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A panel from Big Question no. 15 (2010) by Anders Nilsen (reproduced in the book Big Question, 2011, p. 575)

The Beguiling: original panel (4″ x 4″) from Big Questions no. 15 by Anders Brekhus Nilsen (first published on December 2010). Reproduced in the album Big Questions on page 575 (paperback, 7.25″ x 9.25″, colour, 658 pages, Drawn & Quarterly, August 2011).

I first stumbled upon this illustration on Anders Nislen’s blog. I did not know the context in which it appeared. As a standalone illustration, it could be said to have the quality of an allegory. A naked man, lying on the ground, is struggling to join himself with a device or apparatus. He needs those pants in order to be able to stand up and face the world. Without those pants, something is missing or, more precisely, the man is missing something, he’s at lost. The illustration points both to fundamental narratives (man struggling with fire, Adam and Eve being clothed by God before he banished them from the Garden of Eden) and to very mundane affairs as well (all the tasks we have to go through when we wake up in the morning in order to become human beings again). But at the end, the comical aspect of the whole scene ―“Nk-Nk”― may be what I enjoy the most.

Below are more panels belonging to the same sequence of events (also retrieved from Beguiling). As with the illustration shown above, those are originals: they are not exact reproduction of the illustrations as they appear in the album Big Question.

Panels from Big Question no. 15 (2010) by Anders Nilsen (reproduced in the book Big Question, 2011, p. 575)

From the editor Drawn & Quarterly:

A haunting postmodern fable, Big Questions is the magnum opus of Anders Nilsen, one of the brightest and most talented young cartoonists working today. This beautiful and minimalist story, collected here for the first time, is the culmination of ten years and over 600 pages of work that details the metaphysical quandaries of the occupants of an endless plain, existing somewhere between a dream and a Russian steppe

Nilsen’s collection of strange tales was listed in The New York Times “100 Notable Books” for the year 2011, in the category “Fiction & Poetry”. Douglas Wolk wrote a warm review of Big Questions for The New York Times as well:

Much of the vigor in “Big Questions” comes from the tension between its seriousness and its mock-­seriousness. The cover of one of the original issues (reproduced in an appendix) bears the subtitle “Anoesia and the Matrideicidic Theophany.” A cosmic swirl of matter ultimately resolves itself into a pair of pants. There’s a delightful scene in which one of the finches, trying to make sense of the downed airplane — is it some kind of bird, or some kind of egg? — accidentally invents Plato’s allegory of the cave: “Let’s say you were hatched in the hollow of a giant tree, right? . . . And furthermore, you couldn’t even turn around to look out at the rest of the world. . . . Like maybe you’d gotten stuck in some sap.” (“Fate, Feathers and Death” September 2, 2011).

To learn more about Anders Nilsen, consider the following links:

  • His official website is a great place to start: check his “About” page, his catalog of comics and drawings, a sample of illustrations he made for various client and a collection of interviews and press articles about him and his artwork.

  • His blog The Monologuist is updated regularly and offers a great window into his work. Recently, at the invitation of D&Q, he scanned and uploaded a bunch of drawings and sketches he did when he was much younger: “Some Drawings from High School” (August 27, 2012, see also part 2 and 3).

  • As usual, Drawn & Quarterly offers a rich section about Anders Nilsen: bio, bibliography, news and a catalog of available products (along with nice PDF previews).

  • Finally, here’s an interview Nilsen gave to the Design Bureau: “Dialogue: Anders Nilsen” by Sarah Handelman, November 21, 2011.

    Is humor a necessary part of cartooning, or is it part of your own authorial voice?

    Both, I think. There are great comics that aren’t really about being funny, but humor is a huge part of comics’ history — it’s something that the medium seems to excel at — whereas horror and suspense, I would say, not so much. I’m definitely interested in tapping into that strength and history of the medium. But I’m also drawn to trying to put humor and the deadly serious side by side to see what they have to say to one another. It seems to almost always be a fruitful conversation.

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