Hartford Advocate Reviews Dogs & Water

Voices in the Landscape

Hartford Advocate    |    Alistair Highet    |    December 16, 2004

We know, we know, you hate getting books for Christmas. But they are so easy to give, aren’t they? And giving someone a book can conceal a lovely didactic ambition, under the guise of selflessness, sort of like telling someone you love: “You should read this, it might improve you.” Or perhaps you are a better person than us and are thoroughly transparent and well-meaning. Whatever. Over the next few pages, we here at the Advocate have reviewed a handful of books that have come across our desks in recent months, that we think might be a good, or pointed, gift for someone you care about.

Dogs and Water

With a name like Anders Nilsen, you figure the artist/writer of this haunting graphic novel has spent too many lonesome hours trudging through frozen landscapes pondering big questions (he is, in fact, best known for a comic book series "Big Questions"). Or perhaps, as they say in Monty Python, he's simply pining for the fjords. But no. Nilsen is from Chicago, yet seems to take place in some unforgiving Arctic hell of bomb craters, roving wild dogs, vigilantes and oil pipelines.

The two main characters could very well have been lifted from a Samuel Beckett play: a talkative but confused young pilgrim, ill-clad and ill-prepared for the wilderness, and a stuffed bear strapped to his back like an underwater oxygen tank. The only soft place in this cruel, heartless landscape is that bear, and he has no speaking parts, though this doesn't stop the pilgrim from carrying on a one-sided conversation ("You don't have to tell me where we're going. You don't have to lay out the plan. I just want some reassurance, just a sign."). Don't we all, my man, don't we all. The relentlessly gray-black landscape -- nicely rendered in an uncluttered inked style that recalls Canada's David Collier -- is relieved by blue and grey dream sequences that are the most effective in the book. The tale culminates beside a hideous oil pipeline that underscores Nilsen's apparent theme: What a bloody awful mess we humans have made of this beautiful planet. It also recalls my favorite quote from a Beckett character: "I can't go on. I go on."

-- Alan Bisbort

Graphic literature and dirty finds lead the pack for holiday picks

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