Portland artist and author Anders Nilsen has been working up to this. An award-winning comics creator, Nilsen’s plumbed the philosophical depths of existence and meaning in every book he’s produced, most famously through conversations between small birds in his 600-page Big Questions, serialized over the course of a decade in finely-detailed self-published comics zines. Since Drawn and Quarterly put out the completed Big Questions in 2011, Nilsen has kept to shorter, novel-length projects while broadening his story technique. Though Nilsen has stated in interviews that he is not a religious person, Rage of Poseidon (2013) saw him flirting with fiction and turning myths (including those from the Christian tradition) on their heads, and A Walk in Eden (2016) presented a foray into the realm of contemporary creative coloring books, but also contained an implied narrative touching on a Judeo-Christian apocalypse parable.
Now Nilsen is starting off on another long journey, a serialization which will one day form an ambitious book, Tongues. Issue #1 is split into three parts: “The Prisoner’s Dream” introduces a human-shaped but not human-looking being chained to a remote rock, conversing with a large eagle who apologetically tears out the being’s liver every day. “The Murderer” drops the reader into a desolate car wreck survived by a Swahili girl carrying a futuristic or magical weapon, who buries her companions. Sandwiched between these, “Hercules” sees the return of the ordinary-looking man with a teddy bear strapped to his back who previously appeared in 2004’s Dogs and Water, Nilsen’s rumination on the trajectory of an adult artist, which won an Ignatz Award. All three chapters are rooted in scenes of war or ruin, but the panels themselves grow like cells in a petri dish, suggesting rebirth.
Early descriptions of Tongues characterized it as an adaptation of a work by Aeschylus, which is a bit of a spoiler if you’re into Greek tragedians. That likely makes this Aeschylus’ Prometheus trilogy (Aeschylus is thought to have pioneered the dramatic trilogy) so theoretically I already know what will happen. But I still have plenty of questions. Who is Colin Everett, and why does the man with a teddy bear hate him? What kind of weapon is that blue box? Is the Swahili girl the person Prometheus pulled from the mud? It’s hard to say what any of this could mean, because we’re just at the start of a dramatic play Nilsen hopes we will follow for years to come.
Tongues Issue #1
by Anders Nilsen