Cartoonist Anders Nilsen tends to create works that blend the mythic and the modern. His largest and most popular work to date, 2011’s Big Questions, puts classic mythology and existential pondering in the mouths of birds and snakes who have mistaken a fighter-jet for a giant bird, and its bomb for an egg. His most recent work, 2013’s Rage of Poseidon, synthesizes Greek, Roman, and Christian mythology, dragging depressed gods and immortals across the centuries as they witness the ebb of their own influence in the affairs of men.
The book has a number of interesting choices of style and format. Nilsen generally uses a somewhat dirty form of the Ligne Claire (french for “clear line”) drawing style made famous by French illustrators like Moebius and Herge and used more recently by American illustrators like Chris Ware and Geof Darrow. Much like the work of Moebius or Ware, the spare quality of the line work lends Nilsen’s work a contemplative tone, while at the same time the sharp, thin lines exaggerate the material, like illustrations in an old catalog. The result is a style that often holds together the philosophical and the ephemeral in the same thought.
from Big Questions, left
Rage of Poseidon, however, mostly eschews the clear line style in favor of more primitive full-page silhouettes that lack dialogue. In place of dialogue, we are treated to a rambling second-person narration that implicates the reader into debauched modern supplements on the mythological stories of such figures as Poseidon, Abraham and Isaac, Prometheus, and Aphrodite. In addition, the hard bound volume is printed on heavy accordion fold paper that gives the black and white images another layer of primitivism.
With Rage of Poseidon, Nilsen seems to be upping the ante of his work’s mythic/modern hybridization. An effect that comes into full bloom when Poseidon decides to level a water park that seems to be mocking his years of impotence, or when a depressed and reckless Athena wakes up from a bender to find herself in a standoff with a swat team. The black silhouettes, which lend the faces of the immortals an appropriate mythic anonymity, give modern icons—a flat screen TV, a disposable soda cup, or a hatchback—the same mythic space, drawing the lofty mythological world and unreal present into one seamless sordid history.
The second person narration works similarly. From the first words, “So imagine you are Poseidon, god of the sea,” it profanes the old gods, while in the same breath elevating the modern toward the mythic. On first reading, after having myself (the reader) referred to as a god and an immortal throughout, I couldn’t help but feeling a little of the arrogance of power and eternal youth as I went about an otherwise uneventful day at the library.
SLPL’s Center for the Reader is home to more great Anders Nilsen graphic novels:
Rage of Poseidon
Dogs and Water
Monologues for Calculating the Density of Black Holes
This review was written by Mike McCubbins, one of our awesome Library staff. Mike is my go-to person when I have an in-depth graphic novel question, and I greatly appreciate his knowledge and expertise. If you have a question about a graphic novel, or would like a reading suggestion, he’s your guy! You can usually find Mike on the first or second floor of the Library (just ask and we’ll find him for you).