Anders Brekhus Nilsen

Last week, on the same day as Louise Brooks, Anders Brekhus Nilsen had his birthday. This post was started then, abandoned, and now delivered, though late.
In 1998 or so, give or take a year, I was in Meltdown, and like I did back then (and guess I still do) I was crawling around on the floor like a moron looking for stuff, stuff that you discover by crawling around looking in between issues of Amazing Heroes and Don Simpson's King Kong comics (an excellent comic, by the way). And I found Big Questions #3. I looked through it and was amazed-it was seriously what I had been searching for in comic books stores for years. The cartooning was accomplished, the drawing beautiful with nice open line that was not too uptight, loose but clearly informed (I found out recently that he doesn't pencil and prefers to go direct with ink!). A seemingly out of nowhere find. I asked Gaston, the ruler of meltdown, about it and he had no idea of what it was and just said Last Gasp put a couple copies in with an order. Huh. Before I read it I had a feeling maybe it as badly written like a lot of nice looking comics. Instead the writing was fascinating in that it was really funny which I didn't expect and it was subtle-the writing didn't give you everything. it had a real measured quality.
The story, to keep it short, is about a bunch of talking birds and assorted animals who live out in a sparsely populated piece of nature. Nearby lives an old woman and her idiot son or grandson. A bomb drops out of the sky. Some birds think its a giant egg that will bring some sort of messiah, others are unsure what it is, spiritually or otherwise. Birds deal with other animals, benevolent and not, living in the area.....that the basic set up. But Anders' way is to have the plot move in such a way that you don't realize its moving forward. It reads more like a series of conversations between animals, random detached violence, and odd stuff like wading in a river and just splashing around. It builds momentum as it goes. And its seemingly freewheeling narrative allows for some amazing left turns at times, like when a plane crashes out of nowhere.
My favorite scene from Big Questions #3 is one where one bird recounts to another: eating scraps of a peanut butter sandwich and being grabbed by a man. But instead of eating him, the man just stared at him a while and let him go. In this short scene our perspective goes from the birds to imagining what the man is thinking to what the bird who is listening to the story is thinking to the overall objective "truth" of the scene. it's amazing because it does a lot at once, setting up the multiple, constantly shifting points of view, both physically and philosophically, and it shows a knack for the textural, the tangible, the moment.
That story is still going strong, which is up to issue nine, just published:

Big Questions is the first true epic to emerge in the last couple years in comics, certainly from newer ones. And it's incredible how it all works. his drawing conveys a level of calm, regardless of how intense or weird the strip can get. The accumulative effect of reading it feels like watching an explosion in slow motion.
Besides consistently releasing issues of Big Questions (self published up till #8, then taken over by Drawn and Quarterly), He's made time for some pretty interesting and wide ranging projects. Last year D&Q released Dogs And Water, a mammoth comic book about man wandering a desolate landscape arguing with a stuffed doll while a war goes on peripherally around him. He keeps the story subjective, letting the bombastic elements remain jarring and sudden as experienced by the protagonist. The reader never fully learning what it all means, as that's not the point anyway.
Earlier this year Fantagraphics released the great Monologues For The Coming Plague, a huge semi improvised sketchbook 'conversation' (for a sample of these, and other random Nilsen ephemera, check this out). At first it seems like a slight book, especially for those unfamilair with anders looser drawing style, but its pretty captivating, reading the strip, watching the artist make decisions and it comes to together really well. And he's in every issue of Mome too with a lot of strips that range from the above mentioned sketchbook monologues to fairly abstract strips that resemble tone poems (panels of mutating squares with captions for example).
And most recently, Don't Go Where I Can't Follow, which is not a comic at all, but a real life document of a relationship cut short by cancer. Diary comics, postcards, life drawings and assorted pieces documenting his long time relationship with artist Cheryl Weaver who died last year. A courageous book that, to me at least, shows an artistic integrity where the work, regardless of format, is honest, where life dictate the work regardless of how dark or revealing or painful that must be.

posted by sammy at 12:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for the drawn and quarterly link. i was wondering who put out the early issues of big questions. i found out about anders nilsen through ergot 5 (?), and i've been trying to find all i can since then.

11:17 AM  

Blogger sammy said...

I actually forgot to mention in the post that the copy I found of big questions #3 was offset printed by anders himself. I know d&q have a handful of early issues available, supplied by anders, so get them quick if they have not sold out yet.

1:18 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are the earlier issues of BQ staple-bound? And, if so,
do you think that D&Q chose to staple-bind the Big Questions in order to make them look more like mini comics/his earlier publications, or would it be to make it cheaper to produce?


12:28 PM  

Blogger sammy said...

the early issues were staple bound, regular comics. it'll be that format till the story is done and collected probably 2008 probably. thats anders prefrence, I would gather.

11:07 PM  

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