Nate Powell at Floating World Comics in Portland

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Nate Powell draws a dragon into the flyleaf of his new book Swallow Me Whole and says, “I think comics readings are kinda weird.” An ebullient voice and light frame, it seems gravity is the only force keeping Nate on the ground. While signing a copy of his book for a fan in Portland, Nate muses, “I wanted to read a Garfield strip–where no one can see it–and I just describe what’s in the panel and read the dialogue.” A small group of people have gathered at Floating World Comics to meet the author and buy his new book. “It came out at SPX a couple weeks ago. There’s only as many copies as can fit in the trunk of my car. In a couple weeks we’ll have more copies.”

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Interview: Nate Powell Pt. 4 [of 4]

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In this fourth and final part of our interview with Swallow Me Whole writer, Nate Powell, we turn momentarily from all of that heady talk about childhood schizophrenia to discuss the author’s use of language—both textually and visually—in his latest book. It’s a particularly interesting topic both in light of the fact that much of the author’s past work has often been largely silent, as well as the ways in which Powell’s years spent working with developmentally disabled adults has affected his own speech in life.

We also briefly touch upon some religious themes broached over the course of work, and how the religious culture of the South influenced Powell’s work.

[Part One][Part Two][Part Three]

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Interview: Nate Powell Pt 3 [of 4]

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A exploration on the admittedly sometimes fuzzy line that separates childhood schizophrenia from standard youthful fantasy, Swallow Me Whole presents a definite point-of-no-return between the two, for its protagonist, Ruth, during the course of the story. Where precisely in the book said moment occurs, however, is perhaps not quite so clear.

Where author Nate Powell puts the line in his own reading of the book, presents some fascinating insight into the author’s own views on mental illness, as well as its manifestations and treatment. The precise placement of the line that separates an individual who can be successfully treated from one who is “too far gone,” is particularly interesting in light of Powell’s years spent working with the both developmentally disabled and mentally ill adults.

In this third part of our interview, we discuss breaking points and the scapegoating of mental illness.

[Part One][Part Two]
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Interview: Nate Powell Pt. 2

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Swallow Me Whole is one of the year’s most powerful graphic meditations on both adolesence and mental disorder. Author Nate Powell walks a tightrope between imagination and hallucination for the duration of the book, effectively generating as many questions as he attempts to answer, a method that is frustrating, to be sure, but also imbues the book with a sense of fascination that commands repeat readings.

In this second part of our interview with Powell, we delve deeper into this heady topic of childhood schizophrenia, and hit on some equally troubling questions about the role that gender politics play in the diagnosis of mental disorders.

[Part One]

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Interview: Nate Powell Pt. 1

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Swallow Me Whole caught me off-guard. I was largely unfamiliar with Nate Powell’s work when I first picked up the Top Shelf book, and as such, didn’t have particularly high hopes, beyond his very clear talents as an artist.

More than just a standard tale of a brother and sister growing up in a southern town, the work skillfully weaves between the real and fantastic with little effort, whilst tackling the touchy subject of childhood schizophrenia in an uncharacteristically frank manner. The book also demonstrates Powell’s understated gift from graphic storytelling, effortlessly blending elements across panels and pages. It adds up to one of the most thoughtful and engrossing books that 2008 has offered up, thus far.

Powell, a Little Rock native and current resident of Bloomington, Indiana, wears a number of other hats, as a record label-owner, punk vocalist, and occasional, a hip-hop emcee. He also holds down a job working with developmentally disabled adults.

Clearly this is a man just begging to be interviewed.
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Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell

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Swallow Me Whole
By Nate Powell
Top Shelf

Growing up, of course, is never simple. But for the bright kids—the artists, the thinkers, the introverts, the social outcasts—said complexity is oft times unwittingly compounded, as resistance toward conformity, be it conscious or accidental, does battle with bodies in a state of constant physical, social, and emotional flux.  Tackling the emotional schizophrenia that is growing up in prose is an intensely difficult task. Coupling that with a visual representation can prove even more complex.

Joshua Cotter’s Skyscrapers of the Midwest, arguably the most affecting and affective coming of age story that the medium has been offered up this year thus far, addressed the topic powerfully by means of fantasy, blurring the lines between the real and the imagined through his protagonist’s frequent flights into visual escapism. That same tool is employed by Nate Powell with more troubling results in Swallow Me Whole. The book lives on the thin line that separates healthy childhood escapism from serious emotional disorder.

After a senile grandmother is moved into their home, the delusions begin simply enough, as daydreams, perhaps, or manifestations of stress. Powell’s young protagonist, Ruthy, is visited in her room by a cloud of cicadas, the American South variation on locusts, those Old Testament harbingers of plague.
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