Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 199

Big Questions

by Anders Nilsen
Genre notes: talking animals, military, philosophy
658 pages
ISBN: 1770460470 (Amazon)

Big Questions is a curious animal of a book. Its method of gradual production threatens the sense that Nilsen knew what he was doing all along or that the book can be read as a single cohesive work. Nilsen, as he explains in the book’s backmatter, began collecting the occasional one-page scraps of talking-bird cartoons he’d been producing for years. Almost accidentally, it seemed, a narrative began to form around these sometimes thoughtful finches. And then at last, the addition of arbitrary violence from the American military machine set in motion a grand tale spanning a milieu approximately the size of a sprawling backyard.

Still, Nilsen’s production here shines even while it remains unclear how much stock we’re meant to place in the book’s place as single multi-threaded narrative (vs. that of intersecting anthology of incidents and stories). Despite the book’s leisurely stroll through its story parts and Nilsen’s often sparse storytelling, Big Questions ends up feeling a very full meal. There’s a lot to think about and Nilsen’s penchant for leaving his Big Questions often unanswered lends to its position as a Thoughtful Comic. (If it weren’t for the book’s $45 price tag, it’d almost certainly become a regular subject of graphic-novel–leaning book clubs.)

While there is a plot to Big Questions, plot doesn’t necessarily drive the work. There are things that happen to prompt the characters to their various means and ends, but those events and the motivational vectors they produce are always secondary to the discussions (verbal and otherwise) they generate. Big Questions is a book about questions, a book about how to arrive at or depart from ideologies. Across the simple storyscape of these birds and their simple lives, Nilsen draws out a number of parables to ask simple questions about our own existence. Sometimes the circumstances or questions might seem too simple, but even then, the opportunity for thoughtfulness blossoms.

It’s a big book and a good book and one that, despite occasional clumsiness, provokes thoughtful critique and critical thought. What exactly Nilsen’s game is might not ever be made clear, but maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe some books are there less for what they say and more for what they ask.

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