Anders Nilsen isn't a traditional comic book maker. His stories aren't made to fit nicely in with the popular comics at your favorite shop. Yet despite Anders distance from the mainstream he is read quite a lot.
Anders has a lot of interviews on the internet, which is a pretty big tip that his work has had a wide effect. Despite there being so many out there I still felt the need to satisfy some of my curiosity. Here's a brief exchange we had via email. Enjoy.
Do you remember ever making a big significant breakthrough as an artist? One that let you know you'd always be making art? I feel like it can be tough for people to believe they themselves actually have what it takes.
I ask that because your style is unconventional and it takes courage to embrace personal style right? Most of your comics don't follow traditional narratives.
The breakthrough I would cite is when I decided to do comics seriously in the first place. I did a lot of other stuff before making that switch: Painting, installation art, collage, etc. A few things led up to the decision. I had done a children's book for my little sister, I'd done a sort of picture-book-for-adults in college (The Ballad of the Two Headed Boy). After I'd been out of school and felt more disconnected from the world of galleries and museums. I had a few comics in my sketchbooks and decided to make a little zine with them. It was satisfying enough that it made me want to keep doing it. It felt like a giant discovery, there was so much to explore with comics. I quickly felt like I could easily do this for the rest of my life and never get bored.
For myself I don't think I'd say it took "courage" exactly, for me. I didn't really choose a style and medium, they chose me. I would never have been very good at faking some other way of being that wasn't authentically mine. I would say it took paying careful attention. Trying to really listen to myself and understand what fed me and what didn't. And not be swayed by what other people were doing or valuing around me.
It also took a lot of hard work, if of a sort I liked. I had a strong feeling that I would figure out who I was as an artist, but it just hadn't happened yet. So I was trying a lot of different things to figure it out.
You're work is often deep and metaphysical. In your other interviews I've read you talk about being an atheist. How do you find yourself thinking about meaning(or lack there of) so much as an atheist? You seem like one of the most curious authors that I've studied. I'm not saying atheists can't be curious, you just have such a unique brand of curiosity.
Yeah, I'm very curious and interested in how the world works, and how we find meaning in it. I'm an atheist as you say, but I come from a family with deep roots in religion, of a fairly non-dogmatic sort. So asking questions and coming to your own conclusions was encouraged. It has long seemed obvious to me that whether there is real meaning to be found out there, our brains try to make it out of whatever they are given. Watching that process and playing around with it are endlessly compelling to me.
You aren't making the next "Bone" or "Batman Year 100," you're storytelling is wholly different. It's a huge question but how did you develop your story telling style?
I can't answer that, really. I never sat down to carve out a storytelling philosophy, I just do it the way I do it. I like ambiguity, because I think the world is ambiguous. And I like things that unfold slowly. I think humor and tragedy are closely intertwined in life, so it's important to me to intertwine them in my work. Really I'm just trying to entertain myself. And that's how it comes out on the page.
Have you ever wanted to write traditional comics with traditional narratives, like the next Daredevil run or something?
I would be interested in playing with traditional genre comics, but I know it wouldn't come out traditionally. And the audience for my take on Daredevil would be way too small for Disney to waste their time. My friend Josh Simmons has done a few Batman comics which are wonderfully weird and disturbing. I can imagine doing something like that. I do a lot of stuff with Greek and Christian mythology, which to me is similar. I get to play around with the existing mythology and history of characters like Athena or Prometheus or Jesus. It's basically fan fiction. Working with Captain America or Wolverine would be similar for me, and I'd totally love to do it. But that shit is copyrighted and I need to make a living, so I doubt it'll happen anytime soon.
Do you have time to read a lot of comics? Or do you mostly do your thing making art and thinking about making them?
I don't read many comics anymore, really. I'm a bad fan. I usually prefer film and TV.
I love obscure comics. Not for the sake of obscurity, but because there's some really interesting stuff out there that maybe won't appeal to the mainstream. If you had to recommend any obscure comics that you think are super cool what would they be?
Well, everyone should read Josh Simmons Batman story. I'm a big fan of Robert Sergal. My friend Genevieve Castree died recently. Her work should be read by everyone. Aidan Koch is great. Kevin Huizenga is amazing, Julia Gfrorer... etc.
And lastly, I have to ask, what's your most proud of skate trick. Like what's the banger that your most proud of? I haven't skated seriously in years, but I still remember this one time I ollied this big gap first try. Obviously it wasn't a banger or anything, but I never ollied stuff first try. I remember doing tricks that day as if for one day I could nail anything, like I was light and everything was perfect.
Yeah, I relish that feeling where everything feels easy for a day. I don't get that feeling that often anymore as I get older, though, sadly. I guess the trick I'm most stoked on in the last few months is a no-comply flip up three stairs. Which is probably way too complicated to try and explain, but basically in a single motion you step off the board and bounce the tail on the bottom step in a way that makes it flip over going up the stairs and land on it at the top. It feels like magic.