W. North Avenue

ST. LOUIS | Sunday, February 9th, 4 pm
Star Clipper, 6392 Delmar Boulevard

BALTIMORE | Tuesday, February 11th, 7 pm
Atomic Books, 3620 Falls Road

PHILADELPHIA | Wednesday, February 12th, 7 pm
Locust Moon, 34 S 40th Street

BROOKLYN | Friday, February 15th, 8 pm
Bergen Street Comics, 470 Bergen Street

 

Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Michael DeForge

           Featured products

Rage of Poseidon
Ant Colony




  Beautiful Interview With Anders Nilsen by The Guardian

Updated January 7, 2014


"Review: Anders Nilsen: drawing through grief"
By Emma Brockes
The Guardian


There was a moment, after the publication of his book Don't Go Where I Can't Follow, when Anders Nilsen stood back and suffered a spasm of doubt. Don't Go is a collection of sketches, letters, postcards and photographs documenting the graphic artist's relationship with Cheryl Weaver, his girlfriend of six years, and of her death from cancer at the age of 37, which he put together as a memorial and never intended to publish.

"In that moment of being in the middle of grief, you don't give a shit about what anybody thinks. So I thought, I'm just going to put this out there and if people think I'm whining, or that it's too sad, or that I'm telling people too much – well, fuck 'em." This attitude lasted for about 18 months, until, "I actually reread Don't Go and was like, Oh my God. What did I do?"

It is a tough read and Nilsen is still surprised it was published, let alone outsold its first print run and led to a second book, The End, a diary of the grief that followed. "I'd give you my body and die myself if I could," he writes in the prologue. "But the doctors don't know how to do that, so you die." There follow six panels depicting the outline of a man going up in flames. If Don't Go is devastating in an unedited kind of a way, The End is an exquisitely considered piece of work, with abstract states so effectively rendered as to seem, on the page, wholly literal.

A lot of this is down to Nilsen's use of ellipses. As a cartoonist, pacing is all and he lets pages go by with his two characters wordlessly facing each other or having one-word exchanges. The surface tension is so delicately maintained that a bow of the head has huge emotional impact. The figures in The End are generic; two people in outline with no distinguishing features, which Nilsen rightly considered more powerful. One asks the other questions, from the banal – why did she never want him to order the same as her in restaurants? – to the painful: what does she remember of her last days and weeks? And, "if I fall in love will you haunt me?" She replies with variations of, "I don't know. I'm dead. I'm just saying what you're thinking."

It's a grimly humorous sequence in which the Weaver figure always seems to be mocking him. "Oh yeah, yeah. And she would've. She was not a fan of tell-all. She was very private. She was an artist and I would always push her to show her work more and she was very resistant. And that's one of the things… sorry, you're dead, I can do whatever I want."

Nilsen's bullishness belies his ambivalence about the project, which he nonetheless felt compelled to complete. He and Weaver met in 2000 after occupying neighbouring studios in Chicago, where they had both studied at art school. Of the two of them, Weaver was the quieter, although Nilsen can be shy, too. His flat in Minneapolis is a bare space flooded with light, around which he moves quietly and with painstaking precision. The stereotypical cartoonist is a nerdy guy with limited real-world skills: something, Nilsen says, "I find myself pushing up against. I have my social awkwardness, but it drives me crazy that that's the default assumption." He tries to overcome it, where possible, and to resist false modesty, too. "That's the character that some of these artists play – there's a certain lack of ambition, or self-confidence or something. When well-known, extremely highly regarded artists are talking about how much their work sucks? Come on. Get over it."

Nilsen knew his early work on Weaver was good, a contemporaneous account of an unfathomable experience that grew out of his need to record things. "When I'm idle, I just look around and if there's someone interesting that I can draw, that's an exercise. So, hospital waiting rooms…"

In Don't Go, there are sketches from the couple's holiday in France, just before Weaver's diagnosis. He depicts them at home, in front of the TV. And there they are in the hospital. The most graphic panel is an aerial sketch of a naked Weaver hooked up to multiple machines after many rounds of chemotherapy and the removal of her spleen. Finally, there is Nilsen carrying her ashes on the way to the promontory where they were due to be married that summer, and where she asked him to scatter them. "You are in my arms," reads the text.

Nilsen's mother, a writer and sometime librarian, was supportive of her son's desire to be a graphic artist while his father, himself an artist, was gloomy about it. His parents divorced when he was a child and he grew up in Minneapolis. (His mother and sister are still there; his dad is in New Hampshire, where he lives a post-hippy existence Nilsen summarises thus: "He started building his own house in '73 and is still working on it.")

As a child, Nilsen read Tintin and superhero comics and although they're very different from his own work, looking back he sees their value. "There's all this intrigue, all this relationship stuff happening. And X-Men, actually, for a junior high school kid, is pretty sophisticated. It's dealing with politics, it's international – each character is from a different country. There was a whole sequence where Magneto the villain is getting tried for war crimes at the Hague. There's a whole issue about Aids. There was a lot there. Even if it was a soap opera with superpowers."

His initial interest was in "serious art", which he pursued after college even though "it was unrewarding. It was not finding an audience easily. The work was installation based and required a gallery space; I couldn't just sit around and do it, which is my nature. I want always to be doing stuff." (Such has been the success of his two books that "the funny thing is I'm now getting commissions to do that work".)

The first time he stapled together a few pages to make a mini-comic, Nilsen felt something click. "Suddenly people were responding and laughing. It felt like this instant connection. I felt like I could do this for the rest of my life."

And there was someone he wanted to share it with. The romance between Nilsen and Weaver is exemplified by the story of how, in the early days, she would get up at dawn to drive him to his 7am shift in a cafe, so they could have breakfast together before he started. "It was just this incredible little romance going on over the stools at Johnny's Grill," a colleague of Nilsen's told the Chicago Reader newspaper. "It made your heart quiver." At the time, it didn't strike Nilsen as out of the ordinary. "She was an early riser and wanted to get stuff done. I didn't think of it as romantic." It was only in retrospect it took on symbolic weight.

As did so much else, like the quirky postcards they would send each other. Some were romantic. "I know this boy named Anders," Weaver wrote. "He makes my heart ache and my stomach flutter." Some were cute. On a trip to DC, Nilsen drew Weaver a picture of a pigeon and wrote, "The pigeons in Washington look exactly like the ones in Chicago, only maybe a little more governmental". A speech bubble above the pigeon's head reads, "We must save Medicare".

He wrote her a funny note imagining them both as old people and joking that when he died ("before you, because you're a smoker and smokers always outlast people like me with healthy habits"), she would forget to be sad "because we had such a good life together".

In 2005, Weaver went to the doctor after feeling tired and losing weight and was told she had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The initial outlook was relatively good: her survival rate was put at 85%. She started chemotherapy. Looking back, Nilsen sees he was optimistic to the point of denial. It was Weaver who saw that things might be more serious. "We'd be sitting in the waiting room for hours for chemo treatment and they'd be calling people up and she'd be like, 'You know, some of these people have been here as long as us, and they can stand up and just walk into the room. And I need you to help me. I've been doing this for months; why isn't it getting better?' So she was starting to suspect it wasn't working out."

The treatment ended; the doctors did further scans. "They realised the cancer had spread to her liver, had completely consumed her liver, and that there was nothing they could do."

Weaver was suffering the side-effects of this and although able to absorb the information, was in an altered state. "What happens when your liver gets compromised is that it starts not filtering your blood correctly so that toxins get into your brain. So she was starting to get a little... loopy." That day, the couple talked about the prognosis and then Weaver fell asleep. "When she woke up, she asked me, 'Did that really happen?' And I said, 'Yeah. It did.'" She died three weeks later.

In The End, Nilsen covers page after page with a stick man expanded out to never-ending proportions: a human maze with a head at one end. It is a perfect visual representation of a man in structural free fall. There are panels of Nilsen doing domestic things made grotesque by the weight of absence they engender. "Me watering your plants," reads one. "Me crying while trying to work on the computer."

The first book had come about when Nilsen asked Drawn & Quarterly, his publishers in Chicago, to help him self-publish Don't Go for distribution among friends, and they persuaded him it had a wider audience. A year later, he was supposed to be delivering something else entirely – an elaborate comic series in conjunction with European artists – but couldn't stop working on The End, and eventually submitted that instead. "Later I decided maybe I didn't want to publish it." He smiles at his own perversity. "After it had been published."

There has been no backlash from either his or Weaver's friends and family, in spite of some of the more visceral images. The love story is so powerful it would be hard to have a negative response. In the year after Weaver's death, Nilsen went to group grief-counselling, which he found very helpful. He started a new relationship, which didn't work out. And he moved from Chicago back to Minneapolis. "My family's here and when you go through something like this, there's nothing like family. Also, you're confronted with mortality. Mum's not going to live for ever, I would rather not see her only two or three times a year. It definitely reorganises your priorities."

There is a sequence in The End in which Nilsen describes himself looking through a window at a cosy domestic scene, an imaginary rendition of the life he might have led. "I'm sorry I can't go inside," he writes. Eight years after Weaver's death, does he still find himself thinking about what might have been? "That's a complicated question. I think I still do that in some ways. In some ways everybody does that. So, now that narrative in my head begins with Cheryl's death, but also incorporates everything that's happened since. But if she hadn't died, my life would be totally different."

He doesn't want the books to be hagiography. At one point, he writes, he forgives Cheryl and hopes she forgives him. "Every life is multivarious and complicated and there's plenty of stuff that's not in the book." Of course. She was complicated, he says, as people and relationships are. The bigger problem for Nilsen was worrying that the story was so grim it would "bum people out". With this in mind, there is a section in The End entitled "Maybe You're Just Looking At This The Wrong Way Round", in which he sends his generic outline of a man on an odyssey through all that is good about life, and comes down on the side of celebration, not despair. "The first book ends where I'm like, this fucking sucks. And I wanted – it's like, for better or worse, this stuff recedes and doesn't rule your life after a while. And that's part of what is so sad. Honestly, that's one of the saddest things, when you've gone through it. When you realise you're getting over it, and you don't want to get over it."

Still, he wonders sometimes if the intensity of the project might be too much for the market to bear. "In the early 90s Lou Reed made an amazing record inspired by personal loss. The songs are really heartbreaking and complicated, and I remember thinking at the time this is a great record but I'm not sure I should be listening to this. And I feel like this is the same – that's the truth. It really wasn't for the public. You don't need to read it. When I'm at a signing, I almost feel there needs to be a sticker on the book: "This is really sad." So why do it? Nilsen thinks for a moment. "You want to make a record of her personality, her life history. Sort of like: this person existed and mattered."
click here to read more


Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

          



Lit Fest round-up highlights Chris Ware, Lynda Barry and Anders Nilsen

Updated June 5, 2013


"Five books: Graphic novelists at Lit Fest"

By Jennifer Day
The Chicago Tribune, May 25, 2013

Art Spiegelman, author of “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir that essentially legitimized cartooning as a literary form, will kick off this year's Printers Row Lit Fest on Saturday, June 8, as winner of the Chicago Public Library's Harold Washington Literary Award. With that in mind — along with the fact that some of the most interesting cartoonists working today live in Chicago — we dedicated this issue of Printers Row Journal to graphic novels. Let's kick it off with a roundup of books by some of the cartoonists who will be at Lit Fest.

Building Stories by Chris Ware

Chris Ware reimagined the very notion of what a book could be in "Building Stories," a gameboard-sized box filled with illustrated works about the inhabitants of a Chicago three-flat. It was published to critical acclaim in October and showed up on just about every list of best books from 2012. The beauty and inventive nature of Ware's work is obvious; but what makes it compelling is its careful observation of the characters who inhabit it.

The Freddie Stories by Lynda Barry

Five years ago, Lynda Barry stopped writing "Ernie Pook's Comeek," a strip that first appeared in the Chicago Reader nearly 30 years before. "The Freddie Stories" is an expanded reissue of a collection of strips about the youngest of the Mullen family. Freddie is introduced by his sister Marlys as "a gentle person" in "a juvenile delinquency world." No one gets at cringe-inducing moments of truth quite like Barry — with empathy and playfulness.

The End by Anders Nilsen

In 2006, Anders Nilsen published "Don't Go Where I Can't Follow," a heartbreaking 96-page graphic memoir about his relationship with his fiancée, Cheryl Weaver, who died of cancer in 2005. "The End" is the story of what came next: a bracing depiction of mourning and acceptance. Nilsen, who is perhaps best known for "Big Questions," uses spare drawings and empty space to make his loss palpable — and to leave room for hope.

Sammy the Mouse: Book 1 by Zak Sally

Sammy the Mouse just wants to stay home alone, but a voice from above commands him to open the door when a drunken duck comes knocking. He finds himself thrust out into a confusing and grim world. "Sammy the Mouse: Book 1" collects the first three issues of the comic book (originally published by Fantagraphics) in a lovely two-color edition hand printed by Sally.

CAKE 2012 Book

Lit Fest participant Laura Park is one of dozens of artists who will appear at the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo, June 15-16. CAKE will be on hand at Lit Fest, too, to offer a taste of this year's event. In the meantime, check out the anthology from last year's expo, "CAKE 2012 Book," which features work by Dane Martin, Anna Haifisch, Paul Nudd and many more.
 
click here to read more


Featured artists

Chris Ware
Anders Nilsen
Lynda Barry

           Featured products

The Freddie Stories
Multi-Story Building Model




  Boing Boing reviews Don't Go Where I Can't Follow

Updated April 4, 2013


Brian Heater
Boing Boing, 1 February 2013

I usually know more about these titles from bigger name cartoonists going into them. I can't say whether the element of surprise was a good thing for Anders Nilsen's latest. A swift change from the epic mini Big Questions, which was loving compiled into a massive volume by D&Q roughly a year and a half back. Don't Go Where I Can't Follow is a swift emotional kick the the chest, that will make you bawl your eyes out to the point of dehydration or immediately phone up a loved one who hasn't received the sort of attention they deserve. Or, more probably both.

There are photographs here and love notes and sketches and comics contained herein. It's a hard thing to read, a great deal of whose difficulty comes, ultimately, in knowing just how impossible it must have been to write.
click here to read more


Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Don't Go Where I Can't Follow




Chicago Tribune reflects on "love and loss" in Don't Go Where I Can't Follow

Updated February 25, 2013


Anders Nilsen's tender tribute to love and loss
By Jennifer Day
3:28 p.m. CST, January 25, 2013

We keep photo albums and scrapbooks to capture and distill — however imperfectly — how life feels. We keep these books for ourselves, and when we thrust them on friends and family, it's an act of communion. How lucky we are to have an artist as generous as Anders Nilsen to share what must be one of the most joyful and devastating periods of his life.

Nilsen, who lives in Chicago, collected a series of postcards, letters, journal entries and drawings into a 96-page volume memorializing his all-too-short relationship with Cheryl Weaver. That book, "Don't Go Where I Can't Follow," was published in a small run by Drawn & Quarterly in 2006 and recently reissued.

Weaver and Nilsen's flirtation started in 2000 and bloomed into a long-term relationship. The book opens with a series of postcards from her to him: sweet bits of ephemera documenting fluttery stomachs before moving on to letters and cartoons conjuring vacations good, bad and ordinary. And then the book shifts to fragments of journal entries: a note about setting a wedding date of Sept. 18, 2005. But no photos follow. Instead, Nilsen offers a short chronicle of the harrowing ordeal of Weaver's cancer diagnosis and eventual death on Nov. 13, 2005. It ends with a serenely rendered comic about Weaver's funeral and an epilogue of postcards from him to her from their early days together.

The honesty of Nilsen's disorienting ordeal is bracing. He writes:

"I mean of course itishard. it's emotionally ... draining, frustrating etc. it's just too much. but it's also just very plain and boring. mundane drudgery."

These are not the moments typically memorialized in scrapbooks, but they should be.
 
click here to read more


Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Don't Go Where I Can't Follow




  Las Vegas Weekly calls Don't Go Where I Can't Follow "raw and affecting"

Updated February 25, 2013


Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow’ is raw and affecting
J. Caleb Mozzocco
Wed, Jan 23, 2013 (5:59 p.m.)

That Anders Nilsen’s Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow is so emotionally raw and so terribly affecting isn’t simply a matter of its subject matter: his fiancée’s sudden cancer diagnosis and subsequent death in 2005.

Rather, form has a lot to do with it. A mixed-media memoir containing comics, sketches, photos, postcards, journal entries written at the side of her bed and a long letter, it reads a bit like a carefully curated collection of found objects, taking the basic “words + pictures” formula of comics in a divergent direction while sharing artifacts so personal they can’t help but feel universal.

The theme tying its chapters together is that of the couple’s usually funny misadventures while traveling (her sickness actually doesn’t even come up until the last third of the book). Ultimately, that’s what the book is really about, a journey that doesn’t go as planned. It’s rather devastating, but redeemed by the earlier, happier parts of Nilsen and his fiancée’s interrupted journey together.
click here to read more


Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Don't Go Where I Can't Follow




Minn Post calls Anders Nilsen's books, "physical objects of great and uncommon beauty"

Updated January 15, 2013


Anders Nilsen and the not-quite lost art of drawing a great book
By Amy Goetzman | 12/07/12

Slowly, with great digging in of heels, I am accepting that the way we read books is changing. One in four books sold this year is an e-book, and retailers are indicating that an awful lot of people have some kind of e-reader twitching quietly under their Christmas tree this year, meaning that number will go up substantially in the next year.

So yeah, books as we know them are becoming something else. But not all of them! Anders Brekhus Nilsen is making books that need to be on paper. One of today’s most influential comic artists, Nilsen makes books that are physical objects of great and uncommon beauty. They are published by Drawn & Quarterly with all the care and attention to detail you see in the handmade works by the artists at the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts.

Nilsen grew up in Minneapolis, drawing nonstop and reading Tintin comics and occasionally ducking into one of the comic book shops or museums for inspiration.

“Minneapolis has such a strong art scene and music scene," he said in an interview. "It was pretty important and influential to me, to be surrounded by the punk scene and independent culture of all sorts. I remember stumbling across some of first self-published ’zines, like Art Police, and that had a huge impact on me, to see all the amazing, interesting, and cool creative stuff people were doing. So much art is self-generated here.”

Nilsen’s "Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow" is an intimate account of his relationship and the death of his fiancée, Cheryl Weaver. The book is a peek into the journals of two creative people, with postcards and letters pulled from a notebook and drawings from Nilsen’s ever-present sketchpad. The images of Weaver’s funeral, showing hundreds of people gathered on a shore, each figure drawn with exquisite sadness, are some of the powerful moments in the last two decades of comic art. The book is now back in print; the original print run was intended to be limited and mostly for friends and family.

“I didn’t want it to become the book I was known for,” said Nilsen. “I was proud of it as a work of art. It went out of print pretty quickly but found this audience and it seemed to connect with people and have a lot of impact. Then it started showing up on eBay for a couple hundred bucks. I didn’t want it to be something only people with extra hundred bucks could get, so it was time to bring it back.”

"Big Questions," a collection of more than a decade of Nilsen’s work, explores deep philosophical questions about life and death through a collection of tiny birds struggling to make sense of human activities and their own purpose. It’s at times funny, more often heartbreaking. The story line builds quietly across more than 650 pages — huge and remarkable.

Last January, Nilsen moved back to the Twin Cities from Chicago to teach comics at MCAD. He notes that MCAD has offered comics classes longer than almost any school in the country; it’s still an unusual offering, but interest in comics is growing everywhere.

“People generally come to comics because they love to draw. But teaching comics is hard, because there is so much else to think about. All the mechanics of storytelling, dialogue, rhythm, character, plot — and also drawing, design, color, and getting the story across in images. My students’ drawing skills are really high, they are very accomplished. The skill they need to learn the most is writing skills,” he says.

“[Comic artist] Chris Ware talks about comics as pictures that are supposed to be read instead of looked at. It’s not just about making a beautiful picture, its about making a picture that will push the reader forward through the story.”

Despite the rise of comics and graphic novels as an art form and as an important facet of current book publishing, Nilsen feels drawing has become something of a lost art. He watches his young niece drawing all the time, and wonders if she’ll keep it up. When Nilsen draws in public, people often stop and gawk.

“I was in Colombia this summer drawing in a café with some friends and I was drawing a dog on the floor, and the owner loved it, and another couple with a dog asked me to draw their dog, too. Its kind of fun when it happens — people don’t draw anymore. Drawing was how pictures appeared in newspapers and how advertising happened in the 1900s and everyone did it. Now everyone has a digital camera in their phone and photography is the form of the moment. Drawing is a relic. It’s gotten to the point where no one in the room knows how to draw. We can all take pictures and make them beautiful, but when it comes to ideas, no one has the ability to put bodies in a scene and visualize an idea. It’s a really relevant skill, and it’s important that it not be lost.”

Event

Reading, Saturday, 7 p.m. Dec. 8. Boneshaker Books, Minneapolis.
 
click here to read more


Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured products

Don't Go Where I Can't Follow
Big Questions (paperback)




  "physical objects of great and uncommon beauty"

Updated January 15, 2013


Anders Nilsen and the not-quite lost art of drawing a great book
By Amy Goetzman | 12/07/12

Slowly, with great digging in of heels, I am accepting that the way we read books is changing. One in four books sold this year is an e-book, and retailers are indicating that an awful lot of people have some kind of e-reader twitching quietly under their Christmas tree this year, meaning that number will go up substantially in the next year.

So yeah, books as we know them are becoming something else. But not all of them! Anders Brekhus Nilsen is making books that need to be on paper. One of today’s most influential comic artists, Nilsen makes books that are physical objects of great and uncommon beauty. They are published by Drawn & Quarterly with all the care and attention to detail you see in the handmade works by the artists at the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts.

Nilsen grew up in Minneapolis, drawing nonstop and reading Tintin comics and occasionally ducking into one of the comic book shops or museums for inspiration.

“Minneapolis has such a strong art scene and music scene," he said in an interview. "It was pretty important and influential to me, to be surrounded by the punk scene and independent culture of all sorts. I remember stumbling across some of first self-published ’zines, like Art Police, and that had a huge impact on me, to see all the amazing, interesting, and cool creative stuff people were doing. So much art is self-generated here.”

Nilsen’s "Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow" is an intimate account of his relationship and the death of his fiancée, Cheryl Weaver. The book is a peek into the journals of two creative people, with postcards and letters pulled from a notebook and drawings from Nilsen’s ever-present sketchpad. The images of Weaver’s funeral, showing hundreds of people gathered on a shore, each figure drawn with exquisite sadness, are some of the powerful moments in the last two decades of comic art. The book is now back in print; the original print run was intended to be limited and mostly for friends and family.

“I didn’t want it to become the book I was known for,” said Nilsen. “I was proud of it as a work of art. It went out of print pretty quickly but found this audience and it seemed to connect with people and have a lot of impact. Then it started showing up on eBay for a couple hundred bucks. I didn’t want it to be something only people with extra hundred bucks could get, so it was time to bring it back.”

"Big Questions," a collection of more than a decade of Nilsen’s work, explores deep philosophical questions about life and death through a collection of tiny birds struggling to make sense of human activities and their own purpose. It’s at times funny, more often heartbreaking. The story line builds quietly across more than 650 pages — huge and remarkable.

Last January, Nilsen moved back to the Twin Cities from Chicago to teach comics at MCAD. He notes that MCAD has offered comics classes longer than almost any school in the country; it’s still an unusual offering, but interest in comics is growing everywhere.

“People generally come to comics because they love to draw. But teaching comics is hard, because there is so much else to think about. All the mechanics of storytelling, dialogue, rhythm, character, plot — and also drawing, design, color, and getting the story across in images. My students’ drawing skills are really high, they are very accomplished. The skill they need to learn the most is writing skills,” he says.

“[Comic artist] Chris Ware talks about comics as pictures that are supposed to be read instead of looked at. It’s not just about making a beautiful picture, its about making a picture that will push the reader forward through the story.”

Despite the rise of comics and graphic novels as an art form and as an important facet of current book publishing, Nilsen feels drawing has become something of a lost art. He watches his young niece drawing all the time, and wonders if she’ll keep it up. When Nilsen draws in public, people often stop and gawk.

“I was in Colombia this summer drawing in a café with some friends and I was drawing a dog on the floor, and the owner loved it, and another couple with a dog asked me to draw their dog, too. Its kind of fun when it happens — people don’t draw anymore. Drawing was how pictures appeared in newspapers and how advertising happened in the 1900s and everyone did it. Now everyone has a digital camera in their phone and photography is the form of the moment. Drawing is a relic. It’s gotten to the point where no one in the room knows how to draw. We can all take pictures and make them beautiful, but when it comes to ideas, no one has the ability to put bodies in a scene and visualize an idea. It’s a really relevant skill, and it’s important that it not be lost.”

Event

Reading, Saturday, 7 p.m. Dec. 8. Boneshaker Books, Minneapolis.
click here to read more


Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured products

Don't Go Where I Can't Follow
Big Questions (paperback)




Star Tribune calls Anders Nilsen's Don't Go Where I Can't Follow a "touching portrait "

Updated January 15, 2013


Talking about graphic memories
Article by: TOM HORGEN , Star Tribune Updated: December 5, 2012 - 8:28 PM
Upon returning home to Minneapolis, a comic book star re-releases a painful memoir about losing his fiancée to cancer.

In 2011, Minneapolis native Anders Nilsen shot into the top ranks of the comic book world with "Big Questions," a 658-page epic about existential talking birds. It was named to many critics' best-of lists.

After living much of his adult life elsewhere, the 39-year-old cartoonist recently moved home to teach comics at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

With Nilsen's star ever rising, his publisher, Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly, went back to the presses to re-release the cartoonist's heartbreaking 2006 memoir, "Don't Go Where I Can't Follow." The 96-page mixed-media hardcover paints a touching portrait of his fiancée Cheryl, who died from cancer in 2005.

Nilsen will sign and chat about the book Saturday at Boneshaker Books. Here he talks about the memoir's difficult subject matter, finding inspiration in Minnesota and advice for his new students.

Q Is there anything in particular about the Twin Cities that you've drawn inspiration from?

A It's not the cities themselves, but I've realized more and more as I get older and travel how much my aesthetic comes from the Upper Midwest. The gently rolling -- beautiful, but undramatic -- rolling plains definitely show up in my work a lot.

Q You're known as a cartoonist yet this memoir mixes in old postcards, letters and photos. How do you think that approach bolstered the story you wanted to tell?

A The intended audience originally was just friends and family -- people who knew Cheryl and I -- so it felt appropriate that it be more a document of our time together and her illness than a novelization. I think of it less as art and more as a kind of history. Presenting the actual objects of that history is just a way of minimizing my role as the middleman between reader and story, making it a little more direct. I am known as a cartoonist, and that is a large part of what I do, but really my interest is telling stories with pictures. Cartooning is just one of a multitude of ways that that can happen.

Q In the years since it was first published, how has your relationship with the book changed?

A I definitely grew less comfortable with having such raw parts of my life on display, and there was a moment when I decided against a second printing, partly because of that, but also because I was uncomfortable monetizing the experience. I had also begun a new relationship and the book felt at times like an anchor keeping my own, and other people's attention, on a very loaded past. But the book also seemed to connect in an unexpected way with an audience, and it didn't feel right to me to keep it out of print because of personal squeamishness.

Q Were there any books that you found comforting after losing Cheryl?

A That's a funny thing. No. I really had no interest in reading about other people's experience with grief. Talking with other people who were actually going through it, though, was tremendously helpful. Music, too, spoke volumes.

Q What advice do you give your students who want to get personal with their comics?

A There's definitely a tradition in comics of almost embarrassingly exhibitionistic autobiography, especially in the realm of sexuality. In general it isn't appealing to me to make work like that, but for some people it feeds them. I guess I would say don't do it unless you really feel like you have something to say, because it's a little like making a scene in a restaurant: Everyone is looking at you and coming to their own conclusions, and you have to be OK with that.
 
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Anders Nilsen

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Don't Go Where I Can't Follow
Big Questions (paperback)




  "Big Questions" chosen as a Halifax Reader staff pick

Updated July 24, 2012


Staff Pick - Big Questions... by Anders Nilsen


SATURDAY, JUNE 23, 2012
The Halifax Reader


One of the most strange and memorable graphic novels I've read is Dogs and Water (M) by Anders Nilsen. The simple line drawings and spare text captivated me. There was as much white space on the page as narrative space,and I enjoyed having room to fill in my own details. So when I saw the large tome that is Nilsen’s most recent work, I borrowed it immediately. Somehow I’d managed to hear nothing about it, until suddenly it was in front of me, waiting to be read.

The front and back jacket flaps of Big Questions, or, Asomatognosia: whose hand is it anyway (M), list the main characters of the book, most of whom are finches. Each has a portrait and simple description. This beautiful enhancement is also quite functional - and reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s family tree at the beginning of One Hundred Years of Solitude (M). Big Questions is made up of many sections, and it’s hard to keep track of which finch is which, as they are distinguished mainly by their ways of interpreting the world, rather than by physical characteristics.

The story goes something like this: a bomb falls, then a plane falls, and the people and birds are left to figure out what’s going on. If you feel a little jostled while reading this book, try to roll with it. In an interview with Publisher's Weekly Comics World, Nilsen talks about creating narrative by finding connections between existing images. He draws first, and makes order after, unconcerned with linearity. As with Dogs and Water, there’s lots of room for interpretation. It’s rather similar to watching birds in real life.You notice some robins in the grass, digging in the dirt; or some starlings cleaning themselves in a puddle; you observe their colours, their flitting motions, you wonder what they’re thinking about, an d then suddenly they’re up and on their way elsewhere. And for me, watching the birds in this book give meaning to their experiences and perceptions made it easier to see the subjectivity of our own meaning-making.

So if you like to think about love and death and failure to perceive parts of one’s own body, i.e asomatognosia, check out this lovely, huge book written over many years.
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Anders Nilsen

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Big Questions (paperback)




"The Meaning of it All" and Anders Nilsen's "Big Questions"

Updated June 18, 2012


Some Things Demand an Answer
Wayne Alan Brenner
10:58am, Wed. Jun. 6

The Austin Chronicle

We Cannot Recommend It Highly Enough
My friend Sylvia doesn't mince words.
"Brenner," she asked me over coffee and breakfast tacos at Julio's the other day, "why haven't you reviewed that enormous Anders Nilsen book that came out from Drawn & Quarterly last year?

[That's a big question, ha ha.]

["Ha ha," because the name of the book is Big Questions.]

I didn't answer her, at first.
Instead, I responded with a question of my own:

"What makes you think I haven't?"

Sylvia rolled her eyes. They're blue, those eyes, and I swear
they're an even prettier blue when she's rolling them.

"I keep track of these things," Sylvia said.
"Graphic novels. Drawn & Quarterly. You."

Yeah, she keeps track of me.
Because she's a goddam stalker, is why,
albeit in a nonthreatening and endearing big-sister sort of way.

"Maybe I've already written the review," I told her.
"Maybe I just haven't published it yet."

"And why is that?" asked Sylvia. "Especially since it would've been perfect timing,
about eight months ago, for a book that would make a terrific Christmas gift."

And she was right: The phonebook-sized thing, especially the expanded
deluxe hardcover edition, would've been a perfect holiday gift recommendation.
For people who love comics in general; for people who don't necessarily love comics,
but who like to grapple with The Meaning Of It All and enjoy works of art that make them
think about such things – especially if they can be simultaneously thinking, on another level,
Damn, the pace of this enigmatic tome, with its weird subterranean journeys, with its
flocks of birds more philosophical than any this side of Jonathan Livingston Seagull,
with its downed fighter pilot whose crashed plane has destroyed a house and left a mentally
challenged young man orphaned and homeless in the wilderness … the pace of this
(oh, let's call it vaguely David Lynchian, although maybe, uh, Tarantinoesque in the dialogue?)
thing is so deliberate and steady and it accumulates strength like an intravenous drip of
psilocybin-spiked bourbon.

[Sylvia does not approve of psilocybin-spiked bourbon. But that's another story.]

"Yeah, well, you're right," I admitted.

"So?" said Sylvia.

I shrugged. "I blame the Louse."

[The Louse is what I call my cat, more properly named Lady Withnail.]

"You always blame the Louse," said Sylvia, not inaccurately.

"Yes," I said, "but this time it's for real. Because when I got the new scorpion,
I needed something to hold down the lid of its cage so the Louse wouldn't
be able to get at it. So I put my copy of Big Questions on there, crosswise,
because it was so big and heavy, it was just the perfect thing. But Withnail, well,
she liked to climb up there and just perch on top of the book and stare down
at the scorpion for hours."

"And this was a problem why?" asked Sylvia.

"This was a problem," I said, "because that Louse likes to chew on the corners of things.
Like she's massaging her teeth and gums or something, you know? And I came home
one day after work and saw that, while perching, she'd fucking chewed two of
the book's cover's corners into mushy pulp."

Sylvia suppressed – barely – a laugh.
"What does that have to do with not reviewing it?"

"Well, I was embarrassed," I said. "I figured I'd have to tell people,
if I reviewed the book, that I'd let my stupid fucking cat destroy the thing.
Like I'm a terrible book owner, you know? And that's … pretty embarrassing."

I looked away, but I could almost hear Sylvia's eyes rolling.

"Brenner," she said. "You don't have to tell anybody anything.You're suffering under
your own ridiculous, self-imposed conditions here. And that's fine, really, because people –
well, I think – people deserve whatever stupidity they visit on themselves. Like those
idiots who refuse to get vaccinations or whatever. But for however much of a difference a
review in the Chronicle would help get the word out, might sway people into seeking
this book out for their own enjoyment … Listen: you're doing a disservice to those people,
aren't you? You're doing a disservice to the book itself, to what took Nilsen more than 15 years
to create and compile and polish until D&Q, well, damnit, how many books and DVDs do you
get from publishers and they're total pieces of shit? Because I've heard you complain about that.
And here you have an absolutely wonderful, enthralling work that …"

She went on for a while.
And – yeah, she was right, she was absolutely right.

I hate that goddam Louse.
 
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Anders Nilsen

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Big Questions (paperback)




  "Bleak landscapes, desperation, and the drive to survive:" the work of Anders Nilsen

Updated June 14, 2012


Finch Philosophy
Review by Lori Callaghan • Published in the SPRING 2012 issue
Montreal Review of Books

Big Questions is a big book. At nearly 600 pages, it is the culmination of 15 years worth of work by graphic novelist Anders Nilsen. Finches, a bomb, crows, an idiot, a snake, and a crash-landed pilot are the focus of this epic that explores theology and the search for meaning in the sparse and desolate plains the finches inhabit.

The short strips filled with jokes and philosophical pub talk that begin the book quickly give way to the narratives that will shape the finch-verse. Grandma aches and toils through her day, taking care of her grandson, the Idiot. A bomb drops out of the sky and lands without exploding. A plane crashes into a house and an angry pilot emerges. The significance the finches attribute to these events polarizes them into smaller groups. Add to this a gang of vengeful squirrels and a murder of malicious crows that are driven by a scarcity of food, and the landscape takes on a post-apocalyptic quality that comes complete with its own Hades-like underworld.

Big Questions was born of an automatic drawing exercise Nilsen did at the University of New Mexico, where he received his BFA. Sketching a new picture every 60 seconds for an hour, the central elements of the birds, plane crash, and lost pilot emerged. A series of self-published gag strips in 1999 marked the official launch of this work, which Nilsen now refers to as his newest and also oldest book. The pen-and-ink, black and white drawings are often sparse, with detailed pointillism and borderless expanses. It evokes the void of uncertainty the finches are trying to fill.

The bird-on-bird violence and cannibalism in Big Questions gives it a grim atmosphere that is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
The philosophical musings the birds engage in stem from Nilsen’s interest in theology and in how people create meaning when they interpret their experiences. The finch Charlotte Evangelista takes the arrival of the bomb, which she believes to be an egg, as something that was delivered into their care, a “miraculous visitation.” Others believe the pilot to be a hatchling who needs tending. The finch Zwingly even argues that the end is near and that if they treat the hatchling well everything will be different. Bayle, a finch named after French theologian Pierre Bayle, dies at the hands of the Idiot and then comes back to life. Believing the Idiot resurrected him, he becomes the Idiot’s follower and champion. Divided into religious factions, the finches begin to clash with each other, eventually resorting to violence.

Bleak landscapes, desperation, and the drive to survive are recurring themes in Nilsen’s work. His Dogs and Water, which won the 2005 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Story, follows a young man and his stuffed bear across a desolate land as they endure encounters with armed men and wild animals on their way to some unknown destination. The bird-on-bird violence and cannibalism in Big Questions gives it a grim atmosphere that is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Far from the levity of the gag strips that open the book, the story becomes increasingly stark and more interesting as a narrative. Death and calamity are the sorts of things that drive the finches to find an explanation, to find meaning, in a world that beats them down.

The gag strip, however, returns at the end. Filled with platitudes and burp humour, it tries to lighten the mood. Given the trajectory the book has taken, this gives it a sad trombone send-off. Without the gag strips Big Questions would harmonize better as a whole. If you can look past them, though, you’ll find an epic tale that delves into the survivalist mentality of a group of finches trying to understand their place in a brutal world.
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Anders Nilsen

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Big Questions (paperback)




Booklist's Top 10 graphic novels of 2012 include 2 Drawn and Quarterly authors!

Updated June 14, 2012


Top 10 Graphic Novels: 2012.
Chipman, Ian
Booklist

Big Questions. By Anders Nilsen. Illus. by the author. 2011. Drawn & Quarterly, $69.95 (9781770460447).

This enormous work, 15 years in the making, balances a minimalist drawing style with unusual touches of magic realism in a story about finches, philosophy, and the mysteries of life.

The Death-Ray. By Daniel Clowes. Illus. by the author. 2011. Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 (9781770460515).

Returning to the arena of adolescent alienation that defined Ghost World (1997), and tossing in a lacerating takedown of superhero comics and pop culture, Clowes depicts a teen boy who derives low-level superpowers from smoking cigarettes.
 
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Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Daniel Clowes

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Big Questions (paperback)
The Death-Ray




  Miami Herald: BIG QUESTIONS an "unforgettable and resonant...tour-de-force"

Updated February 28, 2012


Artists at the top of their game, or not

By Richard Pachter

Big Questions. Anders Nilsen. Drawn & Quarterly. $592 pages. $44.95.

Nilsen offers an expansive, imaginative anthropomorphic tour de force with quizzical birds, predatory snakes, inhumane humans and sundry other ambiguous and conflicted creatures in this beautiful, elegiac saga. With an overriding theme that’s nothing less than life and death — and literally everything in between, before and after — Nilsen’s aspirations are fortunately on par with his abilities. Characters love, struggle, die and live in this unforgettable and resonant post-modern fantasy. Special note must be made of the artist’s brilliant use of space and black and white; you would not want to see this in color, though the material might lend itself nicely to animation if any brave and iconoclastic producer is interested enough to ante up.


click here to read more


Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

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Big Questions (paperback)




Statesman.com rates HARK! A VAGRANT and BIG QUESTIONS among year's best

Updated February 28, 2012


A look at the best -- and worst -- of this year's comics

by Joe Gross
The Statesman
Dec. 3, 2011

"Hark! A Vagrant," by Kate Beaton (Drawn and Quarterly): Beaton's terrifically oddball history/literature webcomic makes the jump to print. Her cartooning is deceptively primitive, but her comic timing (in both senses of the word) is all its own — once you catch it, it's addictive.

"Big Questions" by Anders Nilsen: A decade in the making, this existentialist novel follows birds and snakes in the middle of nowhere as they encounter a newcomer and must decide what to do about him. Mythic and bizarre.
 
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Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Kate Beaton

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Big Questions (paperback)
Hark! A Vagrant




  Tom Gauld interviewed by It's Nice That; GOLIATH a work of "depth, pathos and beauty"

Updated February 28, 2012


Tom Gauld: Goliath (Review and interview)

By Rob Alderson
It's Nice That
Jan. 18, 2012

Creatives of all stripes have long enjoyed re-imagining famous stories from new angles, but taking on the tale of a giant whose famous defeat has become a byword for triumph against all odds pushes that to the extreme. Luckily Tom Gauld’s new comic-book, starring Goliath as an unassuming army admin clerk pushed into a situation he neither wants nor understands is a work of depth, pathos and beauty, with the sublime craftsmanship anyone who knows Gauld’s work would expect. We met up with Tom to discuss how he made the world’s most famous loser into a real winner.

The anticipation surrounding Goliath has been huge, as Tom Gauld’s army of admirers look forward to the longest work he has ever produced. It has been two years in the making and Tom admitted he struggled at times with such an all-consuming undertaking, but the finished piece is tremendous.

The initial idea was born out of a Noah’s Ark-inspired story he did for Kramers Ergot “from the point of view of Noah’s sons who thought he was a bit mental” but it was actually a longstanding idea to do a story about a giant that led Tom in a roundabout way to the famous story of David and Goliath.

“Quite a lot of my other work involves looking at something that might seem amazing and heroic and clear cut and taking another view of it. The good thing is that the Bible says almost nothing about Goliath and I liked the idea of having this tragic ending and writing backwards, to try and have a surprising story about he might have ended up there.”

In Tom’s version, Goliath is no bloodthirsty caricature, but a crack penpusher for the Philistine army who is forced into facing down the Israelite army by an unscrupulous superior. Stranded on the frontline with his young shield bearer for company, the main part of the story is about loneliness and losing control of your own destiny, with the muted brown palette reflecting the bleak situation Goliath inexplicably finds himself in.

Of course everyone knows how the story ends, but Tom hopes: “that about two thirds of the way through you slightly forget what is going to happen to him. I hope people get drawn into his story and so it’s a horrible shock when he is killed, but it was always going to happen.”

With first sketches done “in a kind of school cafeteria” during two weeks’ jury service, Tom built the character of Goliath and developed the look as the best way to tell his story.

“I did not want it to be an illustrated essay – there’s hardly any narration in it and it’s told through pictures and speech. For the basic visual I wanted it to look very flat, I did not want the viewer to feel they were whooshing around and zooming in. It is repetitive, showing the same kinds of things from the same angles.

“I wanted it to be simple. For people who don’t read comics, they can seem like a kind of puzzle that has to be solved. I sometimes like that but for this I wanted it to be easy. I heard someone talking about the American cartoon Nancy once and they said it was more trouble not to read it than to read it. I wanted that effect.”

He says that Bible stories have a lot of creative potential because they tend to be slightly less crafted. “Through years and years of translation and reworking they are more ragged – there’s more space to work with.”

The story cleverly lays out Goliath’s journey without any boringly iconoclastic atheism. “You think it’s a small boy against the giant but actually it’s the giant against the small boy and the all powerful creator of the universe. He is bound to lose.

“But I did not want to make David a baddie – he still achieves his great thing. I didn’t want to undermine what he did, just look at it in a different way. David is not a character here, he is a force of nature who says things in this very Biblical, King James language.”

Goliath meanwhile speaks with beautifully pitched normality, an ordinary (ish!) man caught up in an extraordinary situation. ”I just find it funny to imagine how people would really have spoken in these situations – I am not sure I quite believe how it is always written down.”

Although Tom jokes that he hopes it does cause some kind of controversy to whip up publicity, he researched the history involved in case anyone tried to claim there was a hidden message relating to the Middle East conflict buried within its pages.

But as he himself says he shouldn’t have to worry.

“You only have to read it to realise it’s not anti-anything.”

Goliath is released by Drawn and Quarterly in March.
click here to read more


Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Big Questions (paperback)




VICE names PAYING FOR IT to list of top 10 comics of 2011; BIG QUESTIONS "also good"

Updated February 28, 2012


Nick Gazin's Comic Book Love-In #45: VICE's Top Ten Comics of 2011

By Nick Gazin
VICE.com
Jan. 2012

Dear Everyone,

I didn't make a best of list for 2011 because I don't believe in lists. But if you care about lists, here's a list of ten good comics that came out in 2011. Feel free to say that VICE said that you made their top ten comics list of 2011 if you're on this list. Actually, you can say that you were on VICE's top ten comics list even if you didn't make the cut.
 
click here to read more


Featured artists

Chester Brown
Anders Nilsen

           Featured products

Big Questions (paperback)
Paying For It




  Oprah.com hails WHAT IT IS and BIG QUESTIONS as top two on list of graphic novels readers will love

Updated February 28, 2012


5 graphic novels you'll love

By Leigh Newman and Abbe Wright
Oprah.com
Jan. 13, 2012



(Oprah.com) -- Like most of us, you've probably heard of graphic novels -- but haven't read too many. Here are four new titles[...]that make you think, feel and daydream just like any other book.

What It Is

One of the most moving and emotionally direct forms of the whole graphic genre is the memoir -- in part because it allows for all kinds of inventive approaches to telling life stories, such as using the drawings to show how people look and feel to the writer (a huge, tall, monstery dad, for example). It also helps to have thoughtful, deeply poignant writing, which is exactly what you'll find in Lynda Barry's "What It Is." This memoir of a young artist came out in 2008, but it's the one to start with if you've never read a graphic book before. (Note: Graphic novels can be novels, memoirs, biographies or anything in between.)

Barry uses text, drawings and even collages to re-create her violent, TV-saturated childhood, describing how she used art as her way out of the trailer park. "We don't create a fantasy world to escape reality," she says. "We create it to be able to stay." Discouraged at every turn by her parents and teachers, she grew into an adult who felt that she had little to say creatively and, further, that she couldn't say that little well enough. That is, until she rediscovered an imaginary game from childhood, one that required her simply to sit very still in the corner of a room and wait for inanimate objects (say, the pattern on the wallpaper) to come "alive" and move. The magic of that moment and of all Barry's self-examinations is that her ideas apply to just about everybody. We've all had those moments when we think we're not good enough or original enough. Her transformation belongs to all of us.


Big Questions

"Big Questions" is just what a novel should be, if by novel we mean a very long story that creates an entire imaginary universe that involves us so deeply that we begin to think of ourselves as characters within it. The book is 585 pages long (not including appendixes), a number that might seem overwhelming in a traditional format. In this case, you'll finish in two days, not only because graphic novels contain a lot less text but also because you'll race through the first time, desperate to figure out the big stuff, only to turn around and reread it in order to figure out all the little stuff you missed.

The story takes place in an anonymous bucolic countryside (trees, fields, the occasional house) and follows a flock of birds, each with its own personality and philosophical struggles, from questioning the monotony of a seed diet to wondering about the true perils of snakes to considering "to what extent are we responsible for the fulfillment of our destinies?" Life goes on in this manner -- think, peck, think, peck -- until an undetonated bomb drops into their lives, a bomb that many (but not all) in the flock believe is a long, warm metal egg that may contain a savior baby bird. The hilarity and discord that result will astonish you, as will the pathos.

Some of the most poignant scenes concern two humans -- an elderly caretaker and her mentally disabled grandson or son -- who are watched by the birds. Nilsen's artwork here needs no words. The endless labor of the old woman -- firewood, dishes, scrub the floor, soak the dentures, weep in secret -- is drawn into brutal reality, as is her unexpected beauty. The six-panel homage to her brushing the long, young-looking hair you never knew she had (it's usually tied in a bun) is, like the rest of the book, an unforgettable visual and emotional experience.



Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Lynda Barry

           Featured products

What It Is
Big Questions (paperback)




VICE names PAYING FOR IT one of top 10 comics of 2011; BIG QUESTIONS hailed as "Also Good"

Updated February 27, 2012


Nick Gazin's Comic Book Love-In #45: VICE's Top Ten Comics of 2011

by Nick Gazin
Jan. 2012

Dear Everyone,

I didn't make a best of list for 2011 because I don't believe in lists. But if you care about lists, here's a list of ten good comics that came out in 2011. Feel free to say that VICE said that you made their top ten comics list of 2011 if you're on this list. Actually, you can say that you were on VICE's top ten comics list even if you didn't make the cut. [...]
 
click here to read more


Featured artists

Chester Brown
Anders Nilsen

           Featured products

Big Questions (paperback)
Paying For It




  Oprah.com hails WHAT IT IS and BIG QUESTIONS on shortlist of graphic novels readers will love

Updated February 27, 2012


5 graphic novels you'll love

By Leigh Newman and Abbe Wright
Oprah.com
Jan. 13, 2012

What It Is

One of the most moving and emotionally direct forms of the whole graphic genre is the memoir -- in part because it allows for all kinds of inventive approaches to telling life stories, such as using the drawings to show how people look and feel to the writer (a huge, tall, monstery dad, for example). It also helps to have thoughtful, deeply poignant writing, which is exactly what you'll find in Lynda Barry's "What It Is." This memoir of a young artist came out in 2008, but it's the one to start with if you've never read a graphic book before. (Note: Graphic novels can be novels, memoirs, biographies or anything in between.)

Barry uses text, drawings and even collages to re-create her violent, TV-saturated childhood, describing how she used art as her way out of the trailer park. "We don't create a fantasy world to escape reality," she says. "We create it to be able to stay." Discouraged at every turn by her parents and teachers, she grew into an adult who felt that she had little to say creatively and, further, that she couldn't say that little well enough. That is, until she rediscovered an imaginary game from childhood, one that required her simply to sit very still in the corner of a room and wait for inanimate objects (say, the pattern on the wallpaper) to come "alive" and move. The magic of that moment and of all Barry's self-examinations is that her ideas apply to just about everybody. We've all had those moments when we think we're not good enough or original enough. Her transformation belongs to all of us.


Big Questions

"Big Questions" is just what a novel should be, if by novel we mean a very long story that creates an entire imaginary universe that involves us so deeply that we begin to think of ourselves as characters within it. The book is 585 pages long (not including appendixes), a number that might seem overwhelming in a traditional format. In this case, you'll finish in two days, not only because graphic novels contain a lot less text but also because you'll race through the first time, desperate to figure out the big stuff, only to turn around and reread it in order to figure out all the little stuff you missed.

The story takes place in an anonymous bucolic countryside (trees, fields, the occasional house) and follows a flock of birds, each with its own personality and philosophical struggles, from questioning the monotony of a seed diet to wondering about the true perils of snakes to considering "to what extent are we responsible for the fulfillment of our destinies?" Life goes on in this manner -- think, peck, think, peck -- until an undetonated bomb drops into their lives, a bomb that many (but not all) in the flock believe is a long, warm metal egg that may contain a savior baby bird. The hilarity and discord that result will astonish you, as will the pathos.

Some of the most poignant scenes concern two humans -- an elderly caretaker and her mentally disabled grandson or son -- who are watched by the birds. Nilsen's artwork here needs no words. The endless labor of the old woman -- firewood, dishes, scrub the floor, soak the dentures, weep in secret -- is drawn into brutal reality, as is her unexpected beauty. The six-panel homage to her brushing the long, young-looking hair you never knew she had (it's usually tied in a bun) is, like the rest of the book, an unforgettable visual and emotional experience.
click here to read more


Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Lynda Barry

           Featured products

What It Is
Big Questions (paperback)




Statesman.com rates HARK! A VAGRANT and BIG QUESTIONS among year's best

Updated February 27, 2012


A look at the best -- and worst -- of this year's comics

Joe Gross,
Statesman.com
Dec. 3, 2012

"Hark! A Vagrant," by Kate Beaton: Beaton's terrifically oddball history/literature webcomic makes the jump to print. Her cartooning is deceptively primitive, but her comic timing (in both senses of the word) is all its own — once you catch it, it's addictive.

"Big Questions" by Anders Nilsen: A decade in the making, this existentialist novel follows birds and snakes in the middle of nowhere as they encounter a newcomer and must decide what to do about him. Mythic and bizarre.
 
click here to read more


Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Kate Beaton

           Featured products

Big Questions (paperback)
Hark! A Vagrant




  About.com reviews BIG QUESTIONS

Updated February 10, 2012


Jeff Alford

Drawn and Quarterly, September 2011

It's been twelve years and fifteen issues since Anders Nilsen's first installment of Big Questions was published as a Xeroxed, staple-bound comic book. At long last, Drawn and Quarterly has compiled the entire run of Big Questions into a beautiful omnibus edition that allows Nilsen's story to flow uninterrupted from start to finish. Seeing Big Questions in its entirety will dazzle readers with its progression. Nilsen's story doesn't just flow: it blooms...
click here to read more


Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Big Questions (paperback)




Anders Nilsen interviewed by AV Club

Updated January 12, 2012


November 2, 2011
Courtney Algeo

Anders Nilsen, a Minneapolis-born artist currently living in Chicago, doesn’t want to blow your mind with his work, but definitely might, at least in terms of the vacuum between innocence and tragedy. Nilsen has completed five graphic novels—including Dogs And Water, Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, and The End—some of which have won awards, most of which have been nominated, and all of which have set the bar high for how touching, terrifying, and meaningful cartoons can be. He most recently completed Big Questions, a 15-year-long marathon of talking birds, nuclear eggs, nightmares, and wandering. The A.V. Club recently caught up with Nilsen, who will be in town this weekend for the Minneapolis Indie Xpo, about his favorite comic books, the art of panel usage, and what it’s like to share deep secrets with the world.
The A.V. Club: Tell us a little about your favorite comic books.
Anders Nilsen: Of all time, you’re talking about, right? I don’t know if for the rest of my life I could hew to five, but if I was going to give you five, Ed The Happy Clown would definitely be there. It’s by Chester Brown, who’s more well known for Louis Riel. He just put out a book called Paying For It, which is about his experience as a “john,” which he’s gotten quite a bit of press for. I’m not honestly that excited about the last couple of things he’s done, but I think Ed The Happy Clown, which was sort of his first longish piece that he did in the ’80s, is just completely amazing and one of the best comics ever for sure.
AVC: When artists change their style and the direction they’re headed, does that bother or surprise you?
AN: Oh no, I would be the last person to make any claims to consistency. No, I think that’s potentially admirable. It bothers me more when people stick to a style or stick to a formula, even when the sort of passion or engagement has emptied out. I don’t have a problem with him changing stuff. I think his earlier work felt more sort of warm. A lot of it was sort of creepy and disturbing, but it also had this human warmth to it, and just really finely observed human psychology and sort of absurdism, and that’s something that I don’t find in his work so much anymore.
AVC: That’s funny, because you’d think that a whole book about your life as a john would be really fertile ground for that sort of thing.
AN: [Laughs.] Yeah, you would think that. So, I don’t know. I think it has to do with who he is as a person, and sort of what he wants to talk about as an artist. He’s become much more of a political person. He’s a Libertarian, and I think that his comics aren’t super—well, I guess they are pretty explicit about that, actually. So, it feels like he has an agenda and a little less like he’s exploring the human condition.
AVC: So, what else?
AN: Anything by Hergé—the TinTin books. If we’re just going to grab one at random, then I guess, TinTin In Tibet. It’s the easiest one for me to kind of talk about and cite influence.
AVC: Are you excited about the upcoming movie?
AN: I actually just saw it in Paris. I ended up being in Paris for tragically one day longer than I meant to be in Paris. So, to kill the time that night, I went and saw [The Adventures of] TinTin. And I was fully prepared to be horrified and depressed and very unhappy about it, and I actually thought it was really good, and super fun, and basically—I mean, I did have small issues with what they did, but basically I think it’s kind of a really good adventure story, and it does something nice where it feels like more or less realistic, but it has a cartooniness to the action and stuff, which is really fun. They managed to make it really funny in parts, which I think is super, super important; they sort of stay true to Hergé’s slap-stickiness.
AVC: So, would you say that it’s the best comic movie to come out in the past five years?
AN: I don’t know if I would say that. I didn’t think it was like a great movie. It was totally entertaining and totally fun and not offensive at all. The best comic movie to come out? I don’t know. I would have to think about that a little bit. I don’t even know that I’ve seen that many comic movies. I thought the first Iron Man was pretty good. I remember sort of liking that.
AVC: All right, so a third?
AN: Something by Jason Lutes. I could say either Jar Of Fools or Berlin. I guess I would say Berlin more. Berlin is kind of amazing. I should probably choose some superhero things. I would choose, like, maybe Miracleman, or um… yeah, Miracleman [by Alan Moore]. Something by Alan Moore would have to be in there.
AVC: That’s fair. He’s a big one.
AN: There’s a French comic called Three by… I can’t even think of the guy’s name off-hand. I don’t know if I have it. It’s called Three. It’s by some French person whose first name begins with an M. Like, Maribal or something. It’s all totally silent and it’s this kind of weird, slightly surrealistic chase scene, where there’s these weird private agents chasing this weird person who then turns into a giant fish and they have to kill him. I really love that thing. I had no idea about this person or what this book was or anything. I just discovered it a couple years ago and was just kind of blown away and amazed.
AVC: Do you like that silent sort of quality of books? In your works, there are times where panels and panels go by without many exchanges.
AN: Yeah, when it’s done well, I think it’s really great. I don’t know if you’ve read Gon. It’s this Japanese manga that’s all silent, and it’s about this dinosaur—this child Tyrannosaurus Rex character—that is exploring the world and having adventures. It’s all silent and it’s really well told and incredible. I don’t know. I think of it as being a really hard thing to do well [laughs], and obviously I try to do the best that I can. And I’m not so interested in doing that for it’s own sake—it doesn’t interest me to do a whole book that’s all silent, cause I feel that as an artist I’m trying to represent the world, and discuss the world, and the world has sound in it, and conversation and dialogue, so that feels to me like it should be part of the mix. But I feel like the way that we experience the world is sometimes silent, and the way images work and the way images sort of convey meaning is different and distinct from the way text does, and so I want to use that, too.
AVC: In your books, like The End and Dogs And Water, it seems like there’s some rule-breaking with regards to the way panels work and are represented. How do you choose the moments to break those rules?
AN: Honestly, it’s kind of just intuitive, I guess. There’s an element to how much visual information or action has to be conveyed. So, if it’s just two birds talking for a while and the action isn’t that important or there’s not that much happening other than the two birds talking, then I can stick them in a really small panel and stick a whole bunch of those on the page. But, if there is more action or—like you said—a silent panel, there might be two big panels where almost nothing changes at all, but they need to be big panels because the lack of anything changing is sort of important. Like, maybe there’s some big action that needs to be represented dramatically, or maybe there’s some lack of action that needs to be communicated dramatically. I think size of a panel sort of indicates importance in a funny way. I think that’s not actually true, but that’s the way it feels when you’re reading. So like, splash pages are big because that’s where Captain America punched out The Red Skull or whatever, and that’s the end of the comic. So, it’s kind of interesting then to have two giant silent panels spread across two pages where all that’s happening is a couple swans are floating down the river, ’cause it sort of amplifies the importance and volume of that.
AVC: So, when you’re breaking these rules of typical comic structure, you feel good and rebellious about it?
AN: [Laughs.] No, I don’t think so. I don’t think I would say I’m breaking rules. I feel like I haven’t done anything that new with that stuff. Super hero comics did all kinds of crazy, crazy panel structure, and like people have done significant stories with no panel boarders. Chester Brown did some stuff in Yummy Fur with no panel borders. I mean, maybe doing a whole graphic novel with no panel borders at all was unusual, but to me, it was more like I had kind of stumbled on this strategy that seemed to do something interesting and also happened to save me a lot of work of, like, ruling out panel borders with a ruler and measuring pages and stuff, which I didn’t really enjoy doing. So it was just kind of like, “Cool, I’ll try this and see what happens.” Yeah, that’s not an instance where I was like, “I’m gonna blow minds here.” I mean, maybe in a small way. But I don’t have a big “I’ve got to redefine comics for the next generation” feeling about myself.
AVC: Speaking of blowing minds, you’re an artist, but behind all that, you’re just a regular dude. So, does it ever blow your mind that you have these works that are very important to you, and sometimes very personal, that people are reading them and possibly taking away information about the world and new ways to see it?
AN: Yeah, I feel like I’ve become a little bit more aware of that since Big Questions has come out, where, like, people I’ve met are commenting on it more, and I’m just realizing a little bit that people in school, like students, are studying my work. That’s kind of crazy. I don’t really know what to make of that, exactly. Like, it’s kind of important to me that I’m just a guy who draws pictures and tells stories and to not have too many pretensions about actually even having some important message for the world or something. I’m just trying to communicate what I think and what I observe.
AVC: So would you say, then, that the heavier parts of your books are you trying to suss the world out, and you’re taking the audience along for the ride?
AN: Yeah, the question of audience is a weird one. I feel like I am really aware of having an audience. There’s definitely an element of wanting to share this stuff with an audience. Part of what’s fun—like every time I went back to Big Questions, for example, I’d take a break to work on another book or whatever and then go back to Big Questions, and I think part of the reason I was always engaged with it is that I was interested in these characters and this weird story that I had sort of happened upon, and there was just something so fun about having access to this thing, and I want to show people. I want other people to see how cool it is.
AVC: Now that Big Questions is finished and you have this beautiful, big book that was essentially a 15-year relationship, are you going to miss it?
AN: That’s a good question. I think even a month ago I would have said no, I’m totally ready to be done with this thing that took so goddamn long. But, I think I do. I think I will kind of miss it, actually. Those birds were so cute and fun to play around with, and yeah, they were kind of my friends, or whatever. But, I’ve got plenty of other stuff to keep me busy. I think that what I kind of wonder is if I’ll be able to do that again. I’m pretty happy with that book, and I think it started out for sure with a certain beginner’s enthusiasm that I think was pretty important to it and to how it developed, and so I sort of wonder if that’s something I’m going to be able to replicate or come up with something else that’s just as good, or whatever.
AVC: So, while you were finishing up Big Questions, you didn’t have another large project looming in the distance?
AN: I do have several, and I do have a new graphic novel that I’ve actually been sort of thinking about for the last four or five years, at least that I will eventually start. I have a few smaller projects to get out of the way before I start that. But yeah, there is another project that will be a full-on graphic novel.
AVC: You were just here a few months ago signing books at Magers & Quinn. Why are you coming back?
AN: Well, I’m coming to Minneapolis this weekend because the Minneapolis Indie Xpo is happening, so I’m going to go and talk about rural comics in rural areas. Something like that. People said that the Xpo last year was kind of amazing, and I’ve got this book to plug, so why not go to my hometown and hang out for a little while and check out the people making comics there?
 
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  About.com Contemporary Literature notes BIG QUESTIONS

Updated January 12, 2012


November 14, 2011
Mark Flanagan

Available for the first time in its entirety, Anders Nilsen's Big Questions evolved from a Xeroxed and stapled comic about a couple of birds into a philosophizing graphic treatise muses on the nature of existence and man's relationship to the natural world.
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BAD AT SPORTS interviews Anders Nilsen

Updated January 12, 2012


November 15, 2011
Christopher Hudgens

This week: Richard and Duncan talk with Anders Nilsen.
Anders Nilsen was born in northern New Hampshire in 1973. He grew up splitting his time between the mountains of New England and the streets and parks of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was weaned on a steady diet of comics, stories and art, from Tintin and the X-Men to Raw, Weirdo, punk rock, zines, graffiti and regular trips to art museums.
Nilsen studied painting and installation art at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, also making comics and zines mostly outside class. In 1999 he started photocopying strips from his sketchbooks, self-publishing them as Big Questions #1 and #2. That same year he moved to Chicago to do graduate work at the School of the Art Institute. In 2000 he turned an artists book he’d done in undergrad into his first properly printed book, The Ballad of the Two Headed Boy, with a grant from the Xeric Foundation. The same year he took advantage of an offset lithography class at the Art Institute to print the third issue of Big Questions, with all original material. In 2000 he dropped out of graduate school to do comics on his own. He received grants from Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs to publish the next three issues of Big Questions.
Anders’ comics have been translated into a number of languages. He has exhibited his drawing and painting internationally and had his work anthologized in Kramer’s Ergot, Mome, The Yale Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Best American Comics and Best American Non-Required Reading, as well as The Believer, the Chicago Reader and elsewhere. Other titles by Nilsen include Dogs And Water, Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, Monologues for the Coming Plague, Monologues for Calculating the Density of Black Holes, and The End #1.
Nilsen keeps a blog at themonologuist.blogspot.com where he posts occasional new work, and a website with examples of past work and various illustration he’s done at andersbrekhusnilsen.com.
He currently lives with his cat in Chicago, Il.
Anders Nilsen also received Ignatz Nominations for Outstanding Artist for Big Questions #7 & #8, Outstanding Series (Big Questions), and Outstanding Comic (Big Questions #7) at the 2006 Small Press Expo. Dogs and Water won an Ignatz for Outstanding Story in 2005, and his graphic memoir Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow won an Ignatz for Outstanding Graphic Novel in 2007.


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  BIG QUESTIONS on Boston Dig

Updated January 12, 2012


November 24, 2011


BIG QUESTIONS BY ANDERS NILSEN

“Brutally existentialist birds” is how Pearson describes this massive, 585-page dark, modern fable. Through beautiful, sparse drawings, Nilsen tells the story of birds who mistake a plane for a giant bird and a bomb for its egg. It’s bizarre, to say the least, but it’s fun to get lost in Nilsen’s peculiar world. “Well, like, to what extent are we responsible for the fulfillment of our destinies?” one of the birds asks early on. Now that’s a question to ponder belly-up on the sofa.

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BIG QUESTIONS is on Oprah.com!

Updated January 12, 2012


December 7, 2011
Leigh Newman and Abbe Wright

Big Questions
By Andres Nilsen
658 pages; Drawn and Quarterly
Available at: Amazon.com | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound
Big Questions is just what a novel should be, if by novel we mean a very long story that creates an entire imaginary universe that involves us so deeply that we begin to think of ourselves as characters within it. The book is 585 pages long (not including appendixes), a number that might seem overwhelming in a traditional format. In this case, you'll finish in two days, not only because graphic novels contain a lot less text but also because you'll race through the first time, desperate to figure out the big stuff, only to turn around and reread it in order to figure out all the little stuff you missed.

The story takes place in an anonymous bucolic countryside (trees, fields, the occasional house) and follows a flock of birds, each with its own personality and philosophical struggles, from questioning the monotony of a seed diet to wondering about the true perils of snakes to considering "to what extent are we responsible for the fulfillment of our destinies?" Life goes on in this manner⎯think, peck, think, peck⎯until an undetonated bomb drops into their lives, a bomb that many (but not all) in the flock believe is a long, warm metal egg that may contain a savior baby bird. The hilarity and discord that result will astonish you, as will the pathos. Some of the most poignant scenes concern two humans⎯an elderly caretaker and her mentally disabled grandson or son⎯who are watched by the birds. Nilsen's artwork here needs no words. The endless labor of the old woman⎯firewood, dishes, scrub the floor, soak the dentures, weep in secret⎯is drawn into brutal reality, as is her unexpected beauty. The six-panel homage to her brushing the long, young-looking hair you never knew she had (it's usually tied in a bun) is, like the rest of the book, an unforgettable visual and emotional experience.
— Leigh Newman

 
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  Chicago Magazine picks BIG QUESTIONS among best Chicago fiction of 2011

Updated January 11, 2012


December 2011
Nina Kokotas Hahn and Cassie Walker Burke

Big Questions
by Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly, $70)

“We are all very small pieces of the whole story—important, but small,” a ghostly finch tells his living counterpart in Nilsen’s breakthrough graphic novel, which, at 600 pages, took this talented Chicago illustrator more than a decade to complete. Even his most spartan panels are artistically striking, and moments of profundity resonate from his motley cast of characters as well. Nilsen’s chatty snake, vengeful squirrels, and orphaned idiot are as preoccupied with burning philosophical matters (Are we responsible for the fulfillment of our destinies?) as they are with the strange plane (or is it a bird?) that has crashed into their otherwise mundane midst. Ideal for: Chris Ware fans craving something a little more upbeat; hard-to-buy-for teens.
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HARK! A VAGRANT tops PW Comics World Critic's Poll 2011! W/ BIG QUESTIONS, MID LIFE

Updated January 11, 2012


January 10, 2012

Although it’s often said that comedy has a disadvantage when it comes to winning recognition, that was not the case with this year’s PW Comics World Critic’s Poll: the book with the most votes was Kate Beaton’s webcomic compilation Hark! A Vagrant, a laff riot of frustrated admirals, over-zealous girl detectives and baby-dropping F. Scott Fitzgerald characters that cemented Beaton's ascent of one of North America's top cartoonists. Begun as a webcomic running on Live Journal, Beaton’s witty, learned strips skewering literature and obscure facets of Canadian history soon gained an eager following. This year’s collection, published by Drawn & Quarterly has been a consistent best-seller since it arrived in September, and it gained a spot on Time magazine’s list of the top ten fiction books of the year. Beaton has become an all-media star with cartoons in the New Yorker and an Adventure Time cartoon adapted from one of her characters.

Publishers Weeklys’ own critic’s were equally charmed by Beaton’s book—equally informed by classic New Yorker cartooning and modern superheroes—as Johanna Draper Carlson wrote “Beaton's unique work is one of the best examples of good humor being universal.”

Beyond Beaton’s win—with five votes from the critics panel—the selections showed the usual exhilarating range of styles and topics, from Carla Speed McNeil’s deep-rooted fantasy Finder: Voice to Joe Ollmann’s novel of 40-something crisis, Mid Life, with stops for almost abstract meditations on life from Olivier Schrauwen and Yuichi Yokahama. And everything in-between. With more than 50 picks from our critics, there’s something to explore for everyone who likes comics on the below list.

This year’s voters consisted of Chris Barsanti, Steve Bunche, Johanna Draper Carlson, Danica Davidson, Glen Downey, Bill Kartalopoulos, Dan Kois, Heidi MacDonald, Calvin Reid and Janet Weber.

THREE VOTES
Big Questions, Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly)
Lytical, ephemeral and riveting—Nilsen turns the “funny animal” trope of comics into a 600-page exploration of the meaning of life, with stops along the way for dread, horror and laughter.—HM

TWO VOTES
Mid Life, Joe Ollmann (Drawn & Quarterly)
What makes this graphic novel so exemplary is that everything it says is completely and utterly true. This should be required reading for every dude turning 40.—GD

 
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  Exquisite Things interviews Anders Nilsen

Updated January 10, 2012


November 20, 2011
Matthew Dick


In the days leading up to meeting Anders Nilsen, I spend most of my free moments trying to contextualise his latest 600 page opus ‘Big Questions’. As I flip through the weighty hardback, I begin to piece together my thoughts, scribbling questions and notes on a pad as they occur to me. I begin to construct a mental map of sorts, linking the birds in ‘Big Questions’ to my own experiences and surroundings, and as I do so I'm struck by the vivid memory of my daily walks to work when I used to live a stone's throw from the River Foss in York.

Every morning I would pass the river, whose grass verges would always be teeming with geese. Traversing the same route for two years, I'd become increasingly fascinated by these majestic creatures and never tired of watching them wreak havoc on the early morning traffic, as they crossed the road en masse in search of fresh grass. Over the years, as my familiarity grew, they became totems of sorts, like living sounding boards for my thoughts.

One day they'd be the ultimate embodiment of some unobtainable freedom. The next, they'd be arrogant and disdainful onlookers - sitting in judgement on river bank, pouring scorn on everything and everyone. They were whatever I wanted them to be, which is how I'd come to view the birds in Anders Nilsen's ‘Big Questions’ – as anthropomorphic extensions of the self. His philosophically inclined flock of birds seemed somehow closely related to my traffic disrupting feathered friends.

When, later that week, I finally meet Anders in a cafe in heart of York, he looks tired. He's been on the road for the best part of two weeks, touring Europe to promote his new book. Home has been other peoples' couches and living room floors. In spite of the obvious fatigue, Anders is friendly and enthusiastic. His manner is quiet and thoughtful, always taking his time to carefully chew over his words before he speaks.

With a cup of tea in hand, I begin to explain the thought process behind my opening question, recounting my journeys to work and my fondness for geese. I ask if he also thinks of the birds in ‘Big Questions’ in the same way. Are they like different facets of his own personality? A projection of his own experiences onto a cast of animal characters?

Anders smiles and ponders my words for a moment before launching into his answer.




Anders: I do get asked 'why birds' a fair amount, and I was telling somebody just yesterday that it's a question I actually don't have a good answer for. Part of the convoluted answer that I always end up giving has to do with the idea of the 'blank slate', especially in the way that I draw them. They're drawn really really simply and that allows the reader to project onto them.

Also, there's an element of what you mentioned. Each of the birds has a separate personality and they have very different takes on the situations that arise in the book. In that way they're like different facets of myself. I think of them less like different people and more like different ways of approaching the world. Any one person could go in any of those directions.

I wasn't particularly interested in birds before I starting doing ‘Big Questions’, but I do pay attention to them now, in a similar way to what you experienced walking to work. I used to live across from this giant urban park in Chicago and I would often take walks there after lunch, say, or when trying to figure out something I was working on. I just starting seeing them everywhere and began to notice how different they are, it's easy to project funny little personalities onto them.

Exquisite Things: I think you can't help but do that, they can become something more than what they actually are. I think people tend to empathise with animals, sometimes more so than they would perhaps do with people.

Anders Nilsen: Yeah, I think that's part of why so much fiction, especially children's stories, use animals. It's so easy to associate with; to put yourself into an animal's mind.

Exquisite Things: One of the strong impressions I get from your work is that you're constantly breaking yourself down into all these disparate parts, then piecing everything back together. I see a lot of that in the ‘Monologues’ books, ‘The End’, as well as ‘Big Questions’... does that ring true for you?

Anders Nilsen: That's something I've specifically done work about, for sure. I'm interested in the question of 'what is a person?' In the Buddhist sense of asking questions like 'what is a soul? Is there such a thing a soul?' I think the basic Buddhist answer is that there isn't, if you take a person all the way apart there is no 'thing' there other than the material, and the chemicals in the brain.

That's what makes it endlessly fascinating, if there's no single core that's eternal, pure and true, what is a person? What happens if the brain chemistry is skewed just a bit? What if you get hit on the head in the wrong way and everything changes. In ‘The End’, for example, it's about the psychological aftermath of an intense experience. It really is just about me watching myself just totally change. You have to become a different person to deal with certain things, and part of that process is anticipating becoming yet another different person. What happened, in a way, was that I eventually came back to myself, I think.

Exquisite Things: In ‘Big Questions’, you use a lot of imagery that has close parallels to the Garden of Eden. The landscapes are very open and barren and there's a small cast of human characters exploring their immediate surroundings. Those human characters introduce god-like objects into the birds' world; the egg, or bomb depending on whose viewpoint you take, and the giant metal bird / crashed plane. It’s a lot like a creation myth... Are you interested in ancient myths and the theological? Did that feed into ‘Big Questions’?

Anders Nilsen: Yes, for sure... Hugely.

Exquisite Things: You mentioned Buddhism already... but I guess I'm coming at this from a very Western Christian point of view...

Anders Nilsen: My interest in theology does come from a very Western Christian point of view. I'm not religious at all, but I'm very interested in religion because I'm very interested in stories and telling stories. To me, that's what religion is; it's about people telling stories in order to make sense of the world. That's what ‘Big Questions’ is all about. You mentioned the Garden of Eden, in some ways the book is about this loss of innocence for the birds. There are these grandiose tragic events, and a confrontation with death.

Exquisite Things: Yes, you present some pretty opposing views of those events. On the one hand, you have Curtis who's the sceptic, he doesn't buy into the more colourful theories the birds come up with. On the other you have Charlotte, the evangelist... who treats it as a massive religious revelation.

Anders Nilsen: Yes, they both witness exactly the same thing happen but come to very different conclusions about it. That's what I find so interesting and wonderful about religion… even though I also happen to think that Christians are wrong! (Both laugh).

Of course, I know they think I'm wrong too.

Exqusite Things: But there's no reason that can't all still feed into your stories...

Anders Nilsen: Yeah, even though I disagree with Christianity, I'm still fascinated by the fact that they've invented these enduring traditions and amazing stories. As a storyteller, I almost feel that there's little point in trying to come up with new stories. Just messing around with existing stories is actually more interesting in a way.

Exquisite Things: Speaking of myths, I also noticed there's a strong allusion to the Orpheus myth in ‘Big Questions’. The search that Algernon undertakes, whereby he's determined to retrieve his partner from the underworld. This seemed like a very intense sequence to me, I know you experienced the loss of your fiance to cancer some years ago. I read that you’d drawn the sequence before she was diagnosed. Was that a very strange experience? To have your own work of fiction foreshadowing events in your life?

Anders Nilsen: Right, that sequence was written before she ever got sick, but I didn't get to the point of actually drawing it until some time after she died. So, there was this very weird moment where my life was following the work, as opposed to my life informing my work.


Exquisite Things: What did you make of that?

Anders Nilsen: By nature, I'm not the kind of person who makes much of it. It's part of who I am – in the work that I do I deal with serious subject matter. Dealing with death, love and loss seems to come naturally to me. Obviously, these things happen in life all the time, so at some point it was bound to come around.

Exquisite Things: It's definitely an odd experience, did you find that you ended up pouring those experiences back into the sequence when you came to finish it? Did that add to the intensity of things?

Anders Nilsen: Honestly, I don't know. Of course, it's inevitable that your life experiences are reflected in your work. But with ‘Big Questions’, the story was already in place, it already existed independent of anything else. It really is just me trying to record the story as accurately and as faithfully as possible. All the things that happened in my life haven't really affected the story that much. Except maybe the flaws... which I blame myself for! (Both laugh)

Exquisite Things: Speaking of foreshadowing, one thing that interested me greatly was 'the snake' character in the book, primarily because the symbology attached to snakes is so historically rich. Many ancient cultures interpreted the snake’s unblinking, lidless eyes as a sign of great intelligence, and they were deemed to live by reason and not instinct. I think the most prominent signifier for me was the Snake as guardian of the Underworld or as a messenger between the upper and lower worlds. Your snake, like those in myth acts on reason and goes against the instincts you’d expect. Did these historical interpretations of the snake feed into the character and the purpose the snake serves?

Anders Nilsen: I remember reading that for many ancient cultures, the snake was seen as very wise because they were so close to the earth. I don't think I knew about them being seen as guardians of the underworld. But the pilot kills the snake...

Exquisite Things: and in turn meets his own demise fairly soon thereafter...

Anders Nilsen: Yeah... I'm not sure when exactly I devised that perfect little ending for both characters, but it was the ending that was necessary. I liked the circularity of it. Speaking of foreshadowing, the snake does talk about his own death before it happens; in a conversation with the owl. He knows his death is inevitable, but he also knows he's not just going to fade away. He has a purpose.

Exquisite Things: Now, I may be reading into things here, but I couldn't help but think of Ouroboros, the symbol of the snake eating it's own tale. ‘Big Questions’ itself also come full circle as it concludes; and after much upheaval, death and loss in the human and avian world, we revert back to two birds discussing how great doughnut crumbs are. Bad things happen, the birds try and make sense of them, but life ultimately goes on...

Anders Nilsen: Right... the 'bad things' are life. I think of the book as having two endings, or two 'bird conversations' that wrap it up. There's the one you referred to, which is literally the last page, but there's also a conversation between Betty and Charlotte. Betty has moved on and the implication is that Betty is building a nest with Curtis. Basically, she hasn't completely reconciled all the horrible things that have happened or the guilt she felt, but life goes on. She's not really telling Charlotte 'you're wrong', but she just doesn't have time to deal with it any more. She's just getting on with things.

The story did evolve over time, and within a couple of years of starting it, I had the main plot points all figured out. But the idea of having that last conversation about the doughnut crumbs came to me very late on in the process. I decided I wanted to end the book in the same simple gag strip kind of style that I'd started it in.

Exquisite Things: Yeah, looking back at the really early strips that are reprinted in the back of ‘Big Questions’, I see a real affinity for gag strips. A lot of ‘Big Questions’ is quite visceral and serious but it's always balanced with the ridiculous. I loved that very early 'fuck you' bird strip in the appendix. Do you think it's important to maintain a sense of humour, to represent both dark and light?

Anders Nilsen: Oh yes, that's super important to me. There are a couple of ways I think about it, one is just to have an emotional range. The art that resonates with me most often is art that has a wide emotional range.

I mean, for example, I'm not even a huge Bob Dylan fan, but on some of his early records, and some of the bootleg connections, he'll do 'Bare Mountain Pick-nick', and that'll be immediately followed by the most heartbreaking song about a woman whose father is killed and she's forced to sleep with the Sheriff. That contrast multiplies the impact, I think. In my work, I really want both of those things to be able to coexist. I'm trying to make a serious comment on life, but I'm also really really interested in entertaining people. I think that's part of where my interest in the humour comes in.

Exquisite Things: I think even your most harrowing material has a humorous side. ‘The End’ for instance, I found a really hard emotional read. It documents the fall out of you dealing with the death of your fiancé. It's pretty serious stuff, and yet, there's something darkly funny about it.

Anders Nilsen: Yes, it's supposed to be funny. The strip 'I can do whatever I want all the time'. It's a totally absurd situation. When you're going through something like that, there's an element of you being detached and of you observing yourself going through it. You're doing the dishes and you break into tears. Part of you is upset, but part of you is also watching yourself and thinking 'huh. this is weird, I was doing the dishes, and now I've collapsed and I'm on the floor crying'.

Exquisite Things: ‘The End’ was a companion piece to ‘Don't go where I can't follow’, and I have to admit it's the only book I haven't read. For some reason I didn’t pick it up when it came out and now I can’t get hold of a copy. I read you chose not to opt for a second printing. Can I ask why? Was it too close to the bone?

Anders Nilsen: There's a couple of reasons for that, but let me first say that the book is actually going to get reprinted next year. When I first started the book, it wasn't intended for public consumption. It was done as a memorial to Cheryl, then it took on this character and I wanted to do it in colour, and I needed a certain number of copies. I couldn't do it myself, it was just too expensive. It was intended for family and friends, but was published by Drawm & Qiarterly because that's the only way I could afford to get it out there. I was never 100% settled about that, and I'm still not, perhaps I never will be... The book seemed to really resonate with people though, and I got more response for that book than I'd ever had for anything else.

So, at that time, I was very unsure about the reprint. I had been working on the book again with the intention of reprinting. At about that time an article was published about it, and I was beginning to see somebody new and it just felt like there was this thing in my life, that I was beginning to move away from was on my heels. Having the book out there seemed to be preventing me from moving on with my life, or at least, it made it complicated.

Now, I have moved on. At this point I don't think the book is going to define me. I think I can frame it for the readers in a way that won't colour how they read rest of my work. I have a new 600 page book out now… I don't think it will overshadow ‘Big Questions’.

Exquisite Things: Turning to some of your other work now, your two 'Monologues' books' are really very different. They're more loose, more 'stream of consciousness' in their approach. Even the corrections and mistakes are left in. There seems to be a conscious effort to maintain a sense of immediacy as opposed to the very detailed style of ‘Big Questions’ and Dogs and Water. How do those two sides of your creative approach differ?

Anders Nilsen: I think of them as very different, but the truth is they do actually feed into each other. I began the ‘Monologues’ stuff after I was deep into ‘Big Questions’ and ‘Dogs and Water’. So I was doing a lot of very deliberately paced, carefully drawn work. The thing is, ‘Big Questions’ itself actually started as these really rough drawings of little birds having weird conversations. I found that really compelling and it lead me into interesting territory. So I went back to working in that way, and that became ‘Monologues’, I wanted to see what would happen if I kept it rough and immediate. What has happened, is that like ‘Big Questions’ it has coalesced into a bigger story and has developed its own structure all by itself. I'm trying to keep that off-the-cuff feel and looseness.

Exquisite Things: That's interesting, because I think like many cartoonists, you come from a 'fine arts' background and then subsequently found your calling in comics. Was it sense of fun that made you decide comics were for you?

Anders Nilsen: Totally, that's what was so refreshing about finding comics again. It's fun, it's entertaining, it's easy... Well, it can be easy... It can be horribly hard also. All art has to have a relationship with an audience, and that was one of things that really struck me about comics. I could make a little mini comic and give it to a bunch of friends and it was instantaneous, you make your own audience.

Comics are a form that's very much about your audience. To me, comics are about communication. Paintings are about communication too, but they're these static objects that get hung on the wall and get looked at. Where as with a book, it's something you can get sucked into. I've done a lot of installation work, and I feel books are a little like installation work in that way, it's something you can become enveloped in.

Exquisite Things: Definitely... For me, the great thing about comics has always been the focus on how they convey information, and how they differ to other mediums in that way. I often find myself coming back to Eisner's musing on how comics hang together in terms of form, rhythm and pacing. I mean, a reader’s perception of time and the flow of events can be changed by simply changing how you arrange panels on a page. To me, that's really potent stuff.

Anders Nilsen: Maybe that's part of it... the rhythm, how you panel things out and arrange things. Comics are created to be read, they're for the viewer. Over the history of painting, there has been this idea that's suffused painting; that it's almost pure and maybe the viewer is not necessary. It's pure art, it's just an image. It is what it is whether anybody's standing there or not. I do paintings too, but comics have a more direct, necessary relationship with your audience.

Exquisite Things: So, what's on the cards for the future?

Anders Nilsen: I think I've already started too many projects! I will start a new proper graphic novel, but probably not for a year or two. Before that I'm going to do a book of my sketchbook strips. I have a show of drawing and painting coming up next summer. There's a third and final ‘Monologues’ book that I plan to do. That's not even everything, but that covers it for now.

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Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Big Questions (paperback)




HARK! and BIG QUESTIONS among Statesman's favs for 2011

Updated January 10, 2012


Joe Gross

3. "Hark! A Vagrant," by Kate Beaton (Drawn and Quarterly): Beaton's terrifically oddball history/literature webcomic makes the jump to print. Her cartooning is deceptively primitive, but her comic timing (in both senses of the word) is all its own — once you catch it, it's addictive.

8. "Big Questions" by Anders Nilsen (Fantagraphics): A decade in the making, this existentialist novel follows birds and snakes in the middle of nowhere as they encounter a newcomer and must decide what to do about him. Mythic and bizarre.



 
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Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Kate Beaton

           Featured products

Big Questions (paperback)
Hark! A Vagrant




  WBur Boston calls BIG QUESTIONS "damnably impressive", "compulsively readable"

Updated January 9, 2012


November 23, 2011
Glen Weldon

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen, published by Drawn and Quarterly

At first, Nilsen's austere absurdist fables about birds and snakes and humans who encounter one another in a vast Limbo-like expanse might seem off-putting. In a way, with its cool, affectless tone, it's the anti-Pogo, as far away from Kelly's cartoony warmth as can be. But as a feat of visual storytelling, it's damnably impressive (Nilsen uses white space to isolate his characters in a way that'll chill your bones), and Big Questions manages to carve out a patch of psychic real estate that's at once inscrutable and compulsively readable.
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Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

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Big Questions (paperback)




BIG QUESTIONS on NY Times 100 Notable Books of 2011

Updated January 9, 2012


November 21, 2011

BIG QUESTIONS. Or, Asomatognosia: Whose Hand Is It Anyway? Written and illustrated by Anders Brekhus Nilsen. (Drawn & Quarterly, cloth, $69.95; paper, $44.95.) In this capacious, metaphysically inclined graphic novel, a flock of finches act out Nilsen’s unsettling comic vision about the food chain, fate and death.
 
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Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Big Questions (paperback)




  Anders Nilsen's highlights of 2011 on Graphic Eye

Updated January 9, 2012



This year, Anders Nilsen released his enormous, career-spanning collection of Big Questions. He followed it with a tour that took him across North America and Europe. In September, he braved our Proust Questionnaire, so we invited him back to share his highlights of 2011.


Here are nine things he came across in his travels that he "really dug:"
Viande de Chevet, various artists, (Stephane Blanquet, Editor)(UDA)
Going Back, Cathy G. Johnson (Self Published)
Quodlibet, Katja Spitzer (NoBrow)
Pure Pajamas, by Marc Bell (D&Q)
That Adele song I kept hearing everywhere I went
Islands by Brendan Munroe (self-published)
Rise and Fall by Micah Lidberg (NoBrow)
Dylan Reider's video part for Gravis shoes.
Mariah Robertson photo show at the Baltic Museum in Newcastle, UK
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Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Marc Bell

           Featured products

Big Questions (paperback)
Pure Pajamas




PAYING FOR IT, BIG QUESTIONS, GNBCC among best of 2011 according to Straight

Updated January 3, 2012


December 15, 2011
John Lucas

Paying For It (By Chester Brown. Drawn & Quarterly)
Even if you don’t agree with Chester Brown’s sometimes inflammatory rhetoric about the futility of romantic relationships and the practicality of viewing sex as a commodity, you have to admire his audacity for exposing one particular component of his personal life—his visits to prostitutes—in such a blunt and honest way.

Big Questions (By Anders Nilsen. Drawn & Quarterly)
When a military pilot crash-lands his airplane in a meadow, it has profound consequences for the local bird population. Some of the finches develop a vague theology around the pilot and the strange objects that he has brought into their world, forming a sort of avian cargo cult. The finches are indistinguishable from one another, but each has a sharply delineated personality. In this beautifully drawn parable, Anders Nilsen uses subtle gestures and glances to convey worlds of meaning.

The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists (By Seth. Drawn & Quarterly)
A great Canadian cartoonist in his own right, Seth imagines a time when those who toiled with pen and ink were central figures in this country’s public life. In this plotless but charming volume, he waxes nostalgic for a few of them, some real (such as Nipper creator Doug Wright) and some not (like Bartley Munn, who drew the Inuit astronaut Kao-Kuk).
 
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth
Anders Nilsen

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Big Questions (paperback)
Paying For It
The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists




  Anders Nilsen named one of USA Today's Pop Candy 100 People of the Year

Updated January 3, 2012


December 19, 2011
Whitney Matheson

83. Anders Nilsen. The artist released a have-to-have-it hardcover this year, Big Questions.
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Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Big Questions (paperback)




Time Out New York lists BIG QUESTIONS and PAYING FOR IT among the best of 2011

Updated January 3, 2012


December 14, 2011
Matthew Love and Drew Toal

4 Big Questions by Anders Nilsen (Drawn and Quarterly)
The accumulation of writer and illustrator Nilsen’s comics adds up to one airy, heady modern fable, complete with cynical sparrows, mistaken gods and humans clueless to the complexities of the world unfolding before them. Its elegant lines make pondering the natural order of things feel like a necessity. Also, it’s quite funny.

3 Paying for It by Chester Brown (Drawn and Quarterly)
Brown’s unconventional graphic memoir recounts his sex life from the moment he stopped participating in normal relationships and started consorting with prostitutes. As the author debates the nature of love with his friends and coworkers, the reader is forced to admit that the whoremongering cartoonist makes some solid points.
 
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Anders Nilsen

           Featured products

Big Questions (paperback)
Paying For It




  D&Q, BIG QUESTIONS, HARK!, DAYBREAK, praised by Montreal Gazette for 2011

Updated January 2, 2012


December 29, 2011
Ian McGillis

Graphic literature went from strength to strength in 2011, edging ever closer to the day when it will be spoken of as literature, period. Any form that can embrace subjects and styles ranging from academic studies to visual novels to social history to uproarious parody has a vitality that speaks for itself, and the books below represent the state of the art. The preponderance of titles from Drawn & Quarterly, it should be emphasized, is not hometown boosterism; the Montreal publisher is a world leader in the field, and this year might have been its best.

Big Questions, by Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly, 658 pages, $44.95) is a haunting and beautifully designed metaphysical fable set in a blasted (possibly post-nuclear) landscape, starring a flock of philosophically inclined birds who mistake an unexploded bomb for an egg. Nilsen’s uncluttered visual style, relaxed pacing and terse dialogue creates its own dreamtime logic; he gives himself nearly 700 pages to let the narrative unfold, but still leaves readers to figure out the ultimate meaning for themselves. There’s laughter in the face of the void here, but as the title hints, there are also hard questions with no easy answers. Collectors and/or those with some extra money to spend can go for the limited-edition signed and numbered hardcover, a thing of beauty at a mere $69.95.

Hark! A Vagrant, by Kate Beaton (Drawn & Quarterly, 160 pages, $19.95), collects the work of the Nova Scotian artist who in the past few years has built up a sizable following with her webcomic of the same name. Beaton turns the traditional three-panel strip form on its head with her parodic takes on Canadian and world history, literary classics and contemporary cultural foibles. With her squiggly line-drawing style and bursts of anarchic humour, she can remind you of the class wisecracker, but what gives the best of her parodies real heft is that they come from a place of affection. Her compact demolition of Wuthering Heights works on at least three levels: it’s gut-clenchingly funny, it takes a sacred cow down a peg or two, and it makes you want to read the original again. Teachers, take note: Kate Beaton could be your perfect aid.

The theme of the undead in literature goes back at least as far as Lazarus, but there’s no denying we’re now living through a period of uncommon obsession with all things zombie. Daybreak, by Brian Ralph (Drawn & Quarterly, 160 pages, $21.95) slots right into the zeitgeist with its tale of a teenage boy fending for himself in a post-apocalyptic world, his biggest nemesis being the zombies who come out after dark. For a roughly analogous visual and thematic reference point, think Jamie Hewlett of Gorillaz fame, but Ralph has a storytelling style all his own.

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Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Brian Ralph
Kate Beaton

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Big Questions (paperback)
Daybreak
Hark! A Vagrant




BIG QUESTIONS, HARK! A VAGRANT on Oklahoman Best Graphic Novels of 2011

Updated January 2, 2012


December 30, 2011
Matthew Price

3. “Hark! A Vagrant”
Kate Beaton takes a humorous trip through history and literature with witty, absurd humor featuring characters from Napoleon to Nancy Drew in this collection of comic strips.

5. “Big Questions”
Anders Nilsen's existentialist graphic novel follows a flock of birds dealing with a newcomer. Massive, bizarre and thought-provoking.

 
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Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Kate Beaton

           Featured products

Big Questions (paperback)
Hark! A Vagrant




  Paste names BIG QUESTIONS ("rich and strange"), HARK! among best new comics of 2011

Updated January 2, 2012


December 4, 2011
Garrett Martin, Hillary Brown and Sean Edgar

4. Big Questions
by Anders Nilsen
Drawn & Quarterly

Don’t get me wrong. I love comics. But it’s rare that they rise to the level of real literature, even when they’re very good. Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions, on the other hand, should knock snobs like me on our posteriors. Harold Bloom writes that potentially canonical writing has “a strangeness that we either never altogether assimilate, or that becomes such a given that we are blinded to its idiosyncracies,” and Nilsen’s brick of a book starts out the first and ends up the second. The reader is both mystified by its story (an unexploded bomb and a plane crash into a rural area, where they are investigated by birds) and, almost against his or her will, captivated by it. Nilsen’s spare but beautiful drawings and that abiding strangeness create a sense of awe that is rarely produced by cultural efforts. Much of the book is not easily explicable, and rather than being frustrating, its willful obscurity instead suggests you need to submit to the artist’s vision, not fight the current. Nilsen is not going to lay out clear answers, as the title implies, but the questions, big as they are, don’t come with any sense of pomposity, and there is much in the way of both humor and tragedy contained within. Not since Bottomless Bellybutton have I read something so rich and strange. (HB)

2. Hark! A Vagrant
by Kate Beaton
Drawn & Quarterly

It’s not that Kate Beaton dances on the thin line between stupid and clever. Instead, she plays both sides of the net between them, often simultaneously. Her mostly three-panel strips (and she has an instinctive sense of the rhythm of that form) address classic literature, Canadian history and all manner of cultural highbrow whatnot, but they never make you feel as though you’re being forced to eat brussels sprouts. There is no “I should like this” as you flip pages or polite smirking as with many a New Yorker cartoon. Rather, Beaton zeroes in on the ridiculousness of all her subject matter and deftly gives Bram Stoker, the Bronte sisters, Shakespeare and Simon Bolivar a Wet Willie. Her drawings aren’t neat—the pen strokes scritch and scratch all over the place—but the faces and postures of her characters are fiercely expressive and hilarious. She also has an excellent grasp of what’s funny, using profanity, absurdism, sexism, racism, acknowledgment of sexism and racism, and pop culture to provoke laughs. You will probably laugh hard enough at this book to annoy anyone else in the room. I know I did. (HB)
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Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Kate Beaton

           Featured products

Big Questions (paperback)
Hark! A Vagrant




BIG QUESTIONS # 24 on CBR's Top 100 list

Updated January 2, 2012


December 29, 2011

24. Big Questions
Written & Illustrated by Anders Nilsen
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

"How many years did Nilsen work on his little bird saga? A million? No matter, the end result is well worth the time spent. 'Big Questions' is not necessary Nilsen's finest work to date (that would be 'The End') but it's an amazing achievement nevertheless. An animal fable that slowly builds and unwinds as it dares to ask uncomfortable questions about our own place in the universe. It's a haunting, poetic work that calls to mind authors like Samuel Beckett and Kurt Vonnegut and a thrilling achievement in its own right."

-- Robot 6 Writer Chris Mautner
 
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Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Big Questions (paperback)




  Montreal Gazette praises "genius" of BIG QUESTIONS and PAYING FOR IT

Updated January 2, 2012


December 31, 2011
Ian McGillis

In a bumper year for graphic lit the two books that stand out most for me are Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions and Chester Brown’s Paying For It. The former shows how well the graphic form can accommodate large-scale visions of personal genius (yes, I’m prepared to call Big Questions a work of genius); as for the latter, it would feel a bit odd to say that I “enjoyed” Brown’s raw and frank account of his experience with prostitutes, but it sure has stayed with me, and Brown is to be heartily applauded for his sheer contrariness in following up his bestselling Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography with a book whose appeal overlaps with its predecessor’s in no obvious way at all.
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Anders Nilsen

           Featured products

Big Questions (paperback)
Paying For It




NPR lists ONWARD TOWARDS OUR NOBLE DEATHS, HARK!, BIG QUESTIONS among best of 2011!

Updated December 29, 2011


December 22, 2011
Glen Weldon

Onward Toward Our Noble Deaths

A masterful, searing and unforgettable semi-autobiographical manga that presents the last days of World War II from the point of view of Japanese infantrymen.


Big Questions

A singular, and singularly effective, art comic. Highly recommended. By, among others, me.


Hark! A Vagrant!

I could go on and on about how great, how funny, how smart this book is. Oh, wait, I already did.
 
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Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Shigeru Mizuki
Kate Beaton

           Featured products

Big Questions (paperback)
Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths
Hark! A Vagrant




  The SNIPE lists Kate Beaton, BIG QUESTIONS, PAYING FOR IT, among best of 2011

Updated December 29, 2011


December 28, 2011

- Best Collected Edition or Reprint: Kate Beaton‘s Hark! A Vagrant. Do comics get funnier than this? Do comics with Louis Riel and Nancy Drew get funnier than this? Definitely not!

- Comics Creator of 2011: Chester Brown has been producing amazing work for years, and I think that Paying For It continues that trend with really fascinating and personal autobiography. This is a return of sorts to his works like The Playboy.

-Comic of 2011 – Big Questions by Anders Nilsen. Over ten years in the making, Nilsen’s magnum opus is beautifully drawn and is a surreal, captivating, and subtle exploration of humanity through the eyes of animals (mostly birds). Makes the case for “comics as serious literature” as few comics have.

- Creator of the Year – Kate Beaton. Beaton bridges the world of web and print comics with unprecedented success. Her Hark! A Vagrant book hit the top of the New York Times graphic novel bestseller list this year – who knew gags about Canadian history and English literature would be such a hit? Beaton knew! Her keen understanding of and relationship with her online fan base made the print version of her work a sure-fire winner.
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Anders Nilsen
Kate Beaton

           Featured products

Big Questions (paperback)
Paying For It
Hark! A Vagrant




NATIONAL POST names PAYING FOR IT, HARK!, BIG QUESTIONS Best of 2011!

Updated December 29, 2011


December 28, 2011
David Berry

5. Big Questions
By Anders Nilsen
(Drawn & Quarterly)
Anders Nilsen puts his big questions in the mouths of some very small characters: mostly, a gaggle of surprisingly philosophical, or at least contemplative, birds. Dark without being dour, funny without being glib, and willing to parry and thrust with its titular questions without ever going in for the kill, Nilsen’s work is something like an engrossing conversation with a good friend, never properly sating, leaving you eager to come back and find out where it will go next.

4. Hark! A Vagrant
By Kate Beaton
(Drawn & Quarterly)
Kate Beaton’s webcomics, anthologized here, are more or less the perfect marriage of cynicism and silliness: if there’s a running theme to her humour through the historical gags, literary piss-takes and sweet absurdity, it’s that deep down we’re all fairly petty and small-minded, and that’s maybe our funniest trait. Her wit is a kind of needle to pop the pretensions we ascribe to the world around us, though if you only appreciated her for the way she can draw greedy cheeks and wild, jealous eyes, that would probably be just fine, too.

1. Paying For It: A Comic Strip Memoir About Being a John
By Chester Brown
(Drawn & Quarterly)
Paying For It would be notable if only for the bare, matter-of-fact honesty Chester Brown brings to a subject we tend to prefer to ignore, or at least couch in all kinds of distancing irony, hyperbole and obfuscation (i.e. sex). At times a philosophical treatise on romantic love, at times a dryly funny look at Brown’s own neuroses and personal tics, Paying For It is as much about the subculture it’s exploring as it is about the things we do to be able to make it through the world. The starkest proof there yet is that Brown is a very singular kind of person, much less artist, it’s also the rare book that isn’t just going to make you question your opinions, but earn the conclusions you come to.
 
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Anders Nilsen
Kate Beaton

           Featured products

Big Questions (paperback)
Paying For It
Hark! A Vagrant




  BIG QUESTIONS, DAYBREAK, OPTIC NERVE #12 highlighted in AV Club's Best Comics of 2011!

Updated December 29, 2011


December 29, 2011
Noel Murray

Top Five Collected Graphic Novels

2. Anders Nilsen, Big Questions (D&Q)
In serialized form, Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions was a curious little artifact, featuring page after page of similar-looking birds philosophizing about survival, in between sequences of a grumpy downed pilot and a half-naked, mentally handicapped man wandering through the same sparse landscape. Big Questions reads much differently in book form, where the extended stretches of repetitive, dialogue-light panels feel more deliberate than indulgent. The pleasure Nilsen takes in pure scene-setting is infectious, as he clusters his little animals in and around clearly defined spaces in various configurations. These birds have their own little society, and they are filled with wonder and terror by what they confront as they go about trying to fulfill their purpose. Sometimes they find donut crumbs scattered on the ground, and life is good. Sometimes they find pieces of other birds, blown to smithereens by something beyond avian comprehension.

3. Brian Ralph, Daybreak (D&Q)
Although Daybreak is set in yet another world ravaged by a zombie plague, Brian Ralph takes a slightly different approach to the “ragtag band of humans united against the inevitable” genre, by telling the story strictly from a first-person perspective. The reader is put behind the eyes of one survivor, encountering other survivors in a ravaged wasteland, and not always alert to the mortal dangers lurking just outside the panels. While Daybreak doesn’t do anything that George Romero and countless others haven’t already done satisfactorily, Ralph’s first-person approach is brilliantly cruel, locking us into the point-of-view of someone who says nothing and thinks nothing. We’re left to play judge along with the main character, determining the lines between helpful and unhelpful, hero and villain, living and… something else.

Top Three New Issues

3. Adrian Tomine, Optic Nerve #12 (D&Q)
Adrian Tomine is one of the medium’s masters of the short form, and the new Optic Nerve contains one for the canon in “Amber Sweet,” a beautifully brittle story about a young woman who discovers that she resembles a famous porn star. The other pieces in the book—a funny autobiographical two-pager about the creation of this issue, and a strange, semi-experimental piece called “A Brief History Of The Art Form Known As ‘Hortisculpture,’” about a gardener who thinks of himself as an artist—also explore the line between craft and art, and the difference between a whim and a waste. (Tomine also receives extra credit this year for widely releasing his previously limited-edition Scenes From An Impending Marriage, an amusing and true document of wedding-planning.)


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Featured artists

Adrian Tomine
Anders Nilsen
Brian Ralph

           Featured products

Big Questions (paperback)
Daybreak
Optic Nerve #12




The Tartan interviews Anders Nilsen and Marc Bell

Updated November 3, 2011


Canadian artist Marc Bell sat in the sunshine in Polish Hill, drinking an iced coffee from Lili Coffee Shop and pondering the existence of two of his main characters.

“Maybe in a general sense, I was trying to make a comedy duo,” he said, referring to the “Shrimpy and Paul” strip which populates many of the pages of his new collection, Pure Pajamas. “I mean, Shrimpy’s dynamic — Shrimpy’s very straight and flat, he doesn’t talk a lot. He’s kind of annoying and deadpan, and Paul’s always stressed out. I just present them with problems, and things get kind of convoluted.”

“There’s a lot of comedy duos where the one guy doesn’t talk,” Chicago-based artist Anders Nilsen remarked from his lawn chair beside Marc.

“Really?”

“[Stan] Laurel and [Oliver] Hardy, doesn’t one of them not talk?”

“Well, there’s also [magicians] Penn and Teller,” Bell said after a moment of thought. “But I’m pretty sure Laurel and Hardy both talk.”

Bell and Nilsen make an interesting duo themselves. Both are celebrating new releases with a road trip across the East Coast, giving out readings and book signings along the way. Nilsen recently released Big Questions, his complete graphic novel. Bell’s new collection Pure Pajamas is a collection of his work in newspapers and anthologies. Just after starting out on their tour, they had stopped in Pittsburgh on Sept. 16 to host a reading and book signing at Copacetic Comics. Located in Dobson Street in Polish Hill, the store also houses the Lili Coffee Shop and Mind Cure Records.

Bell grew up in London, Ontario, where he attended a vocational arts high school called Bealart. He then went on to study art at university. He creates comics and mixed media pieces, which have been described as “a mix of commix, high art, typography, and cartoons” by the National Post. His drawings are incredibly detailed, imaginative windows into a world full of fantastic characters and surreal landscapes. Zany text swirls throughout the images, labeling objects as a “cloud cave” or a “gnewest machtoe.”

When asked about his working process, Bell described his reliance on experimentation and impulse. “I don’t plan too much,” he explained. “I start things out trying to make a bit of a mess, then turn it into something more concrete. I start out in sort of a flimsy way and then build on that — for example, there’s a lot of collage in my work, and I use scraps and casual drawings for those, and then I concentrate on turning that into something bigger.”

Another collection of Bell’s, Hot Potatoe, was published in 2009 and is a collection of comics, mixed media, water colors, and a monograph on the author and artist’s own life, written with Matt Soucie. The book details his life, career, and even his death in 2075, which involves George Stroumboulopoulos, a small soapstone sculpture, and a case of breaking and entering. Bell reflected on his future life: “I hole up in this French hotel room, doing this laissez faire European art style, painting cupcakes, and later I go back to Canada.”

In a way, Nilsen’s own book is also a collection. Nilsen has published Big Questions in parts over the past 10 years, and as of this fall, the story is available as a whole for the first time. A haunting modern fairy tale, it has been called Nilsen’s magnum opus. One of the fascinating things about Nilsen’s work is that the plot and characters of Big Questions feel deeply rooted in reality, in spite of the many fantastical elements throughout.

When asked about the story’s 10-year development, Nilsen said that he always saw the story as a whole. “That’s one of the reasons why I like this book being out — it’s really one big story,” he said. “A lot of people thought it was just this slow, meditative little vignette, [like] it just seemed to come out of nowhere. The birds in the story came out of this weird drawing exercise that I did. Writing this story — it’s like, you are inventing it, but it feels like it’s this story that already exists in the world, and you’re trying to see it as best you can and get it down.”

The aforementioned birds are central characters in the story. Many comic artists take pains to draw their characters as individuals, but Nilsens’ birds, though very distinct characters, have no visual markers for readers to differentiate one from another. “They started out as generic birds,” he said. “I was presented with the problem of should I differentiate them, and I thought that was probably a good idea. I played around with the idea of giving them markings, but then I found that I was really interested in the fact that they’re the same. Like they’re this group that is essentially the same being.”

“Big Questions is a lot about how people make meaning,” he continued. “All these little birds are watching human events unfold, and they all have different interpretations of what’s happened, and they’re all wrong. They can’t know that it’s beyond their limits to understand.” When asked about whether he knew the conclusion of the story all along, or ‘discovered’ it as he wrote it, Nilsen thought for a moment before responding, “There’s a quote I heard about the conclusion of a good story: it should feel surprising, but also inevitable. The only advantage you have as a writer is that you have time to think about it and figure it out, but to the reader it should feel obvious from the start.”

Nilsen’s unique drawing style has a strong influence on the tone of the narrative itself. His line marks are detailed and concentrated in some areas, and sparse or completely absent in others. This creates a dream-like quality, as though the characters are passing through a stark, barren plain broken by only a few places of rest. “I think it’s just the way I draw, but I am definitely aware of it informing the content of the story,” Nilsen said. “It’s sort of realistic, but I have this idea of wanting the drawings to be indifferent to the story, and to the reader.”

Nilsen and Bell both spoke about the importance and support of the artist community. “Groups of comic artists and writers, those communities existed before the internet began to play a role,” Bell said. “There was this thing called Factsheet Five — it’s gone now, probably online — it was in the ’90s, and it was this magazine that listed tons of different zines and comics. It didn’t do reviews, it just gave short blurbs, explaining what these works were, and giving addresses.”

Pittsburgh’s own ’zine community gathered two weeks ago at AIR in the Northside for the Pittsburgh Zine Fair. Another upcoming event is PIX, the Pittsburgh Indie Comic Expo, which will be running at the Guardian Storage Facility on Oct. 8 and 9 in the Northside, and will be free to the public. And of course, there is always Copacetic Comics, which houses an incredible range of graphic novels and print pieces. Boichel is extremely knowledgeable about the world and history of comics, and is always willing to inform and help visitors. The store is a valuable resource for Pittsburgh artists and comic writers themselves.

That evening at the store, readings, talks, and comic interpretations of music took place in Lili’s — as Bell explained, “[comic interpretations] started for Vice magazine — they said draw Rebel Yell, draw R.Kelly’s ‘World’s Greatest,’ and then they gave me this Bruce Springsteen song; it had so many lyrics in it I could only do part.”

Afterward, the crowd trouped upstairs to Copacetic Comics for the book signing. The store, though much larger than its previous location in Squirrel Hill, was packed with fans and comic lovers. Tables were piled high with comics and graphic novels, and Copacetic Comics’ owner Bill Boichel made his way throughout the room expertly, handing out flyers for upcoming Pittsburgh comic events and working the register.

Meeting and talking with Bell and Nilsen was an amazing experience. Both have created incredible work, and are very passionate and dedicated to their art. With them, a conversation about comics was like sitting in the middle of a crossfire: References to artists, favorite comics, obscure artworks, and inspiration shot back and forth at a high speed, revealing their knowledge and place within the supportive culture of the ’zine community.

Bell and Nilsen also offered advice to art students. “When you’re in art school, you have big ideas, but you can do a lot more with less — I would actively collect paper, and just use what was immediately around me,” Bell said, referring to his collage work.

“It’s sort of a truism in art that accidents can create the best work,” Nilsen added. “The thing about art school that has the best potential is that you get to experiment and try so many different things. Enjoy what you do, but also do it a lot. And if you have to do it a lot, do what you love. A lot. And don’t smoke crack.”
 

Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Marc Bell

          



  The Tartan interviews Anders Nilsen and Marc Bell

Updated November 3, 2011


Canadian artist Marc Bell sat in the sunshine in Polish Hill, drinking an iced coffee from Lili Coffee Shop and pondering the existence of two of his main characters.

“Maybe in a general sense, I was trying to make a comedy duo,” he said, referring to the “Shrimpy and Paul” strip which populates many of the pages of his new collection, Pure Pajamas. “I mean, Shrimpy’s dynamic — Shrimpy’s very straight and flat, he doesn’t talk a lot. He’s kind of annoying and deadpan, and Paul’s always stressed out. I just present them with problems, and things get kind of convoluted.”

“There’s a lot of comedy duos where the one guy doesn’t talk,” Chicago-based artist Anders Nilsen remarked from his lawn chair beside Marc.

“Really?”

“[Stan] Laurel and [Oliver] Hardy, doesn’t one of them not talk?”

“Well, there’s also [magicians] Penn and Teller,” Bell said after a moment of thought. “But I’m pretty sure Laurel and Hardy both talk.”

Bell and Nilsen make an interesting duo themselves. Both are celebrating new releases with a road trip across the East Coast, giving out readings and book signings along the way. Nilsen recently released Big Questions, his complete graphic novel. Bell’s new collection Pure Pajamas is a collection of his work in newspapers and anthologies. Just after starting out on their tour, they had stopped in Pittsburgh on Sept. 16 to host a reading and book signing at Copacetic Comics. Located in Dobson Street in Polish Hill, the store also houses the Lili Coffee Shop and Mind Cure Records.

Bell grew up in London, Ontario, where he attended a vocational arts high school called Bealart. He then went on to study art at university. He creates comics and mixed media pieces, which have been described as “a mix of commix, high art, typography, and cartoons” by the National Post. His drawings are incredibly detailed, imaginative windows into a world full of fantastic characters and surreal landscapes. Zany text swirls throughout the images, labeling objects as a “cloud cave” or a “gnewest machtoe.”

When asked about his working process, Bell described his reliance on experimentation and impulse. “I don’t plan too much,” he explained. “I start things out trying to make a bit of a mess, then turn it into something more concrete. I start out in sort of a flimsy way and then build on that — for example, there’s a lot of collage in my work, and I use scraps and casual drawings for those, and then I concentrate on turning that into something bigger.”

Another collection of Bell’s, Hot Potatoe, was published in 2009 and is a collection of comics, mixed media, water colors, and a monograph on the author and artist’s own life, written with Matt Soucie. The book details his life, career, and even his death in 2075, which involves George Stroumboulopoulos, a small soapstone sculpture, and a case of breaking and entering. Bell reflected on his future life: “I hole up in this French hotel room, doing this laissez faire European art style, painting cupcakes, and later I go back to Canada.”

In a way, Nilsen’s own book is also a collection. Nilsen has published Big Questions in parts over the past 10 years, and as of this fall, the story is available as a whole for the first time. A haunting modern fairy tale, it has been called Nilsen’s magnum opus. One of the fascinating things about Nilsen’s work is that the plot and characters of Big Questions feel deeply rooted in reality, in spite of the many fantastical elements throughout.

When asked about the story’s 10-year development, Nilsen said that he always saw the story as a whole. “That’s one of the reasons why I like this book being out — it’s really one big story,” he said. “A lot of people thought it was just this slow, meditative little vignette, [like] it just seemed to come out of nowhere. The birds in the story came out of this weird drawing exercise that I did. Writing this story — it’s like, you are inventing it, but it feels like it’s this story that already exists in the world, and you’re trying to see it as best you can and get it down.”

The aforementioned birds are central characters in the story. Many comic artists take pains to draw their characters as individuals, but Nilsens’ birds, though very distinct characters, have no visual markers for readers to differentiate one from another. “They started out as generic birds,” he said. “I was presented with the problem of should I differentiate them, and I thought that was probably a good idea. I played around with the idea of giving them markings, but then I found that I was really interested in the fact that they’re the same. Like they’re this group that is essentially the same being.”

“Big Questions is a lot about how people make meaning,” he continued. “All these little birds are watching human events unfold, and they all have different interpretations of what’s happened, and they’re all wrong. They can’t know that it’s beyond their limits to understand.” When asked about whether he knew the conclusion of the story all along, or ‘discovered’ it as he wrote it, Nilsen thought for a moment before responding, “There’s a quote I heard about the conclusion of a good story: it should feel surprising, but also inevitable. The only advantage you have as a writer is that you have time to think about it and figure it out, but to the reader it should feel obvious from the start.”

Nilsen’s unique drawing style has a strong influence on the tone of the narrative itself. His line marks are detailed and concentrated in some areas, and sparse or completely absent in others. This creates a dream-like quality, as though the characters are passing through a stark, barren plain broken by only a few places of rest. “I think it’s just the way I draw, but I am definitely aware of it informing the content of the story,” Nilsen said. “It’s sort of realistic, but I have this idea of wanting the drawings to be indifferent to the story, and to the reader.”

Nilsen and Bell both spoke about the importance and support of the artist community. “Groups of comic artists and writers, those communities existed before the internet began to play a role,” Bell said. “There was this thing called Factsheet Five — it’s gone now, probably online — it was in the ’90s, and it was this magazine that listed tons of different zines and comics. It didn’t do reviews, it just gave short blurbs, explaining what these works were, and giving addresses.”

Pittsburgh’s own ’zine community gathered two weeks ago at AIR in the Northside for the Pittsburgh Zine Fair. Another upcoming event is PIX, the Pittsburgh Indie Comic Expo, which will be running at the Guardian Storage Facility on Oct. 8 and 9 in the Northside, and will be free to the public. And of course, there is always Copacetic Comics, which houses an incredible range of graphic novels and print pieces. Boichel is extremely knowledgeable about the world and history of comics, and is always willing to inform and help visitors. The store is a valuable resource for Pittsburgh artists and comic writers themselves.

That evening at the store, readings, talks, and comic interpretations of music took place in Lili’s — as Bell explained, “[comic interpretations] started for Vice magazine — they said draw Rebel Yell, draw R.Kelly’s ‘World’s Greatest,’ and then they gave me this Bruce Springsteen song; it had so many lyrics in it I could only do part.”

Afterward, the crowd trouped upstairs to Copacetic Comics for the book signing. The store, though much larger than its previous location in Squirrel Hill, was packed with fans and comic lovers. Tables were piled high with comics and graphic novels, and Copacetic Comics’ owner Bill Boichel made his way throughout the room expertly, handing out flyers for upcoming Pittsburgh comic events and working the register.

Meeting and talking with Bell and Nilsen was an amazing experience. Both have created incredible work, and are very passionate and dedicated to their art. With them, a conversation about comics was like sitting in the middle of a crossfire: References to artists, favorite comics, obscure artworks, and inspiration shot back and forth at a high speed, revealing their knowledge and place within the supportive culture of the ’zine community.

Bell and Nilsen also offered advice to art students. “When you’re in art school, you have big ideas, but you can do a lot more with less — I would actively collect paper, and just use what was immediately around me,” Bell said, referring to his collage work.

“It’s sort of a truism in art that accidents can create the best work,” Nilsen added. “The thing about art school that has the best potential is that you get to experiment and try so many different things. Enjoy what you do, but also do it a lot. And if you have to do it a lot, do what you love. A lot. And don’t smoke crack.”

Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Marc Bell

           Featured products

Big Questions (paperback)
Pure Pajamas




ANDERS NILSEN gives CBR the quote of the day

Updated August 25, 2011


Quote of the day:
It’s my newest book, but it’s also my oldest.”

Big Questions was Anders Nilsen's first comic. That was 1999. Twelve years later, the epic series is finally finished and ready to come out in a massive 600-page collected edition from Drawn & Quarterly. What's it like to have the entire dozen-year breadth of your career as a cartoonist exist as a single story between two covers? CBR's Alex Dueben asked Nilsen about it. I'm lucky enough to own every single issue of the series, including those early minicomics, and it's an absolute beast -- half Achewood-style character-driven funny-animal comic, half nightmarish and shocking exploration of violence and fanaticism, and half document of Nilsen's startling progress as an artist. Okay, that's three halves, but hey, it's a big book. You should read it, and this interview.
 
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Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Big Questions (paperback)




  The Montreal Mirror loves BIG QUESTIONS

Updated August 25, 2011


Here's a strip from the beginning of Anders Nilsen's newest book: Two birds are eating seeds together on a hill. One says to the other:

"Is the world being drawn inexorably along a path of degradation and destruction? Is there hope for the future or are we doomed? The number and scope of the world's afflictions is so overwhelming as to extinguish any glimmer of encouragement before one even begins to act... Or am I taking too dim a view of things? I guess prospects in some areas improve even as they decline and worsen in others, right? One could try to influence such processes, but given the subtle, complex nature of the relationship between cause and effect, it seems a slim chance that one's efforts would ever have quite the consequences one intended..."

The other bird lifts his head from the grass he's pecking at and says, "WOULD YOU PLEASE SHUT UP?!"

Therein lies the essence of Big Questions, a broad, existential exploration delivered in a format fit for the funny pages. Classic contemplation that doesn't take itself too seriously. Thankfully, Nilsen is nowhere near as earnest as Louis, the bird in search of big answers.

Nilsen's opus is the culmination of more than a decade of work. What started as a serial zine grew into a single volume that now weighs in at 592 pages--not so much a graphic novel as a series of vignettes tied together by a loose narrative into one giant postmodern fable. But for all its girth and scope, Big Questions is minimalist in tone, with simple strokes, sparse dialogue and plenty of open space.

The story centres around a charm of finches living on a plain. There is a house, a river, a couple of trees, some underground tunnels and not much else. The birds, though all drawn the same, have names, personalities and relationships to one another. They variously have a falling out with a family of squirrels, get bullied by a murder of crows, kidnapped by a snake, and tormented by the few human characters who crop up in the story.

Things happen. One day a bomb falls from an airplane and rocks life in the grasslands (much like the Coke bottle in The Gods Must Be Crazy). The birds wonder: Is it an egg? A sign from the heav­ens? Not to be trusted?

The airplane pilot, who turns out to be crazy himself, crashes into the house. The boy who lived in the house, several more sandwiches short of a picnic than the pilot, escapes alive and wanders around aimlessly. The pilot pitches a tent, eats doughnuts and curses his fate. The birds watch, worry and wonder why.

Things just happen, and that is both the point and the central query of Big Questions. Why do things happen? Do we control them? Cause and effect? Please shut up?

All of the above, it seems. The real beauty of Big Questions is that it doesn't strive to answer. Through love, loss and tinges of dark humour, the meaning of it all remains as wide open as the land­scape on which the actions unfold. We're left only to watch through the birds' eye view, feeling for them as they love, lose and eat seeds. Even for that over-eager Louis when he gets chomped down by a hungry owl. So much for wisdom.
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Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Big Questions (paperback)




Chicago Tribune gives ANDER NILSEN's BIG QUESTIONS a glowing review

Updated August 25, 2011


The first issue of his first comic book was a hit, so to speak.

Soon after, Nilsen moved to Chicago to do graduate work at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; he was convinced that he should be a conventional artist, a gallery artist. But "Big Questions" nagged at him: "The birds were quick and easy to draw, and I could get ideas out faster than I could in class." So he dropped out in 2000. Over the next 10 years, Nilsen drew 14 more issues. He made "Big Questions" his life's work.

During that decade of "Big Questions" - Quimby's and Chicago Comics became early supporters, and the first issues were printed using grants from the city's Department of Cultural Affairs - Nilsen, who is now 37 and lives in Logan Square, found love and suffered an unexpected loss. He also married and divorced, published several acclaimed books and became a sought-after illustrator and cartoonist. But he was also a cartoonist's cartoonist, more appreciated in the cartooning community than well-known, said Jeffrey Brown, a Chicago cartoonist ("Clumsy") and friend of Nilsen's: "Possibly because, you know, 'Big Questions' wasn't always easy. It could seem to be told on a whim. Not until recently did I even notice deliberate storytelling."

In fact, not until this week, with Montreal publisher Drawn & Quarterly's release of the collected "Big Questions," the 592-page, phone-book-size epic that Nilsen has been steadily working toward, has the scope and thematic cohesiveness been evident - or that Nilsen was quietly crafting a kind of fairy tale.

Read as individual, infrequent issues, "Big Questions" was a handsome, fragmented dream.

Read as a single, contained narrative, it's absorbing and touching.

The birds, which had a simplicity, dry humor and melancholy that "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz would have admired, always remained at center stage. But Nilsen's canvas, and the series' ambiguity and ambition, grew exponentially: Artwork went from crude to practical to intricate. The story, which cycled through issues of guilt and empathy and human nature and animal nature (while stubbornly resisting a tidy summation), turned allegorical. The birds find a bomb. There's a plane crash. An explosion. A grandmother and grandson appear. There are serpents, ravens, skeleton birds. There's revolution, death and an afterlife.

And most of it unfolds across a flat, empty landscape, distinguished only by a solitary tree and a small house.

"The thing is, serializing a story that long and unusual never quite worked," said Chris Oliveros, the publisher of Drawn & Quarterly, which picked up "Big Questions" in 2003, after Nilsen self-published the first few issues. "Authors toil for years to be at the place Anders is with this book - it will force people to see him differently. But to get there in that way? It's like reading Jonathan Franzen line after line, across 10 years."

Or, like stepping gradually back from a Magic Eye picture until, years later, an image is revealed.

Earlier this month, on a weekday morning, Nilsen stood in the middle of his apartment and ran a quick hand over his head, which is smooth and large, with short hair. Atop his reedy frame, it lends the appearance of a man hunched forward. He looked grave and spoke deliberately, his face gaunt and Norwegian, with the worried expression of a Walker Evans Dust Bowl farmer. He reached for a copy of the complete "Big Questions" and flipped pages until he came to a few images in which the black - the comic is black and white - is too black, where black bled into white. "It's the kind of thing that most people would probably pass over, but to me, this looks terrible, and about half the copies came out this way and needed to be reprinted."

A mistake - a barely detectable glitch - that nevertheless somehow feels right.

Because nothing feels quite complete about Nilsen. His apartment, for instance, is a minor shrine to the lonesome and discarded: There's a tree limb from Door County, Wis., missing most of the mushrooms that once clung on its side like a flight of stairs; rocking horses found in the alley behind his house; a model airplane; a Bugs Bunny water pistol missing an ear. The toys, he explained, he started collecting in college. He thinks of them as "orphaned." He pulled a black wooden case from a closet and snapped open the latches; a mess of trinkets spilled out, looking as though they had been found in a field after a natural disaster. A Spider-Man arm, half a dinosaur, the other half, a car melted down along one side, a scorched teddy bear.

Indeed, when Nilsen moved to Chicago, he was a server at Lula Cafe in Logan Square and installed in its dining room a variation on the art he had been making in college before "Big Questions" - fractured, splintered works that intentionally seem to be flying apart. He cut up thousands of magazines and pasted the shards on the ends of metal buttons. Then he filled the walls with the buttons. It filled Lula's dining room; another of his mosaics, 40 feet long, is in the offices of advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather.

"The idea is, step back, it looks like a galaxy," Nilsen said. "But I see it as memory, each button a consciousness, slowly coming undone. I wanted the customers (at Lula) to take the buttons. Then I replaced each with red dots. I liked the idea of art scattering. People take the pieces, and the artwork would still exist, only it would have made its way out into the world.

"Eventually, though, I had to ask people to take the pieces because they didn't want to."

Nilsen was born in New Hampshire and grew up in Minneapolis. He was "that drawing kid" in high school, the student in every class who is forever sketching. He has no roots in Chicago, but after he moved here for graduate school - then helping to start the Chicago cartoonist collective Holy Consumption with Brown, Paul Hornschemeier and John Hankiewicz - "I guess I only stayed in Chicago because I had met this girl."

She was Cheryl Weaver, a fellow art student at SAIC. They were engaged in late 2004. Four months later Weaver was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, lymphatic cancer; eight months after that, she died.

Asked if, in a way, the complete "Big Questions" can be read as a semiautobiographical reflection of his past decade - one segment features a wounded bird dragging itself for miles, only to find the bones of its friend - he took a long time to answer. "Yes," he said. "In a strange, circuitous way. The plot was more obvious to me than other people because I was learning to do this as I was doing this. Clarity is something I think I am better at now. You can see me improve from page to page. So in some ways, it's a coming-of-age story. I don't know how much I want to get into this, but halfway through, Cheryl died, and soon after, I started (drawing) this sequence where one of the birds is looking through caves for his mate. And it was weird, because though I had written the scene years before (her death), it followed what I was feeling."

"Come on, this way," the searching bird says to his lost mate, trying to lead her out of the cave.

"I just had the strangest dream," the mate says. "I was lost but I could see you ... you were looking for me."

"Anders' work feels very, very vulnerable," said Craig Thompson, the acclaimed cartoonist and author of "Blankets." "It's so intimate, but then it's also interesting how spacious and breathable those panels look."

Said Paul Buckley, the creative director of Penguin Press, who hired Nilsen to illustrate the cover of Hans Christian Andersen's "Fairy Tales": "His comics are crisp and magical without becoming hokey. Which is a unique mix, emotionally ornate without pretense, yet so simple you get ... it should look complicated, no?"

That feeling that Nilsen's work is fragile yet leaves ample room for complex thoughts is probably due to its broad, open vistas - these are quiet, generous landscapes for contemplation. "Dogs and Water," his 2004 book, as opaque as "Big Questions," features a boy walking through a barren landscape with a teddy bear strapped to his back. And even the lonely, tender pastiche of "Don't Go Where I Can't Follow" - his 2006 book about his relationship with Weaver, featuring journal entries, snapshots, postcards, an illustrated letter to Weaver about her memorial service - doesn't lead to any obvious conclusions, only heartache.

He has already returned to both. "Dogs" was reissued in 2007, and "Don't Go" will be revisited soon, he said, along with "The End," his second book dealing with Weaver's death. Nilsen doesn't want his career dominated by loss, or defined by what has come before, he added; yet a character in "The End" laments that his past, present and future have scattered to the wind, and "of all of them, I miss my future the most."

"Big Questions," meanwhile, is past, complete.

"Looking back, it was a commentary on how we take ourselves seriously, how we have grand ideas, and in the scheme of things, we're small, we barely register," he said. "I liked birds taking life so seriously - it was a way of highlighting our ridiculousness. I hope people don't think I think the philosophical arguments the birds have are that simple. But in a way, they are. I like boiling it down. Now it's finished. No more little birds for me."
 
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Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Big Questions (paperback)




  Baltimore CityPaper reviews BIG QUESTIONS

Updated August 25, 2011


For some reason, talking animals really lend themselves to the exploration of human issues. This isn't a new concept of course; it wasn't even new when Aesop was first telling his fables. But Anders Nilsen's Big Questions is an excellent addition to a comics storytelling tradition that's as varied as Walt Kelly's Pogo and Chris Onstad's Achewood.

Big Questions, collected here in a limited-edition 600-page volume that could double as a bludgeoning instrument, follows the lives of a group of finches who live around an old woman and her mentally disabled son. The birds are content until one day, a "giant metal bird" drops an "egg" and later crashes. The tragedy that ensues (the "egg" is an unexploded bomb) forces the surviving animals to attempt, for the first time, to make sense of the world around them.

Nilsen's strips are brilliant in that he manages to do so much with the limited palette he allows himself. Most strips maintain a simple, economical style, which in turn allows the moments of impressive detail (a strip titled "Anoesia and the Matrideicidic Theophany," for instance, concludes with a stunning fold-out depiction of a plane crash) to be all the more powerful.

Through his animal cast, Nilsen not only captures the curiosity and mystery of the human experience, but the cruelty and pain that come along with it. The crows are bullies, a solitary owl is a remorseless killing machine, and even the finches themselves are often greedy or manipulative.

The book's impressive emotional complexity can be seen in the relationship between a finch named Algernon and an aging snake. Algernon is wounded and desperate to search for his mate. The snake finds Algernon and takes him back to his lair. Instead of eating the bird, the predator tends to him while aiding in his search for his own answers. Their friendship begins and, eventually, ends with acts of pure, selfless kindness.

Big Questions should be lauded for the depth and breadth of its exploration. With its compelling cast of characters and evocative, often classical imagery, it exemplifies just how much can be accomplished creatively in the medium of comics.
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Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Big Questions (paperback)




Paste give BIG QUESTIONS a 9.7!

Updated August 24, 2011


Big Questions by Anders Nilsen
Drawn + Quarterly, 2011
Rating: 9.7
Don’t get me wrong. I love comics. But it is rare that they rise to the level of real literature, even when they’re very good. Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions, on the other hand, should knock snobs like me on our posteriors. Harold Bloom writes that potentially canonical writing has “a strangeness that we either never altogether assimilate, or that becomes such a given that we are blinded to its idiosyncracies,” and Nilsen’s brick of a book starts out the first and ends up the second. The reader is both mystified by its story (an unexploded bomb and a plane crash into a rural area, where they are investigated by birds) and, almost against his or her will, captivated by it. Coming to this work with little idea of its subject, one is annoyed by its characters: “How can I possibly tell all these birds apart?” “Isn’t this kind of cutesy?” “Is anything going to happen?” But then the answers start to bubble up: you don’t need to/that’s kind of the point; no; and yes. Nilsen’s spare but beautiful drawings and that abiding strangeness create a sense of awe that is rarely produced by cultural efforts. Much of the book is not easily explicable, and rather than being frustrating, its willful obscurity instead suggests you need to submit to the artist’s vision, not fight the current. Nilsen is not going to lay out clear answers, as the title implies, but the questions, big as they are, don’t come with any sense of pomposity, and there is much in the way of both humor and tragedy contained within. Not since Bottomless Bellybutton have I read something so rich and strange. Pony up your $45 (or more, if you want the special edition, which is probably less likely to crack down the spine)—it’s worth it. (HB)
 
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  Publishers Weekly gives BIG QUESTIONS a starred review!!

Updated August 24, 2011


Epic in its scale and circumscribed in focus, Nilsen's incisive Big Questions is a philosophical novel that uses the techniques of fable to investigate faith, society, disillusionment, and catastrophe. A dozen years in the making, Nilsen's 600+-page story depicts the lives, bonds, and quarrels of a group of quizzical birds whose ontology is challenged by the appearance of a bomb, a crashed airplane, and a narcoleptic human pilot. At first these talkative avians resemble Charles Schulz's Linus with their naive philosophizing. But as the situation escalates, the book demonstrates how, in the absence of knowledge, germinal philosophy and early religion can be much the same thing. Competing mythologies, ideologies, and messianic fervor cause rifts within a community that otherwise unites as part of nature's predatory food chain. Nilsen outlines his figures with a thin but commanding line, and builds texture and atmosphere with dense stippling and hatching, creating a lush, verdant landscape. His breathtaking vistas resonate with his characters' struggle to assemble meaning from incomprehensible events--and to rebuild their world from the pieces left over. (Aug.)
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BIG QUESTIONS is "gorgeous, mysterious" and "highbrow" says New York Magazine!

Updated August 18, 2011



 
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  ANDERS NILSEN's BIG QUESTIONS reviewed by the Star Tribune

Updated August 16, 2011


Philosophizing birds struggle with life and death in this metaphysical epic by one of the comic-book world's best storytellers.

Talking animals shouldn't have to think this hard. You'd assume the mere ability to speak would be enough for them. Not the case in Anders Nilsen's epic graphic novel, "Big Questions." For the group of small birds at the center of this fable-like story, existential conversations are as common as dodging predators.

"Big Questions" is the culmination of a decade of work for Nilsen, a gifted visual storyteller who originally published these pages in 15 separate chapters. Now collected into a 600-page tome, the parable it tells unfolds with remarkable ease and power.

On a grassy plain in the middle of nowhere, a military jet crashes into a prairie house. The event throws the community of birds who live nearby into upheaval. They splinter into factions -- some try to aid the pilot, others are dubious. One of them befriends a snake who seems to have all the answers. Another seeks the wisdom of an owl who promptly bites his head off. Comedy and terror go hand in hand here. Nilsen, who grew up in Minneapolis, brings it all to life with mesmerizing black-and-white line art, mixing stark white space with extreme detail.

The birds struggle with loneliness, anxiety and dread. One asks: "Did you ever feel like the order and certainty you'd relied on all your life were dissolving away, leaving you with only exposed lies and half-truths?"

That's a big question for such a small bird.

Tom Horgen is an A&E reporter for the Star Tribune.
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Publishers Weekly interviews ANDERS NILSEN about his BIG QUESTIONS

Updated August 15, 2011


Massive, Eccentric, Ambitious: Anders Nilsen's 'Big Questions'
By James Romberger

This month Drawn and Quarterly will publish Anders Nilsen's massive graphic novel Big Questions, a book fourteen years in the making. Nilsen's previous books have dealt with humans facing the unpredictability of the natural world. In Dogs and Water (2004), a boy makes his way across an expanse of desert to encounter a roaming pack of dogs and the dying victim of a helicopter crash. In the Ignatz award-winning memoir Don't Go Where I Can't Follow (2006), the stresses of travels gone awry are movingly contextualized by the unexpected and fatal cancer of the artist's partner.

Ambitious and eccentric, Big Questions anthropomorphizes Nilsen's themes. The book focuses on the reactions of a flock of philosophic birds to a bomb dropped on their remote plain by a fugitive pilot and to the crash of his plane into the house of a character called the Beatific Idiot. The situation is complicated by a prescient snake and a gang of cutthroat crows. The book is filled with verdant deep-space landscapes-rendered in a lush stipple and hatching inking technique-and with sparely rendered characters that misapply mystical significance to their circumstances. In the ambiguous world of Big Questions, birds can be misguided or courageous, predators can indulge in irony, guilt is set against innocence and the living speak to the dead.

Originally published as a periodical comic, Nilsen was several issues into the narrative of Big Questions before he began to organize the plot and plan the text and drawings. But for all the spontaneity of his working process, Big Questions is a unified reading experience. The black and white art is crisply reproduced and the book's fold-out widescreen spreads, elaborate border art and decorative elements enhance an elegant package. The hardcover edition includes the original color comic book covers and a selection of supplemental strips as appendices. In an email interview with Nilsen, PW Comics World discussed the conception and creation of the book and its characters; the metaphysical elements of its story and his use of violence, color and political allegory.

PW Comics World: You cite that your practice is inspired by Chester Brown's outrageous, improvisational early graphic novel Ed the Happy Clown. It also reminds me of Alexandre Astruc's "Camera-Stylo," the "camera that writes" that inspired the auteur filmmakers of the French New Wave. By this method, a story may or may not begin as a script, but it fully forms or mutates in the process of filming; the camera becomes the tool of writing. Applied to comics, the story forms from drawings that are interconnected with language. In comics, it is the "internal camera that writes," the art is the story as much or more so than words. Similarly, you seem to have started with your discoursing birds and a plane crash, which you then extrapolated into what became the book.

Anders Nilsen: That's probably a pretty good description of how the book got made, actually-at least early on. I was talking to [cartoonist] Brian Ralph recently and he described his early process of writing as basically drawing a bunch of dramatic splash pages and then figuring out how to connect them with a story. And that's basically what I was doing, too, at first. The plane crash, the unexploded bomb, the collapsed grandmother, the giant crater. I definitely started by just working to find connections between images I found compelling. And even as the book continued, a lot of the story is wordless. I feel like telling stories with pictures is very different than using words, our brains register things differently and meanings are more open in a way. I find that way of working compelling, for sure.

PWCW: The figures are drawn simply, but often the backgrounds take on the labor-intensive look of engravings. The stippled dots and little close hatching marks [hatching marks are linear marks that add contour to forms but without crossing] give a richness that reacts well with the spare, thick basic outlines of the characters. The architecture of the individual pages, the interrelation of shapes on the pages and cartoon devices-there is a lot of visual weight to the presentation.

AN: I actually was looking a lot at the graphic design of money when I did BQ #3 (specifically through the work of JSG Boggs, who is amazing) and since then I found a book of images of stock certificates which are very much in the same vein, but even more elaborate. That was the other thing about returning to comics, the discovery of design. As a punk kid I'd always thought of graphic design as vacuous and commercial. Once I started doing comics I realized it was half the fun and made a huge difference. There's something about the super detailed, elaborate ornamentation of things like money that, as you say, gives a sense of heightened value, but it also is a way of carving out meaning. It is part of the way we insist graphically that this is a real thing, a thing you can trust and put faith in. An elaborate frame is sort of a way of insisting that a thing has value and an objective worth. To me, Big Questions is all about how people (or birds as the case may be) make meaning, and how it can easily shift. The contrast between the intense ornamental framing on many of the covers and the lack of frames around many or most of the panels inside the book is just one other way I'm playing around with that idea.

PWCW: You ignore or reject a standard comics rule for character recognition in that the birds are visually undifferentiated from each other. Your way of dealing with this is to provide the disc portraits on the flaps and to title chapters by the participant's names; one must ID the individual birds from these cues and from the dialogue.

AN: I did actually play around with the idea of differentiating the birds at a certain point, early on, but it felt like too much. Their form is so simple and small that to clutter it up with markings or, say, differently shaped tails or something seemed a distraction. And ultimately I really am interested in the sameness. I kind of like the idea that they are, in a way, all the same bird, just reacting to different situations and contexts. The sameness of the birds was an accident in a way, but ultimately I decided to embrace it as part of the book's content.

PWCW: The compilation must be a substantially different experience than it was as originally published in periodical comic form, where one had to unravel your puzzle in exceedingly slow-paced issues. I see the same phenomena with many comics originally released as daily strips or as comic issues, they read differently in complete form, often better.

AN: Yeah, it's pretty different as a single book. In my mind, now that it's all together, I think of it as a more unified whole than I used to, when it was a bunch of pamphlet comics. I think that, even aside from a bit of editing and tightening up that I did, it's a more cohesive book when it's between two covers. I think a lot of people, even my fans, sort of thought about it as a series of little vignettes featuring a set of characters and a certain landscape, but that the connections, plot-wise were pretty loose-if there were any at all. Hopefully, read all at once, it's clear that every thread feeds necessarily into the others and makes up a single story.

PWCW: I see that there has been some reformatting of the pages in BQ.

AN: Yeah, I have a hard time restraining myself from making small adjustments in the pacing and rhythm. They're never really done, they just get to a point where there's a deadline and I have to stop. So there was quite a bit of editing in BQ, which involved adding a panel here and there, making room for a pause, clarifying the action, things like that. I think probably 90% or more of the pages had some adjustment or other. I didn't actually draw that many whole pages to insert, maybe five or six, but there's probably 15 or twenty pages worth of extra material if you add up all the new panels and the moving things around.

PWCW: The book is subtitled inside: Big Questions, or Asomatognosia: whose hand is it anyway? Definition: "lack of awareness of the condition of all or part of one's body." Does this refer to your improvisational method?

AN: I think about that word, Asomatognosia, as a kind of metaphor for the religious impulse. I heard about the condition while listening to an interview with the neurologist Oliver Sacks. He described it as a condition where one loses one's sense of ownership over a limb, usually an arm or hand. He said that when women are pressed about who the hand might belong to if it's not theirs, they will often say it's their husband's, and that when men are asked the same thing they will often say it belongs to their mother-in-law. Sacks is great to listen to or read, discussing the mind (that interview is still online at Fresh Air). But our hands are the organs we use to manipulate and control our world-they are as uniquely human an attribute as it gets. That sort of alienation from one's own sense of control, our own agency, to me works as a kind of metaphor for the displacement of responsibility that a belief in the supernatural, or in god can sometimes entail.

PWCW: In BQ, the metaphysical or religious aspects become detached from dream sequences to enter into the greater reality of the main narrative. Do you see transcendent experience or the paranormal as a part of nature, but a part that most of us do not feel, perceive or understand?

AN: Setting aside the fact that the animals talk, I was interested in trying, generally, to have the world of the story be generally realistic and nonmagical. I wanted to try to make it feel magical to the reader, and yet not actually break the rules of the world. Of course I push it a bit, and end up bending the rules pretty seriously in a few cases, but for the most part the things that are sort of magical-realist, like Betty talking to the dead, or the cave of the birds are basically things that can be seen as metaphors for a single character's thinking or internal transformation. Because that's how life is, I think. It obeys the rules of physics, which can be mundane, but the rules of physics are such that life can at times feel magical and transcendent.

PWCW:The predators have moments that go against their nature by not killing when they have the chance. Perhaps the Snake is just so old he's had it, but also he is part of the mysticism of the book. He has some sense of his destiny and intuits that the bird Algernon will lead him to his fate.

AN: The Snake also likes the bird's songs. Somebody once said that all art is about death, when you come down to it. So perhaps the Snake is nearing death and so he's developed a new appreciation for music. But, yeah, I also do think of him as a sort of mystic character. Snakes have a certain ancient weight of literary content. There's the Garden of Eden, of course, but also in Greek mythology, snakes are often credited with great wisdom because of their closeness to the earth. I guess I'm trying to embody the latter, while playing on the associations of the former for dramatic effect.

PWCW: Though the book is an exemplary literary comic, there is a surprising amount of comic book-style action fight scenes in there. The violence is well handled, characters are traumatized and suffer and die from their wounds.

AN: I'm definitely interested in the cartooniness of the birds and the cartoon shorthand of things like motion lines and popping eyes in combination with the slow unfolding of things like the Pilot's dream sequences or the crawling odyssey of Clay toward the bomb crater. I think something happens when you mash those things together. They inform and augment one another. I also was always conscious of trying to compliment the slowness that I seem to be attracted to, with a little violence and drama. My intention is that the moments of violence or cataclysm are heightened by being set within the context of this slow stillness, and that the slowness, is sort of amplified by that contrast.

I definitely feel like the violence has to seem necessary-to serve and rise out of the story, and to have consequences, and move the story forward. It's not just flash and excitement. Those kinds of fight scenes, too, are a little difficult to depict, I think. Everyone can think of a movie where the fight scene didn't really make sense, or where you couldn't really tell what was happening. And in a way I think that's a sort of shorthand that can work in comics and movies. You can just show a bunch of violent chaos and then the smoke clears and what's important is who's on top, or who's got a gun on who. The details of how it happened may not be the point. But for me, I'm actually sort of interested in that, and I wanted to try to be clear about it. Partly because the way the various characters act in the situation can be a clue to who they are: Betty's relentless determination for example, and Clay's hesitance.

PWCW: Do you think birds that look to an idiot and to war machines for significance while a guilty pilot decimates their ranks can be read as a surrealist critique of America's conduct since the turn of the century?

AN: Sure, I'd go with that. The Pilot as a surrogate for American foreign policy of the last 20 years. The main guiding idea, though, really, was of the Idiot and the Pilot as representations of two different approaches people seem to have toward the idea of god or the nature of the world. The Pilot is, for me, in part, a personification of the sort of angry, jealous god of the old testament. Weirdly inscrutable and frequently violent. The Idiot is a little harder to pin down, but I think of him as maybe a little more like how the universe really is. He's basically disinterested in human (or bird) affairs. He has some small affection for humanity, but basically is also inscrutable, his actions are pretty arbitrary and governed by rules that are completely beyond us. Or maybe, really, just make no sense at all. And yet it's sort of fun to watch him do his thing.

PWCW: I really like your approach to color. I wonder if you have considered doing an entire book in painted color?

AN: God help me. I would like to do another longer story in color at some point, but I've yet to figure out a way to make it not take the rest of my life. Making comics is already slow enough as it is.

James Romberger is a cartoonist and is the co-creator (along with David Wojnarowicz and Marguerite Van Cook) of the 1996 Seven Miles A Second; Aaron and Ahmed (with writer Jay Cantor; 2011); and The Bronx Kill (with writer Peter Milligan; 2010) all published by DC/Vertigo.
 
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  Giant Robot interviews ANDERS NILSEN at SDCC

Updated August 11, 2011


The work of Anders Nilsen can be cryptic, daunting. But his comics are as raw and primal as they are poetic, and their philosophical scope and artistic magnitude have never been clearer than in the Big Questions anthology. I have to admit that I was afraid to pick up the brick of a collection. Then I attended the Epic Literary Adventures panel at the San Diego Comic-Con, where the Chicago artist admitted to Drawn and Quarterly’s creative director Tom Devlin that even he had to draw a map so that the sprawling volumes wouldn’t contradict each other. It turns out he’s a regular guy who just happened to write and draw an ambitious, inspiring, and thought-provoking 600-page comic book about birds, snakes, and a plane crash.

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen

MW: You’re in the midst of a reading tour to promote the Big Questions anthology. How’s that going? How do you structure your events?

AN: I just finished the first leg, going up the West Coast. I leave again in a week for Toronto and Minneapolis. It’s been great so far. People are coming out and I’m having great conversations. Most of the stops were basically just me signing books for a while, doing a slide show, talking about the book, and doing some readings from it, a bit of Q&A, signing a few more books… and then going out for a beer.



MW: The book is massive. Did you prefer long, epic comic book stories as a kid? The Kree-Skrull War? The introduction of the Inhumans?

AN: Yeah, totally. The X-Men battling the Brood, Elfquest, The Dark Knight–all that stuff.

MW: Tintin is often cited as an influence on your development as a comic-book creator, but do you like Moebius as well? I got to see a display of his work in Paris last year, and some of it reminded me of your work.

AN: Absolutely. He’s amazing and his drawing is a huge influence. I’ve never been super into his stories, but all those thin lines and stippling blow me away.

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen

MW: Not all illustrators can write and not all writers can draw–especially well–but you do all of the above. Is there a balance to maintain? Or perhaps they are one and the same.

AN: I don’t know. It’s funny, I don’t think of them as separate. People will sometimes tell me they like my writing, and I never quite know what they mean. The dialogue? The story? For me, the story grows out of the visuals. I usually start with an image that is somehow compelling and feels like it could lead somewhere. And if it does, I get a story. It’s sort of mysterious, really.
MW: Self-editing is quite difficult, too. Can you tell me about that process? Did you call out for or even accept suggestions from others?

AN: Just a bit. It’s hard, though, because you don’t want to show someone your work until you have it pretty much just right and then, at that point, with comics, it can be pretty hard to do much substantive editing. But for myself, I am continually making changes, cutting stuff, adding new panels to get the rhythm right, the timing. You can see a lot of changes from the thumbnails to the originals and then more in Photoshop. More still between the comics and the final collection. I can’t help myself. I’m continually trying to refine.
MW: Do you think the experience loses anything when going from installments to a larger piece? Like the difference between 7″ singles and an LP, for instance?

AN: It does change. But it’s a change for the better. It becomes more coherent, and more recognizable as a single story with multiple threads. I didn’t mind that people thought of the issues as disparate, standalone little collections of short pieces, but for me it’s always been a single story with a single arc. I think being collected between two covers helps emphasize that.

Anders Nilsen, Jeff Smith, and Brian Ralph at Comic-Con

MW: At the panel with Jeff Smith and Brian Ralph, you mentioned that you wrote the first four issues of Big Questions in a vacuum, and then got more involved with Kramer’s Ergot contributors and other comic book creators later on. How did that affect your work?

AN: The main thing it did, I guess, is help me to refine the way I think about my work and the different kinds of stories and drawing I want to employ. It pushed me both to play and experiment on one hand, and to refine and focus on the other. It helped me see broader possibilities for what comics–and my own work in particular–could be. I might never have done the Monologues books had I not gone on the Kramer’s 4 book tour.



MW: Sometimes you reference skateboarding in your blog. Do you wear wristbands, etc., to protect your drawing hand?

AN: Um. Yeah. That would probably be a good idea, huh? Gabrielle Bell drew a comic with her left hand a couple of years ago. Might just have to channel her if something bad happens.
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The Stranger calls BIG QUESTIONS "the best and is definitely the most original comic of 2011"

Updated August 5, 2011


At 600 pages, Anders Nilsen's Big Questions is a comic book epic. Unlike the comic book epics you're thinking of--Holocaust memoirs, or men in tights smashing each other silly, depending on what comics you prefer--this one stars a flock of birds who hang around eating seeds and talking about, uh, big questions. ("Well, like, to what extent are we responsible for the fulfillment of our destinies? I mean, if my life is to be meaningful and full, is it up to me to make it that way, or can I just wait for circumstances to come together?") Pretty soon, their world expands. A fighter jet crash lands in the middle of the valley where the birds live. The birds marvel at the crater the plane created, and they try to figure out whether the plane, which hatched a fighter pilot, was a bird or an egg. Soon, they're watching over a young mentally disabled orphan who can't quite take care of himself. Nobody knows what they're doing, but they're trying to do the best they can.
Meanwhile, other birds are dying and journeying to the land of the dead. They encounter snakes and owls and existential dilemmas. You've never read anything quite like Big Questions--imagine if Peanuts suddenly turned into Lord of the Rings and you have a vague idea of the tone--but you'll be thankful you encountered it. This is probably going to be the best--and is definitely the most original--comic of 2011. Nilson reads and shows slides from Big Questions at the Fantagraphics Store tomorrow night at 6 pm. You should go.
 
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  Portland Mercury reviews BIG QUESTIONS

Updated August 4, 2011


Anders Nilsen has been publishing the comic Big Questions since 1999-first self-publishing photocopied pamphlets, then later distributing issues through Drawn & Quarterly, a Canadian publisher that's just released a massive collection of the series.

It began as a gag strip, little birds talking about big questions. A tiny, crudely sketched bird asks his friend, "To what extent are we responsible for the fulfillment of our destinies? I mean, if my life is to be meaningful and full, is it up to me to make it that way, or can I just wait for circumstances to come together?" There's a few beats, and then: "That second thing you said," responds the other bird, and resumes pecking at seeds.

Soon these strips-clever as they are-begin to evolve in both visual and narrative sophistication. The birds stay crude, but backgrounds emerge, and a farmhouse, and the shadow of an airplane. Inside the farmhouse live an old woman and her apparently disabled grandson. Every now and then the birds find a chocolate doughnut crumb mixed in with the seeds that they snack on, but the doughnut days come to an end when the old woman dies, leaving her weak-minded ward alone on his own.

One day, a plane "lays an egg" in the field near the farmhouse and then crashes into the house itself. A mysterious pilot emerges from the plane. The birds, taking the pilot for the hatchling of a giant bird, devote themselves to his care, to the pilot's confusion. Meanwhile, other birds have formed a quasi religion around the egg laid by the plane before it crashed. The reader knows the egg is a bomb. The birds find out soon enough.

Big Questions walks an engaging line between sophisticated and silly. (In its masking of existential questions with cutesiness, it evokes both Jeff Smith's Bone and Craig Thompson's Good-bye, Chunky Rice.) A self-serious and frequently fatally misguided flock of birds are the book's focus, but there are other animals, too: a thuggish crew of squirrels, on a violent quest to find their lost nuts. Bawdy, wisecracking crows, cackling raucously at their own jokes. (Next time a sunny afternoon is darkened by a crow's cry, try to think of it as a screech of laughter rather than an ominous portent.)

Through it all, the quest for food and shelter-for both humans and animal-is a constant, low-level preoccupation, but even as the birds pull up grubs and share tips on worm-killing, Nilsen slips moments of insight into this bucolic setting. One bird, wounded in the bomb blast, confronts another who is guiltily guarding the bones of her dead friends: "You know, until just now I thought of this as something that had happened... to me. I see you've been thinking the same thing." That observation could apply as equally to self-centered humans as tragedy-stricken little birds.

Drawn & Quarterly has put together a handsome collection-the massive, 600-plus page volume features a few pull-out, full-page spreads, as well as extensive end notes and early strips. There are also reproductions of past Big Questions covers, many of which evoke old-timey naturalist drawings gone slightly awry: a wild dog sits with a severed arm in its mouth. A small bird perches curiously beside a grounded missile. The catch is that Big Questions comes with a handsome price tag as well-at $70 for a hardback, it's certainly not for the casual reader. But for fans of Nilsen's work-or of ambitious, career-defining novels-it might just be worth it.
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East Bay Express admires ANDERS NILSEN's BIG QUESTIONS

Updated August 4, 2011


About ten years have passed since I first stumbled upon Anders Nilsen's Big Questions series in a little indie gift shop in Providence, Rhode Island. The comics were just these thin, xeroxed booklets back then, and the drawings could hardly have been more simple: two small birds in a panel, a curved line to mark the horizon.

Nilsen says he didn't take drawing comics too seriously in those early days - saw them as more of a relief from the elaborate paintings and installation work he was doing at the time. Even so: I remember how eagerly I flipped through those first couple of volumes in the store, smitten with the juxtaposition between cute little birds and their strangely poignant existential musings. These were birds who were trying to figure shit out - about whether there was a higher purpose for their existence, whether it was really possible to connect with others in a meaningful way.

Maybe I dug the comics because, well, I was trying to figure a lot of the same shit out myself.
In the intervening years, I've spent more time than I care to mention scouring eBay for missing Big Questions back issues - collectors' items and beautiful art objects, all of them. Fortunately, readers who are new to the series will be spared that aggravation.

Last year, more than a decade after Nilsen started Big Questions, he completed the 15th and final issue. And now, after months of furious editing, the artist has compiled all of the comics into one cohesive, 600-page book - his magnum opus - which he'll be reading from and signing tonight at Downtown Berkeley's Pegasus Books.

I'm not going to feign objectivity here: I think Nilsen's work is brilliant. Dude's been drawing little birds since way before they became a hipster cliché, and in this case the cuteness factor is balanced by the artist's unflinchingly unromantic view of the natural world. Suffice it to say that birds in Big Questions get killed all the time - blown up, devoured, pecked at, crushed.

The book functions as a kind of dark allegory, then, though Nilsen, despite his admitted preoccupation with death and loss, doesn't see himself as a pessimist: "I'm trying to see the world as it is as much as possible, including the kind of bad stuff that most of us in this day and age, in this country, are pretty well insulated from."

And lest you get the wrong impression, Big Questions isn't just a bunch of circuitous philosophizing. There is in fact a plot, one that's tinged with sadness and occasionally surreal, centered on a developmentally disabled man, a downed pilot, a mysterious snake, a bomb and - yes - a whole host of little birds.

Amid all the carnage and angst, there are also hopeful elements - touching displays of loyalty, moments of unexpected compassion.

Oh, and the relative crudeness of the first few Big Questions minicomics belies what, for folks who follow indie comics, probably seems like an obvious point: Nilsen can flat-out draw. He's known for his wonderfully intricate pen-and-ink renderings of tree roots, meteorites, engines and entrails - and that level of precision is evident in Big Questions, especially as the series progresses.

One of the interesting aspects of the compilation is that it allows readers to see the way that Nilsen's approach to creating comics has evolved over the years, from the time when it was just a bunch of "weird jokes" and doodles in his sketchbook.

Nilsen says he liked the immediacy and the "sketchiness" of the early issues of Big Questions. But at a certain point he decided that he wanted the series to be a more carefully thought-out, well-drawn thing. In putting together the finished book, Nilsen said he tried to make improvements without tampering too much with the spirit of how he'd originally done each section.

"It's the thing that I started doing comics with and that I learned how to do comics with, basically," he explained. "So it's going to have to show the process of its own making. The first scripts are going to be real rough. And that's fine."

For tonight's reading, Nilsen says he plans to do a kind of interactive slideshow, where he'll introduce five or six characters from the book, as selected by the audience. Big Questions fans - who, I'm told, are legion - should come prepared to request their favorites.
 
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  Willamette Week reviews BIG QUESTIONS by ANDERS NILSEN

Updated August 4, 2011


It's hard to explain Anders Nilsen's Big Questions (Drawn and Quarterly, $69.95) without confusing people, because Big Questions leaves the reader with so many Little Questions, all of which sound entirely crazy. "Is the pilot really on the lam after murdering someone? How does he talk to geese, and what are the geese saying? Why does the snake feel such an allegiance to the finch named Alger? And the underground lair-is that animal heaven? Animal hell? Why isn’t the finch named Charlotte there in the caves, sleeping with the other birds"

There, you see? Crazy. And on one hand, Nilsen's graphic novel is as absurd as those questions-it’s a 585-page story (notably bulkier than your average motel Bible) that took Nilsen 15 years to complete. It features about a dozen finch protagonists who are, confusingly, all drawn exactly the same way and set against a widescreen rural landscape. To keep the finches company, other animals drift in and out of frame: There are the eternally teenaged, shit-talking crows, the nervous squirrels-who always suspect foul play-and a few key humans who speak far less often than the finches (all of whom are quite intellectually capable and self-aware, if often anxiety-stricken).

While much of the book is idle chatter between birds—a sort of Seinfeld of the trees—the finches do have large-scale dramas to contend with, and their curiosity over the mysterious human world feels very much like human questioning of God: Some birds are reverent while some just want to keep their distance from the chaos the humans bring to the table.

But that's about where the thing stops making sense in any traditional way. Those familiar with Nilsen's previous works for the Fantagraphics imprint (which can look and read a bit like vastly expanded versions of Stanley Donwood's liner notes for Radiohead's OK Computer) know that he enjoys playing with the tension between philosophical crises and everyday bullshit, a torch Big Questions grabs and runs with, even if it makes some concessions in the way of plot resolution to keep the reader from going insane. Still, the book ends with some fortune cookie-style wisdom and a belch.

Of course, that's what's so special about the medium of comics. Big Questions doesn't have to tie all the loose ends together to make for a satisfying read: The satisfaction comes from watching Nilsen's talent grow with each passing page and knowing that the epic comic you've just finished is the artist's first, and also most recent, work of art.
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Anders Nilsen

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BIG QUESTIONS is a Pop Candy pick of the week

Updated August 1, 2011


I'm also reading: Anders Nilsen's huge (as in 658-page) Big Questions hardcover compilation from Drawn & Quarterly. It's so exciting to have all of these comics together in one perfectly packaged book. (Bonus: Anders will be at Comic-Con. Hey, did you know they have actual comics at this shindig?)
 
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  BIG QUESTIONS 15 reviewed by Sean T. Collins

Updated March 4, 2011


Big Questions is a series about the impossibility of learning the answers to those questions, because there are none. Even still, you might be forgiven for expecting the final issue of Anders Nilsen’s decade-in-the-making, 600-page funny-animal opus to offer some kind of benediction for the plight of its avian and human protagonists. Maybe it’s just one character who ends up really getting it, maybe it’s some magic-realist glimpse of a world beyond a la Chauncey Gardiner’s final stroll in Being There, maybe it’s just Harry discussing Item Six on the agenda or Gaston’s telling us what his mother put him on her knee and said to him or Michael Palin in drag summing things up prior to the gratuitous pictures of penises in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, but it’s something, right?

No, not really. Maybe Morris the bird’s carpe-diem credo on the final page can give us some direction, but in general, the climactic events of the previous issue end up offering little insight, and no one takes the opportunity to grow. The zealots Charlotte and Leroy remain steadfast, as do the hedonists Morris and Louis. The Idiot remains oblivious. The flock remains obedient. Even in death, the Pilot simply moves on to a world that if anything is even more baffling, and mute in the face of our bafflement. It’s all a big dark cave or a vast white field, our experiences accruing like tiny stippled dots; we draw our own conclusions, and are drawn by them.

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BIG QUESTIONS 15 reviewed by The Comics Journal

Updated February 18, 2011


Rob reviews the fifteenth and final issue of Anders Nilsen’s epic series Big Questions, in the last of three posts about recent comic books from Drawn & Quarterly.

One thing that’s not mentioned much with regard to Anders Nilsen is his playful, almost impertinent, sense of humor. In a series known for long moments of silence punctuated by intense philosophical & religious debate amongst its bird protagonists, it’s not surprising to see Nilsen tweak both the reader and his characters by refusing to provide any easy answers. Indeed, in the “Closing Arguments” segments of the last issue of Big Questions, two different sets of birds (one alive, one dead) try to sum up all they’ve experienced using the most hackneyed of platitudes (“try your best”, “don’t take things for granted”). In a book intimately wrapped up not only with issues of doubt and belief (and black & white), was there any doubt that Nilsen would end the book in an oblique fashion? Moreover, the story of the birds’ odyssey in dealing with a plane that fell out of the sky, the bomb that came out of it, and the pilot who emerged alive from the crash was all about being caught up in events that not only could not be comprehended by those experiencing them, but in fact had nothing to do with them. The characters in Big Questions, with some exceptions, ascribe meaning to events that in reality have nothing to do with them.

The final joke is on the birds who viewed the pilot as a kind of messiah figure, going as far as to offer him worms as a form of sacrifice. When their god opened fire on them, it was up to the mysterious snake (an underground figure, acting as an emissary of sorts between the lands of of the living and the dead) to strike him down. In this issue, that left these birds with the mentally handicapped man as their new god, offering him worms a few scenes after he struggles to put on a pair of pants over the shoes he’s wearing. It’s a bitterly hilarious scene, though the question at hand is: why not an idiot god, especially one that lacks malice?

I’ll be re-reading the entire series for review prior to its release in collected form, so I’ll save further comments on themes and ideas. Instead, I prefer to marvel at the sheer beauty of his comic. The pages where Nilsen coalesces his whirling stipple-marks into a black mess that pops into a pair of pants encapsulates both his sense of humor and his awareness of the physical qualities of the marks he makes on paper. The intensity of his line and stippling has been omnipresent throughout the series, and it was funny to see reality bend a bit as the reader’s understanding of the comic’s physical environment collapsed. The sequence where the swans came along to lead the pilot on his journey through the underworld was equally masterful, even if it was quite a bit more solemn. Nilsen plays with black and white once last time to give the doomed pilot his final, blissful rest. What I’ve missed in reading the book an issue at a time is the way each character’s narrative arc developed and resolved, and I’m most looking forward to recovering that in my re-read. The characters who seemed to wind up happiest seemed to be those who were least concerned with those titular big questions, but we’ll see if that analysis holds up.
 
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Anders Nilsen interview on CBR

Updated March 18, 2009



Robot 6
Talking Comics with Tim: Anders Nilsen

Posted on March 16, 2009 - 12:16 PM by Tim O'Shea


Monologues for Calculating the Density of Black Holes

Monologues for Calculating the Density of Black Holes

Anders Nilsen makes improvisational storytelling entertaining, I’m happy to say. Nowhere is this more evident than his most recent Fantagraphics release (the second part in a trilogy and the follow up to Monologues for the Coming Plague), Monologues for Calculating the Density of Black Holes. I was fortunate enough to recently email interview Nilsen about his creative efforts.

Tim O’Shea: Monologues for Calculating the Density of Black Holes is the second in what will eventually be a trilogy, as you noted at your blog. Did you set out wanting to create a trilogy when you embarked on Monologues for the Coming Plague?

Anders Nilsen: When I started the first book I just thought I was doing some experiments in my sketchbook. Playing around. But once I had finished the material that comprises the first book I had started to see the potential for a more expanded form–the narrative had started to come together, characters develop, etc. I started thinking about it as a trilogy then.

O’Shea: In lettering the stories, you cross out text at certain points.What freedom do you enjoy by approaching these books as improvisational sketchbooks?

Nilsen: Just the ability to get the ideas and the progress of the narrative down quickly. It’s a way to get ideas out before your internal critic can get ahold of them. Of course, sometimes they end up being stupid or go off in unproductive directions. So there is editing that happens. I want the end result to be readable and engaging. But preserving some of the untidiness of the process–the scribbled out bits–makes it clear (hopefully) that the process is in some way improvisational.

O’Shea: And why did you scratch out some text–while doing the freedom of information style black box on other excised text? One of the recurring characters has a scratched out face–did you ever consider giving the character a blacked out box for a face?

Nilsen: The difference is in where the decision happens…on the page or in photoshop after the page is scanned in. And I like the randomness and variety of the difference.

O’Shea: Throughout the book you utilize maps and large landscape photos as backgrounds for certain scenes. Where did you find these photos, and what motivated you to use them in such a manner? Were those pages some of the hardest to produce in the book?

Nilsen: Yeah, prepress-wise those pages are somewhat more complicated to make happen. To get the lines crisp on the color background. Many of the photographs are ones I took myself. Others I find. I collect old postcards or other imagery of landscapes. I’m drawn to the genre–the fine lines between a boring image and a majestic one, and how the way we interpret them changes over time. Also the arbitrary ways the character in the foreground may interact with what’s going on behind him, the symbolism that’s created and undermined at the same time.

O’Shea: Could you have done this book in black and white–and if not, given the minimalism of several pages, why do you opt to do those pages in color?

Nilsen: I’m interested in separating the sections visually, and also just making them a little more visually interesting. Again, by doing the changes in color between sections you are cuing the reader that there is some change in content. There may or may not actually be any, but it sets up an expectation. Which is fun to manipulate.

O’Shea: Given your affinity for stream-of-consciousness work, what creators that pursue work in a similar vein seem to inform your approach, if anyone?

Nilsen: The person I keep going back to is Chester Brown in Ed the Happy Clown. It’s really great to see his mind working and his ambition expanding over the course of that story. Someone introduced me to David Shrigley’s work after MFTCP came out and I really like the surprising, improvisational nature of his stuff.

O’Shea: At a weighty 400+ plus pages, was there anything you edited out for space? Granted there is intentionally limited editing on this book, but did you edit yourself or have someone edit it for you?

Nilsen: I edited it. I had a few people look at it and give me feedback. There was a lot of material that didn’t make it in, there was also stuff added after a couple of re-readings. I did a significant re-write after the book was already solicited at 400 pages and ended up adding a bunch of stuff, and having to squeeze it in. This book has a lot more two, three and four panel pages than the first one, partly because of that. The flexibility of not having a panel structure is helpful.

O’Shea: Do you expect the average reader to get the gist of your message on a first read–or is Monologues for Calculating the Density of Black Holes a work that you think demands that the consumer read it multiple times to get the full impact of your work?

Nilsen: I don’t know. I suppose I would hope with most of my work that people are compelled, because they are interested enough, to reread it, and that they find something they didn’t see before that makes it worth the effort. But if someone finds it to be confusing nonesense and decides to throw it into the swimming pool that’s okay, too. Probably some of it won’t make sense until the story is wrapped up in the third book.

O’Shea: With two books in the trilogy under your belt, have you developed an affinity for certain characters more than others?

Nilsen: I like them all. I think I’ve gotten slightly less interested in the guy with the face, the guy looking for a job. Which is a problem because I think he’s sort of important.

O’Shea: Creatively what else is on the horizon for you in 2009?

Nilsen: I’m doing my damnedest to get Big Questions done. I still have about a hundred pages to draw. We’ll see.



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OJINGOGO, POHADKY and BIG QUESTIONS 11 reviewed by Newsarama

Updated February 27, 2009


Comics
Best Shots
Troy Brownfield
15 December 2008
NEWSARAMA

Ojingogo (Drawn & Quarterly; by Mike): Matthew Forsythe’s dream-like tale of a young girl, her squid and a menagerie of strange creatures, simultaneously cute and terrifying, is a totally unique and engaging book. Drawing on Eastern myths (Forsythe apparently spent time living Seoul), Ojingogo is nearly silent and full of imaginative leaps of logic that keep the reader engaged. Forsythe’s gorgeous pen and ink artwork captures the nuances of his characters’ curiosity, fear, determination and creativity. The designs of the creatures and landscapes are tremendous. It’s just a really beautiful, well-paced, fun comic. You can even read some of it here.

Pohádky (Drawn & Quarterly; by Mike): One hundred twenty pages of beautiful, full-color illustrations from Marek Čolek and Pat Shewchuk, Pohádky combines Shewchuck’s graphic designs with Čolek’s fantasy illustrations. Mixing anthropomorphic animals, gypsy humans and the natural world into a swirling blend of fairy-tale reality, the artwork is simply wonderful. There’s no story; this is a pure artbook, done in D&Q’s small Petits Livres style, which might be my only complaint. The detailed full paintings deserve a more overwhelming size, dimensions that would allow readers to get lost in the complex, interwoven fantasy of Shewchuk and Čolek’s worlds.

Big Questions 11: Sweetness and Light (Drawn & Quarterly; by Mike): I wish I kept up with Anders Nilsen’s spare and subtle series. Nilsen’s such a strong cartoonist, with excellent panel-to-panel storytelling and strong illustrations. The blend of characters – humans, dogs and birds – surviving in a damaged and dangerous world all come across as distinct beings, particularly the animals whose natural behavior isn’t compromised by their occasional forays into human speech. The overall story is slow unfolding, but Nilsen’s great artwork makes every panel of the journey enjoyable.
 
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Marek Colek and Pat Shewchuk
Matt Forsythe

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Big Questions #11: Sweetness and Light
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  ANDERS NILSEN interviewed by Inkstuds

Updated November 28, 2008


Anders Nilsen Interview
INKSTUDS
November 10, 2008

Anders Nilsen joins me for a discussion of his latest work, in the first of many interviews of creators in the new Kramers Ergot 7 anthology. In addition to the Kramers story, he also has a new issue of Big Questions and another Monologues coming out in the new year from Fantagraphics. As I have said before, he is one of my favorite cartoonists working right now, and his latest stuff just confirms that opinion.
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DON'T GO WHERE I CAN'T FOLLOW reviewed by Sean Collins

Updated September 11, 2008


Comics Time: Don't Go Where I Can't Follow
Sean Collins
September 10, 2008

This book beggars review. It's an account of the great young cartoonist Anders Nilsen's relationship with his fiancee Cheryl Weaver, through a series of varyingly told vignettes about the trips they took together or apart. Postcards they sent to each other are reproduced; a long letter from Nilsen to his little sister recounting a disastrous camping trip the couple took is printed in its handwritten entirety; there's a three-page interlude about the couple getting stranded in a New Jersey parking lot on Christmas and, one infers, getting engaged shortly thereafter; there's a photo essay about their trip to the Angouleme festival in France and a humor comic about their ill-fated first attempt to get there. Then we discover from Nilsen's illustrated journal that Cheryl has been diagnosed with cancer, and the true meaning of the book's metaphorical title, cribbed from J.R.R. Tolkien, becomes all too apparent. The comic that concludes the volume, perhaps the loveliest Nilsen has ever drawn, offers the final proof that the titular request has been met in the heartbreaking negative.

On the strictly technical side of things, Nilsen is one of his generation's finest cartoonists, so part of what is so impressive about the book is how much of his comics' pointillist emotional power comes through even via mostly non-comics media. By selecting a rigid parameter for the material, "stories about problematic travel experiences" (a theme he reveals in an afterword to have planned to develop even prior to Cheryl's illness and death), Nilsen paradoxically conveys a sense of the totality of the couple's relationship: thoughtful, humorous, shot through with both the thrill of adventure and discovery and the longing for the comforts of home, and one another. While Nilsen's companion Ignatz series The End deals more in the gargantuan, even frightening feeling of grief and desperation engendered by having his and Cheryl's life together suddenly yanked away, Don't Go Where I Can't Follow's mood is gentler--more focused on love and how it changes when the loved one is gone--but no less profoundly moving.

Personally, the way I deal with death is to focus on the fact that the life I shared with that person was a good one, a happy one, and that while it is now over, that goodness and happiness remains in my memory. But what happens when that shared life was, by any reasonable standard, far too brief? What to do then? I don't know. Recent events have forced me to confront this question and I still don't know. Reading this book has helped, though, and I hope you'll forgive me if really all I have to say about it is "thank you."
 
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  Big Questions 10 reviewed by All Too Flat

Updated April 3, 2008


Comics Time: Big Questions #10: The Hand That Feeds
Anders Nilsen
reviewed by Sean Collins
ALL TOO FLAT
January 21, 2008


When I was a kid I was in Gifted class and we went on a field trip where some guy spoke to us about aliens and UFOs. He talked about how when eyewitnesses report UFOs hovering there one second and then being whoosh gone the next, it could be something similar to what a dog thinks happens to his master when the master gets into the car and drives to the supermarket. The dog's brain isn't sophisticated enough to understand that process--he just knows the master's gone. Maybe the aliens are on a corresponding level to us as we are to the dogs.

That idea stuck with me for a long time. It's only in reading this issue of Nilsen's long-running series that it occurred to me that you don't need aliens in that equation--you can basically just say that perhaps the meaning of life, what's really going on here, just what the hell is going on with us, is just as much out of the grasp of our comprehension as how aliens commute. Nilsen, who since beginning this series has had to wrestle with the precarious nature of human life and our need to cobble some sense out of its ruins in a way I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, articulates this notion gently and humorously in Big Questions, but also terrifyingly. His art is a repeated intimation of great vulnerability, with a line that looks like it might blow away in a strong wind, figures whose slightly disproportionate heads suggest infancy, heightened detail that sits mutely on the page indifferent to what plays out amid it, and a nightfall that coheres out of a multitude of tiny dots of darkness as though it can't muster up the courage to simply descend. His rival flocks of finches and crows, in their interactions with themselves, each other, a pack of wild dogs, and a pair of human survivors of a catastrophic plane crash, grapple with the big questions of the title--quite literally in this issue, as one of them comes up with Plato's parable of the cave--but always with one hand tied behind their metaphysical backs. There's just so much they don't understand about the crashed plane, the people, even each other. Their touchingly well-meaning efforts to stockpile food for "the hatchling" inevitably lead to grousing, mockery, rivalry, and finally violence. What makes the book so unsettling and frightening is that they're really completely wrong about what's going on, and both their good and bad intentions, their sacrifices and their sarcasm and their venality, are all equally meaningless. Is that what life is?
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DON'T GO WHERE I CAN'T FOLLOW reviewed by Metapsychology

Updated January 10, 2008


Review - Don't Go Where I Can't Follow
by Anders Nilsen
Christian Perring
METAPSYCHOLOGY.MENTALHELP.NET
Jan 1st 2008


In Don't Go Where I Can't Follow, Anders Nilsen collects mementos of his relationship with Cheryl Weaver. They were engaged, but she died of cancer before they could get married. It's a very personal set of photographs, letters, postcards, photographs, drawings, and ticket stubs. They were together about five years, starting in his late twenties. He was a promising comic book artist living in Chicago, and she was also an artist, working on experimental film and video. They met when they were both at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Strangely, Nilsen's book doesn't say much about Cheryl's life, or indeed his own. Rather, it's about the intersection of their lives. There's a long handwritten letter to one of his sisters about a camping trip that he and Cheryl took together; a comic book account of the day they tried to fly to France but didn't have a ticket; photographs from the actual trip to France, just before she found she had cancer; journal entries from her time in hospital and drawing of her as she lay in bed; and most moving of all, a beautifully drawn account of the large gathering of family and friends after her she died, by the lake, in which he scattered her ashes. It's a strange book to be a memorial to her, as he describes it in the Afterword, since it says so little about her. But it does powerfully convey some of the texture of their relationship, Nilsen's grief in losing her, and his love of her. It's an unusual and very touching book.
 
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  DOGS AND WATER, SHORTCOMINGS, EXIT WOUNDS in Mercury top 10

Updated January 10, 2008


RANDY MYERS: GRAPHICS DETAIL
Best of 2007: Graphic novels
Contra Costa Times
MERCURY NEWS
12/23/2007

If you wanted to be cool in 2007, you wrote a graphic novel.
If you wanted to make a hit film, you bought the rights to a comic and made a movie out of it.
Publishers caught on to this trend and started releasing lines of graphic novels.
But did this sudden comics explosion result in quality, not just quantity? Surprisingly, yes.

For that reason, keeping a list of the best graphic novels of the year to a mere 10 was a tough task.

Here, then, are my favorite graphic novels from 2007.

4. "Dogs & Water," by Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95): A nameless man embarks on a lonely odyssey through a desolate, temperamental world. This haunting and episodic story has been permanently lodged in my psyche since I read it last spring. Nilsen is a comics poet, writing a story that perfectly captures moods, feelings and metaphors. Do read this man.

2. "Shortcomings," by Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95): Say you've created a mini-comic and framed it around a cantankerous lead character who is not only smug, but a bit unlikable. How in the heck, then, do you make readers care? For the answer, dive into Tomine's "Shortcomings," an on-target look at the disintegration of a oxygen-deprived relationship. The lead -- Ben Tanaka -- deserves to go down as one of the most intriguing and well-written characters encountered in literature. But other supporting characters are equally unforgettable. Made me dying to seek out Tomine's "Optic Nerve" minicomics.

1. "Exit Wounds," by Rutu Modan (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95): Darn that "Persepolis." Nearly every publisher scurried around in 2007, trying to mirror the success of Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical work. Appearances would seem to suggest that "Exit Wounds" would be a sort-of Israeli version of Satrapi's book That would be wrong. Modan defies those expectations with an elegant -- and fictional - story that rotates around a Tel Aviv taxi cab driver trying to find out if his dad was killed in a suicide bombing. Beckoning him to uncover the truth is his father's complex younger lover, Numi. You assume you know where Modan is headed with the story -- which vividly depicts everyday life in Israel. But you will be wrong. This is an assured book that speaks quietly whenever you expect it to shout its demands. You'll instantly want to reread it, not only to better appreciate its grace, but to see how effortlessly Modan pulls off such a delicately balanced story arc.
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Adrian Tomine
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DON'T GO WHERE I CAN'T FOLLOW on The LA Times Best of list

Updated December 10, 2007


'Don't Go Where I Can't Follow' by Anders Nilsen
LA TIMES
December 9, 2007

An "exploration of terrible grief,¨ this graphic memoir is neither comic book nor narrative but something in between. Containing some of Nilsen's most potent images, it's a tribute "to the life and death of a woman he loved and to the redemptive power of art."
 
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  ANDERS NILSEN in The Contra Costa Times

Updated November 30, 2007


RANDY MYERS: GRAPHICS DETAIL
Literary delights await the savvy comics reader
Contra Costa Times
Article Launched: 11/25/2007 03:02:10 AM PST

Even those with a minimal interest in graphic novels recognize the names Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Daniel Clowes and Harvey Pekar.
Those comics celebs deserve their fame and acclaim. But lesser-known artists should get their due, too.
Here, then, are eight of my favorite graphic novelists who aren't household names -- yet.
The Existentialist: Anders Nilsen
Why him? Less means more when it's in the hands of this New Hampshire-born cartoonist. Nilsen's sketchy art and episodic storytelling sinks into our psyches. A wry commentator on the absurdity of modern life ("Monologues For the Coming Plague"), he is equally adept at conveying the purgatory of an isolated neo-future ("Dogs & Water"). Think visionary, think Nilsen.
Must-reads: "Dogs & Water." A nameless Everyman roams a post-apocalyptic world filled with danger. Haunting on the first read, humbling on the second.
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WHITE RAPIDS, BIG QUESTIONS 10 reviewed by Newsarama

Updated November 30, 2007


NEWSARAMA
November 26, 2007

White Rapids
Written & Illustrated by Pascal Blanchet
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

The real life history: In 1928, the Shawinigan Water and Power Company began construction on the Rapide Blanc Power Plant in the remote Quebec wilderness. The massive dam would harness energy from the St. Maurice River, if only the Shawinigan company could find a way to staff it. Hundreds of miles from the nearest highway, the residents would be completely cut off and any traditional form of commute would be impossible. Thus, the Shawinigan company came up with an outside-the-box answer to their workforce problem. They created a town. In 1934, the village of Rapide Blanc was settled, a tiny hamlet populated by the families of the power plant workers.

What you’ll find inside the covers: White Rapids, based on the town’s official history, photographs of lives lived there, and the author’s own imagination, is artist Pascal Blanchet’s history of Rapide Blanc. As a history, it’s not particularly enlightening. With few concrete details and or actual characters, the book is a broad portrait of a remote village whose people are brought together by employment and geographic inconvenience. Rapide Blanc, if Blanchet can be trusted, was a nearly idyllic model of 1950s smalltown life. It’s the American dream, written into the Canadian wilderness.

Blanchet’s art deco, full-page illustrations and 1950s advertising design sense, however, make this a book far more engaging and enjoyable than it has any right to be. Each page, a comfortable and homey mix of orange and brown pastels, pulls you into Rapide Blanc. Sections of the book are devoted to the construction of the town, the workers’ limited contact with the outside world, the social activities families engaged in, the outdoor lifestyles available, the harsh brutality of wintertime, the upbeat, smiling gaiety of Christmas, the whispered rumors of changes in Shawinigan’s plans for the community, and ultimately, the sad exodus of station wagons from Rapide Blanc’s borders.

The book is ultimately a testament to the power of visual storytelling. Using words only sparingly, often incorporated into the page design, Blanchet makes you care about the town using nothing more than universally appealing images. If Norman Rockwell painted the same images that made him famous, but opted for the stylized design-intense motifs of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, he would’ve created work much like the images found in White Rapids. It sounds an unlikely pairing, but Blanchet ably combines the warmth and hominess of the former with the stylistic impressionism of the latter to recreate a forgotten piece of Canadian history. The birth, life and death of the idyllic small town community that you always imagined existed somewhere is spilled out across the pages of White Rapids. If you flip through a copy, you’ll find that you want to revisit it often.

Big Questions #10: The Hand that Feeds (Drawn & Quarterly; by Mike) – After reading Anders Nilsen’s tragic, found-art masterpiece Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, I’ve been wanting to read more of his work. Jumping into the tenth issue of an ongoing project wasn’t the best idea, as I certainly did not grasp the larger picture of what is unfolding in Big Questions. Fortunately, Nilson’s clean, voyeuristic linework makes the scenes easy to read, and you find yourself drawn into the lives of the birds (and humans) who star in the story thanks to his comfortable, natural dialogue. The pacing is excellently done, though readers who hate decompression may disagree. Having 42 pages of story and art, however, goes a long way to ensure that there’s still enough story to justify the purchase. Plus, honestly, I just love the sturdy paper and cardstock cover. More serial comics should follow Nilsen’s lead on that count.

 
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Anders Nilsen
Pascal Blanchet

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Big Questions #10: The Hand That Feeds




  Big Questions 10 reviewed by Silver Bullet Comics

Updated November 1, 2007


Big Questions #10
Anders Nilsen
Posted: Monday, October 29
By: Robert Murray

EDITOR’S NOTE: The tenth issue of Big Questions will appear in stores this Wednesday, October 31.

To fully describe this issue of Big Questions, like the other installments, would do this comic no justice. Here’s the story: Two men are marooned near a fighter plane crash. One looks like he just escaped from a mental hospital, while the other is obviously the pilot of the downed plane. While these men scrounge for food and other survival essentials, crows watch as tensions build among a group of smaller birds. Mainly, the tension is a result of a pile of doughnuts, over which hunger and loyalty is tested. Ultimately, violence erupts among the birds.

You probably won’t be clamoring toward the comic shop after that less-than-thrilling description. But Anders Nilsen’s work is more about the fragile nature and minor details of life versus some exciting story. Like a Beckett two-act, Big Questions #10 (also titled “The Hand That Feeds”) has only one setting, changing only once from day to night. Anytime you have this kind of minimalist background, you know subconsciously that the main point of this work is thorough examination of the characters and interactions on a static playing field. That’s exactly what Nilsen is up to here, though many mainstream comic readers will have a hard time picking up on the cues (I know I did!). Regardless of your understanding of “The Hand That Feeds”, you can’t deny you’re reading something deep, something so much more introspective than anything you’re used to. Also, the reader can’t help but notice that Nilsen is a major talent in the independent comic world, one that deserves to be recognized by the larger reading public.

I think the most interesting parts of this sparse 41-page story regard the clan of smaller birds who, oddly enough, speak most of the dialogue. Plus, they are an introspective bunch of birds to boot! The first interesting bird is named Bayle, who instantly captures your attention because he roosts on the shaved head of the apparent mental patient. When a bird attacks the man for trying to eat one of their doughnuts, Bayle fights him off, sending the other birds to the rescue in a rare slapstick moment. Later, when the man is asleep, the other birds approach Bayle to ask him about his decision to defend the human. Bayle explains a strange covenant between him and the man, similar in many ways to a Christian baptism. The man killed Bayle by holding him underwater, but then he brought him back to life. Bayle doesn’t explain any further than this, but the symbolism is pretty clear: the bald man is Bayle’s messiah, granting him a baptism that has shown him the way, the truth, and the life. However, what this enlightenment is, Bayle won’t divulge for his fellow birds or for the reader. This revelation gives the earlier attack more meaning as well, particularly in the context of the title ‘The Hand That Feeds.’ The bird who attacks the man pecks him on the hand, which instantly sets Bayle into defensive resistance. After the fight, the man looks at his hand, which has a single stream of blood pouring toward his wrist. Bayle looks at the blood, than glares at the group of birds defending the doughnuts (the squinting eyes of Bayle are a nice touch). Bayle has been nourished spiritually by this strange man, who has given him a new outlook on life. How could another bird bite his hand?

The other bird I found interesting was in the section (yes, there are sections) of this comic titled “The Analogy of the Hole in the Tree”. Here, one of the birds waxes philosophic on issues that humans grapple with every day, particularly the issue of objectivity. I think Nilsen is playfully presenting the point of this comic to his readers: “Limited interpretations are all we have,” in this world, particularly in reference to our art. The bird, of course, goes on to tell a story of the limited perspectives of the world a bird has from the hollow of a tree, detailing how shadows could be confused for the real world. In Big Questions #10, Nilsen’s minimalist story is presenting us a no-frills textbook on sequential fiction. Comics only show us what the author wants us to see. It’s the “Hand That Feeds” once again, as the artist controls how much or how little of the story is given to us. The rest is left up to the readers imagination or experiences, creating a symbiotic relationship that is so much more intimate than anything that could come from a force-feeding of television. Nilsen details in his subtle ways just how powerful and emotional the medium of comics can be.

This is a complex tale hidden within the apparent minimalism of each page. But, don’t let the simple lines and settings fool you: the panel constructions are well thought out and superbly executed, and the moments of quiet tension will have you clenching in anticipation. If you’re up for it, it is an intensely rewarding piece of fiction that will make you ponder long after you have read it. Actually, I had one question that I was never able to figure out, and it may have something to do with my earlier reading of Nilsen’s Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, his excellent and heartbreaking tale of his girlfriend’s losing battle with cancer. The shaved ‘man’ never reveals any of his body features, as his upper body is always covered. With Nilsen’s style, you can’t really tell if the face is that of a man or a woman. Also, early in the story, the crows are guarding something that looks like a wig, and one of the crows says, “It tastes like you smell.” Could this character be some sort of approximation of Nilsen’s girlfriend? I don’t know, and I wouldn’t think Nilsen would expect readers to pick this up, but it is an interesting thought... Regardless, you don’t have to read any of Nilsen’s other work to truly appreciate the level of thoughtfulness and artistic bravado it takes to create a comic like this. Big Questions #10 is a must have for anyone who appreciates the power and appeal of comic books.
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Anders Nilsen

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Big Questions #10: The Hand That Feeds




ANDERS NILSEN in the Chicago Tribune

Updated September 13, 2007


The shock of Anders Nilsen
Julia Keller | CULTURAL CRITIC
September 9, 2007


Clarity is for wimps.

If you want a book that answers every question, a book that's easy and straightforward and simple to summarize -- run just as fast as you can from the work of Anders Nilsen, because you won't be able to handle it. You'll get confused. Unnerved. Maybe a bit exasperated.

If, on the other hand, you're tough enough to enjoy a little confusion, if you find confusion to be challenging, even exhilarating, then Nilsen is your guy.

With books that are strange and stark, containing images that are as bare and elemental as a scrimshaw, the 33-year-old Chicago-based artist has been carving out a small but important niche within the evolving world of graphic novels -- although he doesn't much like the phrase "graphic novel."

"It feels like a label that somebody came up with to make it more palatable," Nilsen says. "It feels external to what I do, which is drawing pictures and telling stories. Even the long-form stories I'm telling are allegories. Fairy tales. It's not really novels that I'm writing." He prefers the term "comics."

Nilsen is sitting in the living room of his West Side apartment. His hair is cut drill-sergeant short; the cheekbones in his thin, angular face give him a somewhat haunted expression. His feet are tucked up under his wiry, black-clad body. He speaks thoughtfully, deliberately, as if each sentence were a chess move. Nilsen talks the ways he draws: There's nothing glib or superficial about the man or his art. Pinned on or stacked against the walls around him are sketches from works in progress -- delicate drawings of ordinary people who look small and rather furtive, as if trying to hide from circumstance.

"I like what I do, and feel incredibly lucky to do it full time," he says. After graduating from the University of New Mexico, Nilsen, who grew up in Minneapolis, moved to Chicago eight years ago to attend the School of the Art Institute. His interest in comics, though, didn't seem compatible with the school's focus, so he dropped out. A series of jobs -- mainly as a cook or a waiter -- paid the bills while he made his art.

Then his stories became increasingly popular, and for the past year, Nilsen has worked full time at the drawing table set up in his living room. "Sometimes," he admits, "I have to tear myself away and remind myself to have a life."

Nilsen's most recent publication is an updating of his 2004 book, "Dogs & Water" (Drawn and Quarterly, 2007), an odd, mysterious tale about a kid traveling down a road with a teddy bear strapped on his back. He meets a pack of dogs, and stumbles across an oil pipeline and a crashed helicopter. Not much is explained -- but the emotional impact of the book is staggering. It's as if a time-release kind of loneliness has been sewn into the binding and seeps out on the page whenever it wants to.

In 2006, Nilsen published his most personal book: "Don't Go Where I Can't Follow" (Drawn and Quarterly). So personal that the reader might fear arrest for emotional voyeurism, it tells the true story of his travels with Cheryl Weaver, his fiance, who died of cancer two years ago. "It was a book I had to do, " he says. Nilsen includes snapshots, letters, drawings; it's a hodgepodge of love and loss, as if somebody had dumped out a drawer marked "Sorrow" onto the kitchen floor, looked at it and then added the contents of a drawer marked "Joy."

He has several projects going at once, including the 10th installment of his series called "Big Questions," which is scheduled for November publication. (It's available at local comics stores or at www.drawnandquarterly.com.) He'd like to make a film someday. He collects objects that he finds on the streets around his apartment; a toy gun that he scavenged hangs on his wall. "Almost everything I find," he says, "is broken or messed up in some way."

His seriousness, Nilsen believes, might derive from his Norwegian ancestry. "There's a certain aesthetic that's in my blood -- a certain kind of seriousness, a quiet severity."

His happiest times? When he's working. "I feel like I'm never done. I could do it forever. As long as I can hold a pen."
 
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Anders Nilsen

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Don't Go Where I Can't Follow
Dogs & Water (hardcover edition)
Big Questions #10: The Hand That Feeds




  DON'T GO WHERE I CAN'T FOLLOW in Chicago Reader

Updated September 7, 2007


GRIEF MADE GRAPHIC
Anders Nilsen dealt with the death of his fiancee the best way he knew how: by drawing comics.
By Jessica Hopper
September 7, 2007


THE FIRST TIME I visited Anders Nilsen’s Humboldt Park apartment, back in the spring, he had only two pieces of art up in his living room. One was a Polaroid portrait of his late fiancee, Cheryl Weaver. The other was a large print from a series of photos she’d shot out the window of the treetops across the street. Weaver was an artist, and when she lived here, shooting the park through the seasons was an ongoing project. Nilsen could never convince her to show the photos in public. “She didn’t want to be there and have to hear people talk about what they thought,” he said. “She was sure they’d be critical and think it was stupid. We’d have fights about it. The more I tried, the more she would resist. But then if I didn’t try,” he added, letting out a little chuckle, “we’d fight because she didn’t think that I thought she was a good artist.”
Nilsen is also an artist. Now 33, he’s been making comics for almost a decade, developing a hallucinatory style of fable in which animals and young men ruminate about their existential crises. For most of his career he’s published his own work, but in the last few years he’s produced several titles for two of the biggest independent publishers in the industry, Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics, including Big Questions, a meditative series revolving around a group of little birds, and Dogs and Water, an award-winning graphic novel from 2004 that was reissued in a hardcover edition a few weeks ago.
But just when doors started to open for Nilsen, he entered the most painful period of his life. Two years ago, at the age of 37, Weaver died after the sudden, devastating onset of Hodgkin’s disease. Afterward Nilsen buried himself in his work, creating two raw and intimate books dealing with her final days and his struggle to carry on without her, Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow and The End. He was mourning, and he was doing it with more people paying attention to him than ever had before.
“One of the ironies of Cheryl dying is that, when we were together, we were always, always worried about money,” he says. “We were both working, but we were often worried about where rent was coming from. Now it’s just me and I’m doing fine. I don’t have to worry about money. It sucks.”

A LIFELONG COMICS enthusiast, Nilsen grew up in Minneapolis, where he’d moved at the age of three with his mom and older sister. He started drawing his own strips in high school, when one of his English teachers gave him permission to turn them in as short-story assignments. In college, at the University of New Mexico, he studied painting, but after graduating and returning to Minneapolis he found himself drifting back toward comics more and more. “At the time I was sorta thinking, I’m a gallery artist doing comics on the side,” he says. “But in the back of my mind I knew, no, this is the stuff I’m gonna do. Comics made sense because I could xerox shit. It was more immediately rewarding. When I made Big Questions number one, I was working at a co-op in Minneapolis and brought it in to show a friend. We were eating lunch, and then I left and as I was walking away I heard her laughing.”
In 1999 Nilsen moved to Chicago to continue his painting studies at the School of the Art Institute. Weaver, also a grad student at the time, had the studio across the hall from his. She was doing experimental film and video, and when she wasn’t around Nilsen would sneak peeks at her work. One day they wound up taking the elevator together and struck up a conversation. Three months later they were dating. Within a year they were living together.
Nilsen dropped out after his first year at SAIC to focus on comics full-time. To make ends meet he took a job cooking at Lula Cafe, which had recently opened in Logan Square. Weaver got a job there tending bar. Co-owner Jason Hammel watched their relationship blossom. “Back in the early days we were working crazy hours, starting on weekends at 7 AM,” he says. “We’d be groggily coming in and Cheryl and Anders would be over at Johnny’s Grill next door, having toast and coffee. She’d get up on, like, four hours of sleep and drive him here, just so they could have half an hour together before he went to work. It was just this incredible little romance going on over the stools at Johnny’s Grill, every morning. It made your heart quiver a little bit.”
By 2003 Nilsen had self-published five issues of Big Questions, financing the printing with grants from the Department of Cultural Affairs and selling them via mail order and tiny comics distros. That year he ran into Drawn & Quarterly publisher Chris Oliveros at the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco. Nilsen handed over some of his work, and Oliveros was so impressed that he tapped Nilsen to contribute a 30-page story to an upcoming installment of the prestigious Drawn & Quarterly Showcase. “When he commissioned the story I didn’t have anything, and was searching for something I could extrapolate into a bigger idea,” Nilsen says. “I went to some experimental stuff I had drawn in college and worked on it for a while, but then I hit a wall and realized it wasn’t really going anywhere.” By that time the story was 70 pages long. Oliveros had no choice but to spike it. For Nilsen, it was a huge blow.
Less than a year later, Oliveros contacted Nilsen again, telling him that he hadn’t stopped thinking about the story and was interested in turning it into a freestanding book. “I still don’t know what he saw in it,” Nilsen says. “The story was not good.” He threw away 25 of the original pages and redrew another 40. What he wound up with was the bleak, surrealistic tale of a boy who, while wandering a desolate, war-torn landscape with his stuffed bear, falls in with a pack of wild dogs. If it weren’t for all the dead bodies, it could almost pass for a children’s book.
Dogs and Water was published in October 2004 and went on to become Drawn & Quarterly’s most reviewed title of the year, earning near unanimous praise. It was named Outstanding Story in the 2005 Ignatz Awards, which recognize achievement in comics and cartooning at the small-press level, and caught on with readers as well, selling out its initial printing of 4,000 copies. It was Nilsen’s biggest critical and commercial success by far, but it didn’t take him by surprise. “I figured that was just what happened when you have a comic put out by a publisher,” he says.
SHORTLY AFTER DOGS and Water was completed, Nilsen asked Oliveros if Drawn & Quarterly would be interested in picking up Big Questions as a recurring title. “Normally we would never begin publishing in the middle of a series,” Oliveros says, “but I respected so much of what he was doing in it that I was honored to publish it.” Drawn & Quarterly signed on for the remainder of the 12-issue run as well as an eventual anthology. Around this time, Nilsen was commissioned to illustrate the cover of the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales, part of a series of books that featured jacket art by bigger names like Art Spiegelman, Chris Ware, Frank Miller, Charles Burns, Chester Brown, and Seth.
It was a momentous time in Nilsen’s personal life as well. At the end of 2004 he and Weaver decided to get married, setting a date, September 18, 2005, and a location, Hyde Park’s Promontory Point. Then in February they took a weeklong trip to the coast of France so Nilsen could attend a comic book convention. Weaver had been experiencing seemingly unconnected health problems—fatigue, recurring infections—for a couple months, but their vacation went off without a hitch. It was only after they got home and returned to work that the problems became more serious.
“Cheryl would complain about night sweats, and she asked me about it and I was like, yeah, sure, I sweat at night,” Hammel says. “But I had no idea they were getting up to change the sheets two or three times a night.” Her fatigue was so bad that she’d have to lie down during shifts. And she started losing weight—rapidly. “There was something in her belly that wasn’t supposed to be there,” Nilsen says. “It turned out to be an enlarged spleen. She went to a clinic and they said she had to go to the hospital immediately. They didn’t even want her to go home to tell me. They knew it was cancer.”

See You Were Born and So You're Free, Anders Nilsen's contribution to the Reader's 2006 comics supplement

Weaver was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s, a cancer of the lymphatic system, in early April, but the initial prognosis was positive. The doctors gave her an 85 percent chance of survival. She was in and out of the hospital for chemo over the next few months but seemed to take it in stride. “She was a very stoic person generally,” Nilsen says. “She’d started this screen-printing business, and even though she was seriously sick she was forcing herself to print every day. I didn’t realize until the end of the summer that she was having to crawl up the stairs to get there. She just wasn’t going to sit all day doing nothing. I wish she would have.”
Weaver’s treatment continued through the summer and into the fall. She and Nilsen decided to postpone the wedding until her health improved. On October 12, 2005, she went to the emergency room with chest pains. She was given a blood transfusion and underwent a CT scan, which revealed that the cancer had spread to her liver. Four days later she was told the disease was terminal. “On the first or second of November, they took out her spleen, and at that point I knew she was gonna die,” Nilsen says. “She bled a lot in surgery; they gave her ten units of blood. She was in a coma for a while—she never fully came back to consciousness. I kept trying to tell her to let go, but she was always very stubborn. She died on the 13th of November. My birthday was the next day.”
They’d been together five and a half years.
AFTER SPENDING THE next several weeks with his mom and sister, going through Weaver’s possessions and, as he says, “just trying to function,” Nilsen threw himself into the one thing he knew would help. “From mid-December until the end of January, I was working between 8 and 12 hours a day,” he says. “It gave me something else to think about. I felt like if I didn’t have it, I didn’t know what I would do. I’d probably start drinking. The work gave me a goal.”
The book that came out of this period, Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, was filled with artifacts of his relationship with Weaver: giddy, affectionate postcards the two had mailed to each other from across town, a 21-page letter he’d sent his sister about an ill-fated romantic getaway, a page from his journal titled “Things He Does, in Spite of Which, She Will Probably Marry Him Anyway,” snapshots from the trip to France, the last time their life together was normal. In March Nilsen added the final pages—a 16-panel illustrated letter to Weaver describing her memorial at Promontory Point, where he’d scattered her ashes into the lake. The drawings are wide and cinematic, the point of view hovering behind and slightly above the crowd. In the first panel Nilsen walks with his mom, a sliver of something small and black jutting from the crook of his arm. A short, decimating sentence reads, “You are in my arms.”
Nilsen didn’t originally intend the book to be seen by anyone other than family and close friends who wanted something to remember Weaver by. He considered taking out a loan to pay for the printing himself, but the finished product was much longer than he’d anticipated, and the cost of doing it in color was too high. Somewhat reluctantly, he decided see if Oliveros had any interest. “I knew we had to, even though it wasn’t a traditional comic,” Oliveros says. Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow was published in a run of 3,000 last October. Chris Ware picked it as one of his top recent releases in an industry trade journal, calling Nilsen “an observant, sharply intelligent and unpretentious man” and the story “harrowing yet at the same time calmly and powerfully life-affirming.”
A few months later Nilsen assembled the first half of a two-part series he’d agreed to do for Fantagraphics before Weaver died. Still overcome with grief and up against a deadline, he cobbled it together from sketchbook drawings, and the result, The End, was a bare look at his fragile emotional state. One section, with the deceptively blithe title “Since You’ve Been Gone I Can Do Whatever I Want, All the Time,” shows him crying by himself at every point of the day. Another revolves around two featureless figures, one the shadow of the other, spouting impossible math equations while explaining loss. “My past, present and future have all come unhinged and flown off in different directions,” one figure says. “When I reach out my hand to try to get ahold of one or the other of them, my fingers brush against them and just push them further out into space. Of all of them, I miss my future the most.” As the panels continue, one figure disappears, and the other morphs into a giant maze that covers an entire center spread before dissolving into a field of dots. “That’s one of the things you mourn,” Nilsen says. “You miss the person, but you miss your life, the life you expected to have, too.”
As time has passed and the grief become less immediate, Nilsen’s feelings about Don’t Go and The End have grown more conflicted. He decided at the end of July not to go forward with the second installment of The End. Drawn & Quarterly has approached him about reprinting Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow and pushing it in chain bookstores, believing it would appeal to a wider audience, but Nilsen is on the fence.

“I was looking through Don’t Go the other day and realizing just how personal it is,” he says. “It just feels awkward for me to do a second printing that I don’t need to do. I’m trying to figure out whether it resonating with an audience, if that’s a valid enough reason. But that’s abstract to me. A year ago, if I was on a bus or in a restaurant and a certain song came on, I would have to leave because otherwise I would totally break down in public. And I don’t want to break down in public. Don’t Go feels like it’s me breaking down in public. The End is the same way. Everyone gets to watch me dissolve into tears.”
Nilsen says the grief sometimes comes back to him when he least expects it, but if Don’t Go and The End accomplished anything, it was forcing him to work through it as it was happening. In telling the story, he was able to see the arc. “I went with him to the site where he spread her ashes on the first anniversary of her death,” Jason Hammel recalls. “We sat there and talked and the way he thought about it was like it was an archetypal myth. Like a tale, like an ancient tale. He had so much clarity on it. The story was amazingly sad and dramatic and had beautiful moments. Like the night she died, there had been this storm unlike any storm I’d ever experienced. It was just horrible outside and all of us were sitting in this dark room—it’s just like one of those moments that feels scripted by God. And when he talked about it at the Point, he said that he felt like he was in a fable, but at the end of it.”
While trying to make up his mind about the second printing of Don’t Go, Nilsen has finished inking issue ten of Big Questions, which is due out in November. He also recently started dating someone, and though he’s given her all his books to read, he’s eager not to have his loss dominate his entire life. “It’s awkward because the books are a very specific view, a very uncomplicated view, though it was as complicated as any relationship,” he says. “But when someone dies, they get idealized. I’m in a place where I want to be moving forward, not in the past—as much as the past will always be with me.”
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Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

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Don't Go Where I Can't Follow




DOGS AND WATER in The School Library Journal

Updated July 11, 2007


NILSEN, Anders. Dogs and Water. illus. by author
School Library Journal Reviews – July 2007

Gr 10 Up–Nilsen’s narrative lens focuses narrowly on a lone traveler wandering in a desolate landscape. In a series of simple black-line drawings that dissolve into the whiteness of the page, an unnamed man clad in a hoodie stumbles through a desertlike environment with a stuffed bear strapped to his backpack. The bear is both a source of companionship and the target of frustrated outrage. Wild dogs pursue the traveler; after fending off their attack, he joins the pack, sleeping among them and walking alongside them as they march toward the empty horizon. The journey is punctuated by dreams of a vast ocean, illustrated in muted and ashen blue tones. The sparse narrative leaves many questions unanswered, offering no explanations for how or why any of this has come to pass. Events are depicted with an eerie sense of detachment, underscoring the bleak circumstances in which the young man is trapped. Nilsen conveys a sense of isolation, loneliness, and alienation within a loose framework that leaves itself open to myriad interpretations. Teens interested in independent comics or independent film will be attracted to it.–Heidi Dolamore, San Mateo County Library, CA
 

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Anders Nilsen

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Dogs & Water (hardcover edition)




  Wizard reviews Anders Nilsen and Gabrielle Bell's MoCCA panel

Updated June 26, 2007


[MoCCA] DRAWN AND POWER POINTEDLY
Creators Gabrielle Bell and Anders Nilsen talk about their latest Drawn and Quarterly releases and the events that inspired them

By Brian Warmoth
Posted June 25, 2007 12:45 PM

Two Drawn and Quarterly creators stepped up to the microphone to discuss their work Saturday at the 2007 MoCCA Art Festival. Both of their comics grew out of relationships, but the differences between the endings that inspired their stories, and the styles and personalities behind them, marked the wide spectrum of perspectives at work at one of comics’ largest indie publishers.

Seeming shy and a little giggly, writer-artist Gabrielle Bell, who was accompanied by fellow D&Q creator Anders Nilsen, presented a reading from her recent diary-style comic Lucky. She let the comic, and an enlisted friend, handle her stories’ loud noises and climactic moments of peril.

Bell showcased a story from Lucky #2 entitled “My Affliction,” which fantastically depicted a series of whimsically romantic relationships strung together and rhythmically punctuated by her main character being left behind to stumble upon someone new and begin another infatuation. The creator said that the story sprang from a major breakup.

“I would write one page a day and I would make it up as I went along,” Bell explained. “I used my dreams. Then, when I finished it, I re-did the whole thing just to make it have more continuity. I put in some foreshadowing, jokes and things like that.”

She referred to her first drafts of the comics as a “dress rehearsal,” which laid the groundwork for her rewrite, which extended the entire process to about 40 days by the time she concluded the book.

Nilsen followed Bell’s cheerfully optimistic romp with more sobering and contemplative slideshow, balancing out the panel with a look at his graphic novel Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, which collects letters, photos and other memories of his fiancée Cheryl, who died after a bout with cancer in 2005.

“The book is more or less a document of our life together,” he described, showing pictures and reading from correspondence he included.

Nilsen also showed scenes from his comic Big Questions, which he said he hopes to see collected later this year. The images consisted of satellite photos of the Earth that Nilsen captioned with drawings and text.

Both creators fielded questions following their readings about their work and backgrounds, including the value of formal education in their careers. “Gabrielle and I come from two different backgrounds in regards to that, because I did go to art school and did some comics in undergrad,” Nilsen responded. “[I found] that the instructors were very supportive of doing [comics], but they had very little to offer, so I ended up dropping out and doing it on my own.”

“You’re on your own,” Bell smiled. “It is changing,” she added, citing programs that are spouting up in art schools around the country.

Bell also responded to one audience member who noticed the looser lines she used in Lucky. Anders revealed that Bell had in fact done the book left-handed, “which is why the drawings are wobbly,” she added. “I had an injury at the time. It worked out well because it was shaky, but it was consistently shaky, whereas my right-handed drawing is slick but not as consistent,” Bell explained. Clearly, the lack of a functioning right hand didn’t stifle her creativity.
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Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Gabrielle Bell

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Lucky (hardcover)
Don't Go Where I Can't Follow
Big Questions #9: The Lost and Found




Dogs & Water and Moomin in the Contra Costa Times

Updated June 1, 2007


"Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip," written and illustrated
by Jansson (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95, 95 pages). Charm tends to be missing
in comics these days. What a treat, then, to be introduced to the late
Jansson's overly accommodating and wide-eyed hippo-like character. In these
four captivating adventures, the Helsinki-born artist offers gentle
commentary about relatives, wealth and appearances, but what truly wins us
over is her endearing, huggable hippo family and friends. They waddle their
way right into our hearts. Suitable for all ages and deserving of its two
Eisner nominations, the Oscars for comics. Book 2 arrives in September.
Can't wait. A


"Dogs & Water," written and illustrated by Anders Nilsen (Drawn &
Quarterly, $19.95, 96 pages). Every page in this spare, minimalistic story
creates a heavy, desolate sense of sadness. A man we know nothing about goes
on a long, otherworldly pilgrimage (quite the road trip to take in graphic
novels, eh?). It sends him on a path littered with death, wildlife and
occasionally, another person. Nearly everything he encounters poses a real
or imagined threat. Nielsen is a wickedly good master at creating mood; his
stark, simple and almost childlike drawings make the spontaneous violence
all the more disturbing and powerful. It's still messing with my head two
weeks later. A-

Randy Myers' Graphics Detail runs the fourth Sunday of every month. Reach
him at rmyers@cctimes.com or at 925-977-8419.



 
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Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Tove Jansson

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Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, Book One
Dogs & Water (hardcover edition)




  DOGS & WATER in the Library Journal

Updated May 9, 2007


LIBRARY JOURNAL
April 17, 2007

Nilsen, Anders. Dogs & Water. Drawn & Quarterly. May 2007. 96p. ISBN 978-1-897299-08-1. $19.95. F

The end of the world has taken popular culture by storm again, but writer/artist Nilsen isn't jumping a bandwagon with his bleak, remarkable Dogs & Water—it first appeared as a saddle-stitched comic without an ISBN in 2004 (and won the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Story), and his work on it began before the current war in Iraq started. Rather than merely exploiting contemporary fears and headlines, Nilsen has crafted a meditation on human persistence and compassion under siege in a cold, indifferent world. His unlikely vehicle for this is a series of spartan black-and-white illustrations of a young man on a road to nowhere in a vast, denuded landscape. His own random words, a teddy bear, and the occasional pack of animals are his only company, as the few other people he encounters are desperate and hostile. Interspersed are blue-and-white drawings of the boy and his bear on a surreal journey at sea, which provides the book with its surprising conclusion. Regardless of what it all means, Dogs & Water is a compelling, one-of-a-kind trip akin to Samuel Beckett conceiving Cormac McCarthy's The Road as a graphic novel, with inspiration from Harlan Ellison's "Vic & Blood" stories. Reviewed from an uncorrected paperback proof, this edition features new pages and panels not included in the original. Recommended for all fiction collections and to anyone interested in either graphic novels or how much can be conveyed with simple drawings and minimal text; its relative lack of violence and profanity makes it suitable for all but the very youngest of readers.—J. Osicki, Saint John Free P.L., NB
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Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

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Dogs & Water (hardcover edition)




DON'T GO WHERE I CAN'T FOLLOW in New City Chicago

Updated May 1, 2007


Love, Truly Love
On three mournful, magic books
Ray Pride
NEW CITY CHICAGO
2007-04-27

A third in this besorrowed genre is Chicagoan Anders Nilsen's heartbreaking "Don't Go Where I Can't Follow," (D&Q, $17.95) which in its own brief form hits as hard as Didion's masterful recollection of loss. It is a collage, a scrapbook, a memoir; a testament, a legacy, a tragedy, a motley collage and a shattering gem I've returned to several times. The book came unannounced with several other Drawn & Quarterly graphic novels, and it was the most modest-looking in the pile. A milky SX-70 Polaroid on the front--Nilsen putting his cheek up against that of girlfriend Cheryl Weaver while sitting on a couch--another on the back, the flash is terrible, they're kissing in a kitchen. Inside, evidence of travels by the Chicago couple: postcards from Weaver tracking the start of their romance. A twenty-one-page short story the young Nilsen wrote to his sister from camp, reproduced from spiral-bound, ruled pages. More snaps. Stubs of flight passes. Sketchbook jottings. Photos of a shared trip to France, frames largely unpeopled. Notes and sketches about Weaver, by now Nilsen's fiancée, entering the hospital after an abrupt diagnosis. More illustration. Postcards from him to her. Two pages of handwritten illumination of what we've seen. Grave and glorious, life affirming and love affirming, "Don't Go" vibrates in its ungainly form, capturing fleeting time as a shoebox of family pictures might suggest decades of life, a romance stilled suddenly by the worst of adversity, mortal illness. Feelings don't go away. Forster wrote that literature is what happens next. Next is predicated on previous. Raw emotions are transformed by observance and love, into memory and art.
 
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Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Don't Go Where I Can't Follow




  SFist recommends Bell, Huizenga and Nilsen tour

Updated April 5, 2007


SFIST.COM
February 13, 2007
SFist Tonight

Catch Drawn & Quarterly cartoonists Gabrielle Bell (Lucky), Kevin Huizenga (Curses), and Anders Nilsen (Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow) at the Booksmith (1644 Haight St), the SF stop on their West Coast book tour. The cartoonists will be presenting a slide show of their work, answering questions and signing their latest D+Q releases. Kevin Huizenga's short story collection, Curses, promoted Huizenga as "one of the brightest, most interesting new comix authors to appear in the last five years" by Time.com. In drawings featuring a sly, understated line, Huizenga offers an insightful portrayal of life's mundane drudgery as well as its philosophical complexity. The lead character in many of Huizenga's stories is Glenn Ganges, a suburban everyman. Gabrielle Bell's Lucky chronicles the downs and outs of the hipster-artist lifestyle.
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Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
Anders Nilsen
Gabrielle Bell

           Featured products

Curses
Lucky (hardcover)
Don't Go Where I Can't Follow




Seattle Weekly highlights Bell, Huizenga and Nilsen tour

Updated April 5, 2007


SEATTLE WEEKLY
Saturday 2/17
Graphic Art
Drawn & Quarterly

Despite the success of adult-themed graphic novels like the Pulitzer Prize--winning Maus and Craig Thompson's Blankets, a first-love story that won raves in 2003, going public about your love of graphic novels still might make you feel dorky and weird. (Unlike in Japan, where businessmen and schoolkids read manga on public transit, we seem to associate the graphic novel with neurotic collectors). Three artists from Montreal-based publishing house Drawn & Quarterly may hold the power to turn the reputation of the graphic novel around. Endearing N.Y.C. cartoonist Gabrielle Bell imparts her woes, wins, and daily happenings in Lucky, a collection of three editions that span one year from May 2003 to 2004. Whether she's chronicling her romantic struggles or the frustrations of paying the bills, the minimal text paired with the simple, sweet illustrations conveys more even than other more long-winded forms of literature. Anders Nilsen, the man behind the heartbreaking Don't Go Where I Can't Follow, evokes unavoidable swells of emotion as he takes the reader through his fiancée's losing battle with cancer via postcards, notes, drawings, and writings. And Kevin Huizenga's Curses twists the everyday tightly with the out-there, exploring territory that ranges from evil monkey hallucinations to hunting down a giant bird whose feathers hold the key to curing infertility. D&Q has sent these comic genuises out on the road together, spreading the gospel of the graphic novel to the masses.
 
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Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
Anders Nilsen
Gabrielle Bell

           Featured products

Curses
Lucky (hardcover)
Don't Go Where I Can't Follow




  Willamette week spotlights Bell, Huizenga and Nilsen tour

Updated April 5, 2007


WILLAMETTE WEEK
Drawn and Quarterly Artists at Reading Frenzy Tonight
February 15th 2007

Three comics authors with new releases from the excellent Canadian publisher Drawn and Quarterly will present their work at Reading Frenzy at 7 pm tonight. They're on a West Coast tour together, during which, I'm assuming, a lot of self-deprecating jokes are cracked and a lot of awesome portraits are drawn. Hopefully they're selling a lot of books, too, because all three artists are touring on some pretty nice work.

Kevin Huizenga's Curses finds the author's flagship character, Glenn Ganges, doing battle with starlings and (literally) fighting for his fertility. Huizenga's stories are understated and suprisingly well-researched, and his art maintains the simple elegance of a Sunday strip, while at the same time hinting at a vastness that extends far beyond the book's pages. It's deep stuff.

Anders Nilsen's new book, Don't Go Where I Can't Follow, is a heartbreaking mixed-media memoir that both ruined my day and inspired me to call my mom. It's short but dense, and really moving.

I haven't finished Gabrielle Bell's comic journal, Lucky, yet, so don't spoil it for me. She has a good observational sense of humor and the rare ability to translate those observations to ink without cluttering a page and confusing the eye.

Tonight's event is free, but plan on spending $15-20 per book. Reading Frenzy is at 921 SW Oak St.
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Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
Anders Nilsen
Gabrielle Bell

           Featured products

Curses
Lucky (hardcover)
Don't Go Where I Can't Follow




SF Weekly makes Huizenga, Nilsen and Bell tour a top pick

Updated April 5, 2007


West Coast Slide Show & Discussion Tour
Tuesday, Feb. 13
Drawn Out

In his book Curses, Kevin Huizenga again dips into the life of Glenn Ganges, a suburban Everyman flirting with mythology and spirituality, who bears resemblance to Dagwood Bumstead. In one tale, he drifts into a 19th-century ghost story about hallucinatory visions brought on by green tea; in another, a trip to the mailbox turns into a meditation on the "Lost Boys of Sudan." The work is so alive you can picture it -- actually, it's hard not to. Curses is a collection of comics put out by Drawn & Quarterly, the influential home of artists like Charles Burns, Chris Ware, and Adrian Tomine. On the publisher's West Coast Slide Show & Discussion Tour, Huizenga appears with Anders Nilsen, whose Don't Go Where I Can't Follow features an intimate collection of drawings, letters, and photographs in memory of his fiancée, and Gabrielle Bell, who reveals a Brooklyn twentysomething life full of bad apartments, bad roommates, and bad jobs in Lucky. Booksmith, 1644 Haight (at Cole) , San Francisco
 

Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
Anders Nilsen
Gabrielle Bell

           Featured products

Curses
Lucky (hardcover)
Don't Go Where I Can't Follow




  SFBG promotes Huizenga, Bell and Nilsen book tour

Updated April 5, 2007


San Francisco Bay Guardian
Gabrielle Bell, Kevin Huizenga, and Anders Nilsen

In his book Curses, Kevin Huizenga again dips into the life of Glenn Ganges, a suburban Everyman flirting with mythology and spirituality, who bears resemblance to Dagwood Bumstead. In one tale, he drifts into a 19th-century ghost story about hallucinatory visions brought on by green tea; in another, a trip to the mailbox turns into a meditation on the "Lost Boys of Sudan." The work is so alive you can picture it -- actually, it's hard not to. Curses is a collection of comics put out by Drawn & Quarterly, the influential home of artists like Charles Burns, Chris Ware, and Adrian Tomine. On the publisher's West Coast Slide Show & Discussion Tour, Huizenga appears with Anders Nilsen, whose Don't Go Where I Can't Follow features an intimate collection of drawings, letters, and photographs in memory of his fiancée, and Gabrielle Bell, who reveals a Brooklyn twentysomething life full of bad apartments, bad roommates, and bad jobs in Lucky. Booksmith, 1644 Haight (at Cole), San Francisco
click here to read more


Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
Anders Nilsen
Gabrielle Bell

           Featured products

Curses
Lucky (hardcover)
Don't Go Where I Can't Follow




East Bay Express mentions Bell, Huizenga and Nilsen tour

Updated April 5, 2007


Three for the Road
High-profile cartoonists bring their troubles to Comic Relief.
By Kelly Vance

Gabrielle Bell’s Lucky series takes us into the life of an insecure New York graphic artist who frets about such things as having to kiss French people on both cheeks, and coping with an obtrusive documentary film crew – her own life, in other words. In the “Glenn Ganges Stories” collected in Kevin Huizenga’s Curses, nobody can pronounce the name of the poor schnook protagonist (Danzig? Genghis?) as he makes his way across a suburban wasteland trying to live the American dream. He may harbor Zen visions but he resembles Tintin’s slacker offspring. These comics characters are such navel gazers, so worried about everything, almost whiny. Recognizably middle-American 21st-century.
But then we come to Anders Nilsen’s Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, a diary-style account of the happy days he spent with his girlfriend Cheryl before she died of cancer, an ordeal which he also documents. It’s enough to break your heart. Then Bell’s, Huizenga’s, and Nilsen’s oeuvres come into focus simultaneously. All three graphic authors seem to arrive at more or less the same beaten, forlorn, yet hopeful juncture. Maybe that’s why their publisher, Drawn & Quarterly of Montreal, is sending them on tour as a trio to promote their respective D+Q books. All three are touted as the future of cartoon storytelling, and all three appear at Berkeley’s Comic Relief Sunday afternoon (3-5 p.m.) to show slides of their work, field questions, and sign their books. DrawnandQuarterly.com
 
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Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
Anders Nilsen
Gabrielle Bell

           Featured products

Curses
Lucky (hardcover)
Don't Go Where I Can't Follow




  Nilsen, Huizenga, Bell tour mentioned by LA City Beat

Updated April 5, 2007


ILLUSTRATE, MY LOVE

If the latest generation of cartoonists – those who illustrate the mundane, ironic, and quietly revelatory aspects of modern life – made valentines, what would they consist of? A toothpick and a glittery sticker? A scrap of found lace and a chocolate ladybug? Get a hint tonight, when Gabrielle Bell, Kevin Huizenga, and Anders Nilsen, three cartoonists published by Drawn & Quarterly, appear at Skylight Books. As part of a national tour promoting their books Lucky (Bell), Curses (Huizenga), and Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow (Anders), the three will present a slide show, sign copies, and speak about their work and the passions that fuel it, whether existential, cathartic, or merely, deeply, poetic. 7 p.m. Free. 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz, (323) 660-1175. Skylightbooks.com; Drawnandquarterly.com.
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Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
Anders Nilsen
Gabrielle Bell

           Featured products

Curses
Lucky (hardcover)
Don't Go Where I Can't Follow




D+Q at APE

Updated April 5, 2007


Alternative Press Expo 2007

Saturday, April 21st 11:00AM - 7:00PM
Sunday, April 22nd 11:00AM - 6:00PM

CONCOURSE EXHIBITION CENTER
620 7th Street
San Francisco, CA

This year Kevin Huizenga is a special guest at APE! Check out his events and stop by the D+Q booth to meet him in person. Also, Anders Nilsen will be there Saturday only.

Saturday:

12:30 - 2:30 Anders Nilsen signing at the D+Q booth
2:30 - 4:30 Kevin Huizenga signing at the D+Q booth

5:00 - 5:55 Spotlight on Kevin Huizenga

Sunday:

12:30 - 1:40 Panel with Kevin Huizenga: "Graphic Novels Now"
2:00 - 4:00 Kevin Huizenga signing at the D+Q booth

NEW STUFF

John Porcellino's King-Cat Classix debuts at APE 2007! And don't miss Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve #11
 

Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
Anders Nilsen
John Porcellino

           Featured products

Curses
King-Cat Classix
Big Questions #9: The Lost and Found




  Anders Nilsen in the Patriot News

Updated March 30, 2007


GRAPHIC LIT
Nilsen breaks unstated taboos
Friday, March 30, 2007

The indie/art comics crowd has pretty much proved at this point that sequential art is capable of telling any sort of story, regardless of depth or genre.

Still, there seem to be a few weighty subjects -- the death of a loved one, for example -- that many cartoonists seem reluctant to explore, perhaps due to their relative youth.

Which brings me to Anders Nilsen. In the few years he's been doing comics, Nilsen has shown a restless experimental streak in the pages of anthologies like "Mome" and "Kramers Ergot," as well as his own stark, Beckett-like one-shot comic, "Dogs and Water."

Now he's come out with a pair of stunning books -- "Don't Go Where I Can't Follow" and "The End." Taken together, they provide a stark, devastating examination of loss and grief.

"Don't Go":

The first book, "Don't Go Where I Can't Follow," chronicles the last year of Nilsen's fianc, Cheryl Weaver. Using letters, postcards, comics and other materials, Nilsen details ill-fated camping trips, vacations, silly declarations of love -- the sort of things young couples looking forward to a lifetime together tend to do.

Then, within the space of a page, Weaver is ill with cancer. One page later and it's spread to her liver. Then, just as suddenly, it's her funeral, which Nilsen narrates to Weaver's ghost ("I think you wouldn't have liked this very much, to have been there. Everyone fussing over you.").

Though slim, "Don't Go" shows how our best-laid plans and expectations can be laid utterly to waste in no time at all.

"The End":

"The End" (part of Fantagraphics Ignatz series) is a sequel of sorts to "Don't Go," though it's a much more generalized book. Neither Weaver nor Nilsen is named outright, and the book often uses abstracted figures and images to tell its story. But it might be a more powerful and moving work for that very reason.

In one stark, overwhelming sequence, for example, Nilsen exclaims "Since you've been gone, I can do whatever I want, all the time," and then shows himself "trying to hold it together on the train to France," "crying while watching Letterman" and "screaming into a pillow."

Later on, he provides a lengthy list of potential new roles for himself, as a silhouetted stick figure snakes out and forms a series of maze-like patterns.

"In my new life, I could be an electrician, a plumber, a financial analyst, a homeless ex-baseball player" he says, before concluding, "What I can't be is me, with you."


I'd like to tell you that you will never experience the sort of pain that Nilsen details in these books. But, of course, I would be lying. At some point you, dear reader, will be in the same situation, if you haven't already.

And that is why Nilsen's work is so rewarding and, ultimately, so life-affirming. It's important that, when we are at our lowest and most despondent, we know we are not alone.

Other books by Nilsen:

"Monologues for the Coming Plague," Fantagraphics Books, 260 pages, $18.95.

This is the sort of project that, upon description, sounds almost like a joke: A rambling, stream-of-consciousness series of loose sketches, each taking up a full page for almost $19? Yeah, right pal.

Yet "Monologues" is much more than a self-indulgent series of doodles. Funny, surreal and at times even disturbing, the book provides some new and original ways of thinking about comics. True, it might be for a small, select audience, but those readers will definitely get more out of it than a first glance would suggest.

"Big Questions," nine issues (so far), Drawn and Quarterly, $6.95 each.

This is Nilsen's big, long-term project, centering on a group of birds that witness a plane crash and attempt to make sense of it. Was it a sign from God? Is the dazed pilot a friend or foe? What are we supposed to do now?

Though still uncompleted, the series is a surprisingly effective meditation on how we attempt to draw meaning from seemingly senseless events. You'll certainly never look at birds the same way again.

CHRIS MAUTNER: 255-8481 or cmautner@pnco.com
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Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured products

Big Questions #8: Theory and Practice
Don't Go Where I Can't Follow
Big Questions #9: The Lost and Found




Don't Go Where I Can't Follow in The Morning News

Updated March 26, 2007


Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow by Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly, 86 pages)
I am a fan of these quasi-hybrid chapbook-journals—the last one I remember being published was Dan Elder’s by Chronicle books—which is to say it takes a special kind of book publisher to see the value. In this instance, Anders Nilsen collected a variety of letters, drawings, and photographs to pay homage to his lover, Cheryl Weaver, who died of cancer in 2005. As Nilsen recognizes, “This story is, obviously, very personal, but ultimately I think it isn’t exclusive. It feels incredibly particular to me, still, but it’s just love and loss. And everyone, for better or worse, can relate to that.”
 
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Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Don't Go Where I Can't Follow




  Don't Go Where I Can't Follow in LA Times Book Review

Updated March 19, 2007


'Don't Go Where I Can't Follow' by Anders Nilsen
The graphic novelist traces his love affair with his girlfriend and her battle with cancer.
By Glen David Gold
Don't Go Where I Can't FollowAnders Nilsen, with Cheryl Weaver
Drawn & Quarterly: 86 pp., $17.95 paper


The new graphic memoir, "Don't Go Where I Can't Follow," breaks a great many rules of form, concluding with what might be the most devastating 16 panels of artwork in Anders Nilsen's career. His previous comics — the "Big Questions" series and "Dogs and Water," enigmatic, desolate and dreamlike works — in no way prepare us for the emotional wallop he delivers here.

This book subverts what we think a "graphic narrative" is: We were just getting used to the idea of autobiographical comic strips, drawings on paper. But there is very little cartooning at first in "Don't Go Where I Can't Follow"; instead we begin in September 2000, when Nilsen's girlfriend, Cheryl Weaver, writes her "artist statement," which reads, in full, "I know this boy named anders. He makes my heart ache and my stomach flutter." It's followed by reproductions of typed postcards she wrote to him, inside-joke art projects from one lover to another, a little like Griffin and Sabine, only their mysteries remain private.

Next comes a scan of a 21-page letter from Nilsen to his sister about a disastrous camping trip, through which we get clues about the lovers' personalities (him, distracted; Weaver, tolerant; them together, amusingly in sync). A cloudburst of information follows: photographs, ticket stubs, journal entries, all accumulating evidence that they are young, happy and soon to be married. Although there are interesting moments, at this point, a reader could be forgiven for thinking most of it could have stayed in Nilsen's scrapbooks.

Then the first body blow: Weaver has cancer. At first, her illness seems manageable, but it rapidly becomes apparent that it's going to be fatal. In four sketches accompanying his depressed journal entries from the hospital, Nilsen shows Weaver's decline. He despairs: "Fairness is a human delusion. What do you say to someone when they ask you 'Am I going to die?' and you kind of think they might, but there's no way to know, and you don't want to upset them."

His attention to detail, down to the pulsing artery in her neck, leads to an astonishing full-page image of her body from overhead, with medical implements invading her, each of them labeled with care. I don't know if he drew this to explain it to himself or if he still thought he might show it to her later, to see (among other things) a blood pressure cuff, three IVs, a feeding tube, an oxygen tube, a "bag to collect aceites fluid, leaking from drainage site on abdomen."

The speed of her end is shocking: diagnosed in March 2005, dead in November of that year. Next come excerpts from the Tao Te Ching, read aloud at her funeral, then the stunning conclusion: Nilsen, with friends and relatives, takes her ashes to Lake Michigan and turns them loose in the water at the spot where they had planned to get married. This is the only part done in traditional comic narrative. There are two panels per page with strips of text below them: a letter from Nilsen to Weaver, explaining what is happening at her service. "Paul kept telling me not to be disappointed.... The wind will shift, the ashes will blow in your face. But it didn't. It went perfectly. Your ashes scattered perfectly."

Nilsen is an exquisite draftsman with incredible patience for textures. A crowd of people crossing a park has stippling, cross-hatching and meticulous line work for wool, asphalt, grass and so on. This slows the eye down, makes every moment distinct and calm and somehow forces us, the viewers, to participate. By the time he is climbing down the rocks to the water and letting go a small puff of dust, then collapsing, the effect of words and images together is as poetic and crushing as any elegy for a loved one could be. These are 16 panels of beauty and grace, a fully formed exploration of terrible grief.

The last chapter contains Nilsen's postcards to Weaver, finishing with a note he wrote her at the beginning of the relationship on a 3-by-5 card that vibrates with naiveté and tragic irony. And that's it, the end.

In an author's note, Nilsen tries to make sense not of the events but of his desire to spill them this way. "It feels incredibly particular to me, still, but it's just love and loss. And everyone, for better or worse, can relate to that."

True, but this book could have been a mess. It's a brave and risky attempt at communication. In some ways, it's obviously too early for Nilsen to express himself in public. Rather than taking time to process this into a more-constructed form of art, it seems much like dumping out your pockets of personal icons (bits of masonry, corn chips and jade plants) in the hope that people will understand what those things mean to you. Honestly, no, not really, we can't. And yet somehow, mysteriously, the effect is thrilling, an overheard conversation that lingers with you or a glance down the hall at strangers in love. What are we anyway after death but the scattershot evidence we've left behind?

But those last pages, the scattering ashes! It's an interesting choice — if choice is the right word — that Nilsen withholds his full palette of artistic skills until this point. It suggests that he is just now making the first steps to control the story and incorporate it into his work and that there is probably more to come. "Don't Go Where I Can't Follow" is both a tribute by a good artist to the life and death of a woman he loved and to the redemptive power of art.
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Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Don't Go Where I Can't Follow




Newsarama reviews Don't Go Where I Can't Follow

Updated March 16, 2007


Newsarama
1/8/2007

Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow
Written & Illustrated by Anders Nilsen (with Cheryl Weaver)
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

“Comics are just words and pictures.” It’s a truism that has been quoted by more than I can guess, and despite the truth, comics rarely move away from combining words and pictures as a grid of pictures with boxes or balloons pasted onto the images. Anders Nilsen’s Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow takes the juxtaposition of words and pictures to a different place, using something resembling a found-art approach to creating a narrative.

Don’t Go tells of the love and relationship of Nilsen and fiancée Cheryl Weaver prior to Weaver’s tragic death of lymphoma. Nilsen’s mix of writing and art from their time together satisfies the most basic description of comics – words and pictures – but provides a far greater insight into their relationship and love than traditional comics could ever hope to offer.

Using postcards that they’d sent to each other during their courtship, Nilsen shows the early stages of burgeoning love. A letter, written to his sister about a camping trip gone comically wrong, shows how Nilsen and Weaver bonded through adversity and laughter. Captioned photographs of a shared trip to France spotlight romance, travel and shared experiences. Illustrated journal entries explore the confusion and uncertainty of dealing with a loved one’s sickness. Finally, traditional comics sequences cap the France trip with another comic misadventure and, later, show the Nilsen’s isolation following Weaver’s passing.

The objects of their time together mark the moment with a clarity and believability that pulls you into the reality of their lives together, allowing Nilsen to share the reality of his life and his loss. Don’t Go is the type of comic that will potentially leave readers in tears and longing to appreciate every moment with their own loved ones.
 

Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Don't Go Where I Can't Follow




  Gabrielle Bell, Kevin Huizenga & Anders Nilsen West Coast Tour in February!

Updated January 4, 2007


Gabrielle Bell, Kevin Huizenga & Anders Nilsen West Coast Slide Show & Discussion Tour

WHO & WHAT:
Drawn & Quarterly cartoonists Gabrielle Bell (Lucky), Kevin Huizenga (Curses), and Anders Nilsen (Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow) will embark on a West Coast tour that takes them to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Berkeley, Portland and Seattle. The cartoonists will be presenting a slide show of their work, answering questions and signing their latest D+Q releases.

WHERE & WHEN:
LOS ANGELES February 8th 7 PM Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Avenue

LOS ANGELES February 9th 8 PM Secret Headquarters, 3817 West Sunset Blvd, NOTE: Anders Nilsen Art Opening, no slide show or discussion

BERKELEY February 11th 3:00-5:00 PM Comic Relief, 2026 Shattuck Ave

SAN FRANCISCO February 13th 7 PM Booksmith, 1644 Haight Street

PORTLAND February 15th 7 PM Reading Frenzy, 921 SW Oak St

SEATTLE February 17th 6 PM Fantagraphics, 1201 S. Vale St.


Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
Anders Nilsen
Gabrielle Bell

           Featured products

Curses
Lucky (hardcover)
Don't Go Where I Can't Follow




BIG QUESTIONS #9 reviewed

Updated December 21, 2006


"The Hurting" Blog

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Big Questions 9
by Anders Nilsen

The comics of Anders Nilsen do not appear to exist in the same plane of reference as most other comics. Often, the setting is desolate blankness, emptiness stretching off to the horizon line. The frequent lack of panel borders contributes to the sense of vertigo. More than any other creator, Nilsen uses blank space on the page to create anxiety and tension. The quietude and sparseness is so pervasive a mood that the reader is almost overwhelmed.

Big Questions 9 is, as the title may suggest, the ninth in Nilsen's ongoing series of pamphlets, released as an adjunct to recent long-form work such as Dogs & Water, Don't Go Where I Can't Follow and Monologues for the Coming Plague, as well as regular contributions to Fantagraphics' ongoing Mome anthology. Nilsen's recent spate of productivity, all the while maintaining a dangerously high standard of quality, places him firmly within the upper echelon of current cartoonists. His style, while firmly established, is still elastic enough to provide for multiple ongoing experiments, of the type provided by multiple ongoing venues. Paging through Big Questions 9, an uneducated reader would be hard-pressed to say that this was the same man who produces those devilishly abstract strips in Mome. That's a good thing.

The multiple features within Big Questions are continued from previous issues, but you'd be hard-pressed to call them serials of the conventional kind. Sitting down to read the issue with little or no memory of the events of the last issue, the book seems as effective in isolation as it would be otherwise. Just as the characters in Nilsen's stories wander through unadorned, numbing expanses of time and space, so too is the reader thrust into the liminal zones between confusion and comprehension. It's the feeling of having walked into a film after the first reel, long after the initial exposition -- there's nothing left but a long sequence of actions occurring seemingly at random, shorn of all necessary context. Perhaps the context is hidden or missing, perhaps it never existed. What is left for the reader is the pleasure of the present tense.

Considering how sparse the storytelling is, it's remarkable that Nilsen manages to communicate emotional states with as much urgency and focus as he does. Perhaps the lack of context creates a hyper-awareness on the part of the reader, a heightened alertness to the nuance and detail of simple interaction that would not occur in the context of a more elaborate story. The prominent characters in Big Questions 9 are mostly animals -- birds and a snake, in addition to two humans. One of these humans is mentally retarded, placing him below the level of the story's animals in terms of his ability to communicate effectively, either to his fellow characters or to the reader.

Nilsen's birds are surprisingly expressive creatures, considering the fact that they are only minimally anthropomorphized. Or rather, although the birds talk and communicate on-panel, they don't have expressive faces or bulging eyes or elastic body language -- The most we get as far as that goes is a single dot for a bird's eye, with a single line above it to illustrate emotion. Nilsen does a lot with not very much, managing to use the birds' own repertoire -- flapping wings, flight -- to communicate very human emotions. He breaks these rules slightly in the book's final feature, "Algernon", featuring the culmination of the title character's journey to Hell -- but still, for all that his birds remain stridently bird-like.

I was surprised at just how much emotion Nilsen could get out of a few silly birds. Although the story itself is familiar to anyone versed in Greek mythology, "Algernon" still surprises with the unadorned potency of its climax. Perhaps it's because I didn't see the allusion until it was too late. Perhaps it was the seeming incongruity of birds. But the emotion was real, regardless of the source and regardless of the form. Away from his technical virtuosity and formal ingenuity, Nilsen is still capable of using authentic emotion to tell a rich and elegant story. No matter how abstruse his methods may at times seem, it is that reservoir of honest expression that will provide Nilsen with the tools to create work of even greater lasting value and impact.

-posted by Tim O'Neil
 
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Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Big Questions #9: The Lost and Found




Gabrielle Bell, Kevin Huizenga & Anders Nilsen in St. Louis & Chicago!

Updated November 30, 2006


Don't miss Gabrielle Bell, Kevin Huizenga & Anders Nilsen in St. Louis at Star Clipper Comics on Wednesday, December 6th and in Chicago at Quimbys on Thursday December 7th!

http://starclipper.popshoponline.com/

http://quimbys.com/events.php

Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
Anders Nilsen
Gabrielle Bell

           Featured products

Curses
Lucky (hardcover)
Don't Go Where I Can't Follow




Nashville City Paper mentions DON'T GO WHERE I CAN'T FOLLOW

Updated November 22, 2006


Graphic Content
By Wil Moss, Lifestyle Correspondent
November 17, 2006

Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow (Drawn & Quarterly), is out now, but it is a very personal book that I don’t feel comfortable with turning into a regular review and of making any kind of critique. Look for it, however, as it is artist Anders Nilsen’s account of his relationship with his girlfriend who died of cancer last year, using a mix of postcards, letters, photographs, journal entries and comics to provide a glimpse into a real relationship that ended far too soon. The definition of heartbreaking.
 
click here to read more


Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Don't Go Where I Can't Follow




  D+Q to exhibit at SPX in Bethesda, MD October 13 & 14th!

Updated October 11, 2006


Drawn & Quarterly will be at this year's Small Press Expo this Friday, October 13th and Saturday the 14th, which please note, is in a brand new location at the Marriot Bethesda North in Bethesda, MD.

We will have the following new books on sale!

LUCKY by Gabrielle Bell
CURSES by Kevin Huizenga
MOOMIN by Tove Jansson
BIG QUESTIONS 9 and DON'T GO WHERE I CAN'T FOLLOW by Anders Nilsen
FALLEN ANGEL by Nicolas Robel

Previews of all books can be found at www.drawnandquarterly.com

Anders, Kevin and Gabrielle as well as Dan Zettwoch from D+Q SHOWCASE VOLUME
FOUR will be in attendance, here is our signing and programming schedule:

Friday, October 13th:
3:00 - 5:00 Kevin Huizenga & Dan Zettwoch signing
5:00 - 7:00 Gabrielle Bell & Anders Nilsen signing

Saturday, October 14th:
12:00 - 1:00 Dan Zettwoch signing

1:00 - 3:00 Gabrielle Bell & Anders Nilsen signing

3:30-4:30 A panel discussion with Anders, Kevin and Gabrielle "How to Draw
Thinking" from 3:30 to 4:30 on Saturday, in Brookside A. With moderator
Isaac Cates, they will discuss the pleasures and problems of making pictures
that think.

4:45 - 6:45 Kevin Huizenga signing

D+Q staffers Rebecca Rosen and Morgan Charles will be on hand to see that
all goes well at tables #C14-16.

Don't be shy! And stick around Saturday night for the Ignatz Awards where D+Q is up for several awards!


Peggy Burns
Drawn & Quarterly
Director, Marketing & Publicity
http://drawnandquarterly.com/blog/




click here to read more


Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
Anders Nilsen
Gabrielle Bell

           Featured products

Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, Book One
Curses
Lucky (hardcover)




ANDERS NILSEN in the MONTREAL MIRROR

Updated February 22, 2006


The road taken

Anders Nilsen reflects on his rough walk through nowhere, Dogs and Water


by MATTHEW WOODLEY

“All of a sudden I was alone in the middle of nowhere, carrying around this somewhat childish idea that I was going to be an artist,” says Anders Nilsen, remembering the period of his life when the structure of art school gave way to the common cry of the day job. “It started out as just the absurdity of doing that as an adult in the world.”

Nilsen is describing the germ of his short comic book, Dogs and Water (Drawn & Quarterly), a quiet, symbolism-rich trip through noplace. A boy walks down a road with a teddy bear strapped to his back. He gets shot at from a passing bus, assaulted by caribou and semi-befriended by a pack of family dogs. Flash to him in a rowboat, this time in a wetter middle of nowhere, where he meets a man swimming to Asia. And back to the dry land where he bumps into a pipeline, then into a pilot mangled from a helicopter crash, who also attacks him. Cuz, apparently, is having a rough go.

Where Dogs and Water speaks about a specific time in the author’s life (the war in Iraq inspired the pipeline, he reveals), the often cryptic narrative leaves room for a more universal theme—a simple reflection on the road taken with the easy-apply quality of a fairy tale. Nilsen is subtle in both his narrative and strokes, inviting the reader to dreamily journey along.

“There are symbols of oil and conflict, but it’s not that I’m trying to make any political point,” he says. “I’m more hoping that the images I use are evocative for people. I guess I think of it as the existential condition. Ultimately, we’re trying to find our way in the world and we come upon other people and things that point us one way or another. We might walk with somebody for awhile, but you end up finding your own path.

Drawn & Quarterly Upstart Comic Artists Anders Nilsen, Sammy Harkham and Kevin Huizenga stop in at Casa Del Popolo for a book signing and Q&A Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m., free
 
click here to read more


Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

          



  Giant Robot on Big Questions #7

Updated February 3, 2006


"Anders Nilsen must be a genius. How else could he tell a story about a mute person who is lost in a forest, being observed by birds that talk? It's as if Anders were Matthew Modine from Birdy, translating the story from the birds' perspective. If I were Bill Gates, I'd hire a team of helpers to speed up this porject and make an animated film already. It's painful to wait for the next issue."

Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Big Questions #7: Dinner and a Nap




Cartoonists' art graces the cover of Penguin Classics

Updated February 3, 2006


Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions - Nilsen, Spiegelman, Chast, Seth, Burns, Ware

A new edition of Voltaire's Candide with a cover by Chris Ware came out a few months ago; the rest are out on March 28:

Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, Cover by Anders Nilsen

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster, Cover by Art Spiegelman

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, Cover by Roz Chast

The Portable Dorothy Parker, Cover by Seth

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, Cover by Charles Burns

Candide by Voltaire, Cover by Chris Ware

follow the link below to see a blog-posting with pics!
 
click here to read more


Featured artists

Seth
Chris Ware
Anders Nilsen

          



  Sammy, Kevin and Anders On Tour!!!!!

Updated January 18, 2006


Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics Present Sammy Harkam–Crickets, Kevin Huizenga–Or Else & Ganges and Anders Nilsen–Big Questions & Mome on Tour

Saturday, February 18th Rocketship, 208 Smith St Brooklyn NY 8 PM Art Opening
Monday, February 20th Center for Cartoon Studies White River Junction VT Class Visit
Tuesday, February 21st Casa Del Popolo 4873 Blvd. St. Laurent Montreal, QC 7 PM
Wednesday, February 22nd The Beguiling at the Revival 783 College Street West (at Shaw) Toronto, ON 8 PM
Saturday, February 25th Quimby’s 1854 West North Ave Chicago, IL 7 PM


Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
Anders Nilsen
Sammy Harkham

          



BOOKLIST reviews Anders Nilsen's DOGS & WATER

Updated November 17, 2005


Dogs and Water
1 February 2005
Booklist. Volume 101; Issue 11

Nilsen, Anders. Dogs and Water. 2004. 88p. illus. Drawn & Quarterly, paper, $9.95 (1-896597-77-8). 741.5.

A man dressed for the cold trudges down a highway through featureless country, talking to a teddy bear strapped to his backpack. He grabs it, shakes it in frustration, tosses it away, retrieves it, then stomps on it and almost bops it with a rock when, from a window in a passing bus, a toy gun points, and a voice says, "Pop." Next day, the walker encounters some elk, and the road ends. Continuing, he finds a ruined house, his pack is nearly stolen, snow falls, a pack of dogs finds him. He comes across a downed helicopter and a wounded man by a huge pipeline. There his journey becomes potentially lethal. Eventually, he goes on. The dogs follow. So where's the water? Periodically the walker's story is interrupted by two to four pages of blue (instead of black) and white showing him at sea in a small boat-a journey, dangerous as his trek, that finally seems its subconscious parallel. Nilsen's austere drawings and cinematic continuity make this simple, symbolic rite-of-passage tale rich and unforgettable. -Ray Olson
 

Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

          



  Comic Book Galaxy reviews BIG QUESTIONS #7 by ANDERS NILSEN

Updated November 16, 2005


Big Questions #7
By Anders Nilsen
Published by Drawn and Quarterly

Matt Fraction once wrote, in his old Comic Book Resources column Poplife, "I like any format that washes the bad taste of regular comics out of my brain." He was talking about the size and shape of Jessica Abel's La Perdida, and I didn't quite understand it at the time. La Perdida, although a bit smaller than the average comic, is still at a size and shape that feels like comics to me, the exact dimensions slipping away when engaged in the reading.

Anders Nilsen's Big Questions, on the other hand, is a saltbath of a comic. I can only speak with certainty regarding #7, the first to be published by Drawn and Quarterly, as the preceding six self-published issues are now out of print. But on the basis of what I have read, I can recommend Big Questions to anyone seeking something that seems separate from other comics.

In terms of immediate presentation, not only is it shorter than most comics, it's also wider, skewing the ratios. It's squarer than traditional comic size, rather than just being smaller. There's thicker paper stock and still weightier covers. There's a certain heft to it. The cover art, I think, is done in colored pencil. It looks and feels different almost immediately, and this doesn't go away once you open the book.

It doesn't scan as comics, flipping through the pages. There's a frequent lack of panel borders, and a lot of drawing the same character in different spots in the same panel, from different perspectives as the eye moves from left to right. That said, upon reading it, it's pretty obvious that this is comics -- it's not like the artier Kramer's Ergot side of things, the Paper Rodeo side, devolving into chaos. This approach just feels more open, sparser. Quieter.

Part of this is due to Nilsen's drawing style, which employs a delicate line-weight and large amounts of white. It's pure black and white, with no shades of gray. The line-weight doesn't seem to make any major shifts -- It's pretty thin throughout. Chris Butcher, speaking on his blog, said Nilsen draws like Frank Quitely if Quitely wasn't compelled to put muscles on everyone. That's pretty appropriate. There's not a lot of power at work here, just beauty. There's a lot of drawings of trees, pockmarked with dashes to give the impression of texture and bark.

There are moments where there are panel borders -- there's a sequence set in a cave, for example, where the gutters are all white, but inside the panel, the backgrounds are black. This takes away from the feeling of openness, because it's not an open moment -- it adds a feeling of menace, even though no action occurs.

Or, alternately, there's the first page of the comic. There are panels here which help bring you into the world of the comic, as opening in the free-floating world found in the majority of the comic could be a bit more difficult. It eases you into it, with panels and a tightly measured rhythm. A bird lands on a tree, and then starts pecking at it. The moments of pecking throw in lettering, "taktataktaktaktaktaktak" going across the panel diagonally, filling the background space. On the next page, the bird leaves the tree, a human walks up to it, and then the panel borders are gone, and we've zoomed out on a greater image of the forest.

There's this certain vibe at work in Big Questions that all these things -- the art, the pacing, the lettering -- help get across. There's a feeling of calm at work here that brings to mind new Asian cinema. The overall emotional affect it would seem to be going for is one of transcendence. Kind of a hard thing to achieve, and I'm not even certain it's what Anders is working towards. But that's the feeling I get, reading this book. There's a peacefulness of spirit.

This is not to say it's a dull book, or one without moments of tension.

I should perhaps talk of the subject matter: In the issues so far, the ones I haven't read, a plane has crashed. I believe into a house, possibly in the woods. Perhaps a house in the middle of the woods. Some people have died. There's also a bomb, which birds identified as an egg. It has since exploded. There's a human talking around this issue, although he doesn't talk. It's not a silent comic, though -- there are snakes that talk, and birds.

It's a comic from the perspective of birds, so yes, it's faintly twee. They talk to one another and refer to human clothing as feathers. The snake in the book seems to care about the bird he talks to. It's a gentle book, although one where the state of gentleness seems earned only from the violent traumas in the book's past, which seem to loom over everything.

I don't know where the book has been. I don't know where it's going. Because of this lack of a map, I'm unsure as to whether anything happens in this issue, if anything goes anywhere. But there's a mood at work here, a feeling, and it's a peculiar one. That is what I'm recommending, that feeling and the formal innovation that comes with it.

It's a book with a sense of wonder to it, and a sense of dawning revelation. The way it's formatted and presented gives it this feeling of being a singularity. The paper is so white, but not slick, it's got a natural texture to it. It's a book for all seasons -- not an all-year comic, free from nature's cycles as read indoors, but to be read in any weather. This is a book for autumn, a book for winter. It would also work for spring's rebirth and summer slowness. It's a pure work, free from any kind of larger business context. It can't fit into any larger political discussion of comics, it's its own entity, completely by itself. It doesn't read like comics. It reads like fresh air.

-- Brian Nicholson
click here to read more


Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Big Questions #7: Dinner and a Nap




D+Q is nominated for 5 Harvey Awards!

Updated June 28, 2005


Kevin Huizenga, Anders Nilsen and Seth have all been noted for their 2004 releases.


The Harvey Awards, named after pioneering cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman (co-creator of MAD magazine), are one of the comics industry’s oldest and most respected awards. The Harvey Awards recognize outstanding achievements in 20 categories, ranging from Best Letterer to Best New Talent to the Special Award for Excellence in Presentation. They are the only industry awards both nominated by and selected by the full body of comics creating professionals.


Best New Series
Michael Chabon Presents: The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist / Dark Horse Comics
Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days / DC Comics/Wildstorm
Or Else / Drawn & Quarterly
Owly / Top Shelf
1602 / Marvel

Best Letterer
Daniel Clowes / Eightball / Fantagraphics Books
Todd Klein / Wonder Woman / DC Comics
Seth / Palookaville / Drawn & Quarterly
Dave Sim / Cerebus / Aardvark-Vanaheim
Richard Starkings / Conan / Dark Horse Comics

Best Single Issue or Story
Batman: Room Full of Strangers / DC Comics
Black Hole #12 / Fantagraphics Books
Dogs and Water / Drawn & Quarterly
Identity Crisis #1-4 / DC Comics
Eightball #23 / Fantagraphics Books
Puphedz / Brillig Productions
Supernatural Law #101 / Exhibit A Press

Best Inker
Charles Burns / Black Hole / Fantagraphics Books
Danny Miki / Ultimate Fantastic Four / Marvel
Andy Parks / Green Arrow / DC Comics
Seth / Palookaville / Drawn & Quarterly
Steve Leialoha / Fables / DC Comics/Vertigo

Best Graphic Album of Previously Published Work
American Elf: Sketchbook Diaries of James Kochalka / Top Shelf / James Kochalka
Bone: One Volume Edition / Cartoon Books / Jeff Smith
Clyde Fans: Book 1 / Drawn & Quarterly / Seth
Locas / Fantagraphics Books / Jaime Hernandez
R. Crumb’s Kafka / ibooks/Komikwerks / Robert Crumb & David Zane Mairowitz



 

Featured artists

Seth
Kevin Huizenga
Anders Nilsen

           Featured products

Clyde Fans; Book One
Or Else #2




  Readymade Reviews Anders' Dogs & Water

Updated March 31, 2005


"...Dogs and Water is a journey best undertaken alone, on rainy day, when a touch of wonder and heartbreak seems like just the thing."
click here to download the PDF (416.37 KB)


Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

          



Giant Robot Reviews Anders' Dog & Water

Updated March 31, 2005


Giant Robot reviews Dogs & Water: "His style is stark and simple, but at the same time, complete."
 
click here to download the PDF (496.46 KB)


Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

          



  Flux Mag reviews Anders' Dogs & Water

Updated March 31, 2005


"it works entirely on its own, an existential feverdream and a compelling piece of graphic storytelling from a promising new tlaent.'
click here to download the PDF (463.01 KB)


Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

          



Boston Globe reviews David B's BABEL & Ander Nilsen's DOGS & WATER

Updated March 17, 2005


For Dogs & Water:

"For inner quietude, try Anders Nilsen's "Dogs and Water" (Drawn & Quarterly, unpaginated, $9.95). The Chicago artist spins a cryptic, alluring tale of a man, his teddy bear, a confrontation over an oil pipeline, and a fierce, sympathetic wolf pack. The carefully drawn "Dogs and Water" works a fine magic to take you where you've never been."

For David B's BABEL & EPILEPTIC:
"Epileptic" (Pantheon, 361 pp., $25) is a staggering work of heartbreaking genius in which writer/ artist David B. grapples with the epilepsy of his big brother, Jean-Christophe. The black-and-white illustrations are so intense they suggest shading has little to do with color; artistry and passion make them resonate. Jean-Christophe's seizures start small but grow in frequency and duration, plunging his family into a frantic search for a cure. Born Pierre-François Beauchard in a rural French town, David B. spent a happy childhood until his brother's epilepsy spun him into a troubled, cathartic creativity. Translated from the French, "Epileptic" is phantasmagorical and exceedingly personal; I wonder what Jean-Christophe thinks of it. A companion is "Babel Volume 1" (Drawn & Quarterly, 32 pp., $9.95), a prequel. Here, David B. attaches a more primitive and expansive graphic style to a narrative blending Jean-Christophe's illness with African civil war, suggesting an unusually deep connection between the personal and the political. The shocking use of red in "Babel" accents these transmissions from the spirit world, David B.'s brilliant yoking of dream and nightmare.

 
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Featured artists

David B.
Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Babel #1




  TCJ Picks Dogs & Water, Babel & Or Else as Top Ten of 2005.

Updated February 28, 2005


The Comics Journal picks their top ten comic books of 2004, and D+Q lands three comics on the list!

Anders Nilsen "Dogs and Water"
David B "Babel #1"
Kevin Huizenga "Or Else #1"

click here to read more


Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
David B.
Anders Nilsen

           Featured products

Or Else #1
Babel #1




Chicago New City Interviews Ander Nilsen

Updated February 24, 2005


Cartoon Network
Chicago's next generation of graphic novelists

Tom Lynch

A crowd of neighborhood fans gathers at Wicker Park's Quimby's for what could easily lead to disaster: four local graphic novelists, Anders Nilsen, Jeffrey Brown, John Hankiewicz, and Paul Hornschemeier--collectively titled The Holy Consumption--plan to play their own version of "Win, Lose, or Draw" with the crowd as contestants. They pass out various free two-page comics for audience appreciation and begin. Jokes are made, laughs are had, and the game goes off better than it could have, with one major detail resonating from wall-to-wall--these guys can draw, even when drawing silly.

Chicago serves as somewhat of a support system for cartoonists, with a rich recent history that includes Chris Ware and the early-career Daniel Clowes among others, and now it looks like a new generation is following their lead. The Holy Consumption--four local artists who formed a group to help promote each other's work and make themselves more available to the public through a website and random events--is just a small faction of the roaring horde of cartoonists between our borders, but each of them, though respectfully different, all have the same goal--to be read. To make pictures echo in the minds of readers the way they were first affected by their forebears, from Schulz and Crumb to Ware and Clowes. Well, things are looking up.


Anders Nilsen

As Anders Nilsen grew up in snowy Minneapolis, he lived near a large park. He's happy where he is now, he says from his West Augusta street apartment overlooking a blizzard-covered Humboldt Park. After a year's stay in San Francisco, he came to Chicago in 1999 to attend The School of Art Institute for graduate school. He only stayed a year.

"Mostly really I just felt out of place," he says. "The place is kind of geared toward the fine art and high art way of dealing with things. My teachers liked what I was doing and they were very supportive--it just didn't seem like they could talk about it in an interesting or helpful way. They couldn't tell me anything about comics that I didn't already know."

The son of a librarian and a mason, he grew up in comics-friendly environments, and took up drawing early on, as his father would frequently draw, usually images of him and his older sister. "I started to draw ever since I could remember," he says. "I don't remember not drawing."

Growing up a fan of "Tintin" and "Elfquest" led to his own "Big Questions" series, an extensive collection of thoughts and characters that spill across six different volumes and discover the funny, if not disarming, answers of existence. His "The Ballad of the Two-Headed Boy" won him the Xeric Grant and put him on the proverbial map. His newest, "Dogs and Water," Nilsen's dive into long-form published by Drawn and Quarterly, only adds to the impressive assembly of work.

In "Dogs and Water," Nilsen creates an epic landscape of desolation and doubt as a man wanders the never-ending wilderness armed with a backpack and a teddy bear. Nearly all spare visuals, the book seems rather ghostly, a haunted setting of smothering whiteness, as its hero tumbles through a wasteland only to stumble upon packs of wild dogs, a ghastly helicopter crash, and a barrage of heavy artillery and bullets.

The story unfolds during its creation, Nilsen says. "During the time after I started it and before I finished it the war in Iraq started, so that started to percolate a little bit," he says of the two-year process of putting "Dogs and Water" together. "The original strip I started with was more about just being an artist and figuring out how to make it through the world and how to hold on to what a sort of ridiculous idea that is, but to hold on to it and persevere."

As for the bear? "When I started [the book] it was a symbol of leaving school and being in the middle of nowhere but having this notion of childhood that I'm still carrying along with me. I'm using a childhood notion to navigate the world. I'm hanging on to this idea that I'm an artist, even though it's not an adult thing to do." Though Nilsen claims to not believe "in any kind of god in a way where God has intention or is manipulating the world," he feels religion plays a factor as well. "We constantly imagine that there is a purpose or a higher meaning, a plan for all of us," he says. "It's the thing that gets us out on the road, doing stuff, feeling like what we do matters. But I don't actually believe that there's something there, but it's important to have that sort of motivation."

2005 looks to be a huge year for Nilsen. He plans to finish another chapter in the "Big Questions" anthology (which he believes will take the entire year), plus future work with Fantagraphics and a distribution deal that will send his work across the globe and publish it in different languages. "I have a friend from college who's an artist too and he and I used to joke that the way you become a successful artist is to never ever become proficient at anything else," he says. Nilsen may be on to something.
 
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Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

          



  Chicago Magazine Features Anders Nilsen

Updated February 24, 2005


The glossy metro mag spotlights local cartoonist Ander Nilsen. PDF attached.
click here to download the PDF (646.41 KB)


Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

          



Dogs & Water Spotlighted in the Washington Post

Updated December 30, 2004


"Nilsen uses spare renderings to create a haunting narrative that will leave you wondering whether you've read a book or walked through a dream."
 
click here to download the PDF (306.13 KB)


Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

          



  Hartford Advocate Reviews Dogs & Water

Updated December 17, 2004


Voices in the. Landscape
Graphic literature and dirty finds lead the pack for holiday picks

December 16, 2004

by Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly), 88 pages, $9.95

We know, we know, you hate getting books for Christmas. But they are so easy to give, aren’t they? And giving someone a book can conceal a lovely didactic ambition, under the guise of selflessness, sort of like telling someone you love: “You should read this, it might improve you.” Or perhaps you are a better person than us and are thoroughly transparent and well-meaning. Whatever. Over the next few pages, we here at the Advocate have reviewed a handful of books that have come across our desks in recent months, that we think might be a good, or pointed, gift for someone you care about.

— Alistair Highet

------------------------------------------------------------------------



Dogs and Water



With a name like Anders Nilsen, you figure the artist/writer of this haunting graphic novel has spent too many lonesome hours trudging through frozen landscapes pondering big questions (he is, in fact, best known for a comic book series "Big Questions"). Or perhaps, as they say in Monty Python, he's simply pining for the fjords. But no. Nilsen is from Chicago, yet seems to take place in some unforgiving Arctic hell of bomb craters, roving wild dogs, vigilantes and oil pipelines.

The two main characters could very well have been lifted from a Samuel Beckett play: a talkative but confused young pilgrim, ill-clad and ill-prepared for the wilderness, and a stuffed bear strapped to his back like an underwater oxygen tank. The only soft place in this cruel, heartless landscape is that bear, and he has no speaking parts, though this doesn't stop the pilgrim from carrying on a one-sided conversation ("You don't have to tell me where we're going. You don't have to lay out the plan. I just want some reassurance, just a sign."). Don't we all, my man, don't we all. The relentlessly gray-black landscape -- nicely rendered in an uncluttered inked style that recalls Canada's David Collier -- is relieved by blue and grey dream sequences that are the most effective in the book. The tale culminates beside a hideous oil pipeline that underscores Nilsen's apparent theme: What a bloody awful mess we humans have made of this beautiful planet. It also recalls my favorite quote from a Beckett character: "I can't go on. I go on."

-- Alan Bisbort
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Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

          



Harrisburg Patriot News reviews Dogs & Water

Updated December 16, 2004



Arts/Leisure
GRAPHIC LIT
Christopher Mautner
Of the Patriot-News
271 words
12 December 2004
Patriot-News
FINAL
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"Dogs and Water" by Anders Nilsen, Drawn & Quarterly, 88 pages, $9.95.

With both feet planted firmly in Samuel Beckett territory, Nilsen's stark, unsettling story centers on a nameless, lost traveler wandering through a bleak, war-torn landscape. His only companions are a teddy bear and a roving pack of wild dogs. Eventually he does come across some human beings, only to find himself caught in a crossfire of sorts and faced with an extremely uncomfortable moral decision.

Nilsen's sparse, thinly rendered line work adds to the level of existential discomfort that the artist seems to excel at. Yes, it's a haunting book, but "Dogs and Water" stays with you a lot longer than most recent comics, easily marking it as one of the best of the year.



 

Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

          



  UTNE features Anders NIlsen, Kevin Huizenga, John Porcellino and the DQ Showcase!

Updated December 10, 2004


The February 05 issue of the UTNE READER features an article by Chris Dodge on "underground cartoonist to watch for" which features an extensive write-up on D+Q cartoonist Anders Nilsen and DQ Showcase #2 contributor Jeffrey Brown and lists Kevin Huizenga (Or Else), John Porcellino (Perfect Example -Fall 2005) as well as DQ Showcase 3 contributor Sammy Harkam as more artist to know about!
click here to read more


Featured artists

The D&Q Showcase Series
Kevin Huizenga
Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Or Else #1




McGill Daily reviews Or Else & Dogs & Water

Updated November 29, 2004



Dogs and Water
Anders Nilsen
88 pages
Drawn and Quarterly

Dogs and Water is about a long, dangerous, and ultimately aimless journey; a journey undertaken across a series of barren and sinister landscapes by a boy who has “sort of a bad sense of direction,” a bit of food, some matches, and a teddy bear strapped to his back, the likes of which he muses to throughout the book. This is existential comic art at its best.

Dogs and Water’s narrative starts out a bit like a horror movie. When the main character turns around, wondering where the road he’s been hitchhiking down has gone, it’s hard not to want to yell “Turn back now!” like he’s a sexy teen about to open the cobwebby door of an abandoned mansion during a thunderstorm.

Nilsen maintains an atmosphere of quiet surreal anxiety throughout the book. His protagonist has brush after brush with death in its various incarnations, whether they may be packs of wolves or mysterious men with guns. Although the sheer frequency of these confrontations can seem a little ridiculous, they do prevent the reader from ever settling in too comfortably with the story.

The book’s design and artwork also work toward the same purpose. Dialogue is minimal, and the drawings on the page aren’t segmented into boxes like most comics, emphasizing the disorienting feel of the story. Dogs and Water consists mainly of painfully sparse black-and-white line drawings, with no grey tones and minimal shading. However, interspersed with the tundra-narrative are occasional pages printed in blue, illustrating the protagonist’s shipwreck in the middle of an equally vast and bleak expanse of water, just in case the disoriented sense of alienation needed reinforcment.

Dogs and Water is published by Montreal’s very own acclaimed independent comic book publisher Drawn and Quarterly (D&Q), so fans of other stylish D&Q comics like those of Chris Ware and Julie Doucet will most likely dig this book, too. Like so many of D&Q’s publications, Nilsen’s work is also breaking new ground.

Just as artists such as Art Spiegelman, author of the Holocaust-retelling Maus legitimized the comic book to a much wider audience as a means of social and historical commentary, comics such as Dogs and Water are now being recognized increasingly frequently as credible vehicles for interesting and philosophical stories and ideas. Like other intelligent, atmospheric comics such as Ethan Persoff’s A Man and His Elephant or Peter Blegvad’s Leviathan, Dogs and Water is a quick way of showing anyone not yet on this particular bandwagon that it’s been a long time since comics were limited to the antics of Superman et al.

–Lily Pepper


Or Else #1
Kevin Huizenga
34 Pages
Drawn & Quarterly

You don’t get a lot of high quality comics out of the Midwestern United States. Judging by those folks’ voting patterns, you’d have to assume that the entire belt was never introduced to the concept of irony. But an exception may have to be made for Or Else #1, a Drawn and Quarterly (D&Q) release of five shorts by Illinois native Kevin Huizenga.

Huizenga has been making a name for himself in the comic world lately. In October, he was given the Ignatz Award for “Outstanding Story” for one of his Glenn Ganges stories. The story, “The Hot New Thing,” was published in Time Canada. Needless to say, this is not your traditional Batman comic. D&Q doesn’t seem to publish anything with the word “superpower” in it. They’re more into the ultra-mundane post-modern. Following in the footsteps of Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan series, the artist and insomniac Huizenga writes sad little ditties about the unspectacular: awkward human interaction, bleak moments, and silence. You’ll love it.

The first two stories feature Glenn Ganges, an ordinary guy in a Midwestern U.S. town. We are introduced to Ganges through six riveting panels:

1. washing dishes.
2. weeding his garden.
3. taking out the garbage.
4. staring out into space as he waters his lawn apa- thetically.
5. disinterestedly reading his book.
6. staring out into space, mulling over a cup of coffee.

The everyday is also explained with pop culture references to music. A character hears someone humming. “Is that Wagner?” they ask. “No…Roxy Music.” Our personal obsessions are examined.

Developing on the post-modern, Huizenga employs a pastiche of our traditional western forms with other traditional arts. In one of his stories, the artist narrates through the persona of Chineese artist Chan Woo Kin and creates an “action” strip out of a minimal Chineese-style landscape. Written in high contrast to the peaceful twisty trees and waterfalls, Huizenga cleverly contrasts a very modern tale about an adopted child with an ancient art form.

In Or Else, Huizenga reworks the comic form as we know it. In one short strip, the dialogue boxes break free of their owners and attack one another. Another story is told through the tangle of wind that a bicycle creates. Each frame is obscured by thick black lines and swirls – like the impossibly oblique Matt Brinkman, Huizenga is part of a new generation of comic artists who don’t spoon-feed you their stories.

–Isodora Walsh, with files from Genevieve Jenkins

 
click here to read more


Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Or Else #1




  D+Q's Kevin Huizenga & Anders Nilsen in St. Louis 12/1 & Chicago 12/11

Updated November 24, 2004



WHO & WHAT:
Drawn & Quarterly's newest cartoonists Kevin Huizenga & Anders Nilsen will be signing their latest comics –their first solo projects for the company OR ELSE #1 and DOGS & WATER– in St. Louis & Chicago.


WHEN & WHERE:
Wednesday, 12/1/04, 4 PM
Starclipper Books
6392 Delmar in the Loop
St. Louis, MO 63130
http://www.starclipper.com/

Saturday, 12/11/04, 4 PM
Quimby's
1854 West North Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
www.quimbys.com


FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Kevin Huizenga is the cartoonist of the SUPERMONSTER mini-comic, which is being collected into his new series OR ELSE. He recently won an Ignatz for his short story GLENN GANGES in the DQ SHOWCASE BOOK ONE. Please visit http://www.usscatastrophe.com.

Anders Nilsen is the cartoonist behind the BIG QUESTIONS mini-comic which has been nominated for two Ignatz Awards. He won a Xeric grant for his graphic novel THE BALLAD OF A TWO HEADED BOY. Please visit www.theholyconsumption.com.








Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
Anders Nilsen

           Featured product

Or Else #1




Punk Planet Interviews Anders Nilsen!

Updated October 26, 2004


“Nilson’s art is filled with amazing white space showing a true sense of human loneliness. Above all else, the work echoes our need to be heard, even if only by ourselves.”
–punk planet
 
click here to read more

click here to download the PDF (4.61 MB)


Featured artist

Anders Nilsen

          



  D+Q in NYC & Bethesda October 1-3

Updated September 24, 2004


Drawn & Quarterly will be in two places at once with your favorite cartoonists and comics next weekend October 1st-3nd!

Starting on Friday, October 1, D+Q will be at the Small Press Expo (SPX) in Bethesda, Marlyand through Sunday where we will debut new comics by Kevin Huizenga (Or Else #1), Anders Nilsen (Dogs & Water), David B. (Babel #1), Seth (Palookaville 17), and a new graphic novel by David Collier (Frank Ritza Papers)! R. Sikoryak, Kevin Huizenga and Anders Nilsen will be hand to sign anything you want!

On Sunday night at SPX are the Ignatz Awards where D+Q is up for Outstanding Artist-Chester Brown, Outstanding Graphic Novel- Louis Riel & The Fixer, Outstanding Story - Glenn Ganges In D+Q Showcase 1 and Paul In the Metro in D+Q 5, as well as Babel, Or Else and Dogs & Water being up for Outstanding Debut Award.

For more information on the festival, visit: http://www.spxpo.com/

On Saturday, October 2 and 3, D+Q will also be at the venerable festival New York Is Book Country in a new location - Washington Square Park, NYC. We will be right next to Jim Hanley's Universe on the graphic novel block. Adrian Tomine will appear on Saturday and David Collier will appear both days! We will be selling all of our brand new comics!

For more information on the festival, visit: www.nyisbookcountry.com

Come out and buy these brand new comics over a month before they hit stores!


Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
David B.
Anders Nilsen

           Featured products

Or Else #1
Satiroplastic





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