Friday, April 27, 2012

5 reactions you will have when you read Nilsen's birdy-filled graphic novel

"I mean, if my life is to be meaningful and full, is it up to me to make it that way, or can I just wait for circumstances to come together?"
- Big Questions by Anders Nilsen

Title: Big questions, or, Asomatognosia : whose hand is it anyway [graphic novel]
Author: Anders Brekhus Nilsen
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Year: 2011
Summary: 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 minimalist story, collected here for the first time, is the culmination of ten years and more than six hundred pages of work that details the metaphysical quandaries of the occupants of an endless plain, existing somewhere between a dream and a Russian steppe. A downed plane is thought to be a bird and the unexploded bomb that came from it is mistaken for a giant egg by the group of birds whose lives the story follows. The indifferent, stranded pilot is of great interest to the birds—some doggedly seek his approval, while others do quite the opposite, leading to tensions in the group. Nilsen seamlessly moves from humor to heartbreak. His distinctive, detailed line work is paired with plentiful white space and large, often frameless panels, conveying an ineffable sense of vulnerability and openness. Big Questions has roots in classic fables—the birds and snakes have more to say than their human counterparts.

As bus books go, this has to be one of my strangest choices. For books on the run I usually (although not always) choose something that I can easily pop into a bag or a pocket and yank out as needed. (Like some weird version of a bookish Houdini who performs magical tricks by yanking them out of thin air - or out of rabbits?) Or I carry my iPhone so I can grab a few minutes to read some paragraphs/pages/chapters in whatever Supernatural epic fanfic I'm partway through. At something approaching 600 pages, though, Nilsen's book is definitely not of the 'smallish' variety. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Does that mean you should avoid it? Heck, no. Perhaps I'm biased, though. After all, I like big books and I cannot lie. (You other brothers can't deny). Sorry. I couldn't resist doing that. (Although I do admit that I didn't try very hard). It is well worth the workout you'll get carting it around, though. It's one of those stories that sneaks up on you. It's subtle, and tricky like that. Your fellow bus co-passengers will thank you for it. Seriously, those sitting around me were chuckling and smiling at the illustrations and dialogue. I've been catching buses and trains since I was 10 and I'm still not used to communal reading on this scale. It's nice. It's just creepyweird nice. It makes me want to clutch my books closer to my chest as if it were MY PRECIOUS. For some reason, people feel that they can comment on my reading choices on public transport. And more power to them that do so. Just don't be surprised if you find yourself sitting somewhere strange while you, and your co-passengers, contemplate the meaning of life. If you're anything like me, these are the reactions that you'll have. Although, to be honest, all y'all are tonnes smarter than me and won't spend points 5, 4 and 3 just trying to get past the characters :)

Have you read Big Questions?

Why are birds discussing the meaning of life?
Really. There are birds discussing the meaning of life and all of its possible intricacies. It took me a while to get past that. I'd be all, "Huh. These birds are talking about things my BFFs don't even discuss. I mean, really, how likely is that?" (Sometimes, I take books far too literally). birds are truly discussing the meaning of life?
Okay, so I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed. Sometimes, I tend to get caught up in the little things and find it hard to move past them.

HEY! These birds are actually discussing the meaning of life, free will and destiny!
And there you go! I'm past it and enjoying the story. Even the quite dark parts, like wondering what the point of it all is: life, death, fate, why things play out the way they do and wondering whether or not we have any actual say in that process.

So what ARE the answers to the Big Questions?
That's the real question.

OH! I see what you did there with the ending! *has light bulb moment*
Oh so clever, Nilsen. Oh so clever *admires you from afar and goes off to request more of your work*

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