Thursday, May 29, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #148: Dogs and Water by Anders Nilsen

I have the profoundly uneasy sense that I may be cheating with today's selection: is it really a "book?" Sure, it's the size and rough shape of a book, and was a one-off publication in 2004. (And it carries a book-like price tag of $9.99.) But the thing is bound by staples, which, in my youth, was the infallible sign of a periodical. And it's comics, too, so it was originally ordered and sold out of a monthly distributor catalog along with tens of thousands of other stapled objects of various sizes, none of which would usually be considered a book.

On the other other hand, though, I just read it and I'm going to write about it here -- so, under that very narrow definition, it is definitely a book.

The item in question is Anders Nilsen's Dogs and Water, a standalone publication that is similar to but essentially separate from his decade-long series (and eventual single book) Big Questions. I've had it on my shelf for some time -- I think it was part of my care package after the flood, when some friends gave me a bunch of comics after I lost all of mine. (I've probably never thanked them enough: it was an incredibly nice gesture at a time when that was very welcome.)

Much like Big Questions, it's set in a bleak landscape, with characters that don't explain themselves and are not explained to us. A young man is walking for a long way in one direction, for reasons he doesn't say. His only companion is the teddy bear strapped to his backpack, but he meets others -- dogs, humans, deer -- along the way. Dogs and Water is the episodic story of part of that journey: it's well after the young man set off, and he hasn't arrived anywhere when the book ends. Interspersed are dream sequences, drawn in blue, in which the same young man is in a boat, in water equally lost and trackless, with situations equally difficult and dangerous.

It's more evocative than explained, and Nilsen's art is as spare and stark as his situations -- if you've seen Big Questions, you know the kind of thing he does. If not, Dogs and Water is smaller and more compact; it's a great introduction to Nilsen.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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