"Nilsen has drawing chops for days"

“Poetry Is Useless.” / Booklist / Ray Olson / September 15, 2015

Nilsen’s previous sketchbook graphic novels, Monologues for the Coming Plague (2006) and Monologues for Calculating the Density of Black Holes (2009), are portfolios of bleak existentialist comedy. This third is lighter in tone, mock-philosophical in tenor, and easier to relate to. Although he again usually draws the speaker as a ball-head atop a blunt-ended, lozenge body, this always seems to be Nilsen himself. Elsewhere, he essays realistic self-portraiture to depict travels to comics events hither and yon and interactions with friends and others, whom he renders in degrees of realism ranging from caricature (akin to R. Crumb) to fine-drawing mode (like, say, Käthe Kollwitz). Most pages display photographs of the adjacent pages of a flat-open sketchbook, and nearly every spread contains a monologue or story in conventional comics panels, one or more to a page. Additional drawings and remarks appear in the generous bottom margins as a kind of self-conscious running commentary, and occasional depictions of Nilsen’s favorite subjects—the root-balls of plants; rear-view portraits, as if the artist were a backseat car passenger looking the driver; pig silhouettes; fanciful machines; mash-ups of organic and inorganic forms; symmetrical designs—occupy quarter-, half-, or whole pages. Nilsen has drawing chops for days, and that, combined with his humor, which here tends toward skewed hybrid clichés and aphorisms, makes this accomplished and playful to the max.

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