The End by Anders Nilsen, published in 2013, is a collection of comics created by Nilsen in the year following his girlfriend’s death after her battle with cancer. It is certainly one of the most unique comics I have encountered both in its style and content. The presence of the author can be felt on every page, so I want to discuss reflexivity as it is manifested in this comic.
Matthew T. Jones describes reflexivity as “a process by which the author of the text and/or the audience of the text functions to call attention to the text as an artificial construct.” (Jones 270). Knowing that this collection of comics comes from the author’s own period of mourning gives the reader a context to understand the comic and its meaning. The reader notices instances of authorial awareness, “the insertion of the author into the text,” (271) because we understand that the figures signify Nilsen and his loved one. This additional layer arguably makes the comic as a whole more powerful, because it is a sad, honest, and even humorous depiction of how humans deal with death.
We also see demystification in this comic, which is “the act of revealing the mechanisms of production responsible for creating the particular text” (Jones 276) evident in the lines that are scratched out and re-written. This allows the reader to recognize the process of creating comics and can also reveal the author’s state of mind which, at this time, may have been nervous and unsure.
We are also aware that the comic is constructed due to the drawing and writing style. The lines are thin and shaky, mirroring the author’s sadness and confusion about the fragility of life. The characters have no faces and this allows the reader to see his or her self, or perhaps a loved one who has passed away, within the figures of the bodies. The characters in the comics refer to one another as constructions, in that the protagonist figure representing Nilsen begs his partner not to disappear, for she is kept alive only in memory and on these pages. When the comic is over, she will be gone, and this is a real fear for the protagonist.
Jones describes how “reflexivity closes the distance between the author and the audience” (Jones 270). As we read though this comic we experience a fraction of the pain and turmoil Nilsen experienced. Due to the impact of reflexivity we are required to look inside ourselves and consider our own relationships with life and death, and our relationships with the ones we love. This powerful work is an example of the ways in which comics as a medium can break preconceptions and can portray even the most painful of subjects.
Jones, Matthew T. “Reflexivity in Comic Art.” International Journal of Comic Art 7.1 (Spring 2005): 270-86.