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Highly Recommended.

I wish I could give Big Questions by Anders Nilsen so many more stars than five or ten or one million. It is an incredible read.

The main characters are mostly birds who talking to one another, goof off, and figure stuff out. It’s equal parts surreal/philosophical and birds-being-weird funny stuff. They all have names, so it’s not as hard as I thought it would be to tell the different finches apart.

Since the book is a compilation of the whole Big Questions series, it’s episodic but it has a cohesiveness that I feel many serialized comics lack. It’s funny though because each episode is made up of a bunch of weird vignettes, making the individual episodes perhaps a little scattered but keeps the entire work together.

The art is truly incredible. Nilsen goes from really simple to staggeringly detailed throughout. The line quality is so sensitive which results in incredibly nuanced drawings regardless of simplicity or complexity. Compositionally, he explores the comic form more often and more interestingly than most other graphic novels and graphic non-fiction I’ve read. There are boxed panels and unboxed panels, small framed close-ups inside larger scenes, characters progressing through a single wide view, etc.. In the afterward, he mentions how he was figuring it out as he went along — very much to the benefit of the reader.

There is so much ambiguity, but it’s really beautiful, productive, satisfying ambiguity.

I read another of his works, Monologues for the Coming Plague, and it definitely wasn’t as interesting or engaging as Big Questions. BUT Nilsen also has a blog, the Monologuist, where he posts a lot of images from his sketchbooks and that is top shelf. He also has an official website too.

2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 97 books toward her goal of 150 books.

This is a memoir about breast cancer, drawn in simple cartoons by self-taught cartoonist Miriam Engelberg. She was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 43 and, sadly, died at the age of 48.

The good: I LOVED that she wore a blue wig, and that was the wig that was most “her” despite being nothing like how she looked before she had cancer. I loved her observations about  support groups and people’s varied and ridiculous reactions to her diagnosis. I love that she watched a lot of TV, did a lot of crosswords, and read a lot of tabloids. She seemed like a really rad lady.

The not so good: I really wanted to like this more, but so much about it fell flat. I really really support people drawing comics just because, even if you aren’t super good at it. But I also feel like the more you draw the better you get at it, even if it’s just a teeny tiny bit! You don’t even have to try! You draw a lot, you get better at what you’re doing, even if what you’re doing is speech bubbles or repeated patterns or aliens or oncologists. I love atypical drawing/cartooning styles (like Lauren RednissEsther Pearl Watson, and sometimes even Maira Kalman falls into that category); drawings that aren’t your typical comic style, nor are they necessarily realistic or strictly representational. I think it’s weird that Engelberg read a lot of comics (she referenced my favorite person, Lynda Barry!) and drew so often, and this is her final product.

There were parts that I liked because she is relatable, but when she tried for jokes it was a lot like watching a multicam sitcom with a laugh track (really asking for the laugh), except it’s a book and there’s no laugh track! I loved when she approached the subject with humor not with comedy. Those observations were poignant and interesting, not gunning for a laugh.

I was just generally disappointed with this book. I wanted to like it so much more, but it just didn’t quite do it for me.


2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Allie hasread 94 books toward her goal of 150 books.



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