Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow
Anders Nilsen, writer/artist
with Cheryl Weaver, writer/artist
Drawn & Quarterly, 2006
This book beggars review. It’s an account of the great young cartoonist Anders Nilsen’s relationship with his fiancee Cheryl Weaver, through a series of varyingly told vignettes about the trips they took together or apart. Postcards they sent to each other are reproduced; a long letter from Nilsen to his little sister recounting a disastrous camping trip the couple took is printed in its handwritten entirety; there’s a three-page interlude about the couple getting stranded in a New Jersey parking lot on Christmas and, one infers, getting engaged shortly thereafter; there’s a photo essay about their trip to the Angouleme festival in France and a humor comic about their ill-fated first attempt to get there. Then we discover from Nilsen’s illustrated journal that Cheryl has been diagnosed with cancer, and the true meaning of the book’s metaphorical title, cribbed from J.R.R. Tolkien, becomes all too apparent. The comic that concludes the volume, perhaps the loveliest Nilsen has ever drawn, offers the final proof that the titular request has been met in the heartbreaking negative.
On the strictly technical side of things, Nilsen is one of his generation’s finest cartoonists, so part of what is so impressive about the book is how much of his comics’ pointillist emotional power comes through even via mostly non-comics media. By selecting a rigid parameter for the material, “stories about problematic travel experiences” (a theme he reveals in an afterword to have planned to develop even prior to Cheryl’s illness and death), Nilsen paradoxically conveys a sense of the totality of the couple’s relationship: thoughtful, humorous, shot through with both the thrill of adventure and discovery and the longing for the comforts of home, and one another. While Nilsen’s companion Ignatz series The End deals more in the gargantuan, even frightening feeling of grief and desperation engendered by having his and Cheryl’s life together suddenly yanked away, Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow‘s mood is gentler–more focused on love and how it changes when the loved one is gone–but no less profoundly moving.
Personally, the way I deal with death is to focus on the fact that the life I shared with that person was a good one, a happy one, and that while it is now over, that goodness and happiness remains in my memory. But what happens when that shared life was, by any reasonable standard, far too brief? What to do then? I don’t know. Recent events have forced me to confront this question and I still don’t know. Reading this book has helped, though, and I hope you’ll forgive me if really all I have to say about it is “thank you.”