Talking animals shouldn't have to think this hard. You'd assume the mere ability to speak would be enough for them. Not the case in Anders Nilsen's epic graphic novel, "Big Questions." For the group of small birds at the center of this fable-like story, existential conversations are as common as dodging predators.
"Big Questions" is the culmination of a decade of work for Nilsen, a gifted visual storyteller who originally published these pages in 15 separate chapters. Now collected into a 600-page tome, the parable it tells unfolds with remarkable ease and power.
On a grassy plain in the middle of nowhere, a military jet crashes into a prairie house. The event throws the community of birds who live nearby into upheaval. They splinter into factions -- some try to aid the pilot, others are dubious. One of them befriends a snake who seems to have all the answers. Another seeks the wisdom of an owl who promptly bites his head off. Comedy and terror go hand in hand here. Nilsen, who grew up in Minneapolis, brings it all to life with mesmerizing black-and-white line art, mixing stark white space with extreme detail.
The birds struggle with loneliness, anxiety and dread. One asks: "Did you ever feel like the order and certainty you'd relied on all your life were dissolving away, leaving you with only exposed lies and half-truths?"
That's a big question for such a small bird.
Tom Horgen is an A&E reporter for the Star Tribune.