Friday, 6 June 2014

Deep Sequencing: Little Birds, Big Comics

Or some thoughts on the syle of Big Questions
By Anders Brekhus Nilsen; Drawn & Quarterly

Big Questions is not the kind of comic I would normally pick up. It's the size of a phonebook, carries a fairly hefty price tag, is by an artist/writer I'm unfamilair with, and at first glance is the kind of fussy art/literary comic that I sometimes find hard to enjoy. (What can I say, I'm a dyed in the wool genre kid.) But when I asked my best friend what literary comics I should try, she recommended Big Questions as a comic I absolutely had to read.

There will be mild *SPOILERS* for Big Questions in this post.

Big Questions is drawn in a very minimalistic way. The comic features a flock of finches developing belief systems to interpret the world around them, particularly when the human world intrudes in unexpected and dangerous ways. The artwork that tells this story is this deceptively simple, open, black and white world full of empty spaces, with lightly defined features and populated with charismatically simple characters. At first glance it looks almost like a rudimentary comic.

But the thing that emerges from this seemingly simple artwork is just how clear the storytelling is. For being (and this is exaggeratedly unfair) a comic of crudely drawn birds in poorly defined environments, the narrative chops on display are immense. The simple birds emote, the minimalist backgrounds become expansive and bleak, and the overall flow of the narrative from panel to panel is perfect. Instead of coming off lazy and crude, the artwork in Big Questions emerges as elegantly designed and environmental in its yawning repetition. 

Then there are pages like this. Just look at it! This is a page of a nonchalant idiot reflected on the engine cowling of a crashing airplane as it zooms past. And it is beautiful, and haunting, and crazy! This is one of the most interesting and exciting panels I've experienced in comics: it's drawn with such a masterful and haunting composition. It's basically perfect. And it's contrasted against the elegant simplicity of the majority of the comic so that this image just carries so much more weight. It's fantastic comics.

Big Questions is a comic that has a really fascinating, philosophical story and despite its deceptively simple art style offers some remarkable storytelling and some draw dropping exclamation mark moments. You really ought to try it out.

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