Drawing out grief

Minneapolis artist Anders Nilsen tells a multimedia story of illness, death and true love.

Sarah Harper

What: A reading of “Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow” by Anders Nilsen

When: 7 p.m., Saturday

Where: Boneshaker Book,; 2002 S. 23rd Ave., Minneapolis

Cost: Free


After the death of his girlfriend Cheryl Weaver, comic artist Anders Nilsen put together the story of their relationship. With washed-out snapshots, ink drawings and handwritten notes, he chronicled their lives together and the progression of the illness that stumbled into the picture, replacing their plans for a small wedding with the reality of a large memorial.

“Really, my intention was just to self-publish, you know, print out a bunch of copies on my inkjet printer, enough to give to her family and some of our friends,” Nilsen said. He had been thinking about making a zine about their travel stories for a while.

But as the artist started to compile more ephemera, the work outgrew his initial plans for quick production and hand-to-hand distribution. Nilsen wanted to tell the stories of their travels together — the camping trip, the holiday that wasn’t supposed to be spent in a hotel, the comics convention in France.

“It felt like it was not going to be logistically possible for me to even create 25 copies,” Nilsen said.

That’s when Drawn and Quarterly came in, and along with the illustration-minded publishing house came scores of readers who found the tale of love and grief profoundly relatable.

“It ended up getting more press than I expected and really striking a chord with people,” said Nilsen, a professor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design who has returned to his native Minneapolis after living in Chicago for 13 years. “And I think more than Drawn and Quarterly expected too — the print run was pretty small.”

It’s no wonder the book resonated with a wider base than Nilsen anticipated. It’s a tender, understated love story that goes easy on the eyes while it tugs hard at the heartstrings.

In spite of the book’s quiet success, Nilsen didn’t jump on a second printing right away.

“As time went on, I wasn’t sure that I wanted this super personal, raw moment to be on display in that way,” he said.

This year, after a break during which he raked in critical acclaim for his 600-page graphic novel “Big Questions,” Nilsen decided to let “Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow” go once more.

“I guess the reason I changed my mind is basically that time went by, and it’s work that I’m sort of happy with or proud of artistically,” he said. “I’m a cartoonist, but I’m interested in storytelling in other ways.”

Right now, Nilsen is working on a new book called “Rage of Poseidon,” which he’ll read from at Boneshaker Books on Saturday.