Posts Tagged ‘nate powell’

If you haven’t gathered yet, I love graphic novels. I’ve chewed through a lot of them in my time here at CSC, and while they almost never lack depth or material, they’re usually pretty easy / quick reads. I’ll usually give one a quick pass-over for the sake of the plot, then re-read it slower to better admire the artwork. Either way, it never takes more than an hour.


Nate Powell’s “Swallow Me Whole” stopped me dead in my tracks. I actually had to re-start it just to make sure I hadn’t fallen off and misunderstood something somewhere. This one is thick, not length wise, but material wise. It’s one of a select few graphic novels I’ve actually had to chew on, and one with an ending that is only remotely clear.

Nate Powell Photo Copyright – Nate Powell

Going Mental

“Swallow Me Whole” deals with the tale of two step-siblings with a dying grandmother and parents that are quick to write off their childrens’ mental instability. Ruth, diagnosed with OCD as well as a form of schizophrenia, hears insects and other animals speak out to her, beg her to be their liaison, their ambassador to the higher world. Perry, also schizophrenic, sees a wizard appear atop all of his pencils, sending him on “missions” that produce fantastic drawings. Both siblings have a grandmother who is expected to kick the bucket relatively soon (who actually stays with them for several years) who also shares some form of mental illness – she is constantly traveling back in her mind to her youth, when her husband was alive and she was an avid painter.

The tale is a hard one to swallow, pun fully intended. Ruth, after outbursts at school, is eventually diagnosed and medicated for her disorders. Perry never does. Perry’s illness, since it results in a creative outlet, isn’t considered illness. Ruth’s non-conventional (for the stereotype of her sex) interest in insects and biology further her along toward medication. The book throws everything on the table: gender stereotypes, mental illness (and its societal stigmas), adolescence, dysfunctional family, the works. It isn’t for the feint of heart by any means. Nor is it an “easy read.” The ending is both tragic and ambiguous. It’s never spelled out for the reader, ala Inception, we are only left with pieces that we have to put together ourselves. A great deal of why this book is so difficult to digest lies in the artwork. So that’s where we’re headed.

wut Photo Copyright – Nate Powell

A Lot to Swallow

Powell’s artwork in this piece is hard to wrap your head around. The entire novel takes on a disconnected, dream-like quality with strictly black and white artwork. Powell doesn’t rely strictly on white as a backdrop either, obviously – there are gobs of black ink in this book. Speech bubbles are distorted and hard to read, stream-of-consciousness thoughts are splattered on the page, and we are treated constantly to perspective shifts as they happen: one moment, Ruth is looking at a vent grate on her ceiling. The next moment, insects are pouring out of it. The unpredictable, dissociative nature of the illnesses Ruth and Perry suffer from are reflected heavily in the artwork. I can’t speak for anyone else, but at times, it became extremely difficult to follow.

Though the tale is about both Ruth and Perry (and memaw a bit, as well) it definitely follows Ruth more often. She goes through stages of silent coping with her disorder, to ignoring it, to even accepting and “embracing” it (which leads to some poor choices and behavioral outbursts), and eventually, being consumed, swallowed whole, by it. The artwork becomes more chaotic as Ruth’s mindset changes. The book culminates in a swarm of insects, and from there – well. You’ll have to read it for yourself.

This one has my brain revving at full speed. There’s a lot to digest, a lot of pieces that need put together (but are all there), and a lot to be said. Did I enjoy it? Yes, I did. There’s definitely a story to be told here, and there are a lot of things to be said. If anything, it made me think. Still has me thinking. I count that as literature any day.



February means Black History Month, Black History Month means civil rights discussions and remembrance for battles fought, people lost, and societal progress (or the lack thereof). Being born in Baltimore, MD, civil rights and the struggles contained therein are commonplace in everyday education. MLK day isn’t just a day off from class, but a city-wide holiday.

Here, in the (rather conservative and primarily white) Midwest, greater knowledge of these issues takes a little hunting down. Granted, the bullet points are all part of most school curricula: MLK, Malcom X, Brown v. Board of Education, but other than that, it takes some seeking out. There are the conventional means: inspirational films, history lessons out of a textbook, etc. This week, with Dr. Ellington’s help, I discovered a means I wasn’t quite aware of before. The graphic novel, duh.

March by John LewisCopyright – Nate Powell

The Book

“March,” by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, was quite the discovery, and quite the surprise. John Lewis was speaker #6 on the day of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and the only one still alive. He is currently a politician, a representative for Georgia, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barrack Obama. Needless to say, the guy has quite a pedigree. Andrew Aydin works under Lewis in his congressional office, and Nate Powell is a graphic novelist known for humanitarian work – he was featured in a collaborative book telling the tales of Darfur.

The tale alternates between the day of the inauguration of Barrack Obama as president, and Lewis’s participation in the civil rights movement. Lewis does his best to educate two younger black boys on, as their mother calls it, “their history.” It details Lewis’s upbringing on a farm, his tending / attachment to the chickens, his enrollment at a Baptists’ college, and subsequent push to be accepted into a college that doesn’t accept colored people.

I’m not sure how Lewis came across the idea to have his tale told in the form of a comic, but I’m certainly glad he did. The book is semi-biographical, semi-fictional, and since I’m an ignoramus, I hadn’t heard much of Lewis. I only knew about the aforementioned figureheads of the movement that everyone else knows about. The story is fantastic – thanks in no small part to it being true. I can’t come up with much to say about it. It’s always fascinating to get the perspective of someone who actively participated in the civil rights movement. It lends the tale real humanity, as opposed to being just another special on A&E or another textbook chapter.

SLJ1309w_FT_lewis_porch The Artwork

The artwork, done by Nate Powell and all black and white, is phenomenal. Each person is done in full detail, quite akin to their actual likeness (if they were indeed real people). As Scott McCloud taught us before, these are real people who had a real struggle. We aren’t meant to be able to insert ourselves into the tale – we’re along for the ride.

Powell’s attention to detail is the strongest point of the artwork. The memory of the run-down state of the colored buses, bathrooms, etc. etc. becomes starkly real.

Other touches that I wouldn’t have noticed without Scott McCloud is the different font styles Powell uses depending on the situation. When police / state troopers are harassing people, the speech bubbles are surrounded by spikes. When the activists sing their songs of victory, the font goes from a traditional one to one in cursive to emulate a hand-written letter.

My only real issue with the book iiiis the fact that I’ve only read the first. Until I continue my search and find the others in the series, I feel as though I can’t comment too much more on it, though I am enjoying it thoroughly.

So, to be continued.