• Theend-lead

    Anders Nilsen: The End

Illustration

We meet the maker of one of the best comic books ever, Anders Nilsen

Posted by James Cartwright,

It’s not very often that grown women and men alike can be reduced to tears with a few select lines of heartfelt prose, rarer still that that prose should develop into a superbly illustrated graphic novel, the contents of which are by turns heartbreaking and hilarious. But Anders Nilsen has managed to create such a work; a rare beast of autobiographic narrative that’s both deeply tragic and wonderfully life-affirming.

The End tells the true story of Anders’ life after the death of his partner Cheryl – from the days leading up to her passing, through the weeks and months that followed – chronicling moments of deep personal reflection and awkward encounters with close friends. It’s arguably one of the best things I’ve ever read, comics or otherwise, that deals so universally with the personal experience of grief and loss, revealing much about the way we process tragic events. Within minutes of its arrival in the studio, The End had reduced two of us to tears and left us squabbling over who would take it home to read first, so we felt it only proper to contact Anders to ask him a little more about this masterwork based on his own life.

  • Theend-7

    Anders Nilsen: The End

How do you go about putting together a book that’s so inherently personal?

Every book has it’s own biography. The truth is, most of the work in The End was not intended for publication. It was work I was doing in my sketchbooks, in the year or so following Cheryl’s death, trying to process it. I had agreed to do a book for a European publishing project a few years earlier and the deadline was coming up (I’d actually chosen the title The End long before Cheryl even got sick – the book was supposed to be about something else entirely). I felt like the work in my journals, though, had potential and was still deep inside the grieving process so I didn’t really care at that moment how such personal work would be received. Going back to it this year, six years later, was positive in a way, to be reminded of Cheryl and her memory, and to finish what had been an unfinished story. But it was hard, too. It’s tough material, obviously.

Did you ever worry about publishing it?

I worried less with The End than I had with Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow. I actually decided to let Don’t Go go out of print for a while, for many reasons, but partly because I was uncomfortable having such a raw moment of my (and Cheryl’s) life be on display. At the time I was also concerned that those two books and the events they depict might become the work I was most known for, which I didn’t want. Time passes, though. That doesn’t feel like such an issue any more, and both books seem to have a very real impact on readers, which as an artist feels like something one ought to respect and accept.

Looking back do you feel that your images and texts really communicate how you felt at the time?

I think so. I sometimes feel like I left important things out. Some of the peculiarities of grief are left out, like how other people respond to you. Part of me feels like I ought to have had a little handbook in there somewhere, a ‘how to’ book on dealing with loss and what to expect. But really I was just trying to grapple with what was in my own head, and that’s what the book ends up being. It’s more an internal landscape. But, yeah, some of it is pretty raw, and that’s how I felt at the time. Some of it is funny, too, I think, which is also part of the experience. It can feel very absurd at times. If it feels like a crazy emotional roller coaster to read, then it’s doing the job.

A lot of people still don’t take comics and illustration seriously as a communicative medium but you reduced three of us to tears. Do you think you’ve made a book that moves the medium on?

I hope so. That is part of what felt important to me about keeping both books in print. They are ‘comics’ to some extent (The End more than Don’t Go), but they really are just storytelling with pictures. In a way my model was more the ‘personal zine’ from the 90’s than comics per se. But yes, I do feel like there is room at the borders of comics for an expansion of definitions, and while I’m happy to contribute my two cents, the truth is that that’s how the work turned out in my messy, ‘interdisciplinary’ sketchbook, so that’s how it ended up in the book, too.

Is it hard having other people share in your own loss?

Not hard so much as surreal, sometimes. When someone reads the book I think it feels to them like it’s just happened, and I have, once or twice, had people come up to me at festivals with a stricken look, saying “I’m so sorry”, sort of not realizing that I’m several years removed at this point. But that’s part of the strangeness that the book is about. Still, for both books I’ve done very limited events or appearances. I’d like to do more, because there’s a way in which I’m proud of the work, and I want to share it, but doing events means spending an evening in a difficult moment in my past. Which isn’t bad, exactly, it’s just heavy.

Do you think you’ll write another version further down the line as your life  begins to change?

Probably not. I revisited The End partly because the original version stopped halfway through the grieving process and I wanted to finish the story. There are parts of the story, still, that are not told, and maybe when I’m an old man I’ll feel like telling them, but for the most part I’m happy with what I’ve said on the matter. The other thing is that really, Cheryl’s death and how it colored my view of the world will probably inhabit my work for the rest of my life, whether I mean for it to do so or not.

What’s next?

I just finished a book of short pieces called Rage of Poseidon. It comprises seven pieces all told from the point of view of characters from Greek mythology and the bible, set in the present day. It’s also not exactly comics. Each page is a single image in silhouette with text below. So either I’m valiantly continuing to push the medium forward or else I’m off on my own in the vacant wilderness of ‘experimental forms’. Hopefully the former. Oh, and it’s an accordion book. That will be out in the Fall.

  • Theend-1

    Anders Nilsen: The End

  • Theend-2

    Anders Nilsen: The End

  • Theend-4

    Anders Nilsen: The End

  • Theend-3

    Anders Nilsen: The End

  • Theend-5

    Anders Nilsen: The End

  • Theend-6

    Anders Nilsen: The End

Jc

Posted by James Cartwright

James started out as an intern in 2011 and is now one of our two editors. He oversees Printed Pages magazine and content wise has a special interest in graphic design and illustration. He also runs our online shop Company of Parrots and is a regular on our Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Illustration View Archive

  1. Main

    The work of Brian Edward Miller is a cross between the digital and the retro: his sketches could easily be found in the satchel of a 1950s art student, but when put into the computer and twiddled with they look just as at home in a high-tech animation for a company like Adobe.

  2. List

    I don’t think it’d be an exaggeration to claim that we were bowled over when Toni Halonen dropped a bunch of new work made in a radically different direction earlier on this year. What’s more, being the dutiful deliverers of all things exciting in the art and design world it only seemed fair to let you know that he’s made even more in the aforementioned bright, blocky aesthetic since then, and it’s still top notch. Alongside commissions for Bloomberg Businessweek and Trendi Magazine Toni has also been working on a huge A-Z project for commissioning kings KENZO Defying the tried and tested solutions to such a brief, however, he’s put together a series of offbeat and brilliantly weird images, from cuddly punks and stair-sets to a sideways wheelie in a red sports car. Toni, we’re really into what you’re doing. Can we be friends yet?

  3. List

    Blastto is the pseudonym of London-based Spanish illustrator Carlos Llorente, a 33-year-old designer and illustrator originally from Guadalajara. His portfolio is packed full of surreal illustration and graphic design for predominantly editorial clients, but there’s also animation and app UX thrown in for good measure. Blastto’s work is defined by its bold colour palettes, whimsical subject matter and aesthetic diversity – his images range from solid digital linework to textured geometric forms; sleek 3D renders to experimental type design. All of it is imbued with a sense of experimentation and fun; and when you’re creating illustrations about the rigours of a daily routine, a sense of fun is pretty essential.

  4. List

    Eike König and his HORT studio are celebrating 20 years of genre-blurring graphic design work with a show at London’s KK Outlet at the moment, and we felt this was a milestone well worth marking. So we’re excited and delighted to unveil three specially-commissioned t-shirts on which we have worked with Eike’s brilliant team.

  5. List

    Tokyo-based illustrator Hisashi Okawa is a veritable model of wide-eyed joy that we should all aspire to replicate. His charismatic illustration, rendered in painstakingly-applied felt tip and finished with his trademark Opie-esque dot eyes, is succinct and charming, securing him commissions from the likes of Bayerische Straatsballett, the Debrief, and Apartamento. Just see if you can scroll through his admirable portfolio without being drawn into the alternative universe he has constructed, full of artfully recreated street style shots, fantasy landscapes and sartorially sharp dogs.

  6. List

    Rachel Levit’s understated illustration lends itself perfectly to ending the week; it’s understated, oddly enamouring and full of the kind of humour which carefully treads the tightrope between sweet and sinister. The Brooklyn-based artist has perfected the simple line drawing, conjuring up figures with the vaguest impression of an outline. Don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s all she can do though; she’s just as happy creating fully fledged editorial illustration for The New Yorker website, communicating obscure and complicated ideas through the careful placement of an object or a witty observation.

  7. Thomas

    If I were to draw my own picture of Thomas Colligan (having never met the talented chap) I’d attach a little funnel to his back, because the man is a veritable illustration engine, churning out heaps of great work just this year. This impression also owes something to the plethora of cars and factories and engines puffing out plumes of smoke in the busy worlds of his illustrations, where a population of Flat Stanley-like characters tootle about. Alternating between gouache and coloured pencils, Thomas creates scenes with grass as green as the Swiss hillsides he hails from, and balaclava-clad bank robbers as gutsy as those in the movies set in his new home of New York.

  8. Main1

    Using block pastel colours and precise pen outlines, Alessandro Apai is part of what seems to be a new trend emerging in illustration. His work is simple and funny, taking what could be perfectly normal everyday interactions and making them just that little bit odd and infinitely more interesting. Featuring a character who looks like a modern day, grown-up version of Hergé’s Tintin and some dark-haired playmates, his drawings show potential to tell even more quirky and fully developed stories. Italian Alessandro’s still a student, so we hope for great things in the future!

  9. How-do-you-love-me_mac-conner_1950_courtesy-of-mcny.jpg-1

    It isn’t often that we have a centenarian on the site, so today there’s double cause for celebration because not only is designer Mac Conner 100 years old, he’s also a ruddy legend. Mac spent the 1950s living and working in New York as one of the real-life Mad Men, illustrating for The Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping.

  10. List_2

    If you’re finding that your Monday is lacking in mystery (don’t they always?) allow me to introduce you to Nicholas Stevenson, an illustrator who practically daubs it onto his pages as he draws. Preferred subjects include long-armed humans, giant beasts, secret trapdoors and food fights, all of which are endowed with an equal measure of fantasy the likes of which doesn’t often exist beyond the pages of children’s books and the odd Wicca community.

  11. List

    If she’d been drawing back when I was consuming children’s books so fast that my parents ran out of printed matter and had to give me an Argos catalogue instead, one of Mari Kanstad Johnsen’s numerous children’s books would undoubtedly have been in my top ten. In fact, she might still be on that esteemed list given that my chosen career path allows me to spend an inordinate amount of time flicking through books intended for kids. It doesn’t even matter that I don’t speak Swedish.

  12. Main

    Daniel Gray is an illustrator, but a past manifestation of himself wore a white coat and a stethoscope. He says he dropped out of Medical Science “when he realised illustration had a much lower patient mortality rate.” Looking at his portfolio though, I’d say he’s a guy drawn to tricky jobs.

  13. Main

    Cosmic brilliance here from Jesse Fillingham, whose fantastical work is sending shivers all over me this morning. His confident line images seem to draw inspiration from teen sci-fi novels, video games, Shakespeare and the work of Roger Dean, bringing it all together to form a heady combination of past and future. Jesse graduated back in 2010 from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and has since been exhibiting his work across American and Europe to what I can only imagine are die-hard fans. If you find yourself lost in the bizarre nature of his Kate Bush digital image or the transient surreality of Cosmic Contemplation 2, take your eyeballs for a gander at his simple line drawings. Extract / Sunset / Pointer is insanely well-drawn and I can’t stop looking at it. One for the “favourites” folder I think.