I have this recurring dream —
I’m in a dense, completely unfamiliar and frankly kind of foreboding, forest, very little daylight penetrating through the thick overgrowth, mysterious and even pained animal calls filling the oppressively humid air — except when I begin to follow one of them to its source, I find it’s not an animal call at all, but instead the sound of a smoking, malfunctioning piece of industrial machinery, and that I’m not in a forest as I had thought, but rather in a dilapidated, disused, crumbling factory.
All of which probably a) tells you more about the hopelessly warped contents of my id than you ever cared to know, and b) doesn’t have a whole ton to do with the comic we’re here to talk about, Anders Nilsen’s Tongues #2. Except —
In my dream, I find out that I’m not where I thought I was, and that’s on top of the fact that I never even knew where I was in the first place. And it seems to me that’s rather what Nilsen’s playing at here.
I’ve spent way more time than a well-adjusted person probably should have over the past year analyzing, re-analyzing, interpreting, and re-interpreting both the contents of Tongues #1 as well as my reactions to them, only to eagerly jump into the second (equally oversized and flat-out gorgeous) issue and immediately meet two entirely new characters, one of whom is shape-shifting swan. I thought Nilsen had at least placed all of his pieces on his chessboard in his opening installment, but no — and who knows? There may be more to come.
Which isn’t to say that we’re in entirely unfamiliar territory this time out but, as already alluded to, even that’s apparently not what we thought it was. Astrid, the young girl who appears to be the closest thing we have to a “protagonist,” lives in circumstances surprisingly more urban than we may have guessed given where and how she appeared last time out, and Nilsen makes the most of this gradual fleshing-out of her circumstances, putting her in one situation of almost unbearable intensity (a confrontation with a malevolent talking dog) and one of almost unbearable mystery (a conversation with a possibly malevolent talking statue), while the military guys from the first chapter turn out to be far more mercenary than things initially appeared (and consequently more scary), the hitch-hiker they picked up now seeming far more like a potential victim than a “mere” hapless interloper. There’s some genuinely frightening stuff on offer here, and that marks a tonal shift, to be sure, but not one that feels in any way out of place, much less jarring. Did I see it coming? No. But it seems a perfectly natural evolution not just in retrospect but, crucially, as it’s happening.
What, then, of Prometheus and the eagle? I’m glad you asked, because even there all is not what it seemed. Yes, they continue their daily ritual (“knight takes bishop — oh, and here’s my liver for lunch”), but the whole “time immemorial” part of their mutually-constructed equation appears to be on the cusp of some major changes, given that Prometheus has spent however many years they’ve been at this cooking up a plan. Of which, of course, we know nothing. Am I beginning to sound like a broken record?
And while we’re on the subject of general cluelessness, that’s also an entirely apt summation of things in a much more “macro” sense here, with why and how each of these disparate threads fit together. Certain visual themes persist — page layouts modeled after and around animal innards, geometric panels and designs, black birds aplenty — all rendered with Nilsen’s meticulous attention to detail and delicate linework, and “brought home” by means of his pastel-infused, dare I say mesmerizing color palette. But is this small frisson of the familiar a trap of sorts? Are we being lulled into a false, albeit tiny, sense of security in a world where, quite obviously, none exists?
Nilsen has already, famously, asked us plenty of Big Questions in his celebrated prior work of the same name, but in between “oohing” and “aahing” over all the pretty pictures (like the breathtaking two-page spread, with precisely-chosen insets, pictured above), I wonder if he wasn’t holding out, or at the very least holding back, the most unfathomable depths of his imagination before, because this is seriously, as the kids say, “some next-level shit.”
Obviously, like anyone else engaging with this material (and it both demands and rewards absolutely full engagement, trust me), I have no solid idea formed in the shattered contents of my mind as to where any of this is headed, and I’m quite reticent to put forth any theories at this juncture for fear that doing so will only make me look stupid a few years down the road. What I do know, however — and I take pains to stress that it’s all I know — is that wherever it is we are, or think we are, or maybe even hope we are (or aren’t), it’s as utterly fascinating as it is well-nigh unfathomable. Anders Nilsen is creating a work that bears all the hallmarks of being a high-water mark not only of his cartooning career, but perhaps even of the comics medium in general. If you’re waiting for some kind of eventual collected edition, my advice would be : don’t. Get on board with Tongues right now by going over to https://www.andersbrekhusnilsen.com/shop/