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.

With His Mind on His Money and His Money on His Mind

kanye_hot97.jpgThe latest chapter in the event-rap sideshow currently running full bore to dropping sales is Kanye West’s meltdown backstage at the MTV Video Awards, after he, despite having been nominated in five categories, won nothing, and was denied the opening spot in favour of Britney Spears. Non-event as that may be, it is nevertheless fascinating to watch just how seriously Kanye takes this whole circus. The rant that night, captured with expected shamelessness by some amateur paparazzo, is one thing – as reflective of his mind state as they may be, those were words of affect. What’s striking, however, is how his perfectly non-self-conscious explication of the situation the following day on Hot97 reveals his total immersion in this utterly petty and inconsequential showbiz game, when he – talented and successful as he is – could surely choose to not give a shit and be much better off for it, and so could Graduation – a well-produced album predictably erring on the safe side. It’s like watching a teenager confusing ‘cool’ for ‘good’.

Re: Blade Runner FC at Venice

Danish journalist Thomas Berger was in Venice for the screening of Blade Runner – The Final Cut. In response to my speculation on the film (here, and here), he writes:

I was there and saw the film…
The changes aren’t major…

Yes, a few spinners have been added and the lighting has been adjusted in many of the scenes — only for the better. And it’s a new copy — the picture quality is simply fantastic.

Besides that, there’s very little difference between it and the Director’s Cut.

Thanks, Thomas. Sounds good, and goes some ways towards laying my quibbling scepticism to rest.

Concerning today’s hearing at US Congress

Today, top American commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus will appear on Capitol Hill along with the American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker. They are expected to argue the case that the troop increase there has been sufficiently effective to warrant a continuation next year. The administration has lately increasingly been relying on the military itself to address the situation in Iraq, which is understandable since polls now show that only 5% of Americans trust Bush and his crew to resolve it.

Anyway, it made me think of this thing. Old news, has made the rounds, but still poignant:

Grant Morrison’s ‘Signature Weakness’

Taking his cue from the recent postings on Douglas Wolk’s fine chapters, from his new book Reading Comics, on Grant Morrison (parts I, II, III, IV) Noah Berlatsky comments on what he sees as Morrison’s ‘signature weakness’, namely his failure to think visually and to truly collaborate with the artists he works with. While I think Noah is, as usual, unduly harsh in his assessment — Morrison has, from time to time, worked with competent artists, and Frank Quitely is great despite his storytelling weaknesses — I basically agree. Way too many inferior artists on Morrison’s scripts: everything from the almost two decades old Animal Man stories to the current Batman work, and especially The Invisibles, suffer immeasurably from it.