Interview: Anders Nilsen Pt. 2

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In this second part of our interview with the Dogs and Water artist, we discuss the importance of silence, the ways art school affects comics composition and how Big Questions is different than Spider-man fighting the Green Goblin.

[Part One]

Is conservation of style part of drawing a long form piece? Do you end up having to pace yourself? To not wind up spending a full day on a panel?

I do pace myself. What I end up trying to do when I’m working on the drawing part of the book is a page a day—or get roughly four pages done a week. Part of it is just that having a goal like that makes it more satisfied and helps the work to keep moving.

Does the timeline affect the style at all? The amount of time you give yourself?

I wouldn’t say so. If I don’t get it done in a day, I’m definitely not going to rush it. And certain kinds of scenes are more labor intensive. Any of the nighttime or underground scenes, because they’re so dark and there’s so much crosshatching. Those are going to take three days or four days. It’s important to give the book as much time as it needs.

There was a moment, I think around issue seven or eight—the way I tell stories is so slow. I give so much time to silent stuff. There was a moment where I felt like it was too much. I felt a little worried about it, that my readers were going to be bored. At a certain point, I just had to accept that this is how I do it. This is what I’m interested in doing, and I have to just trust myself and do it. And if people are bored, well, too bad [laughs]. I have to keep myself happy first.

Did you read a lot of superhero books growing up?

Yeah, yeah.

There’s a sense—and I think it’s the same with film—that you need to fill in all the empty space.

Right.

Maybe that’s part of the appeal your work holds for European audiences—their cinema seems to give itself a lot more breathing room and moments of silence.

Yeah, probably.

Is it hard to convey silence in a comic?

It comes naturally to me. I tend to be sort of a quiet person. I’m interested in the contrast between the silence and the chattiness of the birds. But I don’t really think of them as being that different. It’s just different stuff happening. It’s different kinds of information being conveyed, and it’s different parts of the story.

It’s a little more work. One of the things with superhero comics, for example, is you’ll have a scene where Spider-man is punching the Goblin, and you’ve got three paragraphs of dialog that fill in what you need to know.

Exposition.

Yeah. If you’re doing stuff silently, you’ve got to show everything. And you’ve got to show every phase of an action in order to make it totally clear, so that you’re not forcing your reader to re-read too much. Or they get to a place and don’t know exactly where it came from.

Does the use of blank space in your work come out of a similar place?

Yeah. I don’t know… That isn’t a super conscious decision. That’s just what ends up looking good to me. It’s the way the scene works. But I guess it is an aesthetic decision. I like that openness. I like the feeling of openness.

It seems like there’s a contrast between requiring a lot more spelling out of action while attempting to convey these images with as little detail as possible.

Right.

Are those not contrasting concepts?

I guess I’m a believer in reconciling opposites.

You went to art school.

I did. I went to the University of New Mexico and studied painting and installation.

Painting in the fine art sense?

Yeah. Sort of. It was a very idea driven program. But I did do some classic, realist, painterly paintings with big gobs of paint. And life portraits and landscapes and stuff. In a way I was doing traditional stuff.

What do you mean when you say “idea driven?”

The faculty definitely wanted us to have an understanding of why we were doing what we were doing. The form that a piece takes should be determined by the content. You shouldn’t just say, “I’m a painter and what I do is painting.” You should be open to following your ideas. And you should really know what your ideas are. You should really be aware of the history of painting and the kind of work that you’re making.

You’re making decisions as an artist. You shouldn’t be so afraid of thinking too much about what you’re doing.

Has that made you hyper-sensitive in your comics work, in terms of layout and composition?

I might be like that anyway. I think that’s just how I am and how I approach the world. But yeah, I feel like my approach to making comics is slightly heady—or maybe not heady, but I am thinking of everything, like why would you make a word balloon this way versus this way? Should your panel borders be straight or crooked? Or should you have them at all? What does it mean if you don’t have them? How does a circular panel border change things versus a square one?

I find that stuff all super interesting. Some people think that if you think about it too much, you’re leaving something out. I feel like you should start with “this is cool,” but then you should find out why it’s cool.

[Concluded in Part Three]

–Brian Heater

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