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 about.com (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 about.com. 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"

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

2011 Boooker Prize shortlist


The Booker Prize shortlist has been announced! A very interesting list, including four of the six titles I predicted last night.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller
Pigeon English by Stephen Kellman
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

I read the first fifty pages of Pigeon English in a Barnes & Noble while killing a bit of time before meeting friends, and I truly doubt this one will win. It seems Pigeon English is this year's Room, a creatively narrated story but not much more.

So thrilled to see Jamrach's up there! Whether or not it wins, I hope more people read this one.

Currently reading:
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

Currently listening to:
This morning's New York 1 news loop

Monday, September 5, 2011

2011 shortlist prediction


Tomorrow, the 2011 Booker Prize shortlist will be announced. I'll be back tomorrow evening with the list, but for now, I thought I'd feature my six selections:

The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst
On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

The Barnes was one I was going to skip, but decided to go for it after finding a cheap signed copy on www.firsts-in-print.co.uk. It's a short, 150-page novel that's much more driven by Barnes's stellar prose than his cheeky dialogue (which I've grown a bit weary of). I just finished it this afternoon on a train back to Brooklyn from Springfield, MA... it's a lovely meditation of aging, relationships, and the reliability of memories.

Of the three I've read (Barnes, Hollinghurst, Birch), so far I might be leaning towards Jamrach's for how perfectly it renders ocean madness... I'll try to avoid spoiling anything, but the book achieves something great when its plot turns sour.

We'll see how things go tomorrow! Until then....

Currently reading:
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

Currently listening to:
"In Tension EP" by Light Asylum