The Process of Making Comics with Anders Nilsen

Anders Nilsen creates sprawling worlds through his illustration, often in large format with linework that bleeds off the edges of the page, and, we can imagine, continues infinitely. His drawings carry this quality even when he confines himself (mostly) to a sketchbook. Here, he discusses the process of making his travelogue-in-comics, “Grand Canyon Sketchbook.”

—Kristen Radtke


THE BELIEVER: How did this comic start?

ANDERS NILSEN: I work in sketchbooks regularly, especially when I’m away from home. Traveling offers a lot of downtime—while sitting on or waiting for planes and trains for example. And away from your routine you’re both in a heightened state of attention and getting bombarded by new experiences. The Grand Canyon had the added benefit of being off the data and cellphone grid. So I spent a lot of time trying to capture and process the experience in my sketchbook.

BLVR: What’s your process like?

AN: For this it was very loose: just draw whatever was in front of me, describe a person or record an experience from the day, and see if it turned into anything interesting. I edited some of the pieces later for clarity and coherence. Also, for every spread that is worth showing, there’s at least one or two that are mostly garbage.

BLVR: Was any aspect of making this work particularly challenging?

AN: Editing a text in a sketchbook in photoshop is way more annoying than editing a text document in MS Word or InDesign. Selecting individual letters and moving them around and getting the backgrounds to match is not exactly straightforward. But also part of what I like about the sketchbooks is the highly limited real estate, I like the constraint of trying to make something happen on those two little pages.

BLVR: What drives you to create new work?

AN: I think of my sketchbook work as a sort of game, where it’s me against the book. If I can turn a blank page or a bad drawing into something interesting, or if I can make myself laugh, then I win. If not, I lose. Same rules as life.

BLVR: Without naming any comics artists, what influences you most?

AN: I just went to see Nils Frahm play, which was amazing. I left with my head full of ideas for the book I’m currently working on. I’m also reading a book on the evolution of language right now, and that’s got a lot of useful, inspiring ideas in it, too.

BLVR: Which comic should we drop everything and read right now?

AN: The last thing I read that I really liked a lot was Tara Booth’s How to Be Alive. Sarah Glidden’s book Rolling Blackouts is also super good.

BLVR: What are you working on next?

AN: I’m serializing a long graphic novel at the moment called Tongues. I’m putting out individual issues myself online and in a few stores around the country. It is, in part, a retelling of the greek myth of Prometheus, set in the present day Middle East. But with a lot of other strands. It’s in color. It’s the biggest, hardest thing I’ve ever done and it was kind of killing me until a couple of months ago. At the moment I’m in that place where I just can’t wait to get to the studio every day and watch the story unfold.

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