The End

By Anders Nilsen (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 987-1-60699-635-5

Cheryl Weaver and Anders Nilsen were a couple. They were engaged and together forever and then in 2005 she died.

Her passing wasn’t sudden or dramatic and he had time to say goodbye. He carried on doing so for the next year, while his sketchbooks filled with questions and notions and helpless, hapless, hurt responses as he adjusted to his new, so unwanted, normal; all expressed in the form of his other reason for living – narrative graphic art.

Born in Minneapolis in 1973, Nilsen now lives in Chicago – when not travelling the world – producing such thought-provoking, award-winning comics and graphic novels as Dogs and Water, Monologues for the Coming Plague, the still-unfolding Big Questions and his heartbreaking thematic companion to this volume Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow.

Much of the material collected in this astoundingly frank and distressingly intimate hardcover memoir first appeared in the author’s therapeutic 2007 comicbook The End #1, whilst other portions of this much-expanded record originated in such disparate places as much-missed anthology Mome (Spring 2007) and even from screen-prints created in the months and years encompassing Nilsen’s slow voyage to acceptance.

The uncomfortably earnest eulogy begins with a poetic ‘Prologue’, before ‘Is That All There Is?’ wordlessly depicts an all-engulfing sense of loss and isolation, interrupted only by the text soliloquy ‘Love Story’.

The heart-rending catalogue of painful solitary moments ‘Since You’ve Been Gone I Can Do Whatever I Want To Do all the Time’ leads into inspirational prose observation with ‘I Have Two Lives’ after which the artist coolly examines the simple equation of loss and emotional paralysis with ‘Solve for X’

Poem ‘In the Future’ and cartoon pantomime ‘Pulling a Giant Block’ precede harsh but ultimately uplifting debate in ‘25 Dollars’ (originally seen in Mome as ‘It’s OK, You Have Everything You Need’) after which diagrammatic epigram ‘Eternity Analogy’ offers welcome hope and advice to fellow sufferers…

Primitivist drawing and photographic collage colourfully and philosophically combine in ‘You Were Born and So You’re Free’ before stark, simple lines return to illustrate an extensive imaginary conversation with the memory of love in ‘Talking to the Dead’ whilst print photomontages resume for the wistfully querulous ‘How Can I Prepare You for What’s To Follow?’ – created to welcome a newborn into the world…

The painful truism “life goes on” is reinterpreted in one final chat with the inevitable truth to close this memento mori in quiet contemplation with ‘Only Sometimes’

To say this is a deeply moving book is grotesquely trite and staggeringly obtuse, but it’s also true. Every loss is always completely unique and utterly, selfishly personal, but most of us also have some capacity to empathise, share and see our own situation in the emotional disclosures of others. When it’s done as honestly, effectively and evocatively as here, the result is simply, devastatingly, unforgettably magical.

© 2013 Anders Nilsen. All rights reserved.
So much more of Nilsen’s cartoon conceptions and considerations (including outtakes from The End) can be seen at his beguiling blog the monologuist