“The Road Taken” / The Montreal Mirror / Matthew Woodley / February 22, 2006

“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

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