It's been twelve years and fifteen issues since Anders Nilsen's first installment of Big Questions was published as a Xeroxed, staple-bound comic book. At long last, Drawn and Quarterly has compiled the entire run of Big Questions into a beautiful omnibus edition that allows Nilsen's story to flow uninterrupted from start to finish. Seeing Big Questions in its entirety will dazzle readers with its progression. Nilsen's story doesn't just flow: it blooms. In the twelve years it took to complete Big Questions, Nilsen's creative skills have blossomed exponentially and readers will marvel at the transformation that takes place between the book's covers. In just 650 pages, we see Nilsen grow from a cartoonist to a true artist and watch his story slowly become what just might be the acme of the comics-as-literature movement.
The first issue of Big Questions featured crudely drawn birds and people, both species in equal states of existential crisis. "I hate the world and everything in it", one bird thinks to itself, unable to find the means to convert this sentiment into words. "Shit, seeds again", another bird says in a different strip, as his flock proceeds to peck away in silence. At first, these seem like short gag comics, but through Nilsen's impeccable pacing and frequent use of silence in his frames, even the simplest scenes find a way to distill a world of philosophical complexity into just a few lines.
Eventually, humans are introduced in Big Questions by way of an old woman and her mute, mentally unsound grandson. "The Idiot" (as he's referred to in Nilsen's dramatis personae) sees the world differently, from a mind stuck somewhere between that of birds and humans. The Idiot's curiosity and peculiarities manage to attract a bird named Bayle, who eventually becomes a devoted follower and almost a disciple of the man. Some of the finest scenes in Big Questions are with Bayle and The Idiot as they wander through the forest together in search of some kind of unknown connection.
Big Questions is an astonishing achievement and the many years that Nilsen spent with this story will shimmer through to his readers. This book has enormous potential to appeal across its medium; Big Questions's outstanding text and artwork should be capable of drawing in even the most comic-phobic lover of literature. Like Algernon's cave, Big Questions is more expansive the deeper you go. Multiple readings will surely lead to new discoveries and will keep readers captivated until Nilsen's next masterpiece, whenever that may land.