Sometimes I think it’s helpful to step back from the things you’re reading, the influences you’re absorbing, and have a look at what threads they have in common, and then try to figure out why they’re resonating with you and what it means. So much about life is timing, and sometimes things just magically gel together. Sometimes the link is really dumb and arbitrary, but ends up revealing something.

For instance, two of my favorite contemporary artists right now are both from the Midwest, work in short, almost sketchy forms, and are named some form of “Anders.”

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ANDERS NILSEN writes/draws comics. His stuff appears in MOME, D+Q, and his own series, BIG IDEAS. He has a new book coming out, called MONOLOGUES FOR THE COMING PLAGUE. Here is a nice long interview with him, in which he says:

Why comics? I think when I went back to comics it was because, as a kid comics were the art form I identified with the most keenly. They say if you don’t know what to do with your life, try to remember what you loved most when you were twelve and do that.

When asked why so many cartoonists live in Chicago, he responded:

I really have no idea. It’s been suggested that comics may be in some way particularly suited to the Midwest, but I can’t quite recall the reasoning. Humility. A lot of time inside in the winter, might as well draw. The protestant work ethic. A distrust of/lack of entre into the bi-coastal Cultural Establishment. How do those sound? Comics is definitely not about impressing people. which I would say is a kind of midwestern characteristic. We tend to not be very impressive. All those skyscrapers downtown were built by East-coasters and Europeans.

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ANDER MONSON writes short stories and poems, teaches in Michigan, and edits THE DIAGRAM. His book of poems, VACATIONLAND, and his novel-in-short-stories, OTHER ELECTRICITIES, are about Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where he grew up. A great interview with him is here.
He has this to say about writing your home:

I can only think that the place in which you grow up has a significant effect on you. How can it not? Growing up in Michigan’s UP — with its history of boom and bust, of the rise and the fall of the mines, with its 6-month winters, and with the constant presence of tourism (the UP as a place in its way devoted to visitors, not to its residents) — has turned my work somehow. I’m interested in loneliness and in isolation, in the effects of living under extreme weather, and how those who choose to live there bear it. Of course they love it, or they wouldn’t live there (though many of them have no choice, have never gotten out). I’m gone from the place now, living ten hours away downstate, but even when I lived in Alabama, I thought of snow.

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  1. […] Here’s a podcast featuring an interview with Ander Monson, in which he discusses Twin Peaks, book design, and Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, among other things. Talking about the graphic elements of Other Electricities: I had originally composed this book in Pagemaker….It’s really sad now that you don’t see more books with these visual elements. Now we have all the graphic novels happening, and I think that’s a good influence on the publishing world. But even when I was trying to sell this book, I was trying to find an agent for it, and I got letters back that said, “Dude, there’s graphics in here, there’s no way I’m going to be able to sell it,” and I wanted to respond, “Have you seen what people are buying? I mean, they’re buying Chris Ware!” […]