Every week on “Sunday Page” an author has to choose a single page from a comic book. It could be for sentimental reasons o for a particular technical achievement. The conversation could lose itself in the open water of the comic book world but it will always start with the question: «If you had to choose a page from a comic book you love, what would you choose and why?»
This Sunday I’m out with Anders Nilsen. Nilsen’s comics have appeared in the anthologies Kramers Ergot and Mome. His graphic novel Dogs and Water won an Ignatz Award in 2005. In 2007, Nilsen won an Ignatz Award for his graphic memoir, Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, and in 2012, he won an Ignatz Award for Big Questions.
This page is from Geneviève Castrée’s short story Blankets Are Always Sleeping from Drawn and Quarterly’s 25th Anniversary anthology/history tome from 2015. I was a devoted fan of Castrée’s years before we became friends and this story is the perfect distillation of her work. It also exemplifies her as a person. The story is a kind of poetic meditation on sleep, sleeplessness and the anxieties of connecting with loved ones at a distance. Each of the eight pages shares this composition, depicting the artist herself and one other person (or cat) sleeping under meticulously rendered actual blankets from her collection She depicts herself on top, and some other figure from her life down below, in a composition almost like twin queens on a playing card.
I love the flawless line work and vivid color of this piece. I love the fact that she is making lovingly crafted paintings of mundane, everyday objects like pillow cases and blankets. I love that she is carefully depicting her own drool on the pillow. The uncomfortable small messinesses of bodies, of life and of politics were always an undercurrent in Castrée’s work. Comics pages may always be seen as a sort of diagram. The captions in these pages make that analogy explicit as she interweaves her own poetic narrative with details of the history of each of her treasured objects. Geneviève’s work was sometimes angry or anxious, sometimes sublime. It was also regularly tinged with unexpected humor and delight. And touched in an occasionally surprising way on comics history. I knew she was a devoted fan of Hergé, Maurice Sendak and Julie Doucet. I wouldn’t have guessed Garfield. The perfectly rendered upside-down cartoon cat at the bottom of this page makes it perfect.
Beyond being great comics, the piece also resonates for me personally. The text in the upper left about making beds for friends is something I can attest to myself. I stayed with Geneviève and her husband a few times, but notably for a three days in 2013 during a small music festival they put on that year. The blanket under which she depicts herself sleeping on this page was arranged atop a number of others in a little cocoon she assembled for me in her studio for the duration of the festival. So I can attest to the real comfort and warmth she created for friends, exactly as she says in her text.
Did you remember when you first met Castrée and how did your friendship begin?
Geneviève and her husband, Phil Elverum both wrote to me after reading a book of mine, Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow. I was already a fan of hers, and we soon struck up a correspondence. I’m not actually 100% sure when I first met her in person, but I think it was when I was on book tour for Big Questions and stopped in their hometown of Anacortes, Washington on my way from Seattle up to Vancouver, in 2011. But our paths crossed a number of other times, at festivals and residencies and the like, and I made a point to visit her as often as I could while she was ill, before she died in 2016.
To you, what’s her legacy? Is her art influential on your work? If so, in what ways?
To me her legacy is her friendship. She and I were working on comics memoirs at the same time in 2012 and 2013 and our conversations about the complications of memoir will always stay with me and inform my thinking about the subject. Her great commitment to her craft is an inspiration to me. Her originals would regularly elicit a kind of awe from viewers. That’s an inspiration, to be reminded that a painting or a drawing can make people shake their heads and say “wow”. She was just an incredibly talented, thoughtful artist. I guess part of the reason I am working to highlight her work now that she is gone is that I worry that her legacy won’t reflect her enormous talent. She worked as hard as any artist I know, but her genius went into the work, not into getting it out into the world. Fortunately I’m not the only one who feels that way.