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Nilsen, Anders – Big Questions


Big Questions

So a little bit of personal history is necessary here. I started reading Big Questions around when the first issue came out in the late 90’s. I liked it quite a bit, although it seemed to be mostly gag strips and birds having philosophical debates. I read the first 7 issues but lost track of it somewhere along the way. Reading back through my old reviews it’s clear that I was loving it, but hey, there are a lot of comic series out there and I only have so much money (meaning: very little). But then some stimulus money came around, I checked out the Drawn & Quarterly shop and hey look, a collected edition of this book came out almost a decade ago. Whoops! Well, a giant book of funny strips and random philosophical discussions could be fun, so I picked up the hardcover version. Revisiting this so much later, I have one main question to start: why isn’t this book in the pantheon of greatest books of the genre? I haven’t seen every top 100 list, granted, but I don’t recall seeing it on the ones that I did read, and after reading this, it seems like a glaring omission. Anders explained in his afterward that he did start off fairly meandering, but the story got clearer to him as he went along, and when he had the chance to put everything in its proper place here, he really nailed it. For the purposes of this review I’m going to assume that you missed this completely when it was around. If you read a few issues back in the day and are just curious if it ever came together: yes it did, and you should buy a copy toot sweet. For the newbies, this is the story of a few dozen birds, a grandmother living with her mentally challenged grandson, a snake, an owl, some dogs, a few crows, a crashed plane and the pilot. Oh, and Greek mythology, the underworld, destiny, free will, and faith. This books takes a little while to get going, and the pace is never frantic, outside of a few fight scenes (in the context of this book, since it’s fights among animals, they’re fights for their lives). If anything it’s closer to the few manga books that I’ve read in that there is no sense of a rush to tell the story. Anders mentions in another note that he takes a perverse pleasure in drawing the same panel over and over again with only slight changes every time, and he uses that to full effect here. The story in a nutshell, and I’m bound to miss a few things: a bird is searching for his missing mate after their tree is chopped down, a giant bird (what they don’t understand to be a plane) has come crashing down into a house, another group of birds has found a giant egg (what they don’t realize is a bomb), and the giant bird has also hatched a human (who they don’t understand is the pilot). Oh, and there’s the family in the woods. Some of these birds fixate on the giant egg, others on the grandson, and others on the felled giant bird, each doing their own thing. They interact throughout the book, try to convince the others of the wisdom of their particular course of action, and just generally try to get by. The art consistently improves throughout (and it amazing for the vast majority of it), the story is completely compelling (I’d recommend starting this when you have a couple of free hours, as you won’t want to put it down), and most of the characters get solid endings. Not necessarily happy, but the only endings they could have had, really. I feel like I missed a major piece of comics history in not reading this book until now, frankly. If you love comics, this is absolutely required reading.

$45 (softcover) $70 (hardcover)

Nilsen, Anders – In Your Next Life You Will Be Together With All Of Your Friends


In Your Next Life You Will Be Together With All Of Your Friends

This book is one of the rare ones that is actually bigger than my scanner, so there’s actually a bit more to that cover around the edges. Just in case anybody was curious where that creek ends, I guess? Anyway, this is a collection of odds and ends covering roughly 20 years of Anders’ career and, once again with this sort of book, believe you me: no matter how much you sought out his work over the years, you don’t have all of the strips in here. They cover too wide of a range, and they come from some really obscure sources. Outside of that magnificent title, what’s in here? Stories include bookend strips asking “Why does graphic storytelling matter?” (with two very different answers, and also no answers at all), a graphic representation of how the choices you make ripple out to effect everything else, a gigantic and mesmerizing double page spread that I’ll leave entirely to the reader, a series of sketchbook pages dealing with a whitewater rafting trip (and, naturally, all the philosophical and mundane questions that came up), a sketch of some famous comic characters (that I didn’t recognize until his notes at the end of the book), Superman chatting with Dan Clowes, his redrawn page from an old issue of Fantastic Four (with his own dialogue), the inside of a head as the cosmos, his jam with Gabrielle Bell (they went back and forth in his sketchbook), his experiences with covid (and the death of George Floyd), and his interpretation of all of history, including the stuff that hasn’t happened yet. There’s also an insert of a holiday price list, and while this is one of those things I want to mostly leave to the reader as well, here’s one question: how much would you pay for the ability to walk through walls? Read this to find the answer! As always with Anders’ work, my saying “this part of the comic is about this thing!” barely scratches the surface of what he’s trying to do. The section where he details all of history (including some pretty specific details about his own life for that section) could be a comic all by itself, and his suggestion for a covid game to play with yourself could also be a mini, let alone the rest of the strip that dealt with everything else going on at the time. This guy is one of the best around, and he’s still making comics as of 2021, which is a damned good thing in this bleak mess of a world. $20

Nilsen, Anders – Big Questions #7


Big Questions #7

Holy crap, now this is published by Drawn & Quarterly! I don’t know if that makes a difference these days in terms of visibility for a book, but I’m sure it can’t hurt. Kudos to them for once again realizing one of the best series out there when they see it. This issue reads sort of like a break from some of the more intense goings-on, which you might have been able to guess from that title. The retarded man eats some bark and takes a nap; meanwhile Algernon has a talk with a snake and a big cat is wandering around the general area. All of which is a surface description only, as the closest thing I can compare reading this issue to is the calmest, most serene Spring day you can think of. Seriously. I’d like a time machine just so I can go ahead a few years and see how amazing this story is when it’s all put out in graphic novel format. $5 and it’s money very well spent…

Nilsen, Anders – Big Questions #6


Big Questions #6

Man, what was I thinking with that last review? Seriously, that’s just silly. This is another fantastic edition of a fantastically wonderful series, even though there’s less to it than the size might indicate, in terms of the actual story. You have a plane crash, a retarded guy eating grass, birds clustered around the new human, and one of the better uses of a three page spread that I’ve seen. And this is all going to be put in one big book… when exactly? The man is simply depriving the percentage of the already tiny comic reading population who doesn’t read stuff unless it’s a “graphic novel”. Nuts to them in general, granted, but I’d love to see this all in one place with whatever “historical revisions” are necessary to make the thing flow as a whole. No idea what you’re waiting for if you know this exists and don’t already own it, this is mostly just a reminder that it’s out there. $5

Nilsen, Anders – Big Questions #5


Big Questions #5

Ever read one of those series where the payoff was nothing compared to the buildup? For the three issues of this series that I’ve read (barring the crazy trippy parts of #2 that still might make sense eventually, I guess), I would tell anybody who asked me that Anders was one of the better small press cartoonists around. I’d still say that, but for whatever reason, this issue left me kind of cold. It was just a lot more interesting somehow before I knew exactly what everything was and what everything stood for. I almost felt that he explained too much here, that not enough was left to the imagination. Haven’t read any other reviews of this, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to find that I’m the only one with this opinion. The art keeps improving (it was great to begin with), his storytelling skills are obviously getting exponentially better with each passing issue, and I’m sure that there are plenty of people out there who will love this. It’s not like I hate it. I like it just fine. It’s just that every other issue was such a dramatic step above the one before it, and this one feels like more of a straightforward story than anything else. I might read this all together one day and completely change my mind about this, but for now I’d have to say that while it’s still better than almost everything else out there, it didn’t improve as much as I thought it could. And yes, I’m well aware that that’s way too much pressure to put on anybody. This is $3.95 and it looks beautiful, there’s a new website too, check it out!

Nilsen, Anders – Big Questions #4: Asomatognosia


Big Questions #4: Asomatognosia

If you’re looking around a comics store three or four years from now and are wondering what this incredible new book is and where this guy came from, well, it’s right here. I don’t know if he’s planning on collecting this story, or if he really even intended for it to be an ongoing story, but here it is. I honestly think he’ll be mentioned in the same breath as Dan Clowes and Chris Ware in a few years if he keeps this up. Not to put any pressure on him or anything… Anyway, this book, and #3, takes all the good parts of #2, amplifies them, and adds even more good parts. The birds are still there, but it’s starting to look more like a society and less like random birds getting philosophical. Throw in a mysterious story about a (retarded?) man and an elderly woman, some irate squirrels and a bomb, and you have Big Questions. There’s a ton of stuff on this page. I think I’m up to 275 creators or so as of this writing. Out of all of them, I think you should check this out first. Maybe it’s neck and neck with the last two issues (13 & 14) of Supermonster from Kevin Huizenga, but this is honestly something that would enrich your life if you took the time to check it out. And no, he’s not paying me anything. This one is $4, get #3 too and send him money at: P.O. Box 1627 Chicago, IL 60690. E-mail him to see if he has anything new but only if you’re willing to tell me the second that he does…

Nilsen, Anders – Big Questions #2


Big Questions #2

I love reading all the currently available stuff from an author and then going back to read the early stuff. The birds in this one (I’m going to assume that you already know the basic gist of this book, or why would you be reading a review for #2?) are actually reading the comic along with us, commenting on the stories. It’s cute as hell and funny, especially when it’s one of a number of stories that are completely open to interpretation, much like everything in here. Looks like I have to get #3 and complete my collection, huh? Contact info is down there, but it doesn’t tell you to go to the best site in the world to order this stuff.

Nilsen, Anders – Big Questions #1


Big Questions #1

What do you say about a mini if 3/4 of it is laugh out loud funny and the other quarter is so bland that it leaves no impression at all? That pretty much sums up my experience with Big Questions. About half of it is spent with birds talking, which is the part that had me chuckling while I was sitting here. The book is basically three parts, spread out over the comic. The first part has birds talking about various things and that’s the part that works the best. Like the Hollywood print ads say, it was “laugh out loud funny”. Then there’s a large story in the middle of the comic called Looking for Something which is about, appropriately enough, a man who’s looking for something. It works on a different level than the birds stuff, but it certainly works. Then there’s the part of the book in between some of the stories that is just a giant cube disintegrating into smaller cubes and a giant cube, apparently filled with something, that has all the liquid drained from it. If you think that sounds dull, you’re right. I don’t know if it was just filler or what, but it registered no impression on me at all, and why bother to put something in a mini if it isn’t going to make some kind of impression on the reader? Still, this book was either $1 or $2 and it’s well worth your money. Some cultural things can pervade my brain to the point where every time I hear a certain word or phrase, I’m reminded of that movie or TV scene. It’s kind of the way sometimes when I hear “fuck”, but you’ll have to read the mini to find out why.