September 13, 2012

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SPX Spotlight 2012: Nate Powell

Welcome to another entry in my Rob's SPX Spotlight 2012!  You can find all of my Rob's SPX Spotlight posts, including those from past years, by clicking here.


One of my zinester friends remarked on Facebook that it wasn't too long ago that when she thought about Nate Powell, it was as a punk musician playing in a basement for a dozen people. Now, Powell is an Eisner-winning cartoonist with positive reviews from some of the most respected reviewers in the business. I wasn't cool enough or big-city enough to be able to see Powell's bands, but I have been a fan of his work ever since his breakout book Swallow Me Whole, which was the first really good graphic novels I ever read.

Paging through any one of Powell's books shows immediately why his work is so popular. His intricate line work captures the moments where private thoughts spill over into reality, whether it's the insectile hallucinations of the main character in Swallow Me Whole or the chaotic time-shifting narrative of Any Empire. The scrawled lettering adds to the effect, as Powell plays with lettering motifs like elongated word balloons and banners to further show characters' inner struggles, the words literally crowding out of the panels at times. In addition to his art and music, Powell also worked as a caregiver for adults with developmental disabilities, which informs many of his stories.

While Swallow Me Whole is still my favorite of Powell's works, they're all pretty great, and Powell's early art (much of it reissued in books that are a lot hardier than a photocopied zine) is just as good as his later stuff. The omnibus Sounds of Your Name was just digitally re-released by Top Shelf Productions, and is probably the best introduction to his work for a new reader. (Hey, at $3.99 for 340 pages, how can you lose?) He has also illustrated graphic novels for other writers, most recently The Year of the Beasts (Roaring Brook Press), a collaboration that switches between prose and comics. I haven't read it yet, but I'm sure I will soon.

You can check out Nate Powell's art, and buy his books, at See My Brother Dance. And be sure to stop by his table at SPX!