Big Questions #13: A House That Floats
Anders Nilsen, writer/artist
Drawn & Quarterly, 2009
My sincere hope is that a couple years from now the collected Big Questions will lodge itself at the top of future Best of the Decade lists on the strength of material largely published the previous decade, like Jimmy Corrigan and Black Hole before it. Certainly Nilsen is a capital-M Major Talent, a real world-beater for his generation, but the book by which he will be defined has not yet been released. The two Monologues for… books from Fantagraphics delight me with their weird existentialist stick-figure stand-up comedy, but talk about an aquired taste. Dogs and Water might pick up steam in the post-The Road world, but it’s always gonna read grim, and its strange release pattern–first as the fattest stapled pamphlet you ever saw, then a slightly revamped version in hardcover–threw folks for a loop. Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow devastates virtually anyone who reads it, but its hodgepodge hybrid format, arising from its tragic origin as a travelogue-turned-eulogy, makes it a tough item to classify. The End could end up topping my personal Best of the Decade list, but it’s a one-shot Ignatz-format pamphlet. I could see his mythological comics for Kramers Ergot clicking but there’s just not enough of them.
But soon, along will come a thick hardcover of this monumental series, tracing its evolution from xeroxed minicomics sold at a table alongside Jeffrey Brown, John Hankiewicz, and Paul Hornschemeier comics, through its adoption by D&Q, into its status as one of the only regularly released alternative serials in North America. It’s as fragile and frightening as any of Nilsen’s many, many comics about the baffling horror of senseless death, but it’s also a funny-animal book stuffed with subplots and side-stories and borderline gag strips about wisecracking birds. It works as a showcase of pure cartooning as well as even Nilsen’s most abstract, “pure comics” stuff from MOME or The End, but in the service of a sad and searing realism whose beauty is apparent to any reader even remotely open to altcomics work–certainly I’d stack this issue’s cockpit sequence against anything else this year for sheer stunning loveliness. It functions as allegory, but then turns around and acknowledges its own allegorical nature, and ads enough detail and twists to hold up as a real-deal semi-adventure. It manages to capture and cry for the world’s cruelty, yet hold alive the hope offered by cooperation and community and small kindnesses, even those arising from bare enlightened self-interest, as well as anything this side of Deadwood. I laughed, I cried, in the space of this issue alone. Big Questions is a great comic.