Anders Nilsen, Dogs and Water (Drawn and Quarterly, 2007)
Dogs and Water is quite unlike any other graphic novel I've ever run across; if you turn your head and squint right, it's got a bit of Renee French running through it, but without a shred of the absurdity French brings to her wonderful little books. Or Shaun Tan without the fantasy elements, or the hope. Nilsen (Monologues for the Coming Plague) has crafted something here that's deeply depressing, lonely, and yet compelling enough that once you've cracked the cover, you'll end up reading it in one sitting, wondering just what the hell is going on, but not really caring all that much whether anything actually is.
The plot involves a guy with a stuffed bear tied to his knapsack wandering through what seems to be the Alaskan tundra. (You'll understand why I assume this is Alaska about halfway through the book.) The bear is his only companion, and he holds conversations with it. Does this make him lonely, or mentally unstable? We have no idea. He's definitely paranoid, despite the animals he runs across being generally friendly. Soon enough he runs out of food, and his wandering becomes increasingly desperate as he searches for more.
Yeah, that's pretty much it, though there is a climax to it (I don't really want to spoil what happens in the final third of the book, but Nilsen does a fantastic job of setting it all up). It's a very cold, one-man Waiting for Godot, perhaps. Yes, I'm still trying to find something to compare it to, and the fact that nothing really fits is a mark in the book's favor. You will have no idea what it is Anders Nilsen is on about here, but most likely it won't matter one bit. This is a glorious nightmare, a vicarious depression, and it deserves your attention. *** ½