A New York Times Notable Book of 2011, included on Amazon.com, Publishers Weekly, and NPR'S Best Comics lists
A haunting postmodern fable, Big Questions is the magnum opus of Anders Nilsen, one of the brightest and most talented young cartoonists working today. This beautiful minimalist story, collected here for the first time, is the culmination of ten years and more than six hundred pages of work that details the metaphysical quandaries of the occupants of an endless plain, existing somewhere between a dream and a Russian steppe. A downed plane is thought to be a bird and the unexploded bomb that came from it is mistaken for a giant egg by the group of birds whose lives the story follows. The indifferent, stranded pilot is of great interest to the birds--some doggedly seek his approval, while others do quite the opposite, leading to tensions in the group. Nilsen seamlessly moves from humor to heartbreak. His distinctive, detailed line work is paired with plentiful white space and large, often frameless panels, conveying an ineffable sense of vulnerability and openness.
Big Questions has roots in classic fables--the birds and snakes have more to say than their human counterparts, and there are hints of the hero's journey, but here the easy moral that closes most fables is left open and ambiguous. Rather than lending its world meaning, Nilsen's parable lets the questions wander where they will.
Epic in its scale and circumscribed in focus, Nilsen's incisive Big Questions is a philosophical novel that uses the techniques of fable to investigate faith, society, disillusionment, and catastrophe. A dozen years in the making, Nilsen's 600+-page story depicts the lives, bonds, and quarrels of a group of quizzical birds whose ontology is challenged by the appearance of a bomb, a crashed airplane, and a narcoleptic human pilot. At first these talkative avians resemble Charles Schulz's Linus with their na ve philosophizing. But as the situation escalates, the book demonstrates how, in the absence of knowledge, germinal philosophy and early religion can be much the same thing. Competing mythologies, ideologies, and messianic fervor cause rifts within a community that otherwise unites as part of nature's predatory food chain. Nilsen outlines his figures with a thin but commanding line, and builds texture and atmosphere with dense stippling and hatching, creating a lush, verdant landscape. His breathtaking vistas resonate with his characters' struggle to assemble meaning from incomprehensible events and to rebuild their world from the pieces left over.