• 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

    They don’t come much sharper than Sara Andreasson, the Swedish illustrator who was on the site back in March but who has posted so much new work on her website that we see fit to feature her again already. The Swede has been hard at work, creating commissions for The Debrief, New York Times Magazine and Rolling Stone, toying with witty observations and reassuring block colour to demonstrate that she’s just as nimble whipping up images to suit a brief as she is with personal work. Her experiments with rasterisation and contrasting patterns are especially intriguing, hinting at a whole new technique which is ripe for exploration (and more of which can be seen of on her Tumblr.)

  2. List_2

    Julianna Brion is an editorial illustrator whose diverse portfolio houses projects for a bunch of fortunate clients. Like most creatives who make commissioned work though, when she’s not drawing to a brief she’s filling sketchbook after sketchbook with scrapbook-like doodles which are as beautiful, if not more so, than her finished images. Reclining figures, pastel dogs, picture-perfect houses and foliage all feature, rendered in a rainbow of acrylic paints and sketchy pencil. For me, looking at the sketchbook of a successful illustrator is kind of like peeping into the messy bedroom of an impossibly well-coiffed, super dapper gent. And who doesn’t like to be nosy?

  3. List_3

    Trust Helsinki-based illustration agency Agent Pekka to sign up some of the best illustration we’ve seen in a long while without so much as a cough to show it off! They’ve just added French illustrator Jean-Michel Tixier to their books, and he looks set to be an amazing addition.

  4. List_2

    When it comes to brightly-coloured multimedia creations Mike Perry is king, and as far as we’re concerned there’s little chance of anybody threatening to knock him off his throne any time soon. As if to strengthen his case, he’s just made My Mother Caught Me Doodling, a 160 page hardback celebration of the female form, which sees Mike create tribute after tribute to ladies. Naked ladies.

  5. Main

    Considering it had been a while since I had had a proper delve through this great guy’s portfolio, revisiting his site was a refreshing reminder of just how talented Gwendal Le Bec really is. Sometimes people can be frowned upon for aping or mimicking a style from someone else but in Gwendal’s case it’s different as he successfully takes elements from all the most infamous illustrators of times gone by and adds them to his own style.

  6. List

    We’ve been harping on about what a terrific illustrator, and all-round cheery chap Ryan Gillett is for quite some time now, and it seems people have been taking notice. Ryan now counts the likes of Virgin, The Sunday Times, Anorak and Smith Journal among his many clients, who keep him busy at all hours on commissioned projects. It’s not hard to see why either; Ryan’s cheerful scenes made with the sensibilities of a traditional print-maker ought to excite even the most severe clients. But he still finds time to do the nice things that remind us what a stand-up guy he is; like producing screen printed postcards to send out to all his fans (including us). When they arrived the other week they brightened up our days, and also made us realise it was about time to praise Ryan once again…

  7. List

    Thank God for Laura Callaghan! In an illustrated world saturated with images of pretty girls sweetly baking cupcakes, making daisy crowns and chasing after boys, she injects a much-needed dose of the sinister femme fatale. Her characters have undercuts and piercings instead of being clad head to toe in lace, they read lesbian magazines instead of Vogue and they wear vials of their lovers’ blood round their necks. What more could you want from a role model?

  8. Listleipzig

    Sergio’s back, and he’s as good as ever. With new tour posters for the likes of Mac DeMarco and Future Islands and a bundle of personal work, we decided to whack him and his pointy-nosed people up on the site once again. Retro and somehow futuristic at the same time, his prints steer clear of twee although smiley, bouncy-haired characters abound. Their massive forearms and John Lennon glasses say “I’m clever and I work hard” in a way reminiscent of early communist posters, mixed with a touch of The New Yorker; what a brilliant combination. I love Summer, a print of a sunbather on a beach gazing into a snow globe. It might not have occurred to Spanish Sergio, but to me this seems like a brilliantly British reaction to too much sun.

  9. List

    Roosje Klap and Mathias Schweizer have just finished work on a pretty extraordinary piece of digital collage for Dutch literary magazine De Gids – a publication that’s been in existence since 1837. The images on display propose rooms that reference literary voices of the past like Ovid and Baiga, compositing various erotic references into surrealist dreamscapes. The pair worked on them in tandem in the manner of an exquisite corpse – building on each other’s work in stages over time – only instead of strange little bodies as the final product, we’re met with what Roosje refers to as “graphic sex cadavre-exquis!”

  10. List

    Here at It’s Nice That we spend an awful lot of time talking about, thinking about and writing about creatives but ultimately we don’t get too many chances to really see what goes on in their day-to-day working lives…until now. Our new collaboration with super-cool eyewear brand Ace & Tate – who believe in great design and ultimate customer choice – is taking us inside the studios, and inside the minds, of a host of some of our favourite creatives.

  11. Main

    I don’t go to Mr Porter to wistfully scroll through their accessories section like I used to, now I just visit them to go and meander through their journal – an online magazine put together by the team there that champions the important things in life: holidays, booze, sunglasses, cars and art amongst other things. Over the years the features in this section of Mr Porter’s webspace has become increasingly stylish, representing the brand’s core values using only the best editorial accompanied by staggeringly good commissioned illustration.

  12. Main

    Bees are precious, you hear me?! But you don’t need met to tell you that, people have been wigging out about bees dying for years. Rather than pool their minds together and sort out a solution to keep bees safe, these creative types were asked by bee-loving initiative The Honey Club to just create special artwork to help raise money for the bees instead. Way better!

  13. Lwllist

    The silver screen has never been afraid of time travel, or venturing beyond the end of the world as we know it. In the 1960s, Chris Marker’s short film La Jetée transported us to an age following the Third World War in a devastated Paris of underground dwellers; in the 1980s it was the turn of The Terminator to journey back and forth in time; and more recently The Road terrified us with its post-apocalyptic tale.