I don’t know how I came across Anders Nilsen’s graphic collection Poetry is Useless. I do know I waited quite a while for it from the library. I don’t usually read author bios and this collection doesn’t have an “about the author” paragraph anyway so I was quite surprised when nearly at the end of the book one of the comic panels mentions a tiny independent bookstore in Minneapolis that specializes in progressive/radical literature, Boneshaker Books. How the heck does Nilsen know about them? Off to the interwebs! Where I discover that he lives in Minneapolis! Local boy!
Maybe that’s why I found his off-beat and sometimes dark sense of humor so funny? I read most of the collection before bed and I’d start laughing and Bookman would look up from his own book inquiringly, which of course is an opening for me to pepper him with all the funny things. He was very tolerant and even obliged me with a laugh now and then.
Here’s a couple examples of the humor:
Oh snowflake, how I wish to caress you. But every time you melt.
The benefit of having alienated God, having offended him, driven him away so that the two of you are no longer speaking is that at least he’s not telling you what to do all the time.
It’s also been said, however, that I am not flammable. In general this is true, except for my hair. My hair burns readily. In fact, once alight it is quite difficult to put out again.
You get the picture.
The art in this collection is really interesting. Each page is mostly what appears to be a scan of Nilsen’s notebook, a moleskine by the looks of it. The scans are surrounded by lots of white page space and sometimes this space has drawings or comics on it too. There is very little color, most things are in black and white. There are comic panels and these generally feature a single silhouette with a speech bubble in each frame. Sometimes there are two silhouette’s talking to each other.
Then there are pages of strange, abstract looking drawings that look kind of like root balls or plumbing gone wrong or some sort of weird organic alien spaceship. There are also representational drawings, most of people and these people sometimes have speech bubbles as Nilsen has overheard them taking in a cafe or on an airplane. People say some really weird things when they think no one is eavesdropping.
I liked the book and all its strangeness. Because it is made up mostly of scans from his notebook, there are errors in the text that Nilsen blacked out and even white-out and shadowy lines where the sketch originally began but then got changed. This tends to make it feel raw, unfinished, like a rough draft and I found that irritated me sometimes, which is kind of weird. But I think that is the whole point. This is a book that doesn’t want you to feel comfortable even when it makes you laugh. It is definitely a different kind of reading experience.
For more about Anders Nilsen and to browse some of his art, visit his website.