Monday, September 19, 2011

Anders Nilsen and the evolution of BIG QUESTIONS

If you're a fan of literary comics, chances are you've seen the work of Anders Nilsen around. In my opinion, Nilsen is somewhat of a rarity in the comics realm, as his work is much more focused on text and ideas than on traditional comic values like artwork and format. This lean towards text puts Nilsen in this amazing place for crossover appeal; at times his work feels like reading a philosopher's notebook, a trait that would surely appeal to fans of heavy lit.

I got into comics well after I fell for literature, and Nilsen's Big Questions made that happen. Soon after an obligatory first purchase of Watchmen, I discovered the now-defunct "Holy Consumption", a Chicago-based comics collective consisting of Anders Nilsen, Paul Hornschemeier, Jeffrey Brown, and the terribly underrated John Hankiewicz. Nilsen showed me how close comics can be to literature, and opened up many doors for me to explore in the genre.

I feel very lucky to have found Big Questions early enough to follow the story serially. Having started in 1999, its remarkable to see how Nilsen's story evolves over 12 years--what begins with fairly crude drawings of philosophizing birds grows into a dream-like story about a undetonated bomb, a crashed plane, and the relationship between man and nature. What's most incredible is that Nilsen's skill as an artist grows exponentially as Big Questions progresses. As you read through the series, you get to watch Nilsen turn from a cartoonist into an artist, and by the end of Big Questions, his pen and ink work is truly breathtaking.

An early page:

A later page:

I'll save my real review for (Big Questions is on deck between the new Eugenides and Murakami novels), but I'd like to show you how this comic grew from a xeroxed zine into a stunning, limited edition hardcover.

Here are issues 1-4 (each bought for about $3 from The Holy Consumption):

And issues 5-8 (now with full-color covers):

And issues 9-15 (where the story and design really hits its stride):

At last, Drawn and Quarterly have compiled all the issues of Big Questions into a beautiful, 600+ page tome. They did two editions at once, a paperback and a signed, limited edition hardcover. Here's the hardcover:

I'll post my review of Big Questions once it goes live on I strongly encourage you to seek out Nilsen's work. I hope this book gets a huge reception. Nilsen deserves it.

(Also, thought I'd point you to Nilsen's "picture store" here. I've wanted an original work from Nilsen for ages and thought I'd tempt you as well.)

Currently reading:
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Twin Spica by Kou Yaginuma

Currently listening to:
The soundtrack to "Drive"

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