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Big Questions, An Interview with Anders Nilsen

January 15, 2006

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"I believe in doing what you love and trusting that it will get you somewhere."

Anders Nilsen is a comic artist who's work has been quietly gaining momentum over the past few years in collections and quarterlies such as MOME, Kramer's Ergot, and the Drawn and Quarterly Showcase. His self-published series Big Questions was recently picked up for distribution by Drawn and Quarterly who also published his first full length work, Dogs and Water.

The following interview was conducted over several emails. It begins, for purposes of introduction and explanation, with an early email that Mr. Nilsen sent before our 'official' conversation began.

Anders Nilsen: Ugh. I just answered the first three questions and promptly lost everything. Oh well. Here goes again.

After reading the first question I realized that I need to mention something. Cheryl, my girlfriend and partner of the last five and a half years (we'd planned to get married in September, but put it off due to her condition) was ill all last year with hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph system. Her prognosis was good at the start, but she didn't respond to treatment as expected. She died on November 13. Her absence is very palpable for me and probably will be for a long time. I can't talk about much without it coloring the conversation.

As for what I call myself... cartoonist, artist, writer, comic artist - any of these are fine. I use different words depending on who I am talking to or what mood I am in. I don't really use the word "illustrator," or think of the drawings in my work as illustrations. For me, illustrations are something separate from a stories content - they illustrate it rather than BEING the content. As for what other people seem to think, I'm frequently surprised, actually, that I don't get funny looks or blank stares when I tell people I draw comics. People almost invariably say they think it's cool. Maybe that says more about who I meet than about the culture at large, I don't know. But I don't think it holds quite the stigma that it used to, or that Chris Ware's and Daniel Clowes' comics would lead you to think.

Karl Allen: The impression I get from your website www.theholyconsumption.com is that you are constantly working. It looks like you've got several projects lined up with Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly. Do you want to speak a little about those and the website?

Anders Nilsen: At the moment I am finishing up a book about Cheryl and I, called Don't Go Where I Can't Follow. It includes one four page strip and a set of drawings I did of her in the hospital, but is mostly writing and photographs, not comics. After she died I wasn't able to work on anything else. I'm still actually wondering how the transition back to my other work is going to be, but I think finishing the book has helped my mental state considerably. Most of the material was pre-existing. A lot of it was stuff I had planned on using in other ways before, but hadn't gotten to yet. It's mainly stories of our adventures and misadventures traveling together, some correspondence and a few journal entries I made during her illness. It's a memorial to her and a celebration of our life together. It's not the last thing I'll do with her in mind but it was very necessary.

The next thing on my plate is to finish a collection of short strips and gags from my sketchbooks, called Monologues for the Coming Plague. The material is much looser and more spontaneous than either Big Questions or Dogs and Water, and actually grew out of my need to do work that wasn't as careful and scripted as those books are. Once that is done I'll return to Big Questions and hopefully finish it by the end of the year, Number eight will be out this February, the next two should be out in Summer and Fall, and hopefully the collection will be out in early 2007. Down the line is another long form story picking up where the story Sisyphus left off in Kramers Ergot #4. That's tentatively titled The End.

KA: You work on www.theholyconsumption.com with Jeffrey Brown, John Hankiewicz, and Paul Hornschemeier. How did you four meet and decide to work together on the site?

Anders Nilsen: I met Paul through doing small press conventions, probably in 2000 or so. We'd meet at these different things, like SPX in D.C. or SPACE in Columbus and we were kind of in the same boat...just starting out, not really knowing anyone, so we got to know one another. He finished school in Ohio and moved to Chicago around the same time as Jeff. It was Paul's idea to do the site. He's been incredibly generous with technical know-how and time in running it. The idea was his, really. Strength in numbers I guess. As a foursome we could simply attract more traffic and make a bigger impact than any one of us alone.
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