Page 45 Review by Stephen
Did you know Amys waters broke at the ceremony? While I was down by the water scattering your ashes, her waters broke. She gave birth later that night. Spooky, huh? Did you have a hand in that? It doesnt seem like your style, but that last week in the hospital you were developing a goofy sense of humour. So maybe it was you, or maybe someone did it on your behalf. Hes a cute kid, Asher. I just met him a couple of weeks ago, when your parents were in town, at Lula.
So thats me, down below, to scatter your ashes. I slipped on the rocks once, and almost went into the water.
Paul kept telling me not to be disappointed, that these things never happen exactly how you expect. The wind will shift, the ashes will blow in your face. But it didnt. It went perfectly. Your ashes scattered perfectly, dissolving into a creamy white cloud in the water, drifting down among the rocks.
From the creator of BIG QUESTIONS, one of my three favourite books of 2011, DOGS & WATER (an early Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month), and those two self-published beauties THE MONOLINGUIST PAPER UPDATE and THE GAME which Anders sent us himself, this originally came out in 2006. That was, unfortunately, just a little too soon after we lost our own Mark for any of us to feel comfortable reviewing it with more than a couple of industry quotations.
Its a calm and contemplative collection of thoughts, comics, photographs, postcards and drawings beautifully compiled by Anders in memory of his fiancée, Cheryl Weaver, who died in 2005 from cancer. Gentle, unsensationalist and far from maudlin or self-obsessed, it begins, characteristically, with a comical letter sent by Anders to his little sister Ella about a camping trip hed taken with Cheryl which, in every conceivable way, went disastrously wrong. Its a catalogue of cumulative, comedy cock-ups: alarm dislodged, car keys lost, a Biblical density of flies at the campsite, a battery-buggered torch, ravenous racoons crunching crisps in the tent and finally the tent abandoned for the freezing-cold shore. Theres no painful irony of hindsight, just an endearing account of time spent together, laughing in the face of adversity.
The couple are back on the road between parents for Christmas 2003 and, would you believe it? Disaster nearly a serious one. So thats Christmas Day and Boxing Day spent in the middle of nowhere, then, but in the photos theyre still smiling. And so it continues in comicbook form when theyre due to fly out to France: portfolio lost but reclaimed at the last minute through an impressive feat of gymnastics, only to be confounded by the dreaded e-ticket. Ive always dreaded it. I dread it even more now.
Anders notes in the afterword that his travels were always accident-prone before, during and after his time with Cheryl. I can believe it. I just wish Id remembered that before he came up from London to sign with us: Id have insisted he drive up the night before!
Anyway, the holiday in Paris and Angoulême during the festival is told in bright, blue-skied photographs with odd snippets of commentary. They manage to hit the coastal town of Arcachon when its completely closed down for the season, but still.
And so we come to the sketched-in diary entries of 2005, visiting Cheryl in hospital, hoping it will turn out for the best. Theres much there many will find all-too familiar about coping and questions, feeling helpless and wondering what more one can do but for my part Ive rarely read it articulated so well. The fragility Anders feels is mirrored in the portraits of Cheryl, lying in bed, utterly drained.
It doesnt turn out for the best, of course, and so we finish up where we began by the side of lake where they were going to be married. Its a terrible procession, observed from behind, Nilsen carrying his beloved in an urn in his arms. But its quietly conversational and drawn with great dignity, Anders climbing back up the rocks and out of the frame, leaving the waters to lap on the shore.
"This story is, obviously, very personal, but ultimately I think it isnt exclusive. It feels incredibly particular to me, still, but it's just love and loss. And everyone, for better or worse, can relate to that, wrote Anders. Thats so very true. In a new authors note from 2012 Nilsen explains why the books gravitational pull on his life led him to leave the book out of print for so long. But Im glad that its back now to strike chords with a new audience.
It concludes with a couple of postcards Anders sent Cheryl, heavily embellished on each side. The pigeons in Washington look exactly like the ones in Chicago. Only maybe a little more governmental.
We must save Medicare, says the pigeon.