Anders Nilsen – The Metabunker Interview pt. 4 of 4

This is the last installment of our interview with cartoonist Anders Nilsen; 1, 2, 3.

Moving on to the much more traditionally narrative Big Questions. It’s evident that you had been leading up to Algernon’s descent into Hades for a while before it became obvious that that’s what you were doing. What made you decide to adapt the myth? [of Orpheus and Eurydice]

It’s funny, I actually didn’t mean to adapt the myth. It just sort of worked out that way. Once I realized that that was the story I was telling, I liked it, and I’ve been trying to reinforce the connections a bit. Bringing in more of Algernon’s singing for example. I’m also just really interested in myths, fairy-tales and religious stories like the Bible. They are endlessly interpretable and adaptable. A bottomless source. They’re the template for pretty much all storytelling in the Western world. Whether by design or by stumbling onto them I think there is much to be gained from brushing up against them, borrowing, stealing, rewriting and quoting from them, whether subtly, like the story you mentioned or overtly like in the Sisyphus story I did in Kramers 4.

Ã…rets danske tegneserie er landet


Mig bekendt var Jakob Martin Strid den første tegneserietegner, der sidste år kunne modtage Statens Kunstfonds eftertragtede 3-årige arbejdslegat. Ganske vist lagde Kunstfondets litteraturudvalg i sin motivation mest vægt på Strids børnebøger, og vist var legatets første afkast til offentligheden da også færdiggørelsen af sidste års hit-børnebog Min mormors gebis. Men forleden dumpede så et 198 sider langt tegneserieepos ned på boghandlernes hylder, sådan lidt fra out of nowhere. Og lad det være sagt med det samme, at det i sandhed var en pragtfuld overraskelse : årets danske tegneserie er simpelthen landet!

Skønt hverken titlen eller omslaget på nogen måde er lokkende : den lille cyan-farvede bog med den krukket-antiautoritære titel Decimal 0.4 ligner mest af alt en af Jyske Banks seneste lad-os-pakke-aktieinfo-ind-som-gave-gimmicks : og det er da helt ærligt, som de ville sige i bemeldte bank, ret trælst.

Anders Nilsen – The Metabunker Interview pt. 3 of 4

Continuing our interview with cartoonist Anders Nilsen; 1, 2, 4.

A lot has happened since we last spoke : back in the Fall of 2004, I believe it was : but I think I would like to pick up more or less where we left off, which will also maintain the chronology somewhat. We ended up talking about your drawing, and about approaches to storytelling with drawing, and you’d just started publishing comics in your much looser sketchbook style back then. In the years that have passed, you’ve published Monologues for the Coming Plague, as well as a couple of pieces in Mome in which you make use of that approach. Could you give me an impression of what it has given you in terms of your storytelling, and how you think it supports your artistic endeavour?

I just re-read the older interview… Indeed, a lot has happened. There are several things that might be worth re-visiting. One being that I’m not working as a cook anymore (for which I am very grateful).

As for the present question… I think I touched momentarily on it previously, but it is really helpful to me to have the two different approaches running simultaneously. I started the looser-styled stuff, what turned, ultimately, into Monologues for the Coming Plague, while I was working on Dogs and Water. I was working on that book as well as Big Questions, and that meant all the drawing I was doing was for relatively polished, finished, official-feeling stories. Until that time I had always kept sketchbooks, which allowed a degree of experimentation and playfulness. The amount of work I was doing for BQ and DW had eclipsed that. Also, though both those projects are in a way improvisational, they are/were slow to realize. I was inspired in part by going on a tour with several other cartoonists to start drawing, and storytelling, purely for fun again. To varying degrees I’ve kept both styles going in the years that have followed, and still have, though both have evolved, partly because of events in my life. The End isn’t about humor or absurdism in the same way, but it grows pretty directly out of that more experimental work. I’m a great believer that once an artist knows exactly what they are doing, there is a problem. Leaving myself open to various possibilities is part of keeping myself on my toes and also keeping myself entertained, which is really what it’s all about in the end. I occasionally lament the potential polish or seamlessness I have traded for that restlessness, but ultimately I think I’m happier. And hopefully more fun to read as well.

OK, this is getting ridiculous

rondellhund.jpgPredictably, the Swedish cartoon affair incited by Lars Vilks’ drawings of the Prophet Muhammed as a ’roundabout dog’ and other things, has gotten to the ridiculous point where a bounty has been placed on his and his editor’s heads by purported Al-Qaeda affiliates, he has received numerous death threats and others warnings (most of them anonymous, natch) and has been forced into hiding. It’s just lines on paper folks — what the fuck is wrong with you?

We hereby present the most contested of the drawings in sympathy with Vilks, Nerikes Allahanda editor Ulf Johansson, and others who are forced to endure the idiocy of people who think God’s greatness could in any way be tarnished by a drawing.

Anders Nilsen – The Metabunker Interview pt. 2 of 4

Continuing our interview with cartoonist Anders Nilsen; 1, 3, 4.

Another reason I asked is that I just read your new book [Dogs and Water], which seemed a little bit more constructed than your previous work. I mean, it doesn’t come off as tightly constructed or anything, but there seems to have been some guiding thought put into how it’s put together. You interject the main narrative with those scenes of the man on the water, for example…

That’s interesting, because when I first did the story, it was 73 pages and there was no dream sequence, or whatever that is. The last 20 pages were him on the water and it seemed really disconnected from the body of the story, so I ended up lengthening the first part and interjecting the second part into the story. Um… I’m trying to think whether it was more constructed… I think I struggled with it more. It came from a series of really quick strips I did several years ago, drawn on top of photographs with whiteout, sort of experimental [since printed in Mome]… and when Chris Oliveros asked me to do a story for the [Drawn & Quarterly] Showcase, I thought about those strips right away and started thinking about how I could expand them. So I basically started out by taking those two and redrawing them as regular comic pages and when I was done I was completely stumped as to where else to go with it. As I said, it was originally a 73-page story, but there were a ton more pages I didn’t use, and then I ended up throwing 25 of the supposedly good pages as well and doing about forty more new ones. So I don’t know whether it was more constructed, but…

The Ditko Trail

question_2.jpgIn the wake of Jonathan Ross’ documentary on Steve Ditko, which aired on BBC 4 last night and again today (no, I didn’t see it. A valiant effort at finding a set that provided access availed me nought, alas), a good deal of Ditko-related material has surfaced on the web. Go to the site and check out the video snippet with Stan Lee – it unfortunately leaves us hanging off the cliff, but is nevertheless gripping for the insight it offers into Lee’s understanding of the creation of Spider-Man.

Mark Evanier takes exception to Ross’ obfuscation of the reasons for Ditko’s departure from Marvel in 1966, and also tempers the famous story of his and Lee’s disagreement over the identity of Spider-Man arch-villain the Green Goblin (mentioned in Morten Søndergård’s article on the early Spider-Man, published here recently), with some common sense.

Also, a site dedicated to Ditko’s most remarkable post-Marvel character, The Question, whose 20th anniversary we can celebrate this year, presents a 1968 interview with the man himself — one of the exceedingly few he ever did! At that time, Ditko had evidently embraced objectivism totally, and his awareness of that fact and how it dictated his work is sober and clear-headed, if a little intense: “The biggest thing influencing my style would be that I see things in a certain way and that means handling everything so that personal point of view comes across.”

Image from Mysterious Suspense #1 (Charlton, 1968) – “The Return of the Question.”
For more Ditko information, check out Blake Bell’s ‘Ditko Looked Up’ site.

Anders Nilsen – The Metabunker Interview pt. 1 of 4

Anders Nilsen (b. 1973) is coming into his own as one of his generation’s simultaneously most intellectually inquisitive and intuitively astute comics artists. Since the debut of his ongoing, “core” series Big Questions (9 issues published so far, 1999-2007), he has been unswerving in his exploration of, well, some of the big questions of life, all the while developing his at times scratchily harsh at others innocuously perambulatory, but always searching line, experimenting with different kinds of narrative.

Beginning with small, autonomous vignettes, Big Questions soon started growing into a grand ensemble piece that follows a number of small birds, a stray halfwit, a lost pilot, and others around, and under, an open landscape in search of answers. Nilsen’s world seems simultaneously absurd and fatalistic, but never entirely bleak. The bleakne is leavened by the warmth that often exists between his protagonists, and occasional humour, and : perhaps more than anything else : the sense of purposeful exploration the animates all of his stories.

In addition to Big Questions, Nilsen has released the story of a young freak’s self-mutilation, The Ballad of the Two-Headed Boy (in minicomics form 1999, as a book 2000), the dreamlike narrative of a man traveling across a war-torn landscape, Dogs and Water, the alternately nonsensically silly and ontologically probing collection of gags, Monologues for the Coming Plague (2006), as well as contributed notable work to a number of anthologies such as Kramers Ergot, Blood Orange and Mome.

In the spring of 2005 tragedy struck in Nilsen’s life. His fiancée, Cheryl Weaver, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system. She succumbed to it the Fall of that same year. For a while, his loss naturally came to dictate his work. In 2006 he released Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, which assembles letters, photos, short comics and other documents of their time together to create an alternately funny, humbling and harrowing slice of lived life. Private life made public in a way that makes you flinch, but ultimately take notice. In the more analytical The End (2007), Nilsen explores the state of mourning and memory, in search of something approximating the cathartic.

The following interview is a combination of two separate interviews, made several years apart. It consists of four parts: 2, 3, 4. The first two parts were conducted at SPX 2004 in Bethesda MA when Dogs and Water had just come out and Nilsen was looking forward to new challenges. The latter two parts were conducted via email from June-September 2007 and finds Nilsen essentially asking the same questions, further on up the road.

That Pernicious ‘Literariness’ of Contemporary Comics

Noah Berlatsky has ignited an interesting discussion on the state of contemporary ‘alternative’ American comics with a typically harsh blanket assessment of the state of the art form in America. Tim Hodler responds, Berlatsky answers and clarifies, while Eric Reynolds and others make interesting points in his comments section. Oh, and Hodler re-responds. I don’t have much to add that I haven’t already said in my discussion with Noah about much the same issues a while back (here, here and here) or in my recent review of Bart Beaty’s book Unpopular Culture, but I just wanted to call attention it, as I think it’s all quite relevant to the general artistic assessment of the new wave of comics of the past couple of decades that seems to present itself these years, now that we have such a significant body of work to consider.

If He Didn’t, We Wouldn’t Be in Here

bobby_byrd.jpgBobby Byrd, potent soul singer, patron of the young James Brown, co-founder of the Flames, and hard-working plug 2 to the Godfather of Soul, passed away yesterday in his Loganville, Georgia home. He was 73. His passing, and that of his long-time musical collaborator last year, are landmarks towards the end of an era of soul music that is all but gone, but lives on in the modern music it gave birth to.

Like so many of my generation, my first encounter with Byrd was second-hand, through the music he helped bring into the world by his example, namely Eric B and Rakim’s appropriation of his signature tune, “I Know You Got Soul” (1971), for their own cut of the same name (1987). It was an instant head-nodder back then, and remains so today – Fred Thomas’ bouncy bassline is of the kind that embeds itself in your mind immediately. Finding my way to the original, years later, was in no way a letdown – Byrd’s commanding vocals were an apt “replacement” for Rakim’s intense delivery, and brought the tune to completion for me. Added to that, the horns, especially Fred Wesley’s sweeping trombone, were simply icing on the cake. The power of soul distilled.

Pre-Hype: Comix at Brandts

Coming up at Brandts Klædefabrik in Odense, Denmark, is ‘Comix,’ an exhibition dealing with the intersection of comics and fine arts that is increasingly rewriting the rules for the former and stimulating the latter these years. The exhibition incorporates works by fine artists working with comics and cartoon vocabularies or deriving inspiration from the ethos of same and with cartoonists working in the gray area between comics and the pictorial arts, as well as a handful of visual innovators working within more traditional cartoon idioms.

Full disclosure: yours truly has been involved as a consultant and has also contributed an article to the catalogue. I however know very little about how the exhibition looks and such, and am therefore looking forward to checking it out. Originals by R. Crumb, David B., Anders Nilsen and Killoffer, as well as the installations by Paperrad and Søren Behncke (a gigantic cardboard sculpture of a cartoon cloudfight, I hear) as well as a mixed media display of Phoebe Gloeckner’s work in progress on the Juárez murders, should in any case be worth the prize of admission in themselves.